Speed Grapher is a very interesting concept that was unfortunately handled by GONZO instead of a more competent studio. Although the characters and the themes of the scenario are amazing, the plot is all over the place and ends up being almost unrelated mini arcs with monsters of the… erm, month? Apart from the studio, the director is not someone to look forward to. Sugishima Kunihisa has in his roster some of the lamest titles, such as the old Tekken movie, the first YuGiOh series, all Bayblade seasons, as well as the totally boring ninja show Nabari No Ou. But all things considered, this is by far his best work to date.
The story is about money and fame and how stupid or inhuman people can become in order to get them. There is this secret club of snotty rich and famous folk who acquire superpowers by the kiss of a maiden, and then they use this gift to have fun. And by fun I mean tricking and killing everyday people who are dazed by their fame and power. I guess they got all high on power and turned to murderous sadists. The protagonist is a photographer who having indulged too much into viewing the world through his lens, ends up being unable to enjoy life without it. All his life turned into taking photos of anything worth advertising to the world, to the point he gets a boner only when he views and films violence. After an accident while he tries to take a picture of the secret club, he is kissed by the maiden and escapes with her, while acquiring the power to blow up anything he photographs. After that begins a long chase with the club sending their members to retrieve the maiden and kill the intruder before the deadline for a very important project passes.
The premise is very interesting and I must say I found myself captivated several times by the constant murders and decadence of money and authority. The whole series is a big metaphor around the dehumanizing effect these things have on our minds. The battles are not bad either; half the time they have a sort of choreography and strategy in them, while all the superpowers are directly related with the profession and morbid hobby of its owner, as an extension of his dark subconscious.
Even without that, the main characters are all fleshed out along the way and you see how the events slowly change them. The story is not always predictable either, as midway there is a twist and the chase is over with the protagonist actually losing and the girl taken back to the club. The ending is also somewhat interesting as it is no longer some rescue mission ala shounen style but a revolution against the evil uproot of money itself. The main key events are all quite interesting.
The thing is, these key events are not many and the show is a full season, mostly made up of unrelated villains who kill random nobodies and then chase around and fight the protagonist. It becomes very formulaic and can easily tire the impatient viewer or those who prefer denser plot.
This off-sets by the rather high amount of violence and sexuality which keeps your interest higher than usual. There are dozens of brutal fatalities throughout the series and even a few sex scenes, elements that are uncommon to such a degree. So yeah, sex and violence end up being the main attractions as means to cover for the poor pacing and plot; but it worked for me and thus I am somewhat forgiving.
This is again hindered by the production values, which are surprisingly mediocre for GONZO standards. Artwork and character figures are rather simplistic and generic, the animation is poor, even the horrible 3D effects are minimal (which is a good thing). The soundtrack is completely passable apart from the opening video.
In all, the show is good for its shockers, crazy characters, and aesthetics but definitely lacks in presentation and scriptwriting. Depending on which you focus most, you will end up liking it or not. I was much younger and easier pleased when I originally watched it but it will definitely not be so patient with it today. I say it has some value and chances of rewatchability if your expectasions are not too high. To its basics the series is very good and I recommend it as a med to high anime in terms of vogue.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
General Artwork 1/2 (generic)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (basic but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 1/2 (basic)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 7/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (semi episodic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 1/2 (has some strategy in it)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Presence 1/2 (average)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 6/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting retro title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely violent to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 1/1 (looks nice)
Sound 1/2 (nice songs)
Story 1/3 (feels generic)
Characters 2/4 (they are ok but lack development)
What started as an interesting blend of action anime and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut quickly derailed into an unfortunate love story between a rough-around-the-edges war photographer and a teenage girl. With a weak story and unlikable characters, SPEED GRAPHER fails to live up to the hype created by it's trailers.
SPEED GRAPHER's story of political corruption revolves around a social club for the elite that caters to sexual desires of it's overly-wealthy clientel. This tantalizing premise falls by the wayside quickly, becoming a simple mechanism for creating monsters for the protagonist, Saiga, to battle. The plot structure waivers too much between being an "obstable of the moment" style or an extended narrative type of story. The constant back-and-forth of the main characters being on the run or in capture creates less of a feeling of high tension and drama, and more a tedious repetition of "fight bad, run away, get captured again." The twenty-four episode season feels riddled with filler, and a tighter, more concise story would add greatly to any sense of impact. The romantic subplot, however, fails due to completely one-sided characters.
