by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
SSSS.Gridman is an extremely indulgent show. The very first second of this episode is dedicated to Akane in a bikini, as lovingly-drawn as other instances of fanservice in Studio Trigger shows. But beyond that surface presentation, this opening scene also shows off how much the staff of this series seem to love animating their characters in general. The socially-maladjusted villain of the series has consistently gotten next-level character acting animation, and her resigned backwards flop into a pile of garbage as she talks about how much she doesn't want to go on her school trip is just another instance of the artists' care. It's that kind of quality that contributes to these characters becoming so endearing already.
Anyway, it's time for an obligatory swimsuit episode, though in this case we get a slightly-more original river rafting trip rather than a simple beach sojourn. Aside from seeing the show's now memetically popular female leads in revealing bikinis, this whole episode seems to be dedicated to the crew showing off in various ways. The forested mountain area the trip takes place in provides distinct scenery from the oppressive cityscapes the show has reveled in so far. There's some recursive acknowledgement of atmospheric appreciation, as Yuta and Utsumi remark on how the omnipresent frozen Kaiju feel just like part of the background at this point, only to have a part of this episode's background actually turn into the Kaiju they fight this week!
That Kaiju is the source of plenty of its own spectacle by the end of the episode. First of all, the detail of the creature's size is incredibly clever, given this show's origins. In tokusatsu shows, most of the monsters and robots and heroes that fight have to be around the same scale, a necessity of using human actors in suits for everything. But SSSS.Gridman, being an animated production, has no such restrictions, so it can drop a truly massive Kaiju down to fight and then ask how Gridman would deal with it. It shows how the series works both when it's paying homage to its source material and also when moving past it in ways that only this production can.
So it's a bit disappointing when the answer to how Gridman would deal with the massive monster turns out to be simply “equipping a new toy and shooting it a bunch”. Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic to see Borr finally join the fight, and there is some truly gorgeous animation bringing all this together. That theme of the crew showing off what they love drawing in this series continues to come through, with the combination scene and the Macross-esque missile barrages from both Gridman and the recurring Anti being particular highlights. From a pure spectacle angle, it's all a blast to watch, watching the animators indulge themselves as much as the audience. But narratively, it is frustrating that the question posed by the unconventional Kaiju wasn't answered in a more fulfilling way.
That seems to be the main issue holding this episode back, as it winds up being more style than substance. It feels at times like the crew was spending so much time drawing cute girls, cool monsters, and sexy robots that they neglected to move the plot or characterization forward enough for a serial story. Akane gets the lion's share of the small amount of character work this week. Combined with the care they take in animating her, it often seems like she's coming away the true focal main character of the show. It might beg the question of how she can work as an effectively detestable villain when the staff clearly love her so much. However, as the episode goes on, her standoffish nature even toward classmates who are trying to include her, her use of any chemistry she has with Yuta or Rikka simply to ply information from them, and especially her callous treatment of Anti (who clearly has his own attachment to her) all work to hammer home that she's the bad guy in spite of her appealing points.
Unfortunately, the same attention to detail doesn't seem to have been afforded any of the other characters this episode. Utsumi has been frustratingly underutilized for several episodes now, and Yuta and Rikka's potential romance is limited to some furtive glances and pining by Yuta. It threatens to cast a shadow over the show with a nigh-obligatory development carried by two characters that don't have much chemistry yet. Yuta and Rikka generally strike more sparks in their dynamic with Akane; perhaps it's in the same grand cartoon tradition that the villain just turns out more interesting than the heroes. There also just isn't much movement on the overall plot this week, limited to Akane confirming her suspicions that Yuta is Gridman in a nicely understated way, and some portents about future events are seemingly teased with an effective “What the heck is going on?” explosion at the end.
Alongside the spectacle, the other point this episode succeeds at is conveying many appreciable little details. For all the franchise's embracing of how technology enhances our everyday lives, the inconveniences of working it into an extremely analog countryside are demonstrated here. Yuta can't transform without Junk, so the Neon Genesis Junior High Students have to actually buy the computer from the shop and transport it to him. The briefest shots of them carting its components around on dollies is an understated highlight, and the Gridman Alliance all pooling their pedestrian talents to make a simple phone call was an amusing touch that showed how they worked well as a team, even as their own character development was still lacking this episode. But fun as these parts were, they still felt like simple snippets of the crew behind the show having fun, while there was no time for themes and deeper character work this week. That's hardly a bad thing once in a while, but I hope the crew behind SSSS.Gridman haven't set aside this show's potential richness just yet.
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