Speed Grapher: Vol. 4
Tatsumi Saiga was an acclaimed war photographer back in the Economic Bubble War. It was a war that further deepened the divide between the haves and have nots, the rich got richer, and the poor became doormats. Tokyo is the city where the rich walk over the poor with impunity, and it's Tokyo where Saiga now practices his trade, no longer able to leave the country. But he's suited to this decadent capital, a man who can only be aroused when he has his camera in hand. He works as a freelance photographer, when he isn't being the plaything of Detective Ginza, a woman who needs a gun in her hand to get sexual pleasure. You'd think that they would be perfectly suited to each other, but Saiga wants more, and his pursuit of a killer story leads him into the depraved underworld, a secret club under Roppongi. It's here where he encounters a teenaged goddess named Kagura; it's here where he obtains an amazing new power. Now when he looks through the lens of his camera and clicks the shutter, whatever he snaps explodes.
Four more hedonistic episodes are here on this MVM disc.
13. Ginza the Lawless
Suitengu's a fast worker. If he can't have the mother, he'll marry the daughter and inherit Tennozu that way. It doesn't matter that Kagura's underage, all it takes is rewriting the paperwork. Elsewhere, it turns out that Ginza was expecting a backstab, which is why she had stashed Saiga in a safe place. She has no intention of letting him go, only she hasn't counted on his latest trick with a camera. He's determined to get out and finally find out what has happened to him. As expected, he's been the victim of genetic engineering. But what he wasn't expecting was the negative prognosis. It also turns out that Ginza wasn't as smart as she though she was, as the last Euphorian to attack her, left a little tracer on her body, and she and Saiga have been followed.
14. The Wedding Photographer
The marriage of Kagura and Suitengu has been announced, invitations posted, and the most prestigious cathedral in the city booked. Everyone is going to see Suitengu's ascendancy live on TV. But not if Saiga has anything to do with it. He's going to gatecrash the wedding, and he's bringing plenty of rolls of film. Chaos is bound to erupt, especially when the priest conducting the ceremony can also conduct millions of volts of electricity. Meanwhile, in a quiet civil office, a marriage certificate is notarised.
15. Hell is a Wet Woman
Kagura and Saiga are on the run again, and once again Suitengu has sent Tsujido to track them down. Once again, Tsujido turns to a Euphorian to help them, and this time it is a movie actress named Miharu Tsukumari, a woman with a tragic past. Her mother tried to kill herself and her daughter several times when Miharu was a child, finally succeeding in drowning herself, leaving her daughter alive. The trauma struck her mute, and her particular Euphorian ability literally makes her one with water. Saiga and Kagura are running pretty aimlessly, Kagura is getting sick, and Saiga is feeling pessimistic about both their chances. His thoughts heading in increasingly morbid directions, and suddenly the fog rolls in.
16. Audit the Wicked
Suitengu entertains some high-ranking ministers aboard his ship, introducing them to the latest product, Goddess Drops. It's the distilled essence of Kagura, offering all the addiction without conveying the Blessing. Tennozu group looks all set to rake in the cash. But deep in the bowels of the organisation, a franticly ecstatic accountant is tallying all the money gained and lost since Saiga walked into that exclusive Roppongi Club.
Speed Grapher gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, and it's par for the course for anime on DVD. You have your NTSC-PAL conversion issues, although not too many of them, the image is clear and sharp throughout, and the animation is smooth and detailed. It's a Gonzo product, so expect smart looking characters, a blending of traditional 2D and 3D CGI, and plenty of bang for your buck. In fact the characters in Speed Grapher are a little more edgy than usual for Gonzo, certainly suiting the decadent nature of the story, and it seems the animators went to dominatrix school for some of the get ups.
Audio-wise, you have the option of DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with translated subtitles and a signs only track. I sampled the English, and it's pretty much like every other Funimation dub, and yes, Monica Rial is in it. You can expect a little added profanity if you want to partake of that surround sound option, but as usual I opted for the Japanese audio, and had no complaints, apart from a couple of dubious English accents, and the clichéd effeminate guy. The biggest annoyance is the absence of the original Duran Duran theme tune.
