Speedgrapher Vol. #5 (also w/limited edition) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2007



What They Say
Tokyo has adopted a new tune, as a music box chimes in the night from Suitengu's palm. The tragic melody of a childhood stolen; a soul turned black at the hands of those seduced by greed. Draining the financial lifeblood of the nation, the Goddess has gone commercial, her essence reducing the masses to their baser instincts. Laughter rings down from the heights on to a city infected and dying.

Yet the damnable underground has a counterpoint; a revolution on the horizon determined to unseat the corrupt. A new leader in the eyes of the idealistic, Saiga is faced with a difficult decision to either bring the system down alongside the political maverick, or to focus on shielding the innocence of Kagura. But a staggering betrayal shakes the city to its depths as the ultimate administrator of wickedness rises to unleash anarchy.

Contains episodes 17-20:
The Reaper and the Nouveau Riche
Fates and Fists
Lips and Lied
Good Vibrations

The Review!
The tapestry of the past and present is expanded upon here as we learn some important motivations as well as just how big the picture possibly is.

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, 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.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but bolding up the text with a bright red color instead of the softer gray, this installment is solid but part of it isn't all that relevant to these particular episodes. The foreground has the three men that Suitengu employs to do a lot of his dirty work but they're mostly absent from these episodes. The background character artwork of Ginza however fits in well and this is one of the few times she actually looks like an interesting character. The way she looks and moves within the show doesn't work quite so well unfortunately. 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 is a great looking piece that has Saiga and Kagura outside with petals floating around. The color design and the placement of the two just works very well.

Menu:
Using the artwork from the cover with a zoomed in shot of Ginza's face, the colors are punched up a bit and almost hit a bit of a garish level when it comes to the pinks, particularly where the navigation strip is. 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 extras for this round are basically continuations of what we got the last time which is a very good thing. 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 previous volume had a great new extra in the "Saito Documentary"and it continues here with part two. Like the first part, it's a piece that focuses on the voice actress for Kagure and what went into getting the part and more.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
During part of the middle of this series it started to feel like they were stretching things out just a bit too much. The repetitive nature of Kagura being captured, Saiga rescuing her, couple on the run was getting to be a bit much. When things did change up a bit in having the two of them apart it felt weak as well since they just seemed to be going in circles until they could get back to familiar territory. Some changes did happen though as we saw certain characters sidelined and a power grab went into effect.

This set of episodes has some of those elements that made it not quite so enjoyable but they also start revealing more of what's going on. With the show getting closer to completion, there is a greater sense of urgency that's permeating each of the episodes as they need to build it up to a proper crescendo from which to end everything. That involves getting some new characters into the mix as well as expanding on ones we're familiar with. Because of this however, some of our more familiar characters get a bit more sidelined. While Saiga is still prominent, Kagura is more of a background character as are the men who work under Suitengu. Suitengu himself actually falls off the map for a good deal of this volume.

Where his character doesn't disappear though is in the first one where it explores his past and explains why he is like he is. Something that went on in his past has made him as cruel as he is but there's also a strange streak of kindness and understanding as well. Nothing really makes him a sympathetic character but understanding his motivations goes a long way in explaining how he operates in the present. Seeing that he underwent something of a similar situation as other young children whose parents didn't take care of their debts properly to the underworld money men takes care of why he has some sort of compassion towards those that he ruins. It doesn't deter him from doing what's required, but the way so many men bow before him and offer their children in addition to money just sickens him. Money is no more than a means to an end but that end is still very unclear.

Some of the better moments of his origin involve how he ended up being trained in such deadly arts as well as the movements through society. His involvement in freeing Tsujido from the torture he was undergoing as well as his comrades explains much about their devotion to him. Seeing him taking advantage of Kagura's mother in such an amusing if simple sexual manner also speaks volumes about how he'll do what's required. His ascent in the Tennozu Group is something that really needed to be explored and this essentially self contained episode doesn't leave too many stones unturned with what needed to be covered. He's still nowhere near a sympathetic character but his methods and beliefs are now something that make sense, even as disturbing as they are.

Speed Grapher does start progressing the overall plot forward though and it does it in a few amusing ways. One of them is that Kagura as part of the Tennozu Group is now being promoted heavily across multiple product lines, from lipstick to cel phones. Watching the way she's becoming such an integral part of popular culture is fun since they do so much of it with her image from how we saw her at first in the series as an angel floating from above. A lot of money is moving about because of all this and Suitengu's plans are moving forward with all of this. The massive money vault that they have is a laughable thing but depending on how what he has in mind works out it could make a lot of sense.

While this goes forward, Saiga ends up getting drawn into a group courtesy of his friend Dr. Ryogoku. With a friend in the Diet, he hooks Saiga and Kagura up with Representative Ochiai who is manage a group called the White Hawks. Their belief that those who control the money in the country are where the real problem lies and they're intent on exposing the secret club and the kind of twisted experiments that have gone on in there. To do so though, they need to have Saiga demonstrate what he can do before them which will help solidify their position as well as draw more members in since they'll want proof. But as with anything involving politics, the people you see aren't the ones truly controlling things and it starts to seem like Suitengu may not be the real power behind the throne as other plots start to materialize.

In Summary:
Speed Grapher still plays around with a sense of trying to be "adult" by the way it mixes in such strong sexual moments. The violent side of it gets this treatment as well and like the sex it works sometimes. Other times it does feel tacked on to try and give it that mature/edgier feel though. When taken in total, much like earlier parts of the series, it does all work rather well provided you aren't bothered to your core about it. This set of episodes does change the stakes in the game a bit by bringing in the Diet but it does keep things personal as well by how it explores Suitengu's past. I do think the series could have benefited from being several episodes shorter, if not by half, but there is still enough in here that has me drawn to it and enjoying it since it isn't like a lot of other things out on the market.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitiles,Art Gallery,Textless Songs,Character Profiles,English Cast Auditions,Saito Documentary Part 2

Review Equipment
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.
MSRP: 29.98/34.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Speedgrapher