By name and by nature, Brandon Heat is now Beyond the Grave. Murdered by his best friend 13 years previous and resurrected hours after the shooting of the love of his life Maria, Beyond the Grave is now a raging avatar of revenge, hell bent on nothing but facing Bloody Harry for one last time. Despite his memories being fractured, distorted by his lifeless state, Brandon slowly begins to remember his life and what it means to protect his friends.
In the years that have flown past since Brandon’s untimely demise, Millenion’s (and indeed, Harry’s) rise in power has been nothing less than unstoppable. Aided by their supernatural Orgmen, the syndicate now dominates everything and anything from politics to the police, and sitting at the top is the old ambitious team of Harry, Kugashira Bunji, Ballabird Lee, Bob Poundmax and Bear Walken.
Each of them has somehow changed; in some cases only slightly and in others eccentrically. Their almost unlimited power and insane ambition has peaked, leaving them decadent and lacking in human compassion. Clearly, Millenion is no longer a family.
If you didn’t know already, Gungrave started life as a Dreamcast video game. You played as Beyond the Grave and went through level after level of destroying Orgmen and occasionally coming up against a powerful “level boss”. This is how the anime is playing out now; Beyond the Grave (Brandon) will systematically come up against the “big 5” of Millenion, all of which have their own bizarre Orgmen powers. The first of these battles sees Brandon facing off against the fat Bob Poundmax. It’s a great if very weird fight (Bob mutates in some grotesque ways) but I can’t help lament Gungrave for falling into this generic video game formula. This is a series that has built itself up on serious, compelling characterization and it loses a lot of its dignity by having Brandon face off against some quirky, but ultimately very traditional monsters. Imagine The Sopranos crossed with Hellsing and you’re some way to understanding why this is such a startling mix of horror and mafioso drama.
With that said, volume 5 is still a cut above the typical action/horror effort simply because of the touching, sad relationships torn between characters. Despite being driven by an urge for revenge, Brandon is still undoubtedly connected to Harry; theirs is a friendship that goes beyond such trivial issues as life and death. Maria’s appearance is tragically short lived, but still packs a powerful emotional uppercut that resonates with such a strong sense of lost love.
Gungrave #5 shows signs of falling into formulaic action territory when Beyond the Grave routs his way through the monstrous forces of Millenion, but retains its emotional power and tense dramatic appeal thanks to complex and tragic characters like Brandon and Maria. Everyone is heading straight for destruction by way of revenge.