by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
It'd be easy to get reductive with the analysis of this week's SSSS.Gridman episode. The previous one seemed to be all spectacle, and I criticized it for being more style than substance. So when this one apparently takes a week off from giant kaiju-battling to finally sit down and explain things, even getting contemplative with its characters and world, obviously that sounds like the opposite problem, right? More substance but less style, you would think. But even with minimal battle spectacle, the sixth episode of SSSS.Gridman is still an absolute feast of presentation that also drops a metric ton of story information the audience has been hungry for. All that plus a million other little touches make it the best episode of the show yet.
Of course, since this is SSSS.Gridman, it might be best to start by talking about references. I could waste tons of space highlighting the myriad Ultra-series monster callouts and various visual Transformers references that have powered this show since the first episode, as well as a host of insanely deep cuts to even more obscure toku shows like Starbows. But in the grand scheme of things, those are still mere window dressing. No, the big news this episode is probably the most concrete callback to the original Denkou Choujin Gridman series yet, and I don't mean lead actor Masaya Obi popping up for a cameo. The kaiju kid that Yuta meets in this episode seems to be a version of Anoshiras, a technically-friendly ‘Soundwave monster’ who was involved in a few plots of the old show. The music symbol on their shirt calls