Few shows are as seamlessly put together as Gungrave. From one episode to the next, Gugrave offers nothing less than an in-depth look at not only the inner workings of the Japanese style mafia, but also a glimpse into what it truly means, to men at least, to be true friends. Spoiler: Grave is dead.

Gungrave is a tale of bloodshed. It follows the lives of Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel, childhood friends, as they move through life in the big city’s underworld. Beginning from when they were part of a small time street gang the story tracks their progress as they rise to the top of the mafia syndicate. Along the way, they leave bodies, friends, and bodies of friends in a world where betrayal means death and loyalty means life.

Beyond the GraveAs simplistic as the plot seems, the story is actually a very well made one. The very first episode you are shown the same events as you will later see in episode 18. However, all you are told is how things will turn out later. You are introduced to Beyond the Grave, a beast of a man, who has inhuman strength and who, according to a doctor you meat, used to be named Brandon Heat. You meet Mika, who’s mother was killed by someone named Harry. All you know is Harry killed Mika’s mother, Maria, and that some time in the past, Brandon betrayed harry.

Starting with the second episode, the series flashes back to 20 years prior and the rest of the series is from that point to back to where we see the same events in 18 to the end. You see how Brandon and Harry were best friends and how their lives were shaped and molded by the syndicate. By the time you get back to 18, its like seeing it from a completely different angle. The power of Gungrave is in the way you don’t relate to any character, but in the way the characters are completely washed in a fate of blood and their own making. Sympathy, pity, whatever you want to call it is where Gungrave shines.

Brandon and HarryEven though the story is about mobsters and everyone killing everyone else without a second though, you see how the Japanese sense of mafia, even of loyalty, is different from ours. The syndicate becomes their family and underlings are so loyal to their “Aniki” that they are willing to die for, and even be killed by, their superior. There is an unquestionable sense of family for these (as we would put it) scum. Discounting the crime aspect, you do get to witness, for once, a definite sense of what the Japanese consider to be true male friendship. Not a sense of “buddy” but a sense of “brother”. Regardless your stance on the mob, its hard to say that these men do not have a true sense of what it means to stay true to each other.

I would love to say more about the show, but as the plot is so simple and the story is all about how all the characters’ lives and deaths impact all the others’, saying too much would give away crucial developments that would lessen the effect of the show. Suffice to say, the show is not for the fain of heart. People die left and right. There is never a time in the whole show where I laughed or chuckled. You will occasionally smile when good things happen to the characters or when they have a revelation that you knew they should have had long ago. However, this anime is one of the most heavy shows I’ve come across. Do not watch this for mere entertainment.

Overall, Gungrave made me wonder if there was anyone I had ever betrayed. Having been betrayed myself and having lost people I hold dear in the past, I could empathize with several characters at some points. I was genuinely distressed when characters I had watch grow up over multiple episodes die like they did. I cheered for Harry and Brandon’s rise to power despite knowing from episode 1 how it would turn out. The whole experience was heavy, but good. Because of this, Gungrave gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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