Gungrave Volume 6
I really loved the first half of Gungrave – the mafia politics, the emphasis on love and friendship, the way the characters gradually changed over decades, their ambitions twisting and turning. Compared with this sixth volume, it’s almost a completely different show. By introducing the super-powered science fiction and seeing many of the upstanding, proud personalities literally become blood lusting monsters, Gungrave has somewhere misplaced its quiet dignity, or rather, traded it in for the weirdest action seen this side of Trigun.
By now, Gungrave is showing its video game roots. When Brandon goes to face Balladbird Lee, he must first fight his way through over a hundred body building Orgmen with the big boss waiting for him at the end. Each time the boss gets harder to beat, but with every victory Brandon (a.k.a. Grave) gets closer to Bloody Harry, “completing” his vengeance. Clearly it’s a formulaic video game narrative, predictable but not without empathy – the quality of Brandon’s real life dealings with these people at least lends the colourful action a climatic emotional gravitas, basically we know of the human hearts beating beneath such grotesque bodies.
The oddest and subsequently worst “superior” monster transformation comes in the form of Bear Walken. Previously a figure of calm, mature subtlety – basically a wise old man – to see him willingly disfigure his body to such a degree and even laugh about killing Brandon is almost too strange to watch. Being eventually dispatched by Brandon tempers this surreal personality fit – naturally he goes back to worrying about Sherry, but by then the damage is done; such a serious character should never be made to look so cheap.
For what it’s worth, the action itself is quite excellent. Seeing Brandon battle against an ever worsening collection of monstrous mutants is exciting and fun, and wondering what weirdly crafted fiends he will come up against next is morbidly fascinating.
There is no denying that Gungrave #6 is a formulaic and odd trio of episodes, more notable for a surreal bunch of monsters than this series previously great Mafioso drama. Indeed that character strength still burns, but compared with the amount of mutants Grave stylishly shoots down, that flame of empathy is dying into a flicker of hope.