With an antagonist blatantly copied from Final Fantasy VII's Sephiroth and a "crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside" style protagonist, SPEED GRAPHER prefers to handle it's characteres in black and white. None of the characters are particularly likeable since them seem to only have one personality trait that defines them. Female characters especially lack in development. Kagura, the love interest and secondary protagonist, is feeble and weak and fails to grow over the course of twenty-four episodes. The rest of the good characters and the bad characters are defined by their strongest desire, which might have added to the shows commentary on corruption, had the plot actually chosen to focus on that.
SPEED GRAPHER is a disappointment, especially coming out of the normally excellent GONZO studios.
In all my years of watching anime I’ve encountered some really strange shows that left me scratching my head. But in all this time, despite the Boku no Pico‘s and the Kodomo no Jikan‘s, and even the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, I’ve never encountered anything quite as strange as Speed Grapher, a Gonzo anime from 2005. And this isn’t a strange anime in that it’s inherently difficult to understand or presents itself as wacky comedy, it’s strange because it’s just really fucking weird.
Our hero is named Saiga, a famed war photographer. Working for a newspaper in Tokyo, he gets caught up in a club where Japan’s richest and most powerful go to have sex, eat, drink; indulging in depravity. Saiga winds up being captured by these people and is going to be executed when a young girl falls from the sky named The Goddess. She kisses him and gives him apparent superpowers. He can use his camera to make things blow up by snapping a picture of whatever it is. Anyway, he saves the girl, gets caught up in a plot to destroy Japan, and spends the whole series battling a bevy of strange enemies with superpowers like his, while also protecting the girl. There’s biological weapons, gray area bad guys, and lots and lots of really creepy sexual tension.
And this is where I find that the series really excelled: the bad guys. Each bad guy had a superpower related to his or her fetish or addiction. There was a dentist who got off to kissing a tooth he pulled. He turns into a spider person with dental equipment at the ends of his legs. There was a guy in a gimp suit who had elastic abilities. There’s a guy who’s made out of speakers who tweaks his nipples to turn up the volume. It’s really freaking funny and I don’t particularly know if it was supposed to be. I spent more time laughing at this series than I have at any anime I’ve ever watched. So if you’re looking for a comedy, you have one here.
The entirety of the bad guys is supposed to apparently represent the greed and corruption of the Japanese government, a notion that will be jammed down your throat more often than you’ll like. Especially toward the end, the message is so loud and spelled out in such simple terms that you’ll want to bang your head against a wall. “GOVERNMENT IS CORRUPT! OKAY! GOT IT!”
Another bang your head theme is how often the Goddess, whose real name is Kagura and has the ability to give people the superpowers, is kidnapped. If you’re looking for a strong female lead, this series is not for you. Kagura is weak, whiny, and entirely depends too much on someone to save her. A portion of the series is dedicated to her and Saiga escaping from the bad guys, but a majority is spent with Saiga saving her ass.
The interaction between these two is interesting though and the few reviews I’ve seen for this show either call the character development between these two one of pedophilia or one of brother and sister. I didn’t feel romance in any way brewing between the two characters, but it’s easily misconstrued as Saiga’s girlfriend gets completely jealous of the two anytime she sees them together. This makes the relationship out to be something creepy between a thirty-some year old and a fifteen year old. But nowhere in there is there sexual tension. He loves her, she loves him. If any romance was to be had it’s one-sided from Kagura’s end considering she spent all of her life bottled up in her house with very little outside interaction. So it’s pretty easy to understand if she loves the guy who saved her.
That said, I should bring up Ginza, the cop whose in love with Saiga and the character who gets my Seal of Best Character award. She’s a sort of yandere, threatening to kill Saiga if he doesn’t fuck her and such. But she’s got a more compassionate side that the series gives a little time to shine. She’s also hilarious, calling out any act of violence as “self defense”. The biggest problem with her is her outfit. Do Tokyo police not have regulation outfits? She’s basically showing off her thong. That is not regulation anywhere lady.
And finally we have the bad guy, Suitengu. At first he’s a bad guy, later he’s in the gray area. He has a terrible past and back story and he has white hair, glasses, and a coat, so you know he’s a conniving, evil person. In the grand scheme of things he’s not a memorable bad guy, especially compared to the weirdos Saiga battles to get to him. But he served his purpose and became a little more three-dimensional toward the end.
Issues with the series are plentiful, the main one with the story, for me, being the pacing. It starts off pretty fast-paced but the middle slumps a little and the end is protracted and drawn out to get to a slightly satisfactory conclusion. The formula also gets dull. A bad guy is played up then goes to face off against Saiga. Then when that bad guy’s dead, the next one shows up. So it can get a little stale which might be why I felt the middle wasn’t as exciting as the beginning.
