Set in the seedy underbelly of Japan's cultural and societal elite, Speed Grapher is a program that grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go. I first caught a glimpse of this series during 2007's Anime Boston convention and it certainly peaked my interest. FUNimation released the show during the months that followed and recently it has been inducted into the ranks of the Viridian Collection line. If snagging that particular release isn't something you're interested in then you'll be pleased to know that a nice little boxed set has been released as well. However you come to Speed Grapher it's safe to say that if you missed it the first time around then the reissue's affordability makes it a no-brainer if you ever had an interest.
Produced by GONZO and directed by Kunihisa Sugishima Speed Grapher ended up with 24 episodes by the time it wrapped up in 2005. With a photographer at the helm the series feels a little like Area 88 or Flag but it has significantly darker tones than you'd expect.
The show follows the exploits of a photo journalist named Saiga who has a strange sexual fetish revolving around taking pictures. In the series he's introduced to us on the battlefield of some war getting an erection while photographing someone being killed. Fetish is a common them in Speed Grapher and the show touches upon many things that are considered taboo. We get introduced to more of this once Saiga goes underground to follow a lead for a story.
While tracking his target he comes across a den of sin for the extremely wealthy. Whatever your pleasure this place has it and Saiga is disgusted to be sure (though he doesn't apparently consider his own fetish nasty). I'm sure you can imagine that such a place wouldn't look too kindly upon some outsider showing up with a camera. Once he's discovered Saiga is brought before someone known as the "Goddess" and told that her kiss will kill him; it doesn't.
Something happens to Saiga that changes his life for good. His right eye goes all funky and when he uses it to snap a shot with his camera something interesting happens. It would seem that the Goddess bestowed him with a power that causes explosions of whatever he's focusing on with his camera. It all happens so quickly that we barely have time to learn that the Goddess is a young girl named Kagura who is tragically tied to the underworld and the mystical power called Euphoria.
A great portion of Speed Grapher follows Saiga and Kagura as they run from the group known as Tennouzu which runs the fetish club. Hot on their trail are other afflicted with Euphoria such as Saiga. This condition essentially empowers their particular fetish to the point that it becomes a supernatural ability. For instance there's a lady who can turn into diamond, a guy who can smell things from great distances, and a dentist with spider-like qualities. Behind it all is a guy named Suitengu and Kagura's mother, but not everything is so cut and dry.
Right up to the end of this show you'll be trying to figure out exactly what's going on and what the purpose of the Tennouzu Group is. With that being said the plot here doesn't really take many chances once it gets going. Saiga and Kagura remain on the run for a while and it makes the mid-section of the series somewhat stagnant. All around the pacing fluctuates though it never drags enough or goes too fast to ruin the experience.
One thing about Speed Grapher that will jump out at you is its ability to make your skin crawl. The seedy underbelly of Japan portrayed here is creepy and it's this dark tone that gives the show a unique edge. Lust, sex, murder, and greed are just a few things that you'll come across and to say that they are portrayed in an unsettling fashion would be an understatement. Few shows can say that they have this type of impact on the viewer and that's an impressive thing.
If you missed it the first time around or simply didn't want to bother with the Viridian release then this boxed set is definitely worth your while. Speed Grapher isn't the best show ever conceived but it does many things well and it offers up a dark, unique atmosphere that will make you think. I enjoyed the series the first time around and the second watching revealed some things I had missed. FUNimation has a solid release on their hands and this one is definitely a keeper!
Speed Grapher was originally released a few years ago and as such the program benefits from the recent production. The designs; though sickening in some cases, are beautiful and the animation matches what you'd expect from a series by GONZO. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer offers an eerie glimpse at the seedy world that Saiga lives in but it's not entirely without flaw. While the colors and contrast stay on cue for the most part many scenes are blanketed by noise. It's difficult to tell whether or not this was a byproduct of FUNimation's transfer or if it was placed there purposely for the grit that this show loves so much. Either way it's a tad distracting but thankfully it's the only smudge on this otherwise solid looking series.
Like you'd expect from a series of this caliber Speed Grapher comes with a 2.0 track for each language (Japanese and English) with a 5.1 being reserved solely for the English speaking crowd. The dubbing for both tracks stands out as perfect and I'd definitely say that both drag you in and keep you on the edge of your seat. Lines are performed with precise emotions and the flare for the dramatic isn't lost in translation. The 2.0 tracks are acceptable enough for what they are but the 5.1 helps once the action picks up as it creates a better sense of immersion. Even so this is a somewhat quiet program and the channels aren't used to their fullest capacity.
Taking a page from their other boxed sets FUNimation has kept the special features for Speed Grapher intact. Included in this boxed set are six 12-page booklets with information and artwork for the series as well as a decent selection of bonus material on the six discs.
Across this boxed set you'll find several cast audition videos, character profiles, trailers, and some clean animations. There are also some outtakes and three documentaries tossed in for good measure. These Saito Documentaries focus on the original lead voice actor for the series and they go through the interesting facets of her job. Her position with Speed Grapher went above and beyond the call of the typical voice actress and she was essentially touted all over Japan to promote the show. There's quite a lot of material covered here and it's actually kind of surprising when you get right down to it.
If you missed it the first time around FUNimation's re-release of Speed Grapher is definitely worth picking up. This show is definitely darker than most and it harbors an edge that you generally won't find in modern anime. The seedy underworld of Japan's cultural elite is creepy and Saiga fits in perfectly as the protagonist. His story is quite interesting and the adventures with Kagura help make this one of the most original series to come along in a while. If darker shows are your thing then give this one a spin and you won't be sorry.
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