Videogames have come a long way. They’re much less of a novelty now than they were thirty, or even ten years ago, and their popularity now rivals that of movies, books and TV shows. Because of this shift in cultural perception, it is only natural that videogames would bleed into other mediums through the art of adaptation. Games are no longer confined to just being videogames anymore, but also books, movies and TV shows; and these are all terrible. Of course, I’m not saying that every single videogame adaptation is terrible; but their track record, especially in the medium of film, has been rather poor. Videogame adaptations are notorious for being poorly received not only by fans but also by critics and audiences as well.
Of course, that’s the result of games having a much more fundamentally different approach to storytelling than traditional film or literature. The structure is completely decided by the player’s input, and as far as storytelling goes, most commonly adapted games don’t have a strong narrative core that can easily be translated into a comprehensive theatric experience. This is what we’ve come to accept from videogame movies like 2007’s adaptation of Hitman or 1993’s Mario Bros Movie. Even adaptations of games with more expansive worlds and narratives fail to capture the depth of the original, such as 2016’s Assassin’s Creed, which quickly becomes convoluted in its exposition and worldbuilding.
This phenomenon isn’t just relegated to feature length, live action films either. Though anime has had more success adapting videogames than mainstream cinema has, the results have still ranged from mixed to negative. Even though games take so much inspiration from anime, it is rare to hear of an anime adapted from a videogame that doesn’t miss the mark in some way. Even when it comes to big releases like Spring 2018’s Persona 5 The Animation, fans of the original still decry the low quality of the animation and rushed attempts to cover the 90-hour long experience into a 26-episode affair.
As far as videogame adaptations go, there hasn’t been a proper highlight of how you’re supposed to do it anyways. Even when picking the perfect material to adapt, such as a visual novel, many things are inevitably lost in translation and you end up with a half-baked imitation of the original, such as Umineko no naku koro ni’s infamous anime adaptation.
However, what if I told you that the holy grail of videogame adaptations was there all along? What if I told you that the mythical prospect of a game adaptation that far surpasses its source material has been sleeping right under everyone’s noses? I’m talking about an adaptation that can not only expand upon the legacy of the original, but also bring it to greater emotional heights. I’m talking about none other than 2003’s anime adaptation of Gungrave, an anime that’s mostly overlooked nowadays but continues to stand as one of the best examples of how to properly adapt a videogame into a filmic medium.
Gungrave’s anime is fantastic. It stands as not only a great realization of the narrative framework and premise that the videogame left behind, but also a fantastic homage to the media that inspired it to begin with. It is a beautiful journey that expresses a love for the mafia movies of the past as well as the vision and storytelling of the creative driving force behind the first game: Yasuhiro Nightow. But how does it accomplish this? How did this adaptation realize the secret towards making a good videogame adaptation? Gungrave may not seem like the type of source material that could make a better adaptation than something like Persona, yet the devil lies in all the details.
If you’ve never heard of Gungrave before, then let me explain the basics first. Gungrave is a 2002 action game developed by RED Entertainment in collaboration with manga author Yasuhiro Nightow and artist Kōsuke Fujishima, both of which contributed greatly to the design sense of the game. The game is an arcade shooter that focuses on Brandon Heat, a resuscitated mafia killer going on a rampage to get revenge on the organization that betrayed him as well as its new leader Harry MacDowel. Although the game had a mixed reception, it still received a strong fan-following due to its distinctive art style and world design.
As you can see, the story of the original isn’t exactly anything groundbreaking or particularly intense. Gungrave has a very simple framework that it uses to give context to its levels, but not much else besides that to involve the player in a story. That is exactly what makes it such great material to be adapted into a series. While it is difficult to cram all hundreds of hours of storytelling, character development and worldbuilding into a 26-episode show, it is much less difficult to adapt the general feeling or premise of that story while filling in the blanks with new interpretations.
Even though Gungrave has a story of its own, that story is not the game’s focus. Gungrave is an arcade action game first and a story second, and that’s no problem. Whatever larger implications it has of a greater story, themes and character relationships exist purely as a backdrop that lets the player immerse themselves into the role of the main character. Gungrave gives the player only the very basics of the story to keep people invested, and lets everyone’s imagination fill in the blanks.
