Speed Grapher, Volume 6 contains the final four episodes of what has proved a well written, imaginatively developed and consistently involving anime series. Occasionally it gave the impression of coasting a little, but watched in hindsight the episodes in question seem almost designed to act as misdirection for the plot twists that followed, and can now be be enjoyed without the nagging feeling that the series has settled into a rut.
I'm taking it for granted that if you've stayed with Speed Grapher this far then you're hardly going to pass on the last four episodes, so am reluctant to discuss the plot developments in any detail. Loyal fans will want to see how things pan out for themselves, while newcomers would do well to start with Volume 1 rather than leap in at the later stages and try and make sense of what's going on.
I will confirm that the four episodes here do not disappoint and provide a suitably compelling climax to the story, bringing the key characters together in appropriately dramatic fashion. They also up the socio-political ante in a manner that takes direct aim at American interventionism and expansionism, the government, corporations and banking institutions of Japan, and the continued rise unprincipled, greed-driven capitalism.
All of the elements that have marked the series to date are on show here, including its sexually kinky adult leanings, most pronounced in the early scene in which Police Chief Ekoda makes moves to amputate the legs of a tied-up Ginza with a chainsaw and add them to a sizeable collection that includes those of his wife and daughter, a sequence that is framed in a manner that would instantly court controversy if it were included in a mainstream live action film.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect is the development of our sympathy for master criminal Suitengu, who was revealed through his back-story in Volume 5 to be not at all what he seems and whose hunger for power and wealth mask a plan to destroy those who have wronged him and his sister from within their own ranks. The dismissal of his loyal followers in preparation for his last stand against a three-handed assault from Saiga, Japanese security personnel and an invading foreign force is one of the series' most unexpectedly touching moments, and the refusal of Tsujido and Makabe to abandon a man to whom they have a loyalty that goes beyond duty is something that Ginza fully understands even as she is doing battle with both.
The under-the-credits epilogue may seem a little brisk in its rounding up of loose ends but is satisfyingly conclusive nonetheless, even if it does provide a morally safe answer to the trickiest relationship dilemma of the series. Overall, though, this four episode finale delivers on all fronts – the action is lively and typically inventive and the personal dramas are engaging, while the politics are both provocative and, one suspects, from the heart. Series fans should grab the final volume the moment it hits the shelves, while if you've never seen Speed Grapher then Volume 1 is still out there and well worth hunting out.
The episodes included run 21-24 and are titled All Hail the Glutton, Money, Money, Money, Tender Grave and The Roppongi Crisis.
What went for previous volumes is also the case here, with a very decent NTSC to PAL transfer with solid colour and detail and only slight giveaway jitters on movement.
As before, the Japanese stereo 2.0 soundtrack is sonically outclassed by the 5.1 English dub, but not by the sort of margin you'd expect and in some areas it's the Japanese track that is superior. The rocket attack on the Tennozu group headquarters is not the inclusive experience I expected it to be on the dub, nor is the gun battle taking place downstairs, while the voices during the first stand-off between Suitengu and Saiga have been mixed with more care on the original, boasting a location reverb that is almost completely absent from the English language track. The swearing, once again, is cranked up considerably on the English dub.
Kei Saito Documentary – Part 3 (46:00)
The final installment of a three-part documentary following voice actor Kei Saito from her first audition through her work on the series as the voice of Kagura. Stylistically similar to the previous episodes in its blend of as-it-happens interviews with Kei and extended footage of her carrying out her PR duties, this one focuses on her appearances on internet radio shows, some before live audiences, and her CD recording debut. One letter-writer compares Speed Grapher to the work of Quentin Tarantino, which is really stretching it.
Character Cast Auditions (5:18)
English language voice director Christopher Bevins introduces the last of these, focusing this time on Suitengu's henchmen Niihari and Makabe, played by Robert McCollum (whose audition tape has gone missing) and Bob Carter.
As ever we also have the Textless Opening (1:33) and Textless Closing (1:30), something series collectors will already have five times by now.
Finally there are trailers for other MVM releases, Ah My Goddess (1:32) and Basilisk (2:02).
A most worthy final four episodes of a series that has potential to reach an audience beyond the anime fan base, though this would require the tearing down of some too-easily formed prejudices. Speed Grapher may not be quite up there with the genre elite, but it's still a fine work that has thrown up some terrific moments on the way, and appreciation of its virtues is a pleasure as open to genre first-timers as it is to old hands.