||With its second volume Speed Grapher moves into full-bore Fugitive Mode, and is better for it. In the first volume Gonzo took a campy concept and tried to play it seriously while also turning it into a “mature” title via saturation of explicit content. The result was a rough-edged mess that was often unintentionally silly or ridiculous. In its second volume the mature content is less forced and the plot is more cohesive as it focuses on Saiga on the run with Kagura, which allows the storytelling to flow better and gather more momentum. It still has its silly content, such as the cross-dressing review at the night club or the thugs reminiscing about going back to their roots, but even that feels more natural this time around. The series plays much better if one looks at it as a dark but campy super-powered romp.
And it's the comic-book freaks that are going to be the main attraction for many viewers. Saiga gets numerous opportunities to show off as he explores the parameters of his power, such as situations where environmental factors prevent a clear focus or what effect things like, say, using a small camera vs. one with a telephoto lens have on his explosive ability. He's also a refreshingly low-key hero in an environment typically populated either by sullen or obnoxiously brash male leads. Two new Euphorics confront him in this volume, one the diamond-hard, diamond-chomping Lady Koganei and the other the seriously twisted dentist Dr. Minozoguchi, who is inarguably the scariest character yet to appear. Their natures imply that part of being a Euphoric is certifiable insanity, or perhaps Gonzo is just reveling in showing the biggest weirdos it can conceive.
For all its focus on Saiga, though, Speed Grapher isn't a one-man show. Kagura, who gets to display more of the naiveté born of her extremely sheltered life, may not be terribly original as the helpless girl who must be protected, but she earns more sympathy than most such heroines because her situation is a remarkably ugly one. Because of what she's had to go through and the fate she still has looming ahead of her, no one can justifiably call her a spoiled rich girl, and the rare scenes where she can smile are especially endearing. Ginza, Saiga's lover, always makes things interesting when she appears, but unfortunately her appearances are confined to a sole episode in this volume. The common thugs also have more character and development than the norm for bad guys in their roles. Much more disappointing is the bland Suitengu as the lead villain, although hints are dropped about some scheme of his involving Kagura that goes beyond her status as the Goddess and the daughter of his patron.
Though made by Gonzo, Speed Grapher lacks the telltale signs of top-end visual quality seen in other Gonzo productions. Many of its character designs are a little rough and the artistry in general looks drab and unrefined compared to the flashy, glossy look of series like Kiddy Grade or Trinity Blood. Animation quality is also far below Gonzo's normal standards, as there isn't an action scene in these four episodes which doesn't look at least a bit awkward. Graphic content is more limited this time around, as only two brief scenes of nudity and one of sexual content are included. The graphic violence is still extensive, however, especially in some cringe-inducing scenes involving the dentist.
The mix of piano-based light jazz and techno composing the soundtrack has some impact on setting the mood for the series but usually just fades into the background. The alternate opener is still used, as is the awkward-sounding closer. The musical highlight this time is Kagura's rendition of “Amazing Grace” near the end of episode 5, a selection that might seem odd for a series like this but is definitely a show-stopper on either language track.
The English dub for this volume establishes that Monica Rial can not only sing but sing pretty well. Her seiyuu counterpart in the role of Kagura definitely has a better and more polished singing voice, but Ms. Rial stays even because she lacks a foreign accent – and “Amazing Grace” clamors for a strong, purely American voice like few other songs do. The dub is otherwise quite a strong one, with Christopher Sabat perfectly embodying the “man beaten down by life” tone of Saiga, Greg Ayres sounding suitably nasty as Tsujido, and Bob and the club transvestites sounding a little more convincing in their roles than the Japanese originals. The script even stays truer than the norm for FUNimation productions, although it is still loose in places, has more foul language, and uses more American euphemisms. Despite that, the English dub as a whole sells the series better than the original Japanese dub.
In addition to four episodes, FUNimation offers up an Art Gallery, clean opener and closer, and another round of character profiles, this time including Suitengu, Tsujido, and the two new Euphorics. Also present is another edition of the Character Cast Auditions seen in the first volume. As with all FUNimation releases, the angle button can be used to change between the English and Japanese credits during the opener and closer.
Those who hung through the shaky first volume will probably find volume two of Speed Grapher to be much more to their liking. It still has some quality issues to overcome, but it does better-establish Saiga's background, throw a plot curveball concerning Kagura's nature, and deliver some campy fun. Overall it's a distinct improvement over the first volume.