For as simple as the story of the game is, it’s still undeniable that it has a strong emotional core and premise that could use more exploring. That element of mystery that shrouds the narrative of the game leaves plenty to the imagination. The game’s diverse and unique cast of characters and the insinuations of a backstory that is far more interesting than what actually happens in the game forms the emotional core of a potential adaptation. Brandon’s history with the criminal organization that betrayed him hints at themes of betrayal, friendship and tragedy that, when given the proper spotlight, could work well in their own story.
This leaves the Gungrave anime with plenty of opportunities to improvise and tell its own unique story. For instance, how did Harry and Brandon become friends? What caused them to fall apart? What chain of events led to the world becoming as dystopic as it is in the game? By following the game as a guideline, the team can create a story that not only pays homage to the original, but also takes it in a more interesting direction that the original wasn’t able to explore. A fast-paced action game doesn’t allow for much introspective character analysis, but a 26-episode anime does, and Gungrave’s adaptation takes advantage of that.
Unlike other adaptations, the staff isn’t bound by a strict lore, structure or dialogue that confines them to telling their story in a way that would perfectly suit the medium either. Instead, they can expand upon the many questions the game left to create a new story around that. There is nothing left out and there’s no filler to pad out the length either. All content is new and unique to the anime and it is tailor made to fit it first and foremost. This is the first significant reason why Gungrave’s anime succeeds. It makes use of the original’s potential to tell a story and expands upon it greatly using the strengths of this new medium.
Of course, it’s absurd to think that Gungrave is the only anime adaptation of a videogame that is based on anime original content. 2007’s Devil May Cry: The Animated Series, produced by the same studio and also adapted from an action game, consisted primarily of original content. However, Devil May Cry: The Animated Series is largely considered to be rather dull compared to its source material. So how did Gungrave do it? There is more to it than just making up a story, and it all lies behind the creative input of the series.
Unlike Devil May Cry, Gungrave had a strong foot in anime and manga even before it even became a videogame. Known for creating Trigun and Blood Blockade Battlefront, Yasuhiro Nightow also became the driving creative force behind the development of Gungrave. His character designs and worldview helped shape a unique authorial stamp on the game that makes it stand out just as well as any of his other manga could.
When looking at Gungrave, it is easy to accept it as a Yasuhiro Nightow game, and the same can be said about the game’s anime adaptation. Although Nightow wasn’t directly involved in the anime, his influence can certainly be felt throughout. Because Nightow is a creator that has his roots in anime and manga, it was much easier for the anime’s staff to flesh out his vision without losing what was unique about it to begin with. This background in anime and manga is what makes Gungrave stand out from other videogame adaptations, since it made the transition to animation far more gracefully as a result of its relations to it.
More importantly, the key staff charged with producing Gungrave’s anime adaptation was wholly dedicated to admiring and understanding Yasuhiro Nightow’s style, vision, characters and storytelling. Yosuke Kuroda and Tsuneo Imahori were already familiar with Nightow’s works, having already worked on Trigun’s TV adaptation as scriptwriter and composer respectively. Imahori was keenly familiar with Gungrave as well, having composed the original game and Kuroda was such a big admirer of Nightow that he offered to write all 26 episodes of Trigun’s TV adaptation, something which is not very common in anime adaptation productions.
One of the most praised aspects of Kuroda’s script for Trigun’s Anime, one acknowledged by Yasuhiro Nightow himself, was its ability to distill the essence of Trigun’s themes and writing into a concise and stand-alone 26-episode anime. Much in the same way, Kuroda was able to harness his influence and admiration to write a screenplay for Gungrave that takes the style and storytelling of Nightow and uses it to tell a whole new story. Gungrave feels like a true successor to Trigun as it shares many of the same qualities that made it great.
That’s the second quality that makes Gungrave’s anime adaptation succeed where others did not: a passionate team that was wholly dedicated to bringing a very specific vision into a new medium while still thoroughly making it their own. Gungrave was born not just out of a need to make money from an established fanbase, but also out of an admiration for the creative vision of Yasuhiro Nightow that brought the game to life.
