Speedgrapher Vol. #2 (also w/limited edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, August 22, 2006
What They Say
Alongside a tragic girl named Kagura, the supernaturally empowered Saiga flees from both enemies and inner demons. A single kiss has potentially delivered a crushing blow to the entire ruling class and the point of no return has been passed.
Contains episodes 5-8:
Whore of Diamonds
Out of Focus
The Big Picture
On the run and looking for anyplace they can to hide until they figure things out, Saiga and Kagura end up in a few tight situations.
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.
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.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but bolding up the text with a bright red color instead of the softer gray, this cover works a fair bit better than the previous cover but I'm amused at how much the evil dentist artwork has him looking more like a twisted ninja out of Basilisk due to the spider legs coming out of his back more than anything else. The designs fr Kagure and Saiga are good and Kagura in particular looks better than she did on the first cover. Even the rows of teeth along the bottom add real creepy edge to all of it for me. The back cover has a shot of Kagura from the show and ties it to some of the visuals from within as it strikes a bolder look with white and red being the dominant colors. The lengthwise look of the animation is followed up by having the summary, red on white, 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.
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 front cover of the demented dentist with his rows of teeth. 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.
This installment 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. Another round ofactor auditions for the English language version is included here which is rather interesting to hear if you're into how the choices are made. My complaints about this extra are the same as the ones for Basilisk in that there's zero chapter stops and you can't even fast forward through it, leaving it so you either hit menu or stop. It's just very poor authoring.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The opening volume of Speedgrapher ended up being the kind of unexpected change from what we'd been watching a lot of lately so that it's striking visuals and edgier and more "mature" content felt like a radical shift. While there continue to be mature shows put out every year, few of them really seem to make their way over here and in the sea of school age shows and harem pieces, something like this simply stands out a lot just because of things like this. With the second volume, some of that initial surprise is naturally worn off but the series manages to expand on its characters fairly well while the show is kept mostly to just an extended chase sequence.
With Kagura in tow, Saiga's just trying to put some distance between him and the Tennouzu Group and the strange people that are intent on finding them. It's an amusing and somewhat laidback escape for them as Saiga finds himself chuckling over the way that Kagura is so much like a country bumpkin tourist in the big city for the first time. So much of what she sees is new to her since she's been so sheltered that for someone as world weary and "dead" as Saiga is, it actually gets to him a bit. Though not all of it is cute such as when he learns that the reason she was giggling on the subway was because some lecher was touching her ass. But that's a key scene in that it's from that touch that her smell gets extended outside again which allows for the scent to be caught by the very stranger Tennouzu operative with the nose mask.
Kagura gets herself plenty of education along the way as Saiga is taking them to a drag club to hide since he knows the owner pretty well. While Saiga gets to handle working the bar in payment, he's also getting things together for dealing with his new power and understanding its limits by using different kinds of lenses, cameras and settings within the camera as all of that seems to affect the power of the "shots" of his. Kagura on the other hand is spending her time with the guys who truly want to be girls as they prepare for the show and she even ends up being taken out on stage with them which is amusing at first but gets interesting as she shifts into singing an all English song, Amazing Grace.
Where this chase scene gets interesting over the course of the first three episodes of this volume is that the Group has brought in a curious Euphoria participant, a woman named Koganei whose husband has died some months earlier. She's intent on keeping to his love of diamonds by actually eating them and absorbing them into her body. Her power lets her taken on many of the qualities of a top class diamond, so much so that she's hard to focus on because of the clarity, and that causes plenty of trouble when Saiga has to deal with her. Not that the Group members don't have a hard time with her as well since she's pretty much cracked in the head. She's got a great scene where she has them stop the car on the way to the club so she look at the diamond ring on some young girls finger. And then proceeds to bite off the entire finger so she have the diamond itself. She's not altogether there in the head and she proves it several times during the chase.
Even though there's a good back and forth between Saiga and the Group and Koganei as they all try to keep Kagura for their own reasons, there is a fair bit of background that gets brought into the show as well as it moves along. Time spent with one of the countryside doctors that knows Saiga has him telling Kagura some of his past with Saiga and why he'll do anything for him and why Saiga does what he does for his pictures. This is also played against a similar tale as the bizarrely dressed female cop gets closer to finding Saiga and ends up with a huge stash of years worth of undeveloped pictures. Through these she's getting a better idea of who this guy really is but not much closer to understanding what's really going on as the Group exerts its influence in keeping the troubles and damage it causes under wraps. While Kagura doesn't get her story expanded all that much here, Saiga becomes a bit more fleshed out and it works to the shows advantage this early on.
While not quite as flashy and engaging as the first volume which had admittedly far too many things going on at once that it overwhelmed slightly, this is a solid follow-up to those first four episodes and it builds well upon them. It is going with fairly standard storytelling techniques at this point in a twenty-plus episode series but it's avoiding anything that really feels like fluff and filler. This show is still plenty engaging and fun to watch for its visuals and creativity in the Euphoria types that inhabit it, but also from the slowly building background story of the influence and intrigue that's mixed in because of the Group itself. Speedgrapher is in a slow-build phase right now but it's doing it well.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Art Gallery,Textless Songs,Character Profiles,English Cast Auditions
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.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2