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Ten years after the Bubble War, the dichotomy between the rich and the poor in the world becomes more prominent and Japan is no exception. The rich seeks to satisfy their desires and derive pleasure for themselves, and Tokyo has materialize into such a city as a result. Saiga, once a war photographer, works for Hibara Ginza in the capitalist state of Tokyo. He infiltrates into Roppongi Club, a secretive base located in the red district area of the city, to collect information about them. However, he was caught in the process and brought forward to a girl called Kagura who was in the midst of a ritual. His contact with Kagura awakens his special ability: the power to make things explode once photographed. In order to unravel the mystery behind the Roppongi Club and Kagura, Saiga begins his solitary battle. Written by
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Smile for the camera... averageness with a few bright sparks is caught in the lens.
From Gonzo comes a 24 episode anime about a retired war photographer, Saiga, who investigates oddities in government affairs, and comes across a premier 'pleasure club', the Roppongi Club, that caters to every vice of Japan's ruling elite. The main attraction is the young Goddess, in reality the heiress of the powerful Tennozu Group, Kagura, who can bestow a gift that unlocks ultimate desire. When given to Saiga, he acquires the power to destroy with his camera lens, and rescues the girl. Now on the run, they must figure out what their 'power' really is, and foil whatever the true agenda of the Tennozu Group is...
While it may never reach maximum potential, 'Grapher' offers an enjoyable conspiracy thriller with a sci-fi flavour to make for engaging viewing. The animation is decent, as well as adequately dynamic for the action set pieces when Saiga battles others who have 'the gift', but it often feels under-detailed and corner cuts are fairly obvious. The dub voice cast are strong, with Chris Sabat and Monica Rial leading the charge, and the characters, leads for both the heroes and villains, themselves do share a strong camaraderie, while the side villains that populate most of the series are having a ball chewing scenery (including a super stretchy ballet diva, a widow who eats diamonds, a spidery dentist and even a politician-turned-living sound system), which does help carry the show over its weaker points.
From a writing standpoint, 'Grapher' is very much a cut and dry action-thriller anime with a high concept twist, mixing in revenge, politics, science gone awry and the futility of warfare and the rampant consumerism of modern society. Ambitious but the execution, while not bad, never feels exceptional and is built from extremely familiar elements (including but not limited to a cynical lead with PTSD, a voluptuous police detective girlfriend (complete with oh-so subtle symbolism with her guns), the theatrical gay friend, meek schoolgirls, all power corrupts, villains with a tragic backstory that also tie in with our lead and double crosses up the whazoo from just about everyone) that trap the series in a mostly repetitive monster of the week format, as well as a repetitive arc structure where Kagura is taken, Saiga gets her back, they flee for a time, and then she gets snatched again.
Indeed, the action and monsters almost end up detracting from the social commentary and lower the bar on the whole, not helped by seemingly one note villains who don't start to really develop until the last third of the show. Here is where 'Grapher' does come into its own and crank the emotions and commentary into gear, but it does feel a tad late to the party. It still kept me engaged, however, its fast pacing, characters and desire to stay on point helped overcome its familiarity. However, it's not something I would really crave to have a second go-around with.
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