There are some series that I look forward to seeing finish, not because they weren’t enjoyable, but because the resolution is of particular importance. I usually get this feeling from shows such as Speed Grapher because the ending promises the answers to the questions and we finally get to see whether the various characters get what they deserve; perhaps it’s more to do with seeing things through to the end. In this case it’s predictable enough in that the majority of the survivors really do get what they deserve – some didn’t, which highlights the unfairness of the SG worldview; an aspect that’s integral to to the clout of the premise but makes me less disappointed that I won’t be spending any more time there.
The world of Speed Grapher really is a shitty place – the greed, the ignorance, the self-centred pleasure-seeking at the expense of humanity…it’s all the more frightening because it takes only a small leap of the imagination to see the present panning out in the same way. There’s a distinctly retro 80s vibe to the series – partly attributed to the masterstroke of using Duran Duran as a theme that’s so sorely missing from the DVD edition op sequence – that comes from the obsession with materialism and money, the latter really being the root of all evil in this case. The ideas of financial recession are very reminiscent of a similar incident in the late 80s too, although this has nothing on the sheer nihilistic scale of Suitengu’s plan, it has to be said.
“Are you happy?”
Suitengu actually comes out as a really sympathetic fellow, which is a great but sadly not-frequent-enough moment in the series in which it’s possible to really relate to the cast. The seeds sown in the episodes of volume #5 bear some pretty sour fruit, such as the tragic fate of his sister; similarly the likes of Tsujido and Makabe set themselves apart from the scumminess that surrounds them by choosing loyalty for their boss over financial rewards. Kudos. Niihari does take the money and run of course, but it’s all done in the name of his fallen comrades and you’re left thinking that he’ll stay the likable rogue for good. Similarly Ginza and Ryougoku are also immune from the â€˜green diseaseâ€™ that has afflicted most; that said, their pairing at the end felt like a bit of a forced effort into ensuring most of the loose ends are tied up neatly.
While we’re on the subject of the good guys, I was left thinking about how appropriate the ending for them all was, and came up with the conclusion that any other ending would have been less satisfying: it couldn’t have turned out any other way really. Saiga lost a lot as a price for saving Kagura; nevertheless he seemed content enough by the end, especially in the final scene that left me unsurprised in some ways but wrapped things up nicely (the â€˜five years laterâ€™ setting also makes the Saiga/Kaguta pairing seem sweet rather than unsettling due to the age gap).
The dynamic that existed between Saiga and Kagura did seem a bit improbable at times but when you consider how they are damaged people thrown together in extreme circumstances…it does turn out that way sometimes I guess. I would have liked to have seen Kagura show a bit more of that self-assuredness she showed in the last volume though, especially when she was being treated as an object or asset to be fought over by so many. Oddly, the damsel in distress aspect to her didn’t actually grate on me nearly as much as I feared; the only explanation for which being that she really was a pitiable victim of the sick, greedy bastards.
Make no mistake: if you’re looking for sick, greedy bastards look no further than Speed Grapher. The prime minister is the last in a long line of individuals whose twisted and disgusting mutated incarnations are a physical manifestation of their inner ugliness. It’s a clever idea, actually, in that it effectively and graphically shows a society that’s transforming into something really unpleasant. Unfortunately they occasionally came across as revolting but not particularly scary – the prime minister looked as laughable as he was repulsive and Suitengu’s euphoric state lacked the sufficient amount of menace needed for the job.
This is connected to my recurring beef with the visuals that stayed to the end; while they don’t exactly ruin the production as a whole, there’s an appreciable effect on a show that is, in so many other ways, slickly stylish and as cool as a polar bear’s unmentionables. It’s not quite as mature and sophisticated as it likes to think it is, but Speed Grapher can’t be denied the acknowledgement that it’s a damned cool show that isn’t afraid to pull its punches when the more distasteful sides of human nature are concerned. It does dabble in social commentary at times but this is done at a simpler level, that of shallow blockbuster-level entertainment with violence, nudity and big explosions – at least this sets it apart from other shows, in that few others take on similar subject matter in the same way. Not to mention the fact that the lead character is a morally strong guy in an immoral society who gains the ability to blow stuff up with his camera and get the girl afterwards…if that isn’t cool I don’t know what is!
While the show was disappointing visually (hence why I’m using the pretty promo art here instead of lacklustre screenies) musically it was a different story. Shinkichi Mitsumune’s talent was I feel overshadowed by the Pillows’ awesomeness in FLCL but on his own it’s easier to see how his efforts are really quite noteworthy. Synths and sax offer that 80s decadence, with some funky guitar lines to enhance the mood that’s required. Shutter Speed may not give me the goosebumps that Girls on Film did, but as plan B for the licencing issues it’s a decent enough substitute (I’ll post the guitar/bass tabs to it as and when I work them out). The first end theme was all croaky and lifeless but I really enjoyed hearing Yoriko’s Break the Cocoon played out over that kaleidoscopic imagery during the closing latter episodes.
I could reel off a number of justifiable reasons as to why Speed Grapher fails to attain greatness: the animation is shabby to the point of being almost embarrassing, the social commentary is ham-fisted and the dialogue (as good as the VA performances were) is cheesy. For all this though, it’s been a fun romp that is willing to push the boundaries of good taste and deliver it all in style – it captures a striking worldview even when the clumsiness in execution makes the viewing experience occasionally frustrating. It wasted as many opportunities as it took but if nothing else it does end, like that triumphant parting shot in the Pasadena Rosebowl concert that inspired this post’s title, on a decent and emotionally-charged note.