Review of Speed Grapher: Vol. 3
If you`ve been following the exploits of Saiga, Kagura and the Tennouzu Group as the previous volumes have been released in the UK, you`ll probably be looking forward to this volume (and the others to follow) as the show is really rather good. This third release from the series continues the tale of the former war journalist and the heiress on the run from the ultra-powerful corporation in the same vein as the previous two, favouring small arcs and narrative continuation over stand alone thrills. However, some might feel a small pang of disappointment over this volume, as it runs dangerously close to infusing its back story with a tired predictability, something that this enjoyable adult animation doesn`t deserve.
Saiga and Kagura`s fugitive run takes an unexpectedly investigative turn when the young Tennouzu reveals to Saiga that she received a mysterious photograph from her mother`s past in equally mysterious circumstances four years ago. Sensing that it may open up avenues to answers, the pair head to Nagano to chase up its origins. Meanwhile, having no luck using Euphorians, Suitengu and Shinsen concoct a plan to get Kagura to return to them on her own; a plan which Hibari Ginza finds herself involved in as she cranks ups the investigation into the disappearance of the man she - somewhat passionately - desires.
9. Into The Bath
10. Suitengu Cometh
11. Mother Critical
12. Left Hand Lullaby
Preserving the original AR of 1.78:1 and presented in anamorphic format, `Speed Grapher` isn`t particularly flashy when it comes to animation, and certainly isn`t as edgy as the cover art suggests. While there`s generally a lot going on in a scene, the backgrounds and character design aren`t excessively detailed or striking, however both the settings and characters do have plenty of visual personality. Of more cause for concern is that the transfer is very soft and the composition contrast and colour palette are both murky and muted, almost washed out. There are few small techie niggles, such as instances of colour banding and in this volume, some significant motion artefacting.
While there`s an English surround track in the form of Dolby Digital 5.1, the only native Japanese language track is a DD 2.0, which, while perfectly clear with solid acting, good casting, and certainly preferable for those who can`t sit with a Tokyo setting and English speaking citizens, really does miss out on some of the great direction and solid use of the soundstage as displayed by the DD 5.1. The voice acting on the English track is good, certainly one of the better dubs out there, even if a little overdone at times, with the now American-accented Saiga doing his best Philip Marlowe-meets-Max Payne impression. The subtitles that accompany the native track are actually subtitles, as opposed to the dreaded `dubtitles` (booooo!), which gives you the advantage of comparing the translation of the original script with the English adaptation. Should you feel so inclined, you`ll find the original translation ekes out the win on the script front.
Yet more character cast auditions, along with the usual selection of MVM trailers, an art gallery and the irremissible text-free opening and closing credits.
So what`s wrong with the third volume of `Speed Grapher`? Well, nothing really. It`s not so much something being wrong as it is a series which showed so much verve and blatant individuality in the first eight episodes opening up its backstory - one which we always knew was there and was coming at some point - and revealing it to be a little more mundane than you probably expected. To the joy of those who tune in for the story, there seems to be a slackening of the drip-drip-drip way of feeding the viewers information, but - and always trying to keep reviews spoiler free as you never want to give away too many details - needless to say when you`ve seen one secret laboratory involved in gene manipulation, you`ve seen them all. And yet in some ways, particularly structure, `Speed Grapher` is showing even more maturity and promise than either preceding volume.
So lets look at the positives then. First of all, it`s still `Speed Grapher`, and its still the same mix of sex, violence and utterly oddball characters. The entire disc is essentially a small arc, and most of the time is spent exploring the goings on at one Tennouzu HQ, where by the end of the twelfth episode the motives of everyone involved will be called into question as the series seems to close a door on its first half and set up some fresh angles for the future. Hibari finally gets a little more screen time, bringing both comedy and a certain psycho quality to the proceedings as she pulls her finger out and gets on the trail of the missing object of her affection. And then, with Gonzo never being one to hide its influences under its jumper, there`s also some eye-catching nods to popular Japanese entertainment; Final Fantasy fans who noticed the resemblance between Suitengu and the villainous Sephiroth will be reminded there`s no such thing as coincidence and just what an otaku icon the One Winged Angel is. Then there`s the way in which Saiga and Kagura hit the investigative trail to learn of Shinsen`s history, and the way it`s told in flashback being oddly reminiscent of `Ring`. It`s really no surprise to learn that Gonzo is full of geeks.
If anything, this volume`s sense of continuity and arcing is proof that it`s a series that, while easily enjoyed in dribs and drabs, it`s probably at its best being viewed at your own leisure, not as distributors see fit to release sets of episodes. The disappointingly familiar story behind Kagura`s power may not be what was expected, but `Speed Grapher` is still one of the best anime titles currently on release in the UK, and there`s plenty of life left in the old dog yet.