Wow, what a ride. The underworld is a popular setting for anime, and this genre has already produced quite a few wonderful gems, such as Kaze no Youjimbo, Michiko e Hatchin, Baccano and many more. Gungrave, without a doubt, also belongs in this list.
This series tells about the lives of two thugs called Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, and chronicles their lives. And boy, it really takes the extra mile to develop these two! The majority of this series is just one huge flashback, which takes a look at the many, many events in their lives that made them into the characters that they are at the beginning of the story. Throughout the series, we get to see the two of them, and the people around them, during all kinds of different ages, ranging from when the two are about 10 years old, until they’re in the middle of their forties. Now that’s some awesome character-development right there!
On top of being a character-study, this also is an action-show. Quite a few of the fights are beautifully animated (courtesy of Madhouse) despite the rather sloppy drawings at times. The fights are varied, ranging from simple duels to huge shoot-outs, although during the second half, I do admit that they turn in this series’ weakness. Especially the fights against the big overpowered monsters are a bit dull, because these monsters have no personality nor free will at all. It’d be just like fighting your way out of a bunch of paper bags. I also didn’t quite like the concept of the so-called “Superior”-monsters: to me, they seemed a bit of a convenient excuse to give the important characters some cheap superpowers.
Nevertheless, this series ends with a very strong finale. All of the important characters get enough of a chance to close off their stories (and considering the development they’ve gotten, this really is a great thing) and that makes the entire finale just bittersweet. This series explores themes like trust and betrayal, family and loyalty, and it does this so well. This definitely is a series to look out for, with its deep characters and in-depth look at large mafia-organizations. Despite the few humps in the middle I really give my thumbs up for this one.