Another problem is the music. And it’s not the actual music because the OST is fantastic, blending haunting piano with the jazzy action-movie music of the eighties. It’s the overuse of the same five or six songs. It’s obvious this show wasn’t made with a huge budget and the music really tells you that. The same songs over and over and over to a point of total annoyance. Plus, that damn piano gets stuck in your head.
The dub is…edgy? There’s a lot of curse words thrown in pointlessly and lots of yelling. It’s a pretty good dub that could do with just a few less “fucks” thrown in to make it “mature”.
The animation is dated and doesn’t hold up in any way. It’s low-budget and can look like total crap at points. It’s not God-awful, but it does make some still-shots laughable as hell.
So where do I stand on Speed Grapher? When it started, I loved it. It was wacky, it was weird, it was original. But as it kept going it got mired in politics and giving off a message. It grew stale because of the formula but stayed fresh by introducing ridiculous bad guys. The characters were, for the most part, decent, but could use more fleshing out. And the ending wasn’t as spectacular as I was hoping it to be.
Say one thing about Speed Grapher though: it’s entertaining as hell for all the wrong reasons. The inclusion of all these sexual deviants getting off to some of the weirdest stuff makes the show hilarious, despite the fact it’s trying to give us a message of greed and corruption. It’s an extended metaphor that is given in such a way as to make whatever message it’s sending a joke. Yes, political greed is bad. Yes the country is fucked up. But when you play up the Prime Minister to be absolutely evil then fight him as his head expands into a giant balloon and his tongue becomes spider legs, your whole message is destroyed.
Metal Gear Solid could throw us messages because, despite the bevy of insane, weird, and otherwise unrealistic characters, there were still human characters and situations we could relate to. And I see a lot of Metal Gear Solid trying to come through here. It just doesn’t work.
This is an entertaining, dark, and edgy anime. But it’s also not at all as smart as it tries to be, nor as serious. It’s hilarious, it’s weird, and it, ultimately, is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.
Especially Saiga baring his chest to show the ten cameras he has strapped to himself. If ever there were a laughable way to defeat a bad guy, it’s goddam chest cameras.
** oldschool drawing
** great music (remastered classics of rock from 70ies and 80ies)
** childish story
** wrong interpretation of how money works
** ethical inferiority - although authors used ethics, they simply speculated with it, blindly putting it to serve the show
Surprisingly I never would have thought they could pull off ANY anime with a photographer and camera as main character, but they did. Its a hell of a note to, action packed, mass ecchi, and a ridiculous yet compelling story of a retired war photographer who meets a young girl. It all starts out when Saiga is assigned a mission to infiltrate an underground meeting of suspicious politicians to take some photos. Lets just say he gets more than photos this time. As he stumbles into the main attraction, a young woman floats down from the sky. The young woman see this and kisses the man granting him super human camera eye powers. One look through the camera, aim, take photo, and BOOOM! creates a serious destruction blast. Well with realization that he has gained awesome powers, he decides he will help the woman get away from the vicious politicians and there inhumane sickness. If you don't already know, the rest is about Saiga and the girl getting away from people who have gained other powers. They need the girl, but Saiga sees her in a different future.
Like many 21st century animes, the quality is superb and has yet to show any says of faulty error. Huge explosions go off every ep, fights with powers or hand in hand, its amazing to be able to actually see whats going on without having fuzz or crappy quality.
Something to note is possibly how amazingly the intro and the plot connect. The intro is about girls on film and the main character is a photographer, you don't see such a match to often. Other than that, when an evil villain enters the stage, you better believe there is evil villain music. most songs have the eerie sound of a organ or piano playing in and it just makes things seem all the more serious. The music is great and helps this anime get a nice score.
A war photographer and a girl who is being used for her gift is pretty much all we know about there pasts. Nothing to deep but i guess that wasn't necessary right? Well there are other character villains who we get to see a glimpse on how they received their power. Character development is slight but it does show. Near the end Saiga really starts to care for the girl and like wise for the girl. The evil politicians are corrupt till the end of their life, but they all still make for a grate cast.
Overall the anime is something that took me awhile to get to, but when I finally did i had to tell the world about it. Its very well written plot with plenty of non stop chase action, super powers, corrupt govt, and explicit content to keep any person amused for 24 eps. With all that said and done, it's an anime for the brave, its an anime for those who can't get enough of that dark underground atmosphere that we call society.