Speedgrapher Vol. #1 (also w/limited edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, July 07, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, July 04, 2006



What They Say
Experience the supernatural action, forbidden lust and conspiracy of this futuristic thrill ride! Death is in the hands of a photographer, assassinations are running rampant and all answers revolve around a beautiful and unimaginably powerful young girl.

Contains episodes 1-4:
Depravity City
Goddess of Greed
Film Like a Bullet
Lethal Headshot

The Review!
Mixing together something from Eyes Wide Shut, Gantz and several nods to the adult anime world, Speed Grapher isn't like too many other shows out there.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The show has a solid stereo mix to it with a fair amount of directionality across the forward soundstage throughout the episodes. A good bit of it comes from how the shutter sound is worked and angled during the various uses of it. Dialogue itself is also well placed with some good noticeable movements and locations provided during the course of the show. The English track also sports a 5.1 mix which added a bit more clarity and definition to the vocal lines and strengthened up the music and effects a bit as well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This show is a bit tricky in trying to pin it down because it's using some different styles to effectively tell the show. For example, in the opening episode we have several scenes as viewed through Saiga's camera and it's very grainy and shaky but it's well encoded. When it shifts to the present day time, there's a much clearer picture but it's still rather soft with a somewhat washed out palette. There are a lot of vibrant colors mixed into the show overall and in key scenes, but it has something of an intentional cold and shallow feeling to it in a good number of the scenes. Because of how the tweak out the colors and some of the effects, you can see some banding in scenes and what looks to be some mosquito noise but it's not unexpected with the way they've designed the look of this.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but bolding up the text with a bright red color instead of the softer gray, the opening piece of artwork we see for the show is quite good as it has the pairing of Saiga and Kagura together as money floats all around them. If there's anything that doesn't work too well here it's how Kagura's face looks as she doesn't really come close to how she's represented in the show, she actually looks worse here. It is an appealing cover overall through as it ties together some of the basic themes of the show and with the logo on its side, it doesn't feel like most other cover designs. The back cover has a slightly better shot of Kagura from the show and ties it to some of the visuals from within as it strikes a bolder look with black and red being the dominant colors. The angled look of the animation is followed up by having the summary, white on red and black, also angled while the production and technical information is angled in a completely different direction, making you twist the case around to get all the info. There are a number of shots from the show included but they're so small they might as well not be there. The reverse side cover is quite good though as it's a two panel spread of Saiga in a fighting mode with a panicked Kagura by his side.

Menu:
The menu layout for the release is a bit chaotic but it fits in with the overall design of the show as it uses the artwork from the back cover of Kagura and keeps her at that angle while mixing in the logo at a similar angle, both partial and full, as well as other pieces of the show into the background that gives it almost a feeling of vertigo. The actual menu selections are only slightly angled and on top of each other so there isn't any additional problems in navigation. The design overall fits the feel of the show but it's a bit surprising at first, though the mellow music in the background does plenty to easy things. The navigation is quick and effects and we had no problem getting around. The disc did not read our players' language selections though and figuring out subtitles on the fly isn't pleasant since they're listed as *** instead of being properly labeled.

Extras:
The opening volume has a couple of interesting extras to check out, particularly for dub fans. The usual kind of extras are here in that we get the art gallery and a set of character profiles as well as the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. Also included is a set of actor auditions for the English language version which is rather interesting to hear if you're into how the choices are made.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While series from Gonzo can be hit or miss in terms of how well they fair overall, one thing is for certain and that it's at least going to be something that we'll want to check out because they've done some interesting work in the past. For me, their good material outweighs the poor, most of which was actually short and didn't take up too much of our time. With Speed Grapher, we had no idea what to expect from it since we hadn't even seen a trailer for it before (Come on Funimation, get your trailers out there before the DVDs come out and advertise to your audience, not all of us know what everything is about beforehand).

Speed Grapher arrives with a bit of controversy though it's limited; the opening sequence is as we saw but it's not the same as the Japanese release. During the shows design phase, the creators spent two years trying to acquire the song "Girls on Film" from Duran Duran. While they were successful in doing so, they didn't get the rights for it to be used outside of Japan and the cost of doing so would be prohibitive to releasing the show. So what we get is a rather solid instrumental score (you know, what most shows actually used to use before parent companies insisted on using up and coming pop idols) that really sets the stage well for the show.

Another interesting facet to the release, at least to me, is that I believe this is the first release that I've seen that FUNimation has done in-house on their own DVD authoring system. Gone is the page at the end of the release that detailed the production and credited Vision Wise and there are no on-disc credits page which only reinforces that. For the most part they seem to have done a good job but some of the basics continue to not be met, such as properly labeling the subtitle streams, checking the players presets or allowing for an angle change from the language selection menu. Just because I want to watch it with Japanese audio doesn't necessarily mean I want the Japanese credits, I may want to read the English credits to see whose involved.

