by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
For all its fine-tuned atmosphere and serious ruminations on superheroes and technology, SSSS.Gridman is still a giant love-infused take on Saturday-morning kids' shows at heart. So beyond the colorful designs that work to introduce new toys, it's also happily going to run through some of the more ‘stock’ plot elements you might associate with that kind of storytelling. This means it's time for our leading boy and girl, Yuta and Rikka, to start getting nudged together as an obligatory couple. It's a testament to the quality of SSSS.Gridman that it takes what could be an eye-rolling plotline and still does a fine job threading it through its bigger overarching story.
The presentation alone is still something I could probably write pages on. There are little touches, like the sunny weather that intimidates Rikka at the beginning of this episode directly contrasting with the rain that gave her issues in the previous one. Smaller subtle elements like this continue to work wonders in the now-expected slower, quieter, character-focused portions of the show. Rikka and Yuta's potential relationship gets plenty of focus in this episode, but an equally large amount of time is spent on the relationship between Akane and Rikka. As the ending sequence had already hinted at, Optimus and Megatron here had something of an amicable history, but they've grown apart in the present day. The sequences between them early on do an excellentt job of communicating those awkward stretches of silence you endure with someone you only kind-of know but feel you should be able to converse with better.
That atmosphere is a key element that SSSS.Gridman so consistently gets right. The tone and characterization hearken back to the style of its source material in interesting ways. Akane's part of the episode is predicated on her suspicion that Yuta is actually Gridman, so she's attempting to get information from Rikka about that. Her mannerisms and performance sell the ‘casually menacing’ element of Akane's personality amazingly well, and the knowledge of her true intentions lends a loaded tone to every question she probes Rikka with. A lot of tokusatsu shows, particularly the more dramatic ones from the early 2000s, predicate tension between characters based on the central idea that they're unwittingly involved in super-powered struggles that could break out at any moment. SSSS.Gridman has perhaps more leeway as an animated production, but it's still opting to spend large portions of its episodes on simple real-world scenes that increasingly become enhanced by the dramatic irony behind the characters' situations. It's a loving stylistic detail that makes the show feel like it's going above and beyond to homage its source medium beyond just using CGI to recreate giant rubber-suit wrestling moves.
That's a lot of analysis for just the show's stylistic choices, but perhaps it's worth spending time on since the actual plot this week is so willfully basic. Yuta becomes concerned about Rikka going on a group date with some college kids, but they end up almost-but-not-really working things out by the end of the episode. There are a lot of knowing touches that keep this one entertaining. No one really seems to take Yuta's half-baked adolescent jealousy seriously, with Borr even tacitly pointing out that he just comes off like a lame stalker. The script also uses Yuta's feelings as a springboard to explore other more interesting parts of the overall plot; miniscule details of Rikka and Yuta's conversation from the first episode are recontextualized to indicate that they may have had a relevant conversation prior to Yuta's memory-loss. It hints at a prior connection not unlike the aforementioned one between Rikka and Akane that this episode brings up. So there are some well-realized threads running through all this simple teen drama.
The episode also subtly builds its own world up more. We get to see that Kaiju attacks can happen overnight without the Gridman Alliance even noticing, eliminating people from under their noses. And the way this week's monster does it without us seeing initially lends a strong layer of additional threat-level for enemies that were already becoming dangerously close to disposable monsters otherwise. The Alliance even notes that the Kaiju might be adapting on their own, escalating things effectively a third of the way into the show. The Kaiju in this episode in particular feel a bit more eased into the ground-level plotline before the Gridman fight kicks in. The direct connection we really see between its actions and Akane's frustrations seems to be making an effort to more tangibly mesh those two portions of the show, which may have come across as too disparate before.
The episode even finds time for some solid source-material callbacks, such as Junk not being able to handle processing all of Gridman's upgrades in its current state. (It will probably need to be upgraded, as in the old series.) Also, the Kaiju fought this time around seems to be based on the delightfully-designed Twin Tail, which just makes it more frustrating that the show didn't shoot for synergy, and the similarly twin-tailed Borr didn't get his debut fight against this critter (Side Note: Aoi Yuuki confirmed via Twitter that Borr is actually a boy, so that was my mistake in last week's review.) And of course, to my delight, Gridman pulls off that legendary Inazuma Kick as a finisher. It's all the sprinkles on top of the delicious dessert that is SSSS.Gridman, and if this week's outing was just a bit more rote and expected in its setup, it still more than held up with the direction and consistent theming running through the whole package. It's great to have a sense of momentum even as our heroes still just turn into robots and fight giant monsters week after week. That's the balance that makes for such a good Saturday-morning hero show.
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