Even though Nightow wasn’t directly involved with the project, his notes for the game still ended up taking form in the anime adaptation. Those ideas served as a basis for the team to create a story that gave homage to the mafioso crime genre the series loosely followed. It is thanks to Nightow’s unique concepts that the story can stand out, even if it plays a lot of it by the books.
That’s not to say that Yasuhiro Nightow is the only talented creative input for the anime. Without the talent of writer Yosuke Kuroda, director Toshiyuki Tsuru and everyone involved in the planning of this series, the end result wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive. In concept, Gungrave may not sound very impressive, it might even sound a little cliché, but it all lies carefully in the execution, the passion and the artistry of the team.
Now, that’s all well and good to create an adaptation, however, what does this show do to stand out even more as original anime? This leads us to the burning question, how is it that this show specifically differs in its execution from other anime adaptations that attempted a similar thing? How is it possible that this anime can be better than the game in terms of storytelling when it’s translating something from a completely different medium in terms of pacing, structure and delivery?
Well, that’s where Gungrave succeeds so greatly, while also cheating at the same time. Gungrave is not a straight or faithful adaptation of the original, and that’s a good thing. The show understands that you can’t turn the very gameplay driven and action-packed nature of the original game into an anime that can carry the same emotional weight as something like Trigun. For instance, you can’t really turn the idea of a blank slate silent protagonist into a compelling and multi-faceted character while staying completely faithful to the original. What you can do however is take the basis of that character and make a story around it that’s more interesting and fitting for that story oriented medium.
Such a revelation is what makes Gungrave stand out from its peers. By being self-aware enough to not try to be strictly faithful to its source material and alloying itself to stand on its own, the show is free to branch out and become something better while still keeping the spirit and concepts of what it trying to adapt. The story of the anime is essentially the story of the game, but it does so much more than the original in terms of tone, character and themes because it builds around them and creates something that’s far more suitable for an anime than a videogame.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a director has taken this kind of approach to an adaptation. Many people might not realize that Park Chan-wook’s Neo-Noir masterpiece Oldboy was actually an adaptation of a 90s manga with a similar name. However, the reason people don’t realize this fact has nothing to do with the film receiving more exposure compared to the original manga. Oldboy, the movie, is seen differently from Old Boy, the manga, because the film merely takes the basic premise and core thematic foundation of the original while turning it into something that’s completely unique and groundbreaking. The original manga is only another inspiration for Chan-wook’s piece of art.
This is relevant to the conversation because that is exactly what approach Gungrave’s anime takes when adapting the original. It takes the important elements from the game that could work in an original story and changes the presentation of those elements drastically enough so that they make work exceptionally well as their own story in this new medium. Gungrave doesn’t leech off of the original to be able to tell its story, instead it simply tells it within its own means, as the creative work of the team behind it.
Some have argued that, by not being faithful, Gungrave isn’t a true adaptation of the original and therefore it fails at doing what it sets out to do. After all, if its not taking exactly the appeal of the game and putting it on the screen, then it has no value to fans. However, I disagree with that and I believe that it is because it strays so heavily from its source that Gungrave’s anime works so well. It is not a replacement or a re-creation of the original, but an extension of it; a new installment in the franchise that re-imagines the game into something new that anyone can appreciate on its own.
By straying from its source, Gungrave is free to be a better story, which is at the end of the day what an anime should be first and foremost. The decisions the team made in terms of tone and structure were all in favor of telling a story that worked better in the medium of a Television show. The change in tone and structure was made because it’s a story that fits an anime better than a game would.
Its far more suitable to tell a slower paced character driven crime drama that spans a large amount of time in an anime than it is to tell it in an action-packed game. At the same time, the game’s story, which relies heavily on action and gunfights and not so much on characters and themes, would be much less interesting as a longer and more spread out series. When Devil May Cry: The Animated Series tried to do something similar to the game with its budget and staff, the end result was something most fans weren’t satisfied with.
