Gungrave Vol. #1 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Paul Jacques
Review Date: Saturday, May 21, 2005
Release Date: Monday, April 25, 2005



What They Say
Armed with "Ceruberus," his twin handguns, and a coffin filled with heavy weapons on his back, Beyond the Grave returns, cloaked in darkness and smelling of the grave on his deadly mission of vengeance!

For Brandon Heat, death doesn't matter. Driven by his need for revenge, he returns from beyond the grave to cripple Millennion, the huge mafia organization that uses undead monsters as its enforcers. His ultimate goal will be to destroy Harry MacDowel, the leader of Millennion and, at one time, Brandon's best friend...

Episodes comprise:

1. Destroyer In The Dark
2. Young Dogs
3. Rain
4. Go

The Review!
You’ve heard all the talk, and now it’s here in R2 format. Is this gangster series going to live up to the hype?

Audio:
I listened, cycling between Japanese 5.1\ 2.0 and English 5.1 audio as each episode changed. All tracks were excellent, although the DTS was very quiet (needed the volume turning up). All tracks provided clear sound with some use of directional sound effects. Although the English VA did a good job I’d recommend going with either of the Japanese tracks….. I think it’s just the way the Japanese VA’s manage to get more feeling into the words, especially Brandon’s VA, Seki Tomokazu. The narration from Seki Tomokazu for each episode’s prologue and epilogue is spell binding at times, you really feel the depression and bleakness of their lives.

Opening song is called Family and is a really good (sombre) track, very reminiscent of the lounge music you might find a modern Jazz combo playing. The closing song is called When the sunset turns red and although it’s sung in Japanese (with a blue grass fiddle and Jazz funk guitar), you easily get the impression that it’s full of hope, with Brandon and Harry chasing their dreams in animation.

Video:
Quality of the transfer was top notch, with no artefacts or bleeding problems detected. The TV playback was perfect, but the odd interlace could be seen on the PC monitor, although this was very infrequent.

I found the first few episodes a little light on the animation detail, and a tad ruff in places, although this may just be the gritty look & feel of the series? There are plenty of visual elements and artistic touches to enjoy along the way, such that you’re sure it’s supposed to be film noir (half lit faces, people is shadow, rain etc).

Packaging:
This is a promo only disc with no box.

Menu:
The menus are plain with a static montage of Gungrave images. The menu links themselves were placed in the centre of the screen. All the links worked quickly and no dead-ends or slow responses encountered.

Extras:
We get a clean OP\ ED. A Production stills gallery of the characters form this first volume. The usual promo trailers, and that’s your lot.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
The first episode starts very dramatically, with a man (Brandon Heat\ Beyond the Grave) rising from his great chair and firing shots from his pair of automatics pistols. Looking on is a scared girl (Mika) and a man in a white coat (Dr Tokioka). It’s not long before we realise that they are under attack from superhuman monsters called “orcmen”. And in the midst of this pitch battle they cut to opening credits! Yes, right in the middle of a fight! They certainly know how catch my attention.

We learn that Mika is being hunted by the Mob, and that her mother is already dead by their hand. And the Mob “Millennium” is run by guy named Harry McDowell aka Bloody Harry. As to why Harry wants Mika dead, we have no idea. We soon discover that Harry knows Brandon as well, and that Harry doesn’t have a problem with killing Brandon (again?).

The scene changes and Brandon takes a walk in the old part of town, Mika follows, hoping to get some information, or at the very least some conversation. Only Brandon has other things on his mind as he visits ruined building and a graveyard on his travels. It’s whilst they are at the graveyard that the Mob, plus their super monsters, surprise them again. This gives us an opportunity to find out just how tough, skilful and inhuman Brandon really is.

The next episode hands out a serious amount of back story. We go back many years to when Harry and Brandon were just a couple of street punks. They lived in a very rough part of town, and ran there own scams, with their own 2-bit gang of thugs (Kenny, Jolice and Nathan). What is interesting is that although they are scum, they are scum who care for each other. Brandon especially cares for Harry, up to the point of risking his life to protect Harry. This is a great twist, because now we want to find out how two great friends end up as mortal enemies. And I’m guessing that this is the main motivation of the story for the series.

Brandon never talks much, but it’s obvious he has a crush on a local girl called Maria. And Maria has feelings for Brandon (aww), plus she knows Harry. Only Brandon is definitely the strong, silent and loyal type- tell him what needs doing and he’ll get it done. As such he does a very bad job of telling Maria what he feels- luckily Maria is not so dumb as to not know.

Harry is smart, very ambitious and a real ladies man. He’s also very much Brandon’s best friend.

The gang is tight, and they always have each others back’s covered. In fact the whole point of the second episode is to show the gangs internal dynamic, which has a strong friendship at the core. This is made all the more significant when one of them is killed, and you feel the sadness of the other gang members.

Episode three finds the gang on the run from their unseen assassin. Afraid and unarmed they seek refuge in sewer, there they mourn their loss in the dark and gloom. When they do find out who is after them, they realise that they should either run far away or face down someone whose reputation strikes fear into the hearts of the gangland- Mad Dog Ladd.

In this episode we also learn some history about Maria’s guardian “Uncle”, and why he cares for Maria, and why he hates punks like Harry and Brandon so much. And it’s all pertinent to the character’s motivations.

The episode winds down with Mad Dog Ladd killing off the gang one by one. Alone and unarmed they face their impending death together, until someone steps in to help (for his own reasons). This part is particularly important as it shows the limitations to which Harry and Brandon have arrived at. It’s also a major turning point in their lives, as they make the decisions that bring death to those around them.

In the fourth episode we start at a funeral, with many of the early characters dead, and those that survived not knowing what to do next. A confrontation with another gang gives Harry and Brandon an opportunity to be noticed by the big league guys- Harry takes it with both hands and Brandon, his friend, follows suit.

Maria realises she has nothing to stay for any more, so when she gets the opportunity to move on, she takes it.

The end of this volume has Brandon and Harry stepping up onto the lowest rung of the big league. Their current (punk) life is now finished and where they go next isn’t clear, but at least they’ll be going there together.

In summary-
It has to be said than normally I wouldn’t touch a Gangster anime by choice, but this series has change my preconceptions. I like the tie-in with Western (cowboy) themes, as in “man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do”. Not to mention the obvious influences of such live action films as Godfather and Once upon a time in America. This isn’t Yakuza, this is US mobster style action and politics.

This story is so obviously about the main characters (check out the opening\ closing credits) and their relationship. As such I’m very excited at the thought of some great dialogue and characterisation: A man does not live by pitch battles alone! Although saying that, there appears to be enough flying lead and superhuman action to satisfy most action fans most of the time.

Not many series could get me caring for the bad guys (main protagonists), but this one does. As such the potential is there for something special, let’s hope they continue to deliver on the potential with subsequent discs.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,Japanese 5.1 DTS Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Textless opening,Production art gallery,Textless closing

Review Equipment
JVC 28" Pure Flat Wide Screen TV, Pioneer 454 Progressive Scan code free DVD player, Logitech Z-680 THX DD/DTS receiver & Speakers. Secondary equipment, 21” Sony Trinitron monitor, ATI 9700pro & PowerDVD v4, Creative Audigy 2 & headphones and a duck.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Gungrave