Title: Speed Grapher
Format: 24 episodes
Dates: 8 Apr 2005 – 30 Sep 2005
Synopsis: Saiga Tatsumi, a press photographer famous for his photo series on the Vietnam war, is on the trail of a secret club for the elite of Japanese society where politicians, media moguls and industry CEOs meet to indulge in primal and deprived fantasies and everything from sexual fulfillment to torturing someone to death is possible. Unfortunately, Saiga is discovered and sacrificed to the club’s “goddess”, a beautiful young woman named Kagura. But instead of killing him, she kisses him, and the photographer gains a strange new power from that kiss: everything he takes a photo of explodes…
Setting: Intriguing look at a corrupt society.
Originality: Most creative setup of antagonists in a long time.
Plot: Monster-of-the-week concept, though well-executed.
Art and Animation: Sub-par and not detailed enough.
Ending: Too light-hearted.
What makes a good story? The plot, of course, and also the characters, but without an appropriate setting, the story probably won’t work. It’s the background world that brings everything to life and allows for unexpected plot twists. Likewise, most movie classics have settings that make them memorable. Think Blade Runner, for example – what would the movie be without that behemoth of a metropolis it’s set in?
And then think Speed Grapher. The theme in this series is “a world of corruption”, and it is sculpted out to perfection. The best police officers are sadistic egomaniacs, there’s not a single politician who cannot be bought and entire families are wiped out just to accumulate more money. The secret club for the social elite that Saiga is after perfectly fits into the corrupt society the series shows, and it’s not surprising to see that only the down and out retain at least some sense of decency, loyalty and friendship.
What really makes Speed Grapher memorable, however, is the cast of antagonists for Saiga. While at first, the main “bad guy” Suitengu looks like little more than the usual evil bishounen cliché, he and his gang soon gain in personality and role, and in the end, they are shown to be much nobler than you’d expect in the world they live in. And as for the other antagonists (called “Euphoria”), they are the wet dream of a superhero lover – everybody is endowed with a uniquely themed superpower, and the battles between Saiga and them are always highlights in the series.
Unfortunately, the Euphoria appear mostly as “monsters of the week” – appear, do something cool, meet Saiga, be dispatched of. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though, as all Euphoria are designed and styled so well that it’s really intriguing to see what evil they are capable of doing. They might be monsters of the week, but think of them as monsters of the week deluxe. If they had more personal impact aside from just obstacles in Saiga’s path, their appearance would even be a big plus. However, too little is made of the great concepts.
Also, for an action series, the action doesn’t really look that good. The art often seems outdated, reminding more of 1995 than of 2005, and the animation is mostly choppy. As the script gives so much screen time to the battles between Saiga and the Euphoria, a little of the excitement is lost by the sub-par visuals. Just imaging how sweet this could have been if Oshii Mamoru had been in charge makes me weep.
Finally, when all is said and done, it strangely turns out that everybody gets exactly what he wants. There’s hardly a major character in Speed Grapher who doesn’t manage to succeed in his personal goals in the end. The intricately corrupted society that perpetrated the entire series is overthrown at last, but the results of that huge and anarchic social revolution are shown as nothing but positive. For a plot with so many shades of gray, this kind of black-and-white ending is just disappointing.
Speed Grapher is an interesting series for lovers of cool antagonists and well designed intrigue plays. It doesn’t really appeal to true action lovers, though, because of a few weaknesses in the technical department, and the overly happy ending might turn off people who watched it for the intricate setting. Speed Grapher is still an above average series with enough originality to set it apart from many others, but the weak execution prevents it from receiving a higher rating.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Taleweaver