A game can get away with a simple or lackluster story when it has otherwise great gameplay, but an anime will not be able to get away with a bad story all that easily. If the price of being more faithful to the original game aesthetically and structurally is having a weaker story, then Gungrave would be better off staying as a game. This is the third ingredient that makes Gungrave succeed as an adaptation where others did not: It strives to be itself before it tries to mimic the game. There’s no identity crisis holding the series back from telling a more compelling story as it is built from the ground up to be a story that only an anime can tell, instead of a pale imitation that just makes you want to go back to the game.
So, what is the result? It is perhaps one of the most underrated, emotional and gripping anime I’ve seen. As mentioned before, Gungrave is an anime that far surpasses the original not just in terms of storytelling, but also in its presentation, tone and execution. It is a crime, no pun intended, that this mafia drama turned sci-fi action series isn’t more recognized than it is. Despite having a small fanbase, the people who’ve seen this show are truly dedicated to loving it not just as an excellent expansion to the game, but also a great anime on its own.
Of course, the show is not without its faults. I don’t want to be disingenuous and claim that it is completely perfect, and some of its flaws may turn some people off. For once, the ambition of the team doesn’t quite match their budget, talent or both. Often times, certain animation cuts will look terrible and rushed, sticking out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, the series’ most dramatic scenes are given the care and attention that they deserve, so its not all terrible. However, the moments of lackluster animation are the norm, and not the exception.
In general, Gungrave isn’t a visually excellent anime, and it really shows. It is very inconsistent, not just with its animation, but also with the presentation of every scene. Sometimes, scenes will look dramatically stylish; other times, they will just look flat and featureless. For such an action centric show, the gunfights aren’t particularly dynamic. These consist mostly of dry ‘shot-reverse-shot’ scenes of a character shooting while another perishes, leaving our heroes with no scratches or injuries that would make things a bit more tense.
What Gungrave lacks in terms of action, it more than makes up for in terms of dramatic directing. It’s clear that the strength of the direction lies not with bombastic violence, but on slower scenes that put the emotions of the characters on display. The show is excellent at setting up a scene for its drama with the way it frames its shots, paces its editing and carefully builds up an atmosphere for these important events to occur.
Of course, the directing is only partly responsible for Gungrave’s strong atmosphere. The biggest contributor to the mood of each scene is Tsuneo Imahori’s perfectly fitting score, that highlights each scene of the show and makes it all the more exciting or poignant. Compared to his score for the game, which was louder and more focused on blood-pumping beats, the anime’s soundtrack is more mellow, morose, nostalgic and experimental. His jazzy music creates a strong mood and identity for the show, which covers a wide range of styles from wistfully minimalistic to heroically badass.
His music drives every emotion of the experience, but for the most part, it only accentuates how good the sound design is at creating such a strong mood. The series’ choice of sound effects isn’t particularly of the highest quality, but its greatest strength lies in the silence that elevates them. Despite being a show about a violent crime family, the series has more than plenty of quiet, intimate moments that are driven by the dialogue and music and accentuated by sound effects. There’s a contemplative quality to the way Gungrave can set up a scene, and when the visuals, music and dialogue all line up, it creates something truly special.
On the topic of sound, the series’ original Japanese voice dubbing is excellent at not only conveying the mellow tone of the anime through the character’s dialogue, but also bringing out the emotions of the characters in every scene. For a show that’s so focused on conveying characters through dialogue, it is great for each and every actor to give it their all when performing their respective roles, making sure that every subtlety in their performance carries across the internal struggles and dilemmas of their characters.
Aesthetically, the show really comes into its own by taking two conflicting influences and making them its own. It doesn’t take a keen eye to notice the many homages and influences the show takes from mafia movies, crime dramas and noir films of the past. It’s themes of brotherhood, family and vengeance may not be unique, but within the context of the show where it takes characters with unique personalities and backstories and fleshes them out along the course of the story to represent them, those references take on new meaning as not only a strong influence, but a powerful homage as well.
