Saiga Tatsumi is a former war photographer working for a newspaper in a future version of Tokyo. The world he lives in is not that different from ours: money still makes the world go round but has made institutions so corrupt that pretty much everything and everyone can be bought for a price. He hates his job and his life, and he wishes for nothing more than something pretty and exciting to photograph. Saiga is about to be changed, both in mind and body, when he infiltrates a secret club formed by the decadent rich and famous. There he meets Kagura, the centerpiece and trophy of the club.
summary by Soundchazer
Highs: Rich world; extremely memorable antagonist; solid plot
Lows: “Monster of the Week” routine gets a bit old; animation and design are weak
There are three things in anime that are a certainty: Studio Ghibli creates quality pictures, Kanno Yoko is a great composer and Gonzo makes pretty anime with questionable plots. At least, that is what we have been taught both here at the Anime Academy and elsewhere. Although Gonzo has been popular within the community for its action series with gorgeous art, it also has a dubious reputation for being unable to write a coherent story, or at least one that is consistent from beginning to end. It seems that they heard what we had to say and decided to do a 180-degree turn. Speed Grapher is anything but typical Gonzo.
For starters, Gonzo made a really odd choice when creating this opening sequence. Instead of using a regular Japanese song, the decision was made to borrow one from the West: Duran Duran’s Girls on Film graces this anime with its ’80s vitality. Instead of being a backdrop for the animated sequence, it is the animation that was adapted to match the rhythm of the song. And it works. You are left to wonder if this is a one episode deal or if this is the actual sequence, but one thing is certain, it catches your attention. Another thing that is presented in a believable fashion is the world where these characters interact, which is decadent, somber and cold. But unlike movies like Blade Runner or anime series like Neon Genesis Evangelion, it is not that far removed from our own reality, and that is what makes it scary. You can see that world being ours a few years down the road. And finally, there are the characters where not everyone is as they seem. We have a hero with some questionable feelings, motives and methods, an antagonist that is more than your typical villain and a series of secondary characters who really help support the story.
There is the other side of this atypical production. The character design is not exactly appealing, and the animation is really inconsistent. In some episodes the animation almost looks good, while in others it looks like something produced in a low budget studio in some backwater town overseas. If you had to watch this anime without reading the credits, you would have a hard time pinpointing the company that produced it. This anime is not pretty, but in a weird way, it does fit the strange world that story presents. Even though Saiga has to fend off some genuinely creepy adversaries throughout the series, the fact that there are too many of them and are beaten rather easily takes away some of the initial impact and can drag down the storyline. The music, aside from the well-known pop/rock opening theme, uses a somewhat jazzy score that fits the overall mood of the series, but it’s not exactly breathtaking.
The cons seem to be enough to scare some people away, but it would be a shame not to watch this one as it could very well be considered one of Gonzo’s high points. Ultimately, Speed Grapher is original, has a very solid story and, even better, serves both as a criticism of the values we have as humans and as a warning of what it could become of us if we continue to follow the current path.