We have the usual anime presentation, animated menus, jacket picture, and multi-angle credit sequences. It does mean that each episode has two titles, one granted by Funimation and the title translated from the original Japanese. I've used the English episode titles to avoid confusion.
On the disc you'll find the textless credits including the new closing, and trailers for Berserk and Trinity Blood.
The small extra this time is 9 minutes of Character Cast Auditions, presented by ADR director Christopher Bevins, and we see three more of the cast members discovered.
The big extra is the first part of the Saito Documentary. This runs to 49 minutes, and follows the voice of Kagura Tennozu, Kei Saito. Saito was selected from 2056 applicants, and this documentary starts with the audition process. Usually these focus on the successful applicant alone, but this featurette actually shows the rivals that Saito beat to become Kagura, her first acting gig. The featurette takes us up to her first appearance at a promotional event. Note that this is the only place on the disc that you'll hear that Duran Duran track.
From positive to negative, this volume of Speed Grapher fulfils the "it's a game of two halves" cliché. We begin by continuing on from the previous volume at full pelt, following a major development at the end of the last episode, and pursuing a whole new twist in the tail. Suitengu needs the power of the Tennozu group more than ever, so the series heads in an even darker direction, as he prepares to wed Kagura and inherit the company that way. Of course she has a knight in tarnished armour to protect her, and by the middle of the disc, we've arrived at a rather impressive mid-season climax. Except what follows does so with something of a raspberry sound. It's a return to the status quo of the second volume with the third episode on the disc, Saiga and Kagura fleeing, and with Suitengu's minions in pursuit. If that isn't deflating enough, the volume concludes with the dreaded recap episode. You'd think it would be enough to make me hang my head in despair, but somehow Speed Grapher manages to maintain the interest, even with this season low point.
As I mentioned the narrative juice is in the first half, with a veiled revelation as to who Suitengu might actually be, and Saiga finds out more about the nature of the genetic alteration and the virus that has bestowed such an explosive power upon him. He also find out that such a power comes with a price. At the same time, we see the extent of Ginza's obsession with Saiga when the next Euphorian attacks. This spider-powered guy has an ability to control others and force them to do his bidding, and this time he's compelling Ginza to kill the man she loves. Of course she's still infuriated with Saiga given his apparent devotion to Kagura, and he's soon racing off to rescue her from a fate worse than death, marriage to Suitengu. It's a grand cathedral, a Euphorian priest, and a grand public spectacle, all to affirm Suitengu as the next head of the Tennozu group. Saiga walks in, cameras strapped around his body like sticks of dynamite, determined to snatch Kagura away from the jaws of doom, although with an electrically charged priest performing the wedding, it will be no easy matter. The climax atop the cathedral spire wouldn't look out of place in any black and white horror of the forties.
Then comes the mid-season slump, with first a return to the freak of week storylines, and then the recap episode. Oddly however, the chase episode is probably the best one yet. Kagura and Saiga are apparently free of the Tennozu group, if just for a while, but they aren't in a happy place. With what Saiga has learned about the genetic alterations, and what he knows about Kagura, there's a finality to their escape, a desperate need to live every moment to the fullest, but with an awareness of the impending loss of that freedom. It's made all the more ominous as Kagura begins to sicken. At the same time, the Euphorian pursuing them, Miharu Tsukumari is certainly no monster as the earlier pursuers were. She has a tragic past of her own, and her abilities are creepy indeed. I was strongly reminded of the Vampire Princess Miyu series with how this story panned out.
Finally there is the recap episode, which isn't actually all that bad as recap episodes go. It does have a bit of narrative juice to it, ensuring that you don't just skip over it, when Suitengu announces the new recreational drug of choice. But the way the recap is handled, with an accountant auditing all the expenditure incurred following Saiga's appearance at the Roppongi club, it's really quite humorous. It's certainly no run of the mill recap, and it at least has some wit and energy to it. You'll enjoy it at least once, which is more than I can say for the usual review.
Still, I have to say that Speed Grapher does run out of steam at the end of this fourth volume. It diverts focus away from the main story, just at the point where you are eager to find out more. Hopefully that main story will resume in volume 5.