I know I've talked about reviewing before. Anyway, the short version for this purpose is that I'm going into this as a fan. That means that a) I'm biased, naturally, and b) I'm looking for entertainment value before I ever look for art value. For the purposes of ranking, I'll use a six-part scale, as follows: (1. Don't recommend even trying to watch it; 2. Minimally watchable, give it a shot if it somehow piques your interest or falls into one of your preferred niches; 3. An average show, neither really good nor bad; 4. A good show, actually recommendable; 5. A great show, give it a try unless it falls in a genre that you actively dislike; 6. An excellent show, at least give it a shot whether you like the genre or not.) Remember, though, that all of these are biased through my belief in what constitutes good and bad in a show (or a book, or music, for that matter). I'll try to be as clear as possible as to what that bias is, though, so that the ratings will actually be useful to you.
Up today is the anime series Gungrave. This was recommended to me by a friend of mine as one of his favorites. I was almost willing after the first episode to write it off as an incredibly generic, over-cooked action/adventure show for boys (hereafter called a shounen action, meaning an action show for young boys), but, between the praise that my friend had given it, and the fact that I try to give series at least two or three episodes to develop before deciding whether or not to dump them, I plowed on.
I'm certainly glad that I did. In contrast to the first episode, where everything was displayed in a characteristic over-the-top, semi-futuristic, shounen action way, the series quickly settled into the past, concentrating on the lives of the two young men who would become the major players in what the first episode had established as the present. To put it simply, I came to a shounen action series, and a character drama broke out. The characters developed a level of depth that I certainly hadn't expected... always a good thing, in my estimation.
By my measure, the arc in the past was strong, concentrating primarily on how the two main characters, Harry MacDowel and Brandon Heat, came from being low-grade street punks to rise through the ranks of Millennion, the criminal organization which controlled their city.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the past is not indefinitely long. Shortly after the halfway point of the 26-episode series, the show caught back up with the present, with all of the over-the-top-ness that implied from episode one... with bells on. Instead of the story of people we could accept as real, we have guys sprouting extra limbs, explosive bombs made of body fat, and helicopter blades coming out of their backs, amongst other things.
There should be no surprise that the best moments of the second half of the series were also the most human ones, and that extended even as far as the obligatory fights. The more human the opponent in question was (I hesitate to use the word villain, since where are you going to apply it? To the current members of the mob? Or the former hit man now out for revenge against the organization?), the more interesting the fight was.
Now, I'm given to understand that the "present" portion of Gungrave was actually based off of the first video game of the same name. That being the case, whoever wrote the "past" portion did an impressive job of storytelling. If only they would have allowed a rewrite of the game-based portion by that same person to cut down on the excesses, I could have classified this as a great show.
Audio: Japanese, with English subtitles (an English dub is included on the discs, but what little of it I listened to made me wish I hadn't)
Overall: A good show that bordered for a long time on greatness. I'd suggest giving it a shot, but understanding that if you're not really a fan of the first episode, there will be parts of the second half that you won't have any appreciation for. If you get that far, though, see it through to the end, as the ending lives up to the expectations placed upon it.