Speed Grapher: Volume 1

Speed Grapher: Volume 1 (2005)
FUNimation Entertainment
Cast: Christopher R. Sabat, Monica Rial
Extras: Art Gallery, Textless Songs, Character Cast Auditions, Character Profiles, Trailers

FUNimation presents a highly original look at a future world where greed and lust run rampant. "Speed Grapher: Volume 1" consistently surprises with a mind-bending storyline that will leave most viewers scratching their heads. Strangely enough, this potential drawback is the show's biggest strength and with colorful characters complementing the unique action, "Speed Grapher" will hold your attention and leave you craving for more.

How's this for a concept: a former war photographer (Saiga) who gets aroused by pictures of death and destruction infiltrates a hedonistic underground society where Tokyo's elite partake in debauched orgies and secret rituals, while the VIP's await the arrival of the "Goddess," (hypnotized teen vamp Kagura) who wields an awesome power within her. When Saiga attempts to snap a photo of the Goddess, his cover is blown and he's quickly reprimanded. With arms held behind him and chants of "Kill! Kill! Kill!" torturing his ears from the mouths of the perverted participants, Saiga is kissed on the lips by Kagura. Apparently, Saiga is a "Euphoric" and Kagura's kiss has awakened this potential inside of him, endowing Saiga with unique powers that enable him to fulfill his deepest desires. What are his desires? To steal life with his camera lens, of course. This manifests itself through Saiga's newfound ability to destroy everything that enters his camera's sight (as long as he has film loaded).

If this plotline isn't wacky enough, "Speed Grapher" is filled with enough esoteric characters and subversive situations to boggle the eyes and mind of even the most worldly of cinefiles. How's this for a rogue's gallery: there's Miss Tennozu, Kagura's domineering Mom who heads a corporation that has a vast influence and stranglehold over the politicians of Tokyo. She also happens to be jealous of her daughter's burgeoning beauty and, even though she has insecurities about growing older, she still finds time to seduce her right hand man Suitengu and perform oral sex on Kagura's school nurse. Then there's Suitengu's assassin, an effeminate lad who dresses in frilly clothing and has a superhuman sense of smell, even though he has a patch obscuring his nose. And who could forget the psychotic dancer Shirogane who reprimands a little girl for her weak ballet performance by breaking her arm, then carries out an assassination of government officials by donning a liquid, skin-tight suit that enables him to stretch and contort like a deranged version of Plastic Man. Oh yeah, he also has a propensity for decapitating his victims by winding his arms around their heads like a pretzel and popping their noggins off with ease. Add in a female cop who enjoys rough sex while wielding guns in her hands, a stereotypical gay masseuse and a piano teacher who craves a new set of arms for his dead daughter (whose rotting corpse is enshrined in his home) and you got yourself the makings for one unconventional series.

Infinitely entertaining, "Speed Grapher" is so audaciously random and chaotic that it would give even the most learned Nobel Laureate an aneurysm. Throughout the episodes, I sat numb and slack-jawed over the provocative and nearly incomprehensible situations. Accompanying the abundant "what the hell?" moments are generous amounts of gratuitous sex, harsh language, graphic violence and explosions. Sometimes all this silliness is played too straight, with nary an ounce of humor or irony apparent, which can make this concoction too tough to swallow. Luckily, the show moves at such a furious clip that it's hard to focus on such persistent flaws. FUNimation once again displays a keen eye for acquiring notable anime and "Speed Grapher" continues their winning streak. As long as you don't think too hard about what you're looking at, these episodes will provide liberal amounts of entertainment value.

The first four episodes are included in this Volume; "Depravity City," Goddess of Greed," "Film Like a Bullet" and "Lethal Headshot."

FUNimation presents "Speed Grapher: Volume 1" in an anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The gritty, film-noirish visuals are strikingly bleak, creating a distinct palette that showcases the downtrodden nature of Saiga's world. Interestingly, the colors pop with brightness and clarity whenever the powerful and elite are featured. Also worth noting is the newsreel-type footage that accompanies some of Saiga's flashbacks. All of these different textures lend subversive layers to the show, greatly increasing the enjoyment factor.

For sound, "Speed Grapher" features English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, English 2.0 Stereo and Japanese 2.0 Stereo. Of the three, the 5.1 has a slight advantage, with an aggressive use of the bass mix. For anime purists, the Japanese track is the way to go, especially due to the sometimes spotty English dubbing. For some reason, the English subtitles diverge from the English dub. With that said, the American voice actors are well integrated and natural sounding. The musical score tends to be pounding and directional effects are nicely realized (especially the blasting of bullets and the sounds of crashing waves). For fans of the Japanese version of the cartoon, FUNimation was unable to attain the rights to the original opening credit song, "Girls on Film" by Duran Duran. While not as poppy or catchy, the new title song "Shutter Speed" effectively prepares us for the tone of the series.

In terms of Extras, we have an Art Gallery with conceptual art for the show and various stills, Textless Songs for the opening and closing credits, Character Cast Auditions (an audio explanation for the English dubbing casting process), Character Profiles for the main and supporting characters and Trailers for different FUNimation DVDs.

"Speed Grapher: Volume 1" knocked my synapses into spastic fits. Engrossing and entertaining, the show is a daring, shocking and provocative look at a dystopian future where greed and lust corrupt at all levels. Genre hopping with ease, "Speed Grapher" blends stylistic moments of film-noir, action, horror and erotica seamlessly. As long as you're not turned off by sex and violence, this DVD comes highly recommended.