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Quest of the surprisingly uncool
A UK region 2 DVD review of SPEED GRAPHER, VOL. 4 by Slarek
 

This should be obvious by now – we're on Volume 4 of Speed Grapher and if you're new to the series then if you want to avoid tripping over some serious spoilers you really should see the preceding episodes before even reading this. Those taking only a casual interest would still do well to check out our coverage of Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3 if they're going to make any sense of what's written below.

The drama kicks off exactly where it ended in episode 12, and I mean the very moment, with the young Kagura grieving over the body of her murdered mother, whose death at the hands of her power-hungry lover Suitengu was the biggest narrative surprise of Volume 3 (now I did warn you, didn't I). The series reminds of its adult credentials when Suitengu repeats his intention to wed Kagura and is reminded that she is actually too young to marry, to which Suitengu calmly responds, "Then simply alter her records."

The impending marriage becomes the focus of the first two episodes of this set, a union that is all about power consolidation for Suitengu and one that Saiga is determined to stop at all costs. His bond to Kagura is one of the series' most intriguing elements, as his friendship develops into the longing of a lover, although any suggestion of a sexual element is carefully avoided. Less coy about her passion is Ginza, whose obsession with Saiga explodes when he announces his intention to rescue Kagura – she rains bullets at his feet and beats him silly out of frustrated desire, then a short while after is offering her own life up to protect his.

Following a strangely end-of-series style conclusion to episode 14, things get back to normal with Saiga and Kagura on the run, pursued by Tsujido and her heightened sense of smell and a variety of Euphoria-enabled cohorts. It's here that a sense of familiarity and repetition sets in and the series takes on an aura of an American superhero comic, with the uniquely gifted Saiga challenged by a string of dastardly villains with their own specialist, identity-shaping powers, with whom he does battle and systematically defeats. Such characters are certainly of individual interest beyond their Euphoria-induced skills – the murderous lechery of the Spider Man Yurigaoka Ran, the rampant megalomania of the electrically enabled Catholic minister and, best of all, the dark suicidal history of Water Woman Tsurumaki Harumi. They're all enjoyable sidelines in their own right, but it's ground we've been treading for 16 episodes now and in narrative terms smacks just a little of déjà vu. Mind you, repetition is the watchword in episode 16, with a sequence that for almost half the running time outlines some of the financial losses and gains of the Tennozu Group entirely through the use of clips from earlier episodes.

The drama trots along engagingly enough within these restrictions. Existing story strands are developed, including the first signs of deteriorating health of Kagura's part and the Tennozu Group's development of a fortune-making drug distilled from her 'substance', while new avenues are explored regarding the virus at the root of Saiga's Euphoria and the detrimental consequences of its continued use, recalling the link between telepathic powers and a developing brain aneurysm in Stephen King's 1980 novel Firestarter. If you've been with the series until now then there's more than enough here to keep you involved, but there's the nagging sense that Speed Grapher may be starting to engage the autopilot.

This volume consists of episodes 13-16, whose English language titles are: Ginza the Lawless, The Wedding Photographer, Hell is a Wet Woman and Audit the Wicked, while the subtitles on the Japanese language version have them as Uncharted Ginza, Kagura, Married Woman, Watery Woman's Hell and Semiannual Financial Report.

sound and vision

The anamorphic 16:9 transfer is equal to those on previous volumes in every respect, the NTSC to PAL conversion only really revealing itself on rapid character or camera movement. Otherwise the picture looks as good as ever, with distinct colours and decent contrast, though the modern anime trend for the overexposed look means that some shorts are deliberately less bold.

Once again the English 5.1 surround dub is sonically superior to the Japanese stereo 2.0 original, despite some distinct separation on the latter. That said, the English mix occasionally falls short of the Japanese, as in the wedding in the giant cathedral, where the English voices lack the subtle reverb applied to their Japanese cousins and thus do not feel so convincingly of the location.

extra features

Saito Documentary – Part 1 (48:43)
As someone used to a small sprinkling of largely superficial extras totalling only a few minutes on UK anime discs, this one caught me completely by surprise. Actually titled Kei Saito's True Story as Kagura Tennozu, Vol. 1, it follows young newcomer Kei Saito's journey from her first audition to her successful selection as the voice for Kagura and involvement in the promotion of the series. With the 2,056 original applicants having been whittled down to just 10, we are presented with extracts from each of their auditions and thus get the chance to make our own selection – personally I think they got it right. The girls are all thoroughly engaging in that way enthusiastic young Japanese just always seem to be, while Kei herself copes well with having a video camera stuck in her face to record her reactions to just about everything she's involved in. Some may find it a little long-winded, but I was fascinated by such a concentrated peek behind the scenes.

Character Cast Auditions (9:17)
The series' regular extra feature has English language voice director Christopher Bevins introducing three more of the American cast, whose first and second readings we get to hear. This time round it's Clarine Harp, who plays Ginza (one of Bevins' favourite characters – mine too, though I far prefer her Japanese incarnation), Mike McPharland, who voices Chief Ekoda, and Anthony Bowling, the man behind Ginza's assistant Shiina.

Less substantial extras are the Art Gallery (1:31), a superfluous selection of grabs set to the main theme, the Textless Opening (1:33) and Textless Closing (1:33), and Trailers for Berserk (2:05) and Trinity Blood (1:31).

summary

Four volumes in and Speed Grapher still has me hooked, though is starting to retread its steps a little and get locked into a formula, which of course does have its own small pleasures. Mind you, we've been here before in Volume 2 and I was happy enough with what followed, so am prepared to wait and see where we go next. The DVD itself is a must for series fans, not just for the episodes but for the detailed look at one girl's journey from anime fan to minor celebrity, and the suggestion that there's more to come in the next volume.

Speed Grapher, Vol. 4

Japan 2005
93 mins
director
Kunihisa Sugishima

DVD details
region 2 UK
video
16:9 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
Dolby surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Kei Saito documentary
Character cast auditions
Textless opening and closing
Stills
Trailers
distributor
MVM
release date
1 October 2007
review posted
12 October 2007

Related Reviews
Speed Grapher,
Vol. 1
Speed Grapher,
Vol. 2
Speed Grapher,
Vol. 3
Speed Grapher,
Vol. 5
Speed Grapher,
Vol. 6

See all of Slarek's reviews