Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 17th 2006
Volume 3 LE
Still on the run, Saiga and Kagura visit a spa to investigate issues concerning the past of Kagura's mother and who her father really is. What they learn leads them only deeper into the mystery of the man who might be Kagura's father, what he was doing 15 years ago, and how his work was related to Shinsen's sudden rise to fame and fortune. Suitengu's henchmen are still on their trail, however, as is Ginza, who wants her lover back and mistrusts why he might have run off with a teenage girl. Suitengu himself also takes dramatic steps forward in bringing his ultimate scheme to fruition, while Shinsen struggles with a past she can't entirely forget. Trapped in the middle, as always, are Saiga and Kagura, while more Euphorics surface to gun for Saiga.
Wow, poor little Kagura just gets no love or sympathy, does she? It definitely sucks to be her, but at least she has Saiga to latch onto, that is until Suitengu gets his claws back into her again... but hey, her tragic story does provide one of the main reasons to watch the show, so it's not all bad.
With its third installment Speed Grapher kicks its plot development into higher gear. Although it still serves up the super-human battles seen in the earlier volumes, continues its heavy-handed approach to sexy content, and further beats the viewer over the head with its economic disparity issues, the emphasis this time is more on story development – something the series has sorely needed. Those who have only barely been hanging on so far may find a bit more to get enthusiastic about, despite the relative dearth of scenes involving Saiga blowing things up.
Some of the truths of the series are gradually becoming more apparent as Suitengu's power play makes bold advances. Time is also spent delving into Shinsen's past for the first time, which provides some additional clues about why Kagura may have the ability she does and why her mother hates her so. (She's apparently not so shallow as to dislike her daughter only because Kagura is blossoming into the full bloom of her beauty at the same time she is fading. The hate runs deeper than that, although it still has everything to do with who Kagura is and nothing to do with what she's done.) Yet to be revealed is how exactly Kagura's unique biology plays into Suitengu's plans, including the reason why it's so important to delay her onset of menarche and what it might it have to do with the health problem raised in volume 2.
One new Euphoric is also introduced in this volume – a guy who can manifest his tattoos into reality – while Suitengu finally reveals that he, as long expected, also has powers, and of a particularly nasty variety at that. We also learn a bit more about the nature of Euphorics and why they may be called what they are, but really the whole set-up is still just an excuse for working super-human freaks into the story. Saiga is still the man, but is only the focus of attention through the first two episodes, with the shift primarily to emphasizing Kagura (and, to a lesser extent, Ginza, Suitengu, and Shinsen) for the last two episodes. Suitengu's henchmen are also still around serving as amiable side characters, but they do little to distinguish themselves here.
Gonzo's artistic effort is still second-class (at best) work. It's at its best in fan service shots, where minor amounts of actual nudity are mixed in with numerous scenes of near-nudity, sex, and general kinkiness, but those watching the series only for the fan service can do better elsewhere. Although Gonzo does get a bit creative in recostuming Kagura and Saiga, and Ginza and the younger version of Shinsen seen in flashbacks have good and distinctive designs, everything lacks the sharpness, prettiness, and vibrancy one normally expects from a Gonzo title; it's certainly far inferior to the company's other current releases like Basilisk and Trinity Blood. The animation is likewise unimpressive.
The musical score merely repeats the same themes used in earlier volumes, and the lack of zest that infects the artistry also seems to have wormed its way into the music. The opener (still not the original one used in Japan) and closer remained unchanged. Fortunately the English dub continues to be quite solid, invariably elevating the caliber of the material at least a little bit. The same can't be said for the Japanese performances, which aren't bad but are lackluster.
The quad-fold Limited Edition version offers some nice interior artwork, a collection of character cards, and a 10-page booklet which offers in-depth character profiles, concept art for both characters and settings, and brief episode summaries. Extras on the DVD itself include clean opener and closer, an Art Gallery consisting of screen shots set to music (which, curiously, can't be fast-forwarded through), and more Cast Audition clips narrated by the English ADR director. The paragraph-length Character Profiles on the disc are far less extensive than the full-length ones in the booklet, but do include a couple of characters not mentioned in the booklet.
The storytelling has improved, and the series offers just enough interesting characters, plot twists, and sex appeal to keep fans following it, but based on its first half Speed Grapher will never be mistaken for a quality series. Too many quality control issues abound, it's too crass, and nearly everything it does is being done by other series in current release, and done better.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Small improvements in storytelling, good English dub.
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