The thing with Geneon's untimely demise is that it offered companies like Funimation a great library of unique titles to re-release as the market demands them. Case in point: Gungrave. A stylish and moody piece of animation that had, until now, existed in a complete boxed set briefly back in 2005. Funimation has gathered together all of the episodes and is once more offering a Complete Set for fans and prospects alike.
Coming in at a total runtime of 650 minutes, Gungrave the Complete Set spans 7 discs and comes packaged in seven thin packs within a richly decorated cardboard outer case. Language options are standard sub and dub fair which means original Japanese dialog (Dolby Digital 2.0) and an English Dub (Dolby Digital 5.1) with English subtitle options in either language.
The show wears an appropriate 16 & Up rating due to its frequent use of violence and strong language. However, and like most anime titles of this genre, the presence of sexuality and/or nudity is surprisingly sparse.
Features are a pretty solid bag and include 16:9 Anamorphic widescreen presentation, conceptual art stills, textless opening and closing themes, and a host of trailers.
The story, or what passes for one in this case, follows a guy named Brandon Heat, who has been resurrected from the dead and is now known as Grave (which is short for Beyond the Grave).
Under the supervision of a mad scientist and young girl, Grave wanders around his deserted hometown recollecting his memories and preparing for a mission of revenge against the friend who betrayed him (resulting in his trip six feet under).
The first few episodes take their time assembling Grave's back-story through a succession of flashback sequences that depict a slightly disturbed Brandon Heat's involvement in street gangs. Once the gangster "Mad Dog" Ladd enters the fold, gun shots ring out, are fired, blood is spilled, and soon it's just Brandon and his best friend Harry MacDowel fending for themselves on the city streets.
For the most part, the pacing works. How so you wonder? Well the core of the viewer's interest is derived from the natural curiosity as to what led up to Grave's bizarre situation.
You realize that Brandon and Harry are thick as thieves in their underworld exploits in life but logic tells you that this relationship must have soured. How, when and why? How does Brandon meet his untimely demise? More importantly still, how does he return to the land of the living?
You'll wonder these things just a bit quicker than the backtracking is able to reveal them but this is no big deal because a riveting story never was Gungrave's strong suit and shame on you for thinking otherwise.
In truth the story is serviceable here which is to say it represents just enough to keep the wickedly cool visuals flowing from scene to scene, episode to episode. You may have heard it mentioned in other reviews and there is definite truth to the fact that Grave is perhaps the most unlovable protagonist of all time. He's distant, cold, and drab- and that's before he becomes a zombie!
Although it should be dually noted that affection for the lead character isn't a requisite for making the most of the Gungrave experience. The key word here is mood and boy does Gungrave paint a pretty picture through its lighting, ambiance, and just plain grit. It isn't hard to liken the prose to the literary classic Gunslinger series by Stephen King. In fact that's really one of the best comparisons I can come up with (just so long as you don't expect the mind-twisting elements that riddled the later entries of the book series). Gungrave is definitely shallower, more violent, and linear in its pacing and prose.
The English dub works better than it has any right to and perhaps that can be credited to the simple fact that the roles clearly didn't require a whole lot of emotion (particularly that of Grave himself). The secondary characters simply had to be gruff, rough or tough and American actors, if I may generalize, rarely have trouble nailing that assignment. The Japanese dialog brings a bit more emotion to the script but don't expect miracles from Grave, he is what is regardless of which continent the actor portraying him hails from.
In all this is definitely not a title for the masses but rather is an acquired taste; kind of like black coffee or German beer. If you're looking for a shoot-em-up with a simplistic plot saturated with vengeance (ala Kill Bill) and cool visuals (come on the guy blows his enemies away with his guns crossed and his hat dipped below his eyes for crying out loud), this is a must-own collection. If, on the other hand, you find yourself in the camp seeking emotional attachment, rich storytelling or ultra-believability, perhaps you would be wiser to let this one drift past like the cloud of dust kicked up from Grave's cold stiff boot.
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About the reviewer
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on Amazon.com) is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing. … more
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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...