Think The Godfather or Goodfellas Anime Style' And then you put video game boss battles in it'
What They Say For Brandon Heat, death doesn't matter. Driven by his need for revenge, he returns from beyond the grave to cripple Milleneon, the huge mafia organization that uses undead monsters as its enforcers. His ultimate goal will be to destroy Harry MacDowel, the leader of Milleneon and, at one time, Brandon's best friend...
Contains episodes 1-26.
I listened to this DVD primarily in English with a spot check on the Japanese track. The tracks are DTS 5.1 stereo. The sound is clear and there were no dropout or distortions in either track.
Airing in Japan in 2003 the video quality of the series is pretty good for an older series. It does date itself a bit but not to the point where it is overall distracting.
The series comes packaged in a brick sized cardboard slipcase containing 7 individual thin packed discs. The cover features Beyond the Grave in an intimidating battle ready pose. The individual thin packs are black and have artwork from the original singles release. Both the back covers of the thinpaks and the box have information concerning the DVD features, all the proper credits and copyrights, and technical information. The back of the thinpaks for each disc also have a summary of the events on the disc (Hint: Do NOT read these if you don't want to be spoiled) and the episodes on the disc. The spines of the thin packs are numbered.
The menus are pretty well organized and display how to have an animated menu without being confusing or convoluted. All the selections are located clearly toward the bottom of the screen while in the center a nice looping piece of animation with various clips on the disc plays against a nice engaging piece of action BGM.
Because this is a straight port of the original Geneon discs each DVD has Geneon previews (for stuff that either has been re-released by Funimation, or some other company, or is just out of print), as well as Concept Art, Textless Opening and Ending, and a Promo Video Collection on the last disc. Pretty standard fare stuff that is a rarity these days.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
For those of you not in the know (mainly because this series is almost ten years old) Gungrave was originally two video games released by Yasuhiro Nightow, of Trigun fame. Unlike my previous review on an anime series based off of a video game this series actually (for the most part) plays out like an anime adaptation of American mafia films and it's only toward the end of the series that things start to smell like a video game adaptation. The series also thematically shares a lot with the classic Trigun anime.
Animated by Studio Madhouse, the director decides to have the first episode take place in the middle of the story where in a grim city landscape where white zombie monsters rule the terrain and they are after a young girl. The only information revealed is that the only person capable of stopping the monsters, Brandon Heat, now goes by the moniker 'Beyond the Grave' and the girl's mother was killed by the Millenion's boss, Harry McDowell who is set on eliminating her as well. Harry and Brandon seem to have a history together and the remainder of the series is told in flashback leading up to the 1st episode's events, which are expanded upon in the last half of the show.
The series is best described as having certain 'acts' where much like in a play each 'act' tells a certain aspect of the story. The first act covers how Brandon and Harry were just teenage buddies in their own little ragtag street gang. Things quickly go south when they get involved in a conflict that ends up killing all their friends. This becomes a turning point for the two as Harry is put in a position to kill the instigator and has a moment of self-actualization that he needs to attain as much power as possible. These events catch the eyes of the local Mafia group, Millenion, and they take Harry and Brandon into their 'family'. Another victim of the fallout was Brandon's love interest Maria whose uncle was killed trying to protect Brandon. Because of his Mafia ties (which Maria seems to be unaware of) she is adopted by Millenion's boss, Big Daddy. This initially causes some internal conflict as Brandon's position in the Mafia prevents him from being in touch with her but as Brandon proves his loyalty to Big Daddy it gradually becomes less of an issue.
Meanwhile, Harry continues to climb the Mafioso ladder as he gains more power and connections through his singular desire to be at the top. Towards the end of the second disc, there is a side story on how one of Millenion's hitmen, Bear, has to deal with his best friend betraying the organization. While it is a good insight into the character himself, it also is an eerie foreshadowing of the conflict that occurs between Brandon and Harry. The first act ends with a bang as a man named Blood War comes after Harry and Brandon. Blood War was part of the Mafia group Volcano, but left them to join up with another group called, Lightening. It is here that we are introduced to a new drug technology called 'Necrolyzation' that takes dead bodies and makes them into super powered zombies. Blood War kills all of his men and uses this process on them in order to take down Millenion but Brandon and Harry were saved by the flaw of the drug where it's effects only last one week and then the body decomposes. In a final showdown with Blood War, he necrolyzes himself and takes on Brandon and Harry. They barely survive but live for another day and this ends the first act.
The second act begins on episode 12, where there is a 3-year timeskip. Brandon, himself, has gotten a complete bishonen makeover (I honestly did not recognize him as Brandon when I first saw him) as well as become an expert hitman for Millenion. Harry's influence in Millenion is so strong it is assumed he may become the next successor to Big Daddy. The tension between Brandon and Harry begin to rise as each realizes how the other is straying farther and farther from their own ideals. This culminates into a conflict that leads to Brandon being shot by Harry and becoming the boss of Millenion because of Brandon's 'betrayal'. Over the course of the next few episodes, character relationships are changed and allegiances are altered leading into the final act of the series, which is where episode 1 left off.
In the last act a 13-year time skip occurs and we find out Brandon has Necrolyzred himself to become 'Beyond the Grave' and protect Maria's daughter Mika from Millenion's forces who have also taken advantage of the Necrolyzation technology and improved upon it to build their own personal army. This is the point where the series shifts from being a grim Mafia story with some science fiction elements to being a Shonen Jump/video game styled fighting series as starting with Episode 19 each episode focuses of Grave fighting one of Millenion's bosses (each one enhanced with Necrolyzation and therefore becoming 'superiors') only to defeat them and move on to the next one. While the storytelling doesn't completely derail, the pattern of these episodes becomes highly predictable which may turn off some people. The good news is these episodes do build up to the finale where instead of a big boss fight between Grave and Harry we actually get a good introspective episode that reflects on how much the two have changed over the course of the series and how this all brings their friendship/rivalry full circle to their final resolve.
Despite the video gamey feel towards the last act of the series, the remainder of the series including the final episode are a compelling Mafia drama showing how two friends grew and changed in completely different ways. The Nightgow feel is in full effect as it adds to the gritty darkness of the series and similar thematic to Trigun.
Features Japanese Language, English Language, English Subtitles, Conceptual Art, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Toshiba 50' 52HMX95 1080P HDTV, Samsung HT-Z410 CD Player HDMI set to 1080p and a 5.1 ch Speaker System with 166-Watt Subwoofer.
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