And later on, the series juxtaposes the strong homages to noir and crime dramas with the weird and unique sci-fi worldbuilding of the game. This mix of styles really makes the show become its own thing and avoid becoming overly cliché from the influences it takes inspiration from. As the series goes on, we can see it take a stronger direction that mixes styles and genres to visually bring out the emotions of the story. As our characters’ morals and happiness decay, so do their bodies and the world around them as it becomes more aesthetically twisted.
It may seem as though this mix of genres just wouldn’t be possible. After all, someone who’s expecting the show to be one thing might be strongly put off by the other; however, the show works so well at balancing the two that the drastic change isn’t quite so jarring, even though it is definitely noticeable. For once, it frontloads the weirder sci-fi aspects of the show in the first episode so new viewers would be instantly familiar with them. Then, as the show traces back to a point in the story where these elements are not present, it slowly introduces them in a logical and consistent manner as things go along so that the transition is adequately smooth.
Gungrave has some of the best pacing out of any anime I’ve watched. Even some of my favorite anime will usually have episodes that drag along or stall the progress of the narrative, but Gungrave isn’t like that. Almost every episode of the series serves a purpose in moving the story forwards and developing these characters in a meaningful way. Even though it spans such a long amount of time, the actual scenes spent with these characters always deliver on action or drama that either makes you realize something you didn’t know about the cast or changes their dynamic in a way that brings us closer to an anticipated finale.
Even the episodes that don’t directly advance the story of Brandon and Harry still work really well within the rest of the series. In fact, some of the most memorable episodes of the show are those that focus on powerful, short and episodic stories with their own cast of characters that struggle in interesting ways. It’s satisfying to learn about these people and see their stories come to an end, influencing the path that our own protagonists must take. What makes these episodes even more meaningful are the strong parallels to the overarching narrative and core themes of the series. Through these stories, we can learn a lot about the message the series is trying to present to the viewer, and once you’ve finished watching the entire show, it’s satisfying to come back to these episodes and see how they relate to the rest of the story.
Another aspect of the series’ pacing that works really well is the slow anticipation and dread for the eventual downfall of our characters. Based on the premise and the first episode, we know that something truly bad is going to happen that will turn the tide for these characters, but we don’t know what that thing is going to be. Despite knowing what’s going to happen, the show still finds a way to creatively lay down the pieces towards developing its story, thus building a house of cards that comes together with each of our characters’ ups and downs and then spectacularly crumbles once things reach a breaking point.
Even when things are at their worst however, the show’s pacing never relents and continues to develop the story of these characters by picking up the pieces that remain of the story and putting them back together to give the viewer a beautifully bittersweet conclusion. Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s metaphor of the bomb, the show carefully builds suspense by making the viewer aware of what our characters are not, thus creating a feeling of anticipation throughout the series so that each of these important moments hold more weight and so the viewer is more perceptive of the specific character flaws and mistakes that led to that point.
Gungrave is a tragedy in every sense of the word. There’s a certain Shakesperean fatality to the events that occur throughout our protagonists’ lives, as they are forever predestined to take the path that would lead them down a path of suffering. The viewer may know how the story goes, but there is still plenty of opportunities to guess at what might happen next and what terrible turn of events might influence the narrative later, as our characters’ happy lives are taken from them little by little. Some events in the story will make our characters feel fulfilled, while others will take them down dark paths.
It is thanks to these tragic elements that Gungrave can explore its rich themes, which are at the very core of the human spirit of these characters as well as our everyday lives. The story is an epic tragedy that takes the viewer on a journey to discover the value of friendship, family, corruption and crime through the lives of these people. Although these ideas may not seem entirely original, the way that they’re presented in the show makes them so much more impactful because it uses these characters to present them in a way that connects with our own emotions and experiences. We see characters taken to their limit as they defend and uphold their values, even if these values cause them harm, just because of their conviction to them.
The series takes the viewer on a journey through a long period of time of these characters’ lives as they come to discover themselves and what their place is in such a violent and hopeless world. As the story goes on, we come to see the subtle changes and evolution of these characters as they go on their respective story arcs. As time passes, we see their joy and energy dissipate as they become decayed and monstrous old men that have lost all their vigor over time. The effects of the passage of time over the show makes their development feel more tragic and significant, since the viewer is aware of the things that were gained and lost as time ticks away for our heroes.
