Background: One of the things unique to reviewing anime is the way most releases are divided up into a handful of episodes whereas virtually all other television shows are released in season sets. This means the review has limited choices with regard to how they approach the task at hand since it amounts to the same thing as reviewing a book, chapter by chapter. Do we provide some overview of previous volumes, opening ourselves up to the criticism that we "cut & paste" too much or do we provide what amounts to extensive spoilers that can ruin, or at least lessen the impact of a volume's highlights. I've tried it both ways and to be frank, the replies I've received were all across the board (other anime review websites seem perfectly content explaining everything that happens in such detail that you don't even need to buy/rent the title in question but not those of us here at DVD Talk). That said, reviewing a season set is so much easier as we can give generalities and overviews without killing the fun but until the day when all series are released that way, it strikes me that few will be happy with the result. On that note, I turn to today's review of the final volume of a well liked series I've been handling of late, Speed Grapher V6. The final four episodes explain most of the remaining story, giving some room for a sequel but generally wrapping it all up pretty tightly. Here we go, it's been fun:
Series: Speed Grapher is a futuristic story about a burnt out photographer named Tatsumi Saiga. Developing a taste for capturing pictures with his keen eye for detail, he has traveled the world seeking the perfect picture. In his travels of the past, he has been a war correspondent and taken pictures that literally transformed the landscape though at great personal cost (as adrenaline junkies often find out too late). A near death war injury addicted him to anti-pain medication and reduced him to a shell of his former self, landing him back in Japan with his wings clipped by authorities. No longer able to travel and coming off like a film noir detective that has seen too much in his limited time on Earth, he sticks to mundane local assignments until he happens to come across a situation that leads him on the trail of a huge conspiracy involving tremendous wealth and power that crosses government and corporate interests. Using all the skills developed in his years, he infiltrates an almost mythical nightspot called simply The Club; a modern day Sodom, as created by a company known as The Tennozu Group, where leaders from all walks of life can have or do anything they like for a price.
Saiga's dilemma comes in when he witnesses something outside of the ordinary, a young girl who is able to endow people with supernatural gifts with something called Euphoria. This power of hers enhances some aspect of the chosen recipient much like that of the mutants of X-Men, with unpredictable results, with the person that being called a Euphoric to designate their newfound status in the club. Only a select few can partake and the ritual involved in this inner sanctum of the group is dangerous with the supernaturally gifted humans then becoming tools of the corporation with the classification as "Euphorics" (people enhanced by a retroactive virus that accelerates development in a chosen area or specialty). Saiga is hunted down by all the resources of the group when he kidnaps, or rescues depending on how you look at it, the girl with the power, a gal named Kagura. She has no knowledge of her gift other than a series of nightmares that she has and her guardians will stop at nothing to get her back into their fold. This formed the basis of the opening four episodes with Saiga inadvertently gifted and forced to fight against other euphorics as he tried to figure out what to do while staying one small step ahead of the Tennozu Group and its minions.
The theme continued in the second & third volume as the pair was chased all across Japan, barely staying one step ahead of the forces trying to take them back. Each episode showed them seeking some answers to various questions centering on Kagura's mysterious past, using Saiga's intuitive knack for uncovering the truth (an element overlooked by most as his "eye" for the perfect shot also translates into an eye for the truth in general, assisting them in their quest). The series then added in a few new elements into the chase, Saiga's love interest, Hibari Ginza, and the second in command of the The Tennozu Group, Suitengu; both using the hunt as an opportunity to gain something of value they want (she wanted Saiga alive to remain as her decadent plaything while he wanted the good graces of his mistress, Shinsen Tennozu in order to further his private scheming). Once each party had what it wanted though, they immediately returned to doing exactly what they planned (double cross each other) and the series dynamic returned to the plot of Saiga trying to stay alive while almost everyone else sought to deny him that privilege. As with most single season series, this was where the background of the plot was looked into with greatest depth, detailing the past extensively in order to set up the second half of the series. The previous few volumes (5 & 6) seemed to replay the basic themes of the earlier volumes, showing the motivations of Suitengu as an almost sympathetic character with valid reasons for hating much of society, scheming to destroy it all before his foes would realize what was going on. This led the way for the last volume, reviewed here today, where the ultimate fate of the world rested in the hands of a nearly blind photographer and a little girl.
