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Title:
  Speed Grapher vol 1

UK Distributor:  MVM

BBFC Certificate:  15

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  19.99

Episodes:  1-4 (of 24)

Audio Options:  English 5.1, Japanese 2.0

Subtitles:  English

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

 

In recent years the anime studio Gonzo have become one of the industry's main players.  Excellent series like Last Exile, Hellsing, Full Metal Panic, She The Ultimate Weapon and Samurai 7 have cemented their reputation, and the news of a new Gonzo series from MVM really piqued my interest.

Speed Grapher is set in a not too distant future Tokyo, where the gap between rich and poor has expanded exponentially.  For the rich Tokyo is a playground where everything has a price - from principles to human life.  Beneath this corrupt mess exists a club, an exclusive society for the super rich and powerful which allows them to indulge their most secret desires.  A club where a select few can risk their lives to take part in a ritual to receive the blessing of a goddess.  It is into this dark underground that former war photographer Tatsumi Saiga descends, attempting to investigate the club and its links to the Tennozou conglomerate for a tabloid newspaper.  Unfortunately for Saiga he is discovered trying to photograph the goddess ritual, but when brought before the goddess she kisses him instead of killing him.  The kiss unlocks a strange desire within him and gives him the power to destroy whatever he photographs.  Even with this ability he's going to find it hard to escape the club, and even if he does he will have the most powerful people in the world out to get him!  He also has another

 problem - the goddess is in fact the Tennozou conglomerate's young heir Kagura, and when she awakens from her trance and learns the sexual abuse she had nightmares about was real she tries to kill herself.  Saiga stops her and promises to save her, but it's easier said than done...

Speed Grapher is different from a lot on anime I have seen recently.  It's dark, seedy and decidedly adult, with twisted characters and lashings of gore and violence.  Despite this it's also pretty good.


However, to start with you may get feelings of deja-vu.  The first episode, in which Saiga investigates the secret club, is pretty much exactly the same as the Stanley Kubrick flop Eyes Wide Shut, in which Tom Cruise's character sneaks into a secret fetish club for the rich and famous and is found out.  It must be said that this is a little distracting, but thankfully the rest of the story has more than just Cruise and Kidman in the buff.  The characters are twisted but interesting, Saiga is a talented photographer who tries to suppress the arousal he feels from photographing the dead and dying.  He's an enigmatic figure, an ace war photographer reduced to grabbing paparazzi snaps of politicians and celebrities.  Unable to obtain a passport for reasons unknown he is stuck in Tokyo, and his creepy unwanted fetish jars with his seemingly good character.  Kagura seems to be far from the rich bitch you may expect, she feels trapped in her extremely regimented life and her overbearing mother is starving her out of jealousy.  On top of this he horrific recurring nightmares are real and she just wants to find a way out.  Add in a murderous dancer with the ability to stretch and twist his body like rubber and a nutcase policewoman with a fetish for guns and you certainly have an unusual cast.
 

 But it's not just interesting characters the show has.  The action comes thick and fast and the story thunders along at a breakneck pace.  The animation and design is as stunning as you come to expect from a Gonzo series, and the voice acting and music is great too.  The story draws you in and keeps you on your toes, even going so far as to end episode one on a massive cliffhanger then leaping to the seemingly unrelated day in the life of Kagura in episode two.  It then allows the two worlds to collide in episode three, and you're never quite sure where it is going to go next.  There is

plenty of mystery about the power Saiga acquires and about how Kagura is able to grant them.  You do have to suspend belief a little bit it must be said, but the series is so cool you probably won't find this a problem.

The only real issue is the sheer grittiness and seediness of everything.  Speed Grapher is an unrelentingly dark and dystopian vision of a new future ruled completely by money, where both life and dignity can be bought.  It is an uncomfortable idea made more disturbing by the very near future setting of the series, and the fetishistic sex and constant violence may not appeal to everyone.  It is interesting, action packed and very watchable but not really what you what you'd call fun.  Plus most of the most interesting story elements have yet to be fully explained or developed.  Speed Grapher vol 1 is still a refreshing change to much of the light hearted anime around at the moment though.  It's a dark and creepy sci-fi drama that doesn't pull its punches and is well worth a look if you want something a bit different.

Extras:

The usual trailers and clean opening and closing sequences are joined by an art gallery and a voice actor audition featurette.  This intriguing extra shows has the American dub director explaining what he was looking for when casting the actors in the show and also has the successful actors' audition tapes.  It provides an interesting insight into the dubbing process you aren't usually a party to.  Good stuff!

Ratings

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