Speed Grapher Box Set (6 Discs) (DVD)
'Speed Grapher' embodies all that is great about Japanese anime as a genre. Taking its lead from the flights of fancy that embody the free-form thinking that generates so much manga, anime can reach the parts that live film-making so often can't. Sometimes the complete freedom of writing and thinking can be breathtaking (like 'Serial Experiments: Lain' for example, which made 'The Matrix' seem positively comprehensible by comparison). Occasionally, when losing the creativity in the pursuit of commercial populism, it misses its mark. And sometimes, by harnessing the best of both worlds, it creates something truly special. 'Speed Grapher' is one such series.
With elements of 'Tank Girl' mixed with a grotesque Burroughsian vision of the future (where lust manifests often in insect form) it is both an intellectually satisfying journey and wildly entertaining too.
Curiously, it appears to be devised and created by the mysterious 'Gonzo' collective, often associated with slightly puerile series with (un)healthy doses of so-called fan service (glimpses of boobs and panties). My own recent experience of Gonzo output is very positive, though, having merged with another company to avoid bankruptcy, I am unsure of what to make of 'Gonzo' as a brand.
Before I continue with my own views about this fantastic series, I would like to remind readers that they will enjoy a more detailed analysis of the individual volumes that make up this set by reading the excellent reviews by our very own resident professor of all things anime expert, the legend that is Jitendar Canth.
'Speed Grapher' is not a series for kids. It is a depressing view of a future world where little is what it seems, where trust barely exists, and where all morality is lost in pursuit of sex and the yen. Yet, somehow, amongst the celebration of an almost pre-war Berlin debauchery, it is also, in the final analysis, a fiercely moralistic tale.
Made in 2005, 'Speed Grapher' is based on a popular manga of the same name. It ran for 24 episodes of 25 minutes each, and all contained in this complete series set.
Set some time in the near future, ten years after the Bubble War, the filthy rich are getting filthier and richer whilst the poor are losing the will to live. The rich are seeking more extreme ways to satiate their jaded pleasure principle and Tokyo has turned into a depraved and corrupt city as a result. Saiga, our ultra-cool hero, who was once a war photographer, works for Hibara Ginza in the midst of Tokyo. His Tank Girl-esque girl friend is actually a hard boiled, gun toting cop.
The story really kicks off when Saiga infiltrates the Roppongi Club, a secret 'Masons' like club where all are dedicated to extreme depravity. Whilst trying to gather some evidence about the rich and powerful who populate the club, he is discovered and brought to a young girl (Kagura) who is being used in a ritual, possibly against her will. His lips touch hers and the chemical reaction awakens his 'special ability' - a power to make things explode when viewed through his camera.
He helps Kagura escape (much to the chagrin of his cop girlfriend) and they enter into a wild runaway road movie that sees Kagura being captured, freed and captured again and again whilst the politics of power and intrigue unfold like Watergate on acid.
Whilst there is ample 'fighting action' this is no sword and sorcery tale, nor simply a tale of vengeance. It's a multi-layered story where nothing and nobody is quite what they seem. Even those who appear to be evil incarnate end up having a compassionate human side, or vice versa.
It's a tale full of improbable and impossible science which demands of the viewer a huge dose of suspension of disbelief. But like some demented, prophetic and psychotic soap opera, every episode will lead you to the next until suddenly it's all over.
Picture quality is fine and the English dub also fine, if a little corny on occasion.
There are some interesting extras (including a brief documentary split across two discs) but the real star here is the show itself. Along with 'Death Note' and 'Mushi Shi' this may well have earned itself a place of honour in my top ten anime series of all time.