Speed Grapher is a very strange anime from GONZO. Originally released in 2005, the 24 episode series earned mixed reviews from fans and critics. Oddly enough, the English dubs are considered better than the original Japanese audio because of the quality of writing. A story this strange needs to play everything as strange, not ground the dialogue in subtle shades of reality like the original broadcast. A war photographer, Tatsumi Saiga, investigates an underground club for the extremely wealthy. There he meets The Goddess, teenager Kagura Tennozu, who grants Saiga a superhuman ability with a kiss. His camera is no longer a tool to capture reality but a way to destroy anything he sees through the lens. The pair escape, setting the entirety of the Tennozu Group--a wealthy investment company run by Kagura's mother--on their trail. This includes a long series of similarly gifted club members who will stop at nothing to recover The Goddess for the club.
Speed Grapher (Speed PhotoGrapher, get it? Cause I didn't for a long time) has one story to tell over 24 episodes. There are little diversions into individual characters and some time skipping stuff to provide context as the story goes, but it's mainly a linear store. The show creates interest through a vast array of bizarre characters, each stranger than the next.
Tatsumi's ability to cause explosions with any camera is one thing. The next gifted human you meet is a professional dancer with a totally elastic body. After him is a woman made of diamonds. After her, a dentist with many drill-tipped limbs.
As the characters become more extreme, a bizarro sense of suspense is created. You begin to wonder how much further the characters could go even as their strangeness begins to distract from the story. The more realistic episodes always happen after a huge fight between gifted humans and work to reground the series in the story.
Speed Grapher is the story of how Tatsumi tries to free Kagura from the Tennozu group's underground crime and club circuit and nothing more. It's a story that could have been completed in three episodes on another series. Here, it is the sole narrative thrust. The random diversions into dark fantasy and violence shade the linear tale into something more adventurous and unpredictable. Who else is hiding a secret about Kagura? How many have been blessed by The Goddess? And when will the next devotee emerge to reclaim their unwilling benefactor?
The show really soars when an episode teases a meeting between the opposing sides. After running away, Kagura and Tatsumi wind up in a drag club for protection. Kagura is forced onstage by her new "big sisters" and quickly picks up the act. In between scenes of Kagura having the time of her life in front of a live audience, members of the Tennozu group--including a man who earned a hypersensitive nose from The Goddess--confirm that Kagura is inside. The episode cuts so many times between the concurrent scenes that you cannot predict when the Tennozo group will make a move. When they do, it's chilling. It's also a masterful piece of misdirection as the presumed threats from earlier in the series are nothing compared to what Tatsumi and Kagura are actually up against in the club.
Speed Grapher is strange, violent, and very gritty. The one hero solves challenges by blowing up his surroundings and the other hero is a genetically altered victim simultaneously sexually exploited and infantilized by an evil corporation. There isn't much plot but there is a lot of innovative suspense and dark fantasy battles. You can describe what happens with great ease but will never convey the novelty of the show.
Speed Grapher is currently available to stream on Netflix and Hulu Plus.
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