Speedgrapher Box Set: Director's Cut - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: B

Maniac Grade: A+

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  • Audio Rating: A
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: A-
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: TV MA
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 69.98
  • Running time: 600
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Speedgrapher

Speedgrapher Box Set: Director's Cut

By Paul Gaudette     April 09, 2008
Release Date: March 11, 2008

Speedgrapher Box Set: Director's Cut
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.

What They Say
Tokyo's really let itself go. The poor get poorer, and the rich get their kicks in clandestine pleasure clubs where no desire is too taboo. The decadent criminal underground is the only game in town and life is cheap when paid for in blood money. Burned out ex-war photographer Saiga though his life couldn't get any more dull, selling his soul as a tabloid photographer, trading the rush of bullets whizzing past his head for a quick buck.
p>While on one of these paparazzi assignments, Saiga stumbles directly into the ultimate den of vice, where a goddess is preparing to bestow a dangerous gift upon a willing victim. Running from his enemies and fleeing his own inner demons, Saiga rescues a tragic young girl named Kagura from her own nightmarish life. The girl is full of secrets... secrets possibly hidden even from herself. Smile for the camera... or perish in the glare of its lens.

Contains all 24 episodes!

The Review!
Gonzo stirs up an interesting mix between a pulp detective tale and a superhuman fighting show.

Funimation offers up another strong 5.1 English dub. Tons of ambient effects and music find their way to the rear speakers with an impressive amount of directionality. Crowd murmurs surround the viewer, gunshots ring out to all sides and explosions pack a punch. After some spot checking, I found the stereo Japanese track to be excellent as well if not as active as the surround track.

Originally produced in 2005, the series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The video on Speed Grapher never fails to impress. The vibrant artwork is always sharp whether it's a still shot or a fast-paced chase scene. There were no hints of artifacting and no distortion or banding could be found around the thousands of neon lights in Tokyo. There are a few minor issues with aliasing occasionally, but they do little to mar the best looking title I've seen from Funimation to date.

Ooooh, shiny! The foil box features some strong artwork and effective use of color. The front and side are in shades of pink, white and black, the top is lime green and the back features full-color shots from the show running along a fairly lengthy description. This artwork is guaranteed to leap out from the shelf, and it only gets better once the box is opened. As is the case with many of their boxsets, Funimation packages all of the original booklets in a separate sleeve. The sleeve is nicely adorned with a washed-out collage of cash that is smeared with a vibrant blood red. The discs come in a folding holder which is the most colorful part of the package and features a decent amount of character artwork. Although there's a lot going on, it's aesthetically pleasing and manages to avoid being too busy.

Every menu features a stylish shot of a prominent character with the selections spaced out to one side. The current selection appears in gray and it always easy to tell what option is currently highlighted. Every section of the menu features some jazzy ambient music. While the bass-laden tracks are pleasing, there are a few high-pitched pieces that are grating and will have you scrambling to turn the sound down. Access times are fast.

Speed Grapher comes packaged with a cavalcade of extras and while most are the standard fare, a few really stand out. Every disc contains art galleries, textless songs, character profiles as well as the usual trailers. These are all just what they sound like from the title and it's nice to have them around but they're not quite as interesting as the cast auditions segments which are also featured on every disc. The spots usually run somewhere from seven to 12 minutes and feature the English dub director offering the English auditions with some background on what they were looking for and how the actor impressed them. Discs four through six also feature behind the scenes specials on the Japanese voice actress Kei Saito who played Kagura. These are not too informative but can be pretty fun. Unfortunately, there are no chapter skips and the segments are all around 45 minutes long. Disc six also has five minutes of English language outtakes. Although most are pretty average, there are a few gems to be found.

(Warning: Content portion may contain spoilers.)

Saiga's in a bit of a slump. The former war-time photojournalist was once widely acclaimed but he's now reduced to taking shots of the reclusive celebrities of Tokyo, a city where enough money can grant every desire. He takes a lot of risks to get some of his shots so it's good that Captain Ginza is always ready to get him out of jail if he'll get into her bed.

