The only cool thing about this anime is this picture.
Gungrave is a 2003 anime based on a 2002 video game. A video-game based anime?! I'm surprised this series didn't win a thousand Emmy awards from the pedigree alone. The story is about a mute gangster named Brandon Heat who allies himself with a cocky asshole named Harry McDowell. The tale chronicles their rise from low-level thugs to the top of the Millenion crime organization. McDowell only owns a single white suit and never changes it despite the series taking place over the course of DECADES. Geez, that thing must have reeked of B.O. Brandon isn't technically a mute, but he talks less than Ryan Gosling's character from Drive. The first half of the series is OK, but in the second half, things go down hill fast.
Millenion is at war with a rival organization. Their enemies decide that the only way to wrest control of the city from Millenion is to use zombies. Yes, that's right, zombies. Motherfucking zombies. So, we get a healthy injection of the walking dead into what had been a gangster series. The juxtaposition absolutely does not work, and every time a fucking zombie shows up, it just reminds you how far off the rails this show went. Eventually, Brandon gets betrayed by Harry, and he dies. He comes back as a zombie with revenge on his mind. By this point, all the characters in the show are "old." Old by anime standards. As best I can figure, Brandon died at age 43 and Harry was probably the same age since they grew up together. Of course, at the ripe old age of 43, Harry has gray hair and a deep, old gravely voice, sounding like a guy who is about to get thrown into a nursing home. Goddamn you, anime.
Harry is probably age 25 here, and ready for retirement.
The remainder of Gungrave follows what must have actually appeared in the video game. Brandon, now dubbed Beyond the Grave, goes around killing Millenion's army of zombies, and takes down Harry's followers one by one. The show gets even more preposterous as each of Harry's lieutenants has the ability to transform into some kind of retarded fucking monster like giant spiders or some shit. The final episode was decent, as Harry and Brandon have their chance to face off.
Brandon Heat, deaf-mute extraordinaire.
The series offers up plenty of action, but the animation is weak, the character designs inconsistent, and the acting borderline terrible. The show had a good first half, and was certainly promising until the zombies showed up. But I suppose everything needs zombies these days, right? Clearly, the second half's schizophrenic clusterfuck of storytelling and shoe-horning in retarded monsters all came directly from the video game. You can't rely on a video game for good narrative. Didn't these guys learn anything from Super Mario Brothers? They should have just crafted an entirely original story (which they did for the first half of the show), and kept going with that. Fuck all the zombies and spider monsters, nobody wants to see that shit.
THE LEGEND OF BLACK HEAVEN
Anime can make anything look epic.
(The Legend of) Black Heaven is a 13-episode anime series from 1999. It wasn't terribly popular when it aired, and has long since been forgotten by otaku. Yes, the show has crappy animation. Yes, the show recycles a ton of shots. And yes, the technical aspects of the show cut a lot of corners. Black Heaven is never going to win any awards for animation competence. Nevertheless, it has a very strong story that makes it a terrific watch, despite all the things going against it.
The thing I love about this show is the main character is not a teenager, not a high-schooler, and not a moeblob. He is a middle-aged, married corporate drone. Having a realistic protagonist immediately sets this series apart from the pack. Oji Tanaka used to be a rock star, but eventually retired when his band's 15 minutes of fame were up. He is now working a mundane job, and grappling with the problems that each of us face in middle age: raising a family, keeping a marriage, finances, self-worth, and a sense of identity. Oji still feels he is a musician at heart. But he caved in to the pressures of reality, and conformed to what society expected of him.
Oji is still a damn good guitar player. Unbeknownst to him, whenever he plays, his music powers a devastating weapon being used in an interstellar war. Aliens come down to Earth to recruit him into playing more often, so they can use his music to defeat their enemies. I know, I know, the story is nuts. It's the kind of thing only an anime could get away with. But Black Heaven has a ton of heart. Putting the premise aside, the majority of the show focuses on Oji (on Earth with his family) struggling to put a band back together, and to come to terms with who he really is. If anything, the show works on multiple levels. Going deeper than face value, we see that the interstellar war is a metaphor for the collective unconsciousness of humanity, as each of us must decide who we are as we get older.
Rock on, guys.
Black Heaven doesn't take itself too seriously. There is plenty of comedy, and a lot of it works. The songs, while repetitive, are actually really good. John Sykes contributes the series opening. The show itself is directed by Yasuhito Kikuchi of Macross Frontier fame. The acting is really good, especially the Pioneer English dub. For anyone who loves music, is looking for an anime with adult characters, or is just in the mood for something a little different, you should check this one out. It's too bad it has been forgotten by time, because this is a series worth remembering.