Friday, December 5, 2014
Hints of the Eternal Story in Gungrave
Dead week is ending, finals are coming, and I'm more Swamped than ever. Thankfully, a little over a month ago, I had a chance to center my homework around Gungrave, my favorite anime. We were to write a brief paper about how something from pop culture reflected truths about God's story. I'm changing some wording to fit this blog's audience better, but other than that, I'm pretty much posting the paper as-is. And adding screenshots.
This is a very brief overview of some ways that Gungrave reflects truths about us and about God (most likely without the makers realizing it). Eventually, maybe I'll write in-depth posts about some of these details. Also, I'd like to analyze what the main characters' values are, and how they contrast with a Christian point of view. But not today. Today, I focus on hints and reflections of truth.
*Spoilers ahead!* Pretty much all the important parts of the plot are spoiled. So read at your own risk. If you're interested in a more "typical" review with less spoilers and a little bit of fangirling, see my Rewind post from 2013.
Gungrave is an anime that crosses mafia drama with science fiction. It centers around loyal Brandon and ambitious Harry, best friends who, as young men, become involved in a mafia-like syndicate called Millennion. They work their way up, into the leader, Big Daddy’s, inner circle, or “family.” Then Harry prepares to betray Big Daddy and everyone loyal to him. This includes Brandon. But Brandon anticipates this. Before Harry kills him, he makes arrangements for a procedure that allows him to become “Beyond the Grave.” Thirteen years later, Brandon returns to kill his best friend and everyone else who betrayed Millennion. It’s love and honor that drive him to kill, not hateful revenge. This is beautifully illustrated in the last episode, when he and Harry die together in the abandoned cafe they lived in as street kids.
Brandon provides an illustration of God’s unconditional love, paired with his justice. He still loves Harry, and he gives him ample opportunity to change. But when Harry won’t turn back, Brandon prepares to kill him. He further echoes Jesus when he is killed by Harry, and when his other comrades join Harry’s betrayal. He dies at the hands of the very people he loves, but he does not resent them. Instead, he returns, to bring “justice” and, to what extent is possible, reconcile relationships. Similarly, Jesus died and rose again without resentment, to redeem us from sin. And, also similarly, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.
Deep relationships, especially platonic and familial ones, provide a strong theme throughout Gungrave. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had a pure relationship between themselves and God, untainted by deceit or greed. Humans aren’t made to live alone, and that shows in Gungrave. Brandon is especially good at valuing fellowship, but Harry gravitates to family-like groups, too. First, it’s their little gang in the slums. Then, it’s Millenion. Harry even gets married. Since wives, unlike best friends, are kept out of mafia business, he enjoys a relatively fulfilling relationship.
Death, specifically murder, is an obvious hint throughout Gungrave. But the hints that resonate more deeply come from broken relationships. Sin prevents Brandon from a relationship with his beloved Maria. He is too involved in underworld dealings—and too loyal to Harry—to be a stable man for her. When stated like that, it sounds like an illustration of the separation between God and Man after the Fall. (Now there is a topic I'd like to explore—Maria and Brandon's relationship as a reflection of the human condition.) Most glaringly, Harry does not understand that selfless love and loyalty are infinitely more valuable than power and money. Thus, he accuses Brandon of betraying him by standing in his way. Instead of trusting his friend’s goodwill, he kills him—much like Eve and Adam chose not to trust God’s command. Harry misplaces his trust and confuses his priorities, just like so many of us do when blinded by the allure of sin.
There is an echo of redeeming love in the last episode of Gungrave. Brandon finally begins to get through to Harry, to remind him of the friendship they used to have. At times, the screen shows them as their younger selves, from before Millenion. Past and present mix in their last minutes, and they see dead friends. This gives hints of an afterlife, and of reunion with loved ones. With Brandon’s last words right before they shoot each other, he suggests they return to their childhood, to days of freedom. In the last scene, they do just that. We see the day Brandon and Harry meet at the orphanage. It shows restoration of relationships, innocence, and freedom.
This is one of my favorite anime, and I’m sure it’s largely because of the elements outlined here. It shows the broken nature of human life and relationships, but it also values both of them very deeply. God isn’t acknowledged in this anime, but it does acknowledge our ability to love despite the worst, and without letting go of justice. That is something that God created, that reflects him, and is beautiful even in the most broken settings.