The show itself is rather surprising as we got into it since as mentioned earlier, we had no idea what to expect. Taking place in a very similar world to our own, we're introduced to Saiga, a photographer who after many years of being involved in the trade isn't quite the man you'd expect. We see through a flashback scene to a time when he was covering a war and captured on film the exact moment someone died from a bullet wound to the head and it simply struck him hard. So hard that he was aroused by it without realizing it. From then, he's spent his career trying to find things to photograph that have some real meaning to it though they're hard to come by. What he's looking for is elusive but there's a real draw to find it. And along the way, the pictures he does take tend to strike others pretty hard so he's able to make a living off of it.

But now that he's found himself spending time in Tokyo, the city of ultimate corruption and extravagance after something called the Bubble War has ended, he's surrounded by millions of people that have no real life to them, they're almost empty shells and just people that are living basic lives, even those in power. His life has very little to engage him but he suffers through in search of something that will bring him to life. This ends up happening when he's asked to find out something about a secret club in Roppongi that a number of elites belong to and he catches a way into the underground location. This simple shoot starts to turn into something far bigger when he finds out that this secret club has its own underground subway system to it and its many members wear cloaks and butterfly masks to obscure their identities. The actual club is a massive opulent series of rooms that's almost like a maze that has one central chamber that rises up several stories.

It's at this point where the two stories that fill the opening volume to converge. Saiga has stumbled into something called a Goddess Ceremony where one of the attendees finds himself naked on the platform and a beautiful young woman in skimpy white lingerie floats down from the massive chandelier to gift him with her kiss. A kiss that will give that person something really powerful provided they have the right makeup to them. Saiga's arrival causes the ceremony to go awry and before he knows it, he's being kissed by the Goddess, who is actually a high school girl named Kagura that's being manipulated with key words and hypnotism, and Saiga finds himself surging with a strange power.

The story shifts away from him for awhile though and we start to see the other side of the picture where Kagura is the sole daughter of the Tennouzo Group, an incredibly massive and all powerful corporation that has sprung up in Japan and gobbled up dozens of other companies which allows it to have its fingers in practically every aspect of life in the city. Kagura is a fairly simple and naïve schoolgirl who is very controlled by her mother and her accomplice, a man named Suitengu who runs the secret club and much of the dirty work of the Group. Kagura is kept under tight control even in how she gets to school and who she associates with. In one surprising scene, Kagura comes home after confiding in a teacher about the lack of food her mother gives her only to find that teacher naked in her own bed while her mother is going down on her. The teacher is apparently bought by how much money she can carry on her person while naked, and in a world where money is everything, that's all she needed.

The theme of money and power is very strong throughout this show. We have a lot of scenes with Suitengu going around to the various underworld style settings and politicians who are in debt to the Group and using money to buy whatever is needed. When one politician is killed during the ceremony, they buy off his wife with billions of yen only to initiate a plan to eventually put her son into debt and thereby acquire the entire estate. Another man is killed for something like a thousand yen not being part of his paid debt after his son swipes a bill without his noticing. The theme isn't particularly new or really done very differently here, but it's combined well with the stronger acts of violence that are on a level more associated with Gantz than say Gungrave and the sexuality to it is far closer to an adult release than anything else.

While the show does have a strong real world feel to it in how much of it plays out, there are a few differences to it that make it stand out a bit more. The gift that the Goddess gets to bestow upon those who have the right makeup is something called Euphoria. When Saiga receives it, it gives him the ability not only to heal more quickly but it also changes his eye and how he uses it camera; when he snaps pictures now with film in it, it causes a wave of power and destruction on its subjects. This destruction arouses him just as the captured shot from the first scenes do so it appeals directly to his core self though he has to try and keep it in check. Another character that was gifted and works for Suitengu is a popular performer dancer named Shirogane. He's simply cracked in the head to begin with but with his power to change his body to rubber and mold it in any form necessary, he's a controlled version of a psychotic who dresses up all in black latex from head to toe and bounces around town to kill those who need it. Shirogane is one of the more unique and memorable villains that I've seen in a show in recent memory and he brings a real chilling edge to the show.

In Summary:
Speed Grapher is a show that actually warrants its mature rating without feeling like it's trying to be gratuitous like Gantz, which while it does have a plot and reason for being, it never felt like that it was really trying to tell a story. Speed Grapher in its first four episodes lays a lot of ground work for the way Tokyo operates in this world and what the bigger plans of the Tennouzo Group are all about. It plays heavily with sex, violence and money without apologizing. The mixture of the unreal with the Euphoria powers adds a dimension that gives it something really fun to play with, but what really works the best is just how flawed that the lead character is and how open they are about it in terms of how it affects him. This isn't a pretty show in some ways but it's got its own sense of beauty that's just fascinating and engaging to watch. This is anime that doesn't treat you like a child with a few nods and winks but rather the full deal. Recommended for those looking for something harder and edgier than your normal pop culture anime.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery,Textless Songs,Character Profiles,English Cast Auditions

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Speedgrapher