Speed Grapher, the 2005 anime series from Studio Gonzo, features neither speed nor graphing. The reason for the title remains a complete mystery. I suppose it should be chalked up to LOL ANIME and the medium’s penchant for giving things ridiculous names (e.g. Marmalade Boy, Cream Lemon, Tantei Opera Milky Holmes – it also seems they like to give their titles food-centric names as well). This series is an incomprehensible mish-mash of genres and themes, of half-baked ideas, and with, at best, half-assed execution. It has all the trappings of a terrible B-movie. Typically, when an anime or movie has crappy animation, crappy acting, crappy storyline, and crappy directing, it will get a score of Shitty. However, there is the rare occasion when all the elements come together to create something so terrible that it rises above its crappiness to become awesome. That is precisely what Speed Grapher does. It’s a perfect, shining example of a B-anime that’s so bad it’s good.
The premise of the series is that there is a virus that infects certain people, and when it becomes activated (activation involves getting kissed by a prepubescent loli — it’s Japan, remember) the virus allows a person’s deepest desire to come to fruition. Of course, everyone’s desire is to become a super-powered killing machine, but hey, if a virus gave me those kind of powers, I’d want to get infected, too. Our first taste of a desire come to life (referred to as Euphoria), is a photographer who can blow up anything he takes a picture of. If I was a photographer, I would want to blow up everything I took a picture of, too. In fact, as a blogger, I’d want every post I write to explode. But I digress…
Euphoria is nothing more than an excuse for the series creators to have the protagonist (Camera Dude) face-off against other bad guys with equally ridiculous super powers. The Japanese love ridiculous super powers (e.g. Basilisk). The more absurd, the better. Some of Camera Dude’s enemies include: a lady who turns herself into a diamond, a guy who uses drops of his own blood as projectile weapons, a guy whose tattoos become real, a dentist who has spider arms with various dental drill attachments, a priest who uses electricity to zap sinners, and a guy who turns into a stereo and adjusts the volume by twisting his own nipples. As the series progresses, Camera Dude must fight ever-increasing, and more ridiculous battles against these goons. The sheer insanity of the fights and the ridiculousness of it all, had me thirsting for more.
But Speed Grapher doesn’t stop with just super powers when it wants to be ludicrous. It also features a guy driving his car into the ocean and then having sex with his passenger while the car sinks, a female cop who kills everyone and claims it was “self-defense,” a bad guy who drives his car around like a maniac just because he likes to, the aforementioned dentist slobbering sexually over a favorite tooth he extracted, a guy so rich his cigarettes are made of rolled up bills of money, sex with unconscious people, sex clubs, BDSM, and people eating eyeball soup. This does not include the rest of the gratuitous violence and swearing that permeates every episode. It’s like Gonzo sat down and said, “What’s the most ridiculous thing we can make?” Then they pooled the most absurd ideas of every staff member, from animator to executive, and when they combined them all, they were left with Speed Grapher.
This series features some of the worst animation I have ever seen in a post-90s anime. TV anime from the 70s and 80s had a tendency to be weaker in animation quality, just because the budgeting and technology wasn’t quite there yet. In the 90s, there were improvements in technology, anime had become more commercially viable, and budgets became bigger. By the late 90s some series (e.g. Cowboy Bebop) had incredible animation, and had film-like quality in each episode. Moving into the 2000s, budgets grew further, and computers aided with animation and painting. As a result, animation quality has continued to improve as the years have gone on.
Speed Grapher, perhaps intentionally, looks like a piece of shit. The animation is flat and poorly detailed. The backgrounds are often bland and painted a single color. The character designs are inconsistent, and they can change from scene to scene. The colors are smeary, and there is a weird grayish haze that hangs over nearly every scene. The actual mechanics of the animation is jerky. At times it almost looks like stop-motion. Fluidity is something this series does not have. You could probably create more fluid animation by drawing a stick figure in your notebook and then flipping the pages. To say that Speed Grapher’s animation quality looks like shit would be an insult to shit. Even shit looks better. And it’s not one or two episodes that failed, it’s like this in EVERY. SINGLE. EPISODE.
In the auditory department, this anime maintains all its B-movie trappings. The music is often very upbeat and jazzy. In tense scenes it becomes sinister and jazzy. In regretful scenes it becomes sincere and jazzy. It’s alway jazzy. The creators of Speed Grapher have a major boner for jazz music. Not that I don’t like jazz, but a little variety would have been nice. Even Cowboy Bebop had a greater variety of music than just Bebop Jazz. I think this series only had three pieces of music it would swap out depending on the scene. The fact that the music often does not fit the tone of what’s going on, and that it is really BAD jazz, makes it even more B-movie-ish.
Continuing that trend is the acting. The acting is horrendous. I started out with the English dub, and found the acting hammy, with the line delivery completely off the mark. On the positive side, the villains’ crazy lines were embellished so much, were so deliciously over the top, I became entranced by their performances. I decided to switch over to the Japanese audio track, just to check it out. I found that it was even worse! The problem here was the acting was incredibly stiff; most of the characters were lethargic and zombie-like. At least the English track was livelier. If you are going to watch B-movie shit, you might as well enjoy the actors going all-out. I switched back, and watched the rest of the series in English.
Like most B-movies, Speed Grapher tries to be hard-boiled and edgy. Also, like most B-movies, those attempts fail. What happens is that instead of being edgy, it becomes outrageous to the point that it turns into a self-parody. All the insane violence (blood gushing everywhere), all the sex (almost every episode), the sex clubs, the unconscious rape-sex, and the ever more ridiculous super powers just show us that with each episode, the creators were trying to top themselves. Instead of being more inventive, they became more ludicrous. With that came more terribleness. Yes, that’s right, terribleness. There isn’t any other way to describe Speed Grapher except as “over-the-top terribleness.”
Most B-movies are made to earn a meager profit, and help the staff and cast move on to something (hopefully) better. Typically, they exist as nothing more than vehicles for sex and blood. However, there is the occasional B-movie that gets made with lofty aspirations. It tries to throw in a moral to make it seem like it is trying to convey a message to the viewer. Usually, they are executed in a manner as subtle as being beaten over the head with a stick. Speed Grapher falls into that category. The creators tried to shoehorn in a moral that money and corruption are bad. The insanity of even having a moral, clearly having no place amidst all the mayhem, attempting to make the show loftier than it really is, just propels Speed Grapher to even greater B-movie heights.
Speed Grapher is one of the weirdest anime I have seen in a long time. It has horrible animation, cheesy acting, a non-sensical storyline, ridiculous superpowers with absurd fight scenes, crappy music, a hilarious attempt at morality, and ultimately is one of the hugest pieces of shit ever produced from Studio Gonzo. Despite all these failing, there is something about Speed Grapher that I love. It revels in its crappiness. Not once does it try to be tasteful or even good. Perhaps that was the point all along? Gonzo wanted to make the ultimate anime tribute to the shitty B-movie? If so, then they succeeded on all counts. Speed Grapher is a B-anime in every regard. Because of this, Speed Grapher should earn a cult following akin to Plan 9 from Outer Space or “Manos” the Hands of Fate. And what about the title? It makes no sense, just like the rest of the series. It’s so bad it’s good. If you like that kind of thing, check it out.
Verdict: Awesomely Shitty