Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 28th 2006
DVD 4: Limited Edition
Suitengu has revealed the next big step of his grand scheme: with Shinsen dead he will marry Kagura for her inheritance, thus gaining control of the Tennozu Group's vast wealth and resources. Keeping Kagura in the trance he places her under when she becomes the Goddess assures that she won't resist, but what he doesn't figure on is that Saiga isn't out of commission after all and isn't about to let him get away with it. He gives new meaning to the title “wedding photographer” as he crashes the ceremony and rescues Kagura once again. While on the run Kagura seems happier, but there are still threats to be faced, Euphorics to be battled, and the biological basis of his powers to be learned about. Meanwhile Suitengu is hardly idle as he puts the next stage of his nefarious plan in motion.
The writing and storyboarding are almost laughably bad and the artistry and technical merits are way below Gonzo standards, but what makes this series still (barely) watchable isn't the action, graphic content, or allegedly-neat abilities of the Euphorics. It's the developing Ginza-Saiga-Kagura love triangle dynamic that will keep viewers attached. One can almost pity Ginza as she desperately tries to keep hold of the one man she wants even as she can see him slipping away, but one also has to marvel at how good Saiga and Kagura are looking as a couple despite the great age disparity. She's 15, he's 33, and side character bob does pop up long enough to point out the impracticalities of such a difference.
It's increasingly clear that these two both need each other and belong together, though. Kagura sees Saiga not only as her savior but the one person in her life who has shown he cares for her and not just her status or unique abilities – a powerful appeal indeed. For Saiga, Kagura represents the one shining example of purity in an overwhelmingly corrupt world, the one thing that inspires him and makes him give a damn. Neither is perfect, but when almost everyone else around them is so dirtied by one vice or another, their “goodness” really stands out. It's the one subtle touch in a series that otherwise employs all the subtlety of a jackhammer.
Of the four episodes in this volume, the first two concern the set-up and execution of the wedding and its subsequent crashing before putting Saiga and Kagura back on the run for the third time. The tattooed Euphoric aesthetician who first appeared in the previous volume returns as a major foe, and the biological basis for the powers of Euphorics is delved into. Episode 15, while mildly part of the overall plot, is more of a stand-alone encounter with a particularly odd breed of Euphoric, although it does affirm the strength of the commitment between Saiga and Kagura and inspire Saiga not to just settle for the harsh reality presented to him. Episode 16 introduces a major plot point but is otherwise primarily a recap episode under the guise of an accounting report.
Over the course of its run to date the artistry and animation hasn't improved, leaving it the weakest-looking Gonzo production to date. Although the background art remains decent, most objects, vehicles, and character designs are too rough, the color schemes are flat and unexciting, and the animation would be more typical of a far lesser studio. The fan service, which was an important component of earlier volumes, is minimal this time around beyond the recap episode. The one nice touch is the large portrait in Suitengu's office in episode 16 (if you've been paying attention, you'll know why it's there), but beyond that nothing here changes the impression that this was only a half-hearted visual effort by Gonzo. The musical score offers nothing new, continuing the same collection of basic tunes used in previous episodes. The opener remains unchanged, while a new closer is now in use.
If anyone needs further convincing that the English dub for Speed Grapher is clearly superior to the original Japanese version, just listen to the dub for these four episodes while the subtitles are turned on. Moreso than with the previous volumes, the distinct improvements in writing resulting from the translation become apparent here, as the English dialogue has more punch and better flow than the drier and sometimes awkwardly-worded Japanese. The English script may not be completely true to the original, but it's hard to argue that the sacrifice of “artistic integrity” (if that term can actually apply here) doesn't result in considerably better writing. The English vocal performances are also usually better, especially in the roles of Saiga, bob, and the Euphoric Father Kanda, whose insanity and unbalanced tone comes through far more clearly in English than it does in Japanese.
The quad-fold Limited Edition comes complete with a slipcover, bonus interior art, a pair of character cards, and a 10-page booklet with character profiles and art. On-disc Extras include the standard Speed Grapher array of clean opener and closer, art gallery, character profiles, English cast auditions, and company trailers. The special entry this time is “Saito Documentary – Part One,” a 50-minute documentary focusing on Kei Sato, the 20-year-old total acting novice who was picked out of more than 2,000 applicants to voice Kagura and help promote the series. This part deals with the process of her getting picked (not hard to see why she was) and adjusting to life as a promotional tool.
Although hampered by a lot of truly bad writing, just enough good elements are present for this volume to hold the interest of those who have stuck with the series so far. The English dub, as before, is not only a substantial improvement but helps greatly in making the series tolerable.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D+
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Vastly better English dub, ample set of extras.
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