The episodes this time were 21) All Hail The Glutton, 22) Money, Money, Money, 23) Tender Grave, and 24) The Roppongi Crisis. The main theme here was to tie up the lose ends with Suitengo showing his utter hate for the wealthy and powerful that caused him so many problems as a child. The story involves all levels of government and industry though, making it seem as though he was just a middle man as Saiga continues to secure the future of his youthful charge that is a key figure in what will happen. Suffice it to say, there were some surprises and the ending was bittersweet but ultimately should satisfy those who claim that most recent series have ended poorly in some kind of quizzical fashion that doesn't answer any of the initial questions posed. Saiga is nearly blinded by his power previous to this volume and his mission is not yet complete so can he truly compete with such an extensive set of enemies that all want Kagura for themselves and will kill anyone that gets in their way, using their influence, prestige, or special abilities depending on the level of foe you're referring to. I wasn't keen on the political aspect of dragging a certain foreign (to Japan) government into the fray since it seemed all too stereotypical, but I have to admit that I was happy with the way this one ended overall and the levels of suspense contributed to my rating of Recommended.
Picture: Speed Grapher was presented in anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 as shot by director Kunihisa Sugishama for Gonzo. The colors were accurate and portrayed the future as a bleak, dark place to be with the exception of the rich tapestry woven in some of the glimpses into the lives of the ultra rich or powerful executives featured in the story. This manner of subtly showing the difference between the classes of people spoke volumes for the kind of quality the show's creators had in mind for the series, marking it as better than average by most standards. The flashbacks used to tell Saiga's past were decidedly different looking too, taking an almost third perspective viewpoint as if by old TV news clips but taken as a whole, it provided a texture missing in most anime series released of late and a nice change of pace. The benefit of this later volume is that it uses the flashbacks better (compared to the original volume) and didn't need to rely strictly on the running narrative as the initial volumes tended to do.
Sound: The audio was presented with several choices, from the original Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital track to a corresponding English language dub to an enhanced 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track. The special effects and separation were much better in the 5.1 track, as was the music that sounded like the bass and treble were punched up a bit. The vocals did not show as much improvement and as a guy that leans slightly towards favoring original vocals, I did give the nod to the Japanese voice actors for sounding more fitting for their parts. That said, the English cast were almost all well suited for their roles and natural sounding too, giving anime lovers of both camps (dub fans and sub fans alike) something to appreciate. The English language auditions showed that some care was placed on their selection rather than just go for the same old voices as other companies often seem to provide. The subtitles themselves seemed to vary slightly from the vocals and I think they came off as showing the voice crowd on the dub track taking a few liberties but handling them well enough that I appreciated the nuances offered up. The original release didn't happen to have the Duran Duran song Girls on Film (music changes in anime much like other shows) but it still came across as pretty good.
Extras: Yet again, the voice actor auditions were present and there were a few moments when the director seemed to be figuring out where he wanted them to go with their impressions. This adds to the manner in which you might look at the show (in a limited fashion) if you're a dub fan. The liberties taken were not extensive but they did add a slight bit of flavor to the dub, making it worth checking out for all but the most closed minded snobs. The DVD also had some trailers and artwork on it, bloopers, character profiles, as well as clean opening and closing pieces.
Final Thoughts: Speed Grapher V6 provided entertainment on multiple levels throughout its six volume run, allowing it to be enjoyed by the young and old alike, depending on what they were looking for. There was a lot of anti-big business sentiment, corrupt government themes, and the usual mixture of both in regards to how large organizations seem to be run by those willing to do anything at all in regards to destroying individuals if it means personal or corporate gain. This is, of course, not a truism of all government or business but when they run amuck, as has happened a number of times in the past, the result is a level of injustice that many wish could be rectified by a hero figure willing to lay it all out on the line. In that sense, even the middle episodes that weren't all that satisfying were pretty good so check out the series and let me know what you think given the technical and creative quality it offered.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, Best of Anime 2005, and Best of Anime 2006 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.