There’s no shortage of character development in the show that makes every character feel fleshed out and compelling. As the show goes on, we can see Brandon, Harry and their companions gain a stronger sense of self and belonging, which is tested as their lives become more complicated. What keeps the viewer’s interest throughout all these trials and tribulations are the strong character dynamics that make their interactions fun to watch. It’s interesting to see how well the quiet, yet fierce Brandon compliments the boastful and scheming Harry; or how Brandon and Bunji develop a unique connection as teacher and student; even Harry’s sweet and loving relationship with Sherry is compelling to watch unfold.
Other than our main characters, Gungrave also boasts a great supporting cast that contributes to the show’s core dynamic. Characters like Maria Asagi, Bear Walken, Big Daddy and many others have intricate conflicts and personalities that support or contradict our main character’s own journey. Their presence adds so much to the story by not only being a great way to flesh out our main characters’ traits, but also by evolving the show’s themes with their unique perspective. For instance, it’s interesting to see how Maria’s relationship with Brandon affects both their characters and it’s even more compelling to see it evolve along the course of the story as both change through their life’s circumstances.
Every perspective in the show matters and is given proper attention to make it compelling. The characters are full of life and show many different characteristics and perspectives that make them interesting people. From the small-time crooks at the bottom of the organization’s food chain to the young girl whose life Brandon must protect at all costs; each of them offer enough life and character to the story to make each and every step of the journey worth remembering. Even the show’s villains have a strong perspective that greatly humanizes them by showing their own tragedies, hopes and dreams. Even at the height of their villainy, the viewer never sees them as anything but another sympathetic human being, even if that being has lost their way.
Perhaps what sells these characters best is the way that they’re subtly developed along the course of the story. The writing of the show is smart in the way that it only gives you the amount of information that you could naturally infer at any given point in time to interpret the way a character is feeling. The dialogue is great at bringing out all these small details about the characters, their personalities and their inner turmoil to let the viewer interpret why they act a certain way in any given moment. For such a character driven show, this is important because it furthers the connection the viewer has with each character, as we become very familiar with the way they speak and act as people, and not just a part in a television series.
Even as time goes on and these characters gradually evolve, the show doesn’t run the risk of making them lose the core of their character. Everyone’s characterization is highly consistent, and the relatability or likability of each character doesn’t fade over time unless that is the explicit purpose of the show’s writer. This is important because it keeps a sense of familiarity for each character, so even as they experience change throughout the course of the story, they still feel like people the viewer knows and relates to.
At the core of the show’s ever-changing state of affairs are its two protagonists: Harry MacDowel and Brandon Heat. These two friends share a beautifully multi-faceted and complex relationship that evolves along the course of the show. You see these two friends start out as young and irresponsible teens who soon become ambitious masters of their craft but are then left as broken and estranged enemies once their lives take drastically different paths until they can finally walk down the path of redemption. It is a wonderful character arc that is easily the one thing that keeps you watching the series from the beginning all the way to its bitter end.
This friendship is driven by how well written each of the two protagonists are in the story. Brandon Heat is a very fascinating protagonist, all thanks to the subtlety and unusual presentation of his character. At first glance, he comes off as the usual silent protagonist; but being a blank slate for the viewer isn’t his purpose in this story. Brandon Heat is his own person whose defining characteristic is his inability to easily express his emotions. He is someone who represses how he feels and has very strong emotions as a result. Once you realize this part of his character, you come to understand him in a very profound way.
Brandon is the kind of person that represses his feelings as he would rather see others than himself be happy. He is eager to sacrifice himself at any moment’s notice to protect those he loves because he thinks this is the right thing to do. However, this is Brandon’s biggest flaw as a character, since he doesn’t understand how his self-destructive actions might hurt people other than himself. People might rely on him to be open about his feelings so they can understand his actions, but his tormented self won’t let them. This flaw is what allows his life to continue to spiral down the path of tragedy, especially after his allegiances are tested by his friend’s ambition.
