by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Gridman's job here is done and I for one am thankful to him. The ending of SSSS.Gridman delivers on the previous eleven episodes of build-up, with all the reshuffling of elements and refocusing of characters that brought us to this point. The perspective is completely different than it was at the beginning, though we remain rooted in watching giant superheroes punching monsters over a city. This final episode shares a title of ‘Awakening’ with the first episode, recreating some elements from that beginning in a wildly different context.
There are a few stumbles getting this episode going at the beginning. Quick cuts between Gridman and GridKnight wrapping up their previous huge battle before going off again to save the now Kaiju-fied Akane don't flow as smoothly as they could. While this does amusingly bring to mind some of the infamous bizarre edits from the first episode, they still impact the story enough to be notable. As well, the scene where Anti is stabbed by Alexis Kerib just after saving Akane is abrupt; it feels like a couple shots were left out that would have provided maximum impact. Little off-beats like this serve to remind us of the fresh-blooded nature of SSSS.Gridman, where some experiments may not always work as anticipated.
But those little compositional issues only stand in contrast to what a triumph the rest of the finale delivers. The animation is as consistent as ever, showing off the glorious city-wide carnage of the final battle for one final blowout. And when the true final face-off between Gridman and Alexis gets going, the show absolutely sings: literally! Yes, ‘Yume no Hero’, the opening theme from the original Gridman, finally makes its appearance in all its ‘Baby Dan Dan’ shouting glory. It's symbolic of the hero's last-minute power-up, as he realizes who he's been within Yuta and reunites with the Assist Weapons and Anti to become the classic version of himself. It's a perfect moment that had my jaw on the floor and my fists in the air immediately. Notably, this new old Gridman completely eschews the CGI of his previous form, dynamically zipping around in gloriously animated combat with the powered-up Alexis. The payoff in these two figures furiously and fluidly fighting was absolutely worth it.
The classic Gridman elements that come so deeply into play might be another issue with this ending. That old-school look and original theme song are of course going to mean much less for anyone coming into this show without knowledge of the original production, and this also holds true for some elements used to resolve the final battle itself. Gridman's cyberspace-saving Fixer Beam was a staple of that show, so seeing his revealed form use it to fix not only the world but Akane herself lands perfectly if you're aware of that context. But for those not in the know, it could definitely come off as a contrivance.
However, SSSS.Gridman wisely incorporates elements of its own story to mitigate such an issue. With Akane having revealed herself as the true protagonist of the show by this point, the real mission that Gridman has worked to accomplish becomes apparent; the heroes she fabricated to play villain against must help Akane overcome her own fears of the real world and ‘wake up’ from the fantasy cyber-world she's retreated to. The series' take on the old show's classic Access Code screen even clarifies that ‘SSSS’ actually stood for ‘Special Signature to Save a Soul’. Gridman has always been here for Akane, so he arrived to save this world she made for herself and encourage her to leave it behind.
It's a beautiful way to round back to SSSS.Gridman's central idea of the role of a hero. Of course, heroes don't have to be actual super-humans punching monsters; they can simply be the embodiment of something that's meaningful, like an old toy from a classic franchise appearing in our land of make-believe to tell us that we'll be okay, and people will want to be our friends if we just reach out to them. It's what saved Takeshi all those years ago in the original series, and it might have given Akane what she needs now too. The superhero appearing in this series not to save a world but simply the soul of a single troubled teenage girl speaks volumes about how every act of heroism could be considered important.
Akane's development would be the last potentially-contentious element of this finale. It's notably incomplete, as she simply acquires the will from her Gridman-gifted friendship to ‘wake up’ out of the world she created and face whatever the demons she was refusing to work past in the real world. It's also not implied that any of the people Akane killed in this world were restored, and her reaction indicates that she knows she'll have to live with the things she did. Some viewers will definitely see her live-action liberation (brilliant stylistic detail though it is) as her getting off too easy, but I'm personally choosing to read it as a difference in the contexts of each reality. At the end of her day, this is a ‘dream’ Akane is waking from, having gained a lifetime of character-building experiences and the benefit of a true friendship in Rikka. She's also reminded that she can't ever return to this world and see her dear friend, lest she return to a fantasy of regression that will only hold her back.
The other resolutions of the series wrap as well as I could have hoped. The Gridman that was Yuta does leave at the end, with the question of how much the ‘real’ Yuta remembers left hanging. That said, this wasn't as much of an issue as I thought it might be. Knowing now that Gridman-Yuta was an asset in resolving Akane's issues makes it easier to focus on his heroism throughout the story rather than being concerned with how that character actually developed. It's even pointed out that his proximity to Akane was a key factor in him being selected for the role. If you always thought Yuta was flat as a protagonist, this reinforcement of that idea will probably make you feel a little better about his characterization, but any viewers who were intrigued by the possibility of learning about the human hero before his possession may feel a bit cheated.
As sterling as the production and storytelling were, there are indeed a lot of x-factors that will determine how any given viewer feels about SSSS.Gridman's conclusion. Whether you're familiar with the classic series or not and whether you're sympathetic to Akane or not will ultimately define how much enjoyment you get out of this series. As such, I cannot speak for everyone. But personally, I found this finale's unabashed embracing of its roots and total commitment to its strongest points to be decidedly fulfilling. It was an endearing yet cathartic series that attained the core meaning it was striving for. Thank you, Gridman!
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