While on the trail of the extremely reclusive Suitengu, Saiga stumbles upon the Roppongi Club, a place where the city's elite go to fulfill every desire, no matter how depraved. Suitengu and his boss, Shinsen Tennozu are only too happy to provide paying members with whatever they want. Then, there's the Roppongi Club's most guarded secret: by day, she is fifteen-year-old Kagura Tennozu. By night, she is "the Goddess." One kiss from her will supposedly grant your deepest desire which manifests itself in surprising ways. Saiga finds out firsthand when she kisses him, and his camera becomes a weapon of mass destruction. He becomes intent to rescue her from the twisted club where she is used nightly and maybe he can get some answers about what's happening to him if she sticks around.

Speed Grapher is entertaining primarily because of its main characters. Put simply, Speed Grapher would not work if the relationship between Kagura and Saiga weren't believable. Fortunately, there's enough time devoted to it throughout the show that it is constantly building and handled delicately. A misguided romance subplot between a jaded journalist and a teenage girl can easily become creepy when the girl was basically a sex slave. The characters play well off each other though. The world-weary Saiga sometimes acts like the protective father that the tortured innocent never had and at other times, they act like newfound friends. Despite some jabs at their expense, it's easy to get invested in them and Saiga becomes a decent hero who will stop at nothing to keep Kagura safe.

Probably the greatest attribute of Speed Grapher is the character of Suitengu. The audience meets him as a cold man willing to exploit anyone for the sake of the almighty yen. However, he becomes engaging as the story moves along especially after his backstory is revealed. An entire episode is devoted to his personal history and is possibly the most complex, both emotionally and in terms of plot, in the entire series. His motives become clear and he rises to become one of the most human characters. He commits despicable acts to be sure, but it becomes nearly impossible to hate him.

Instead, the audience grows to loathe the current state of the world in Speed Grapher which is unrelentingly oppressive. There is enough depravity in this version of Tokyo to rival Nero's Rome. A word of warning: this show earns its "TVMA" rating. The violence and sex never feel too salacious (outside of the credit sequence which has maybe 30 too many crotch-shots) because of the city's spiraling state. This is definitely not a show for the kiddies.

It's a pity that in a show where the main characters are so well-defined that its main sin lies in other characters which are painfully underdeveloped. This really come back to bite the show in a big way. The series focuses heavily on hedonism and desire, but the "secret desires" that the Goddess's kiss grants are glossed over after the second encounter with a club member. (I'm about to give something big away. Be warned.) The Goddess's kiss is a type of virus which, combined with subconscious desire, changes the person on a genetic level in some way related to their deepest desire. A lot of potential is squandered here. One of the club members is given a whole backstory about her desire and how it came to be. Admittedly, the moment kind of falls flat but it looks like it's paving the way for an interesting format. The show's writers must have seen that it didn't quite work though, because the idea gets axed, and none of the other desires are explored in-depth. Most of the villains don't even get backstories which leaves the audience with mutants fighting each other. It's fun sure, but not as original.

The overall story is competent though, outside of a few obvious double-crosses. Even the Recap episode is entertaining as it puts price tags on all the destruction so far. Gonzo also does a usual bang-up job of the animation even if most of the character animation is simple compared to other titles from the studio like Trinity Blood. There's little here you haven't seen elsewhere, but it is entertaining and the mere idea of putting together a detective story and superhuman fighting is uncommon enough.

In Summary:
Gonzo has put together an entertaining action yarn in Speed Grapher. The main characters are fantastically written but most of the secondary cast remains one-dimensional and there is a lot of unexplored material that is just begging to be fleshed out. The melding of detective mystery and fighting show work well and although neither part of the show offers anything unique, it's fun to watch and an original mix. Funimation's boxset offers a lot of bang for your buck with beautiful packaging and nice collection of extras. If you're already a fan and don't own it, this is a no-brainer. If you haven't seen it before and are a fan of either genre, the show might be well worth your time and money as long as your expectations are kept in check.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Three-part Saito Documentary, Character Cast Auditions, Character Profiles, Image Galleries, Textless Songs, Outtakes

Review Equipment
26" Olevia 16:9 LCD HDTV, Sony Playstation 3 (upconverted to 720p through HDMI), Kenwood 550-watt 5.1 surround system


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