Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Speed Grapher, vol. 1

Written and Illustrated by Tomozo and Yusuke Kozaki, Based on the story by GONZO
Released in the US by TokyoPop

Slugline: Not about a guy who can draw real fast.

Speed Grapher is about war photographer Saiga's new job as a freelance political paparazzi in a near future Tokyo suffering from another major economic crash. After an injury forces him to take a less 'strenuous' job photographing corrupt politicians and dodging their security details, Saiga confronts one of the corrupt politicians that he had revealed as he is being killed by a man who literally stretches like rubber. Escaping through the use of his wits, Saiga traces the politician trail to an underground club that is using an unaware student named Kagura to grant some people strange abilities and to kill others. In the confusion of confronting them, Kagura gives Saiga the ability to destroy anything he takes a picture of, and they them flee as Kagura awakes, trying to avoid others that Kagura has given abilities to and trying to uncover what is going on.

The background of this manga feels a little odd, with the special abilities of the world relying on neither magic or science. The powers depend on the receiver's psychological state, where the power derives from the character much more than in other titles. The war photographer Saiga takes pictures of things and places in the process of being violently destroyed. But rather than capturing that moment in a photograph, Saiga now causes that moment to be forever lost, showing an internal conflict of Saiga. There is also the inherent subtext of Kagura, the overlooked and forgotten student, being able to give powers to people who want them, but the powers she grants are never exactly what the people need. But through it all Kagura is able to maintain her own detachment and 'innocence' from the consequences of the abilities she grants. Even though these subtexts are not fully explored in this volume, it does set up some interesting character bits to be followed up later. I have not seen the anime that the manga is based on so I do not know how closely the manga follows the anime's plot, but at least it seems implied that these points will be dealt with. Not only is there depth to the story and how the powers work and how they reflect the characters, Saiga shows cleverness in using his environment and his own abilities to even up the odds in otherwise difficult situations. The fact that the characters and story show such signs of thought and consideration, for the moment at least, gives me hope for the series and makes me half interested in seeing the anime.

Speed Grapher, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

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