The mischievous Harry MacDowel is at the opposite end of the character spectrum. Brandon is a quiet and honest; Harry is volatile, loud and scheming. He is a man that has good intentions but becomes so enraptured in his own ambitions and goals that the forgets why he was ever trying to accomplish them to begin with.
Throughout his conquest, he leaves behind many of the things he swore loyalty towards and suffers as a result of abandoning the things that once made him happy. In many ways, he is the opposite of Brandon. While Brandon would give up his happiness to make others happy, Harry is eager to betray the ones he knows to achieve his dream of taking and giving whatever, he wants. However, despite their differences, these two friends continue to compliment each other as a result, and both meet the same tragic end because of their flaws and mistakes.
This beautiful friendship, and the way it evolves along the course of the show, is the core of the story and what keeps the viewer invested throughout the series’ 26 episode run. As the series goes on, the strengths and flaws of their personalities are explored and taken to their limits in a very tragic and hard-hitting way. It presents a self-contained story about the life experiences of two friends who become tangled in a web of crime and ambition, and how they manage to take back a fragment of what they lost along the way.
Their trials and tribulations culminate in one of the most powerful conclusions to any anime I’ve yet seen. Gungrave’s final episodes take everything you’ve learned about the characters and uses it to create an incredibly satisfying and resonant climax that is worth all the build-up, drama and tragedy of the show. It is a perfect ending that greatly wraps up the story of these two friends and gives closure to all the events of the series through the most dramatic and encompassing scenes of the entire anime.
Through this ending, we can appreciate how resonant the themes of Gungrave are, as it puts into perspective the message the writer is trying to tell through the story. As I’ve said multiple times before, Gungrave is essentially about the friendship of Brandon and Harry. It is a story about a bond so strong that it can overcome any adversity, even the passage of time. Gungrave explores the lives of people, their loyalty and love for one another, and how our own flaws can get in the way of that trust. It shows the sacrifices people make for the things and the people they believe in, and how those sacrifices affect the people around them. It explores the consequences of living in a world full of crime, and the way people choose to live within it.
Gungrave is an inherently human series about the conflicting thoughts and ideals of different people. It takes you through the lifespan of two young men and it shows you the way they change and evolve over time as they relate to others that share their own ideals. Gungrave lets you take a look at their internal struggles and their desire to love, grow, protect and overcome hardship. It is a story about an unlikely family that is formed along a great span of time, and what happens to it once those same people are changed by the currents of time.
As I said before, the series isn’t perfect. It could be a lot more polished in its production values, and you must get over that curve if you want to enjoy the series. However, I believe that Gungrave is the existing proof that a piece of media can survive and become excellent purely by resting on the merits of its amazing writing and directing. No matter how many instances of flawed animation Gungrave may have, they are far overshadowed by the intimate and poignant moments of character building and resolution. Those are the moments that make Gungrave such a special series.
Being an adaptation of a videogame that had little to none of that depth, Gungrave also goes to show what happens when you give a group of passionate writers and storytellers the freedom to tell the story they want to tell, even when they are tasked with adapting a source material. Thanks to the unique, creative and expressive vision of the team that produced Gungrave we have a story that can deeply resonate with its audience and make the game so much better in hindsight. Gungrave is truly a homage to all the things that influenced it, including the game it’s adapting.
Those reasons and more are why Gungrave is the best anime adaptation of all time. Sure, some adaptations are more faithful to the source material and others have better production values; but none other has the amount of heart that Gungrave possesses. It’s the best adaptation because it takes the original game and turns it into something that’s so much better than it was before. It works both as an expansion of the story of the original as well as its own stand-alone material that tells a story that is touching and relatable.
Gungrave is great, and I will continue to cherish it as one of the best pieces of media that I’ve seen. I understand not everyone will agree with my stance that it’s the best adaptation, but as far as videogame adaptations go, I haven’t seen another one that has made me resonate so greatly with its characters, themes and presentation. If you haven’t already, please watch the show; it’s hosted for free on Youtube through Funimation’s channel if you’re interested. Give the game a try too if it sounds like the kind of thing you’re interested in. Until then, I will continue to enjoy Gungrave as the best anime adaptation there’s ever been.