Speed Grapher

Tatsumi Saiga used to be a highly sought-after photojournalist specialising in covering international conflicts; but by the mid 1990s, he’s a burned-out has-been inhabiting the bottom-feeding world of tabloid journalism. Nor is his personal life any better: his ongoing relationship with unconventional police captain Hibari Ginza is, in actuality, a destructive co-dependency from with neither can escape. One day, while tailing a politician believed to be involved in high-level corruption, Saiga uncovers evidence that the Roppongi Club – an underground cabal rumoured to exist for the purpose of enabling the wealthy and the powerful to indulge their most debauched fantasies – is actually more than an urban legend. But when he infiltrates the club, Saiga makes a truly horrific discovery: through the agency of an abused and brainwashed teenager – daughter of the ruthless corporate matriarch who controls the club – and a combination of virology and genetic manipulation, the corporate, political, and social elite of Japan are being given demonic powers that enable them to elevate their depravity to ghastly new levels. When Saiga is accidentally given the same powers, and uses them to rescue the abused girl – Kagura – from the Club’s clutches, he triggers a cat-and-mouse pursuit across the country whose outcome threatens to overthrow the pillars of Japanese society…

Conceived and produced by anime studio Gonzo, and screened on Japanese TV in 2005, “Speed Grapher” received a mixed reception from critics and viewers alike. In part, this was due to Gonzo’s decision – contrary to their usual practice – to utilise a visual style in which hand-drawn animation predominated, with only a minimum of CGI processing. But it was possibly also due to the fact that, at the time this series aired, the end of the Japanese “economic miracle” was still a recent and painful memory, its disastrous effects continuing to wash through Japanese society. The Japan presented in “Speed Grapher” lies a long way from the gleaming tourist brochures and the self-imagining of nationalistic pride: it is an exhausted, overwhelmed Japan, whose past glory was built on corruption and vice, and whose vaunted social cohesion has been a recipe for exploitation and economic inequality. But in dealing with difficult issues like the exploitation of minors, “Speed Grapher” was possibly also commenting on the anime industry’s penchant for turning a buck based on the objectification of young women and teens – a penchant graphically depicted in the absurdly sexualised outfit in which Ginza goes about her police duties. Likewise, the plot twist built into the narrative also explodes the simplistic idea of good vs evil, noting how abusers are often themselves the victims of abuse. Violent and confronting, “Speed Grapher” is a descent into darkness whose themes and issues are a reminder of the ever-present “shadow side” of human reality – and of the resilience of the human spirit notwithstanding.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.