by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Everything is different now. We get a cold open before the theme song for the first time, and when the opening does start, it's been updated. Adding in new heroes and forms is a staple of tokusatsu intros, so Anti's GridKnight form showing up make sense. But the shot of Akane's box-cutter clattering to the ground now shows it splattered in blood, after her attack on Yuta. He's down for the count, Junk has been thrown to the floor, and Gridman is gone.
In the stock superhuman squad structure that SSSS.Gridman so gleefully homages, this is the standard lowest moment for our heroes before they (hopefully) rally back for the finale. Yuta isn't actually dead of course, merely comatose in the wake of Akane's attack, and worrying around his bedside gives the rest of the team time to reflect on what they can do as this disaster escalates. It's disaster on all sides, as Akane feels no need to keep creating Kaiju now that she's taken out Yuta, leading Alexis to re-deploy all her old monsters on the city in an all-out attack. Anti completes his turn to the heroic side by going to the Gridman Alliance and offering his aid, even fully renouncing his Kaiju designation. That ‘everything is different’ feeling keeps making itself palpable, with the setups and roles of characters shuffling around here at the eleventh hour.
However, the characters remain true to themselves despite the changes in their status quo. Rikka continues to work as the emotional center of all this escalating insanity. Her insistence on going back to school and checking in on her friends Hass and Namiko, who have regularly tethered her concerns to the human cost of all this fighting, speaks to how grounded she remains, even as her existence in this world continues to be thrown into question by Akane. Anti's declarations on the roles of Kaiju and Grid-heroes forces Utsumi to confront how his love of seeing such giant battles may have superseded any attention he paid to civilians who might have gotten hurt in the process.
Of course, in terms of characterization, the big news this episode is that we finally get a full explanation for Yuta's origins. It's a reveal that's been dragged out during the series, but to the show's credit, it does feel like it was building up to deploy the revelation at this moment for maximum impact. If I'm being honest, I'm not sure how I feel about the nature of the reveal itself. That the Yuta we've been following this whole time was simply an incarnation of Gridman riding around in his body is admittedly a surprising explanation for his amnesia that works within the mechanics of the story, and it also explains why Yuta ended up being such a wildcard that could consistently foil Akane's plans. However, I'm not certain what this says about Yuta's character. If this chunk of Gridman simply awakens to rejoin and fly off with the Hyper Agent at the end of the series, it might feel like both portions of the hero were more of a cipher than necessary. This element has been visited in previous Ultra Series, going all the way back to the original, so I'm hoping that the line between Yuta and Gridman will be more clearly defined next episode, with more elaboration on what both characters got out of this particular partnership.
With everything being different now, the main trio of the Gridman Alliance do seem to be on one last lap of character development, hopefully building to a strong emotional capstone. In addition to Yuta's identity crisis, Utsumi is left questioning his role and what contributions he brings to the team (ironically sulking so hard that he missed Borr turning to him for Ultra-series advice), while Rikka's ultimate attempt to reach out to Akane is cruelly cut short. Rikka's power of empathy could end up being the key to resolving things in the end, as Akane transforms into a full Kaiju by the end, with the episode cutting for the show's most vicious cliffhanger yet.
Setting aside that barrage of engaging story material, this episode continues SSSS.Gridman's track record of looking amazing. Reports that the series wrapped production weeks ago have done it great favors in keeping up the production pace, and this week in particular pulls out all the stops, with literally every Kaiju our heroes have fought getting taken on by Anti as GridKnight. Even with these repeat performances, the episode finds places for new visual tricks. There's a shot of Anti taking on two monsters in the background while the Neon Genesis Junior High students run along in the foreground; these kinds of scaled shots were a common trick the live-action Ultra Series liked to deploy, made easier but no less cool-looking by animation. Even if we can be sure that Gridman's return was inevitable, it doesn't make him coming back to fight side-by-side with GridKnight any less triumphant.
In the wake of an extremely strong last few weeks for SSSS.Gridman, this episode delivering a comparatively weaker twist and devoting itself entirely to buildup could make it tempting to write off in the grand scheme of the series' run. But as a part of the whole, it succeeds well. Even as it feels less rapturous than previous episodes, it works simply for keeping up the energy, characterization, and visual quality of SSSS.Gridman, poising the series to go out strong.
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