Speedgrapher Vol. #4 (also w/limited edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, December 11, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2006
What They Say
The stink of corruption permeates every brick in the city, and Saiga's eyesight continues to grow worse by the day. As the truth is revealed through the lens of a microscope, the photographer is left to wonder which battlefield from his past made him a player in this deadly game. But the genetic puzzle must be left for another day, for Saiga has a promise to keep.
In Tokyo, celebrities gather to the strains of blasphemous organ music while the new king of the underworld waits for his silent bride-to-be at the altar. As all that is holy crumbles around the nuptials, and Saiga attempts a daring rescue with the whole world watching. Once again the unlikely pair are forced to flee, leaving Suitengu's intentions to grow darker by the day as he works to outmaneuver those who plot against him, all swearing an unsteady allegiance to the flesh.
Contains episodes 13-16:
Ginza the lawless
The Wedding Photographer
Hell is a Wet Woman
Audit the Wicked
After the drama and bloodshed of the previous volume, everything starts to change once more except for one thing " Saiga's almost always on the run.
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, 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. More noticeable in this volume, possibly because of the player we're using now, there is much more noticeable noise in the background and shifting of colors. The closer you are the more noticeable it is so the impact will vary likely.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but bolding up the text with a bright red color instead of the softer gray, this volume is fairly subdued but really good looking overall. With it focusing on Saiga, who is done up a bit stylishly here, the blues around him looks great as does the way you have Harumi looking up at him. I also love the way the shading works as it goes from the mermaid imagery down to the darker depths. 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 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 very appealing with a shot of Ginza falling down that almost looks angelic as it uses a great sense of color design.
Definitely an artistic but interesting choice here, the menu design is essentially garish yet still oddly enticing as it has a close-up of Kagura's face but is done in some very bold colors. 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.
The extras get changed up a bit for this volume with something a bit more Japanese centric. The standards are here in the art gallery and the clean versions of the opening and closing songs as well as the latest round of character profiles. The character cast auditions return once again and they're encoded the same as the previous ones which just makes me not want to even listen to them. The fact you can't get out of it other than stopping it or doing a top menu is very annoying. The new extra on here is entitled the "Saito Documentary", a multi-part piece apparently. It's focus is on the voice actress behind the role, from auditions to performance pieces. Unlike the cast auditions piece, you can fast forward through this. It's also a lengthy piece at around thirty five minutes long.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In some ways, Speed Grapher seems like a series that would be better suited to a few less episodes overall. While the show isn't exactly in a phase of being drawn out, it seems like there's only so many times that Saiga can snap up Kagura and run off with her. And that's even without the recap episode at the end here that shows it happening all again.
Saiga's position in the world since getting involved in all of this continues to be not good. He's spending time in the jail now but it's not like they can really keep him since they let him keep his camera. Ginza's doing her best to convince him to stop what he's doing since it seems to be only endangering her life. Their relationship gets even weirder during this as she's seemingly feeling much more attached to Saiga than he wants her to actually be, almost to a level where she's starting to seem a bit unbalanced. Her understanding of what's going on is a bit more than most, especially after the visit by the tattooed man in the last volume, but it isn't until she's caught up in a fight between Saiga and another of these powered enemies that Suitengu controls that she really begins to comprehend.
These powers are starting to get a bit more explored in this volume as well as Saiga has managed to get some of his blood and Kagura's blood analyzed. The scientist is amusingly keen on understanding it but he has some real results for Saiga. Saiga's been a carrier for some time but he's been unable to pin down when and on what battlefield he may have been contaminated with it. The genetics that are involved with it are interesting and rather open ended as it basically lets the mutation become whatever a person wants. Even more interestingly, there's no trace of it in Kagura's blood but rather something else, which continues to push her as something of a gift in a way.
Saiga's not spending too much time dealing with all of this or the repercussions of using his powers. The news of Shinsen's death is a surprise but even more so is that Kagura is now apparently betrothed to Suitengu. With her papers doctored for her age, Suitengu is moving quickly to take over the Tennozu Group by marrying here and pushing it as a last wish by her mother. Some on his side that are backing him don't quite care for the way it is playing out but he's managed to bring them things both in money and in discoveries that gives him room to do what he really wants to do. As we see him now in this role of more open control of Kagura and the Group, he's become an interesting mix of compassionate and cruel.
The series does move through some fairly bland points here even though there is a good deal of twists and turns provided by the way the characters act. Having Saiga do another rescue of Kagura feels repetitive and their being on the run without any clear stated goal just yet is reminiscent of the first time they were on the run. They do up the ante a bit with the potential way their relationship may change but it's kept fairly subdued which is nice. The mix of villainous types they deal with aren't too interesting but they're different than most other shows since it's all adults outside of Kagura. This gives them a bit of a different approach from other younger cast oriented shows.
What surprises me the most about the show right now, four volumes in, is just how much I really love the opening sequence and its music. Due to things going on while prepping the review, I had ended up skipping around a lot and backtracking to the start of an episode. Each time I found that I didn't want to skip past the opening as the music and the visuals just kept drawing me in. The further into the series I get, the more interesting it is to see the opening sequence and how they worked it all. The music was something that turned off some folks before but I've found it to be one of the best instrumental openings for the show. I wish more shows would use them instead of vocal pieces but that won't happen anytime soon.
Speed Grapher hits some interesting moments throughout here though some of it does feel repetitive. Even though I give some grief to the recap episode, they do a decent job of making it feel like it's relevant by having some of the financials of each encounter play out on top of it. There are some good discoveries made during this as Saiga starts to get a grip on what his body is going through but he's far more focused on rescuing Kagura from Suitengu. There are some really good moments in here but a lot of it still feels like we're waiting for the next big moment and much of this could have been compressed without any loss.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitiles,Art Gallery,Textless Songs,Character Profiles,English Cast Auditions,Sait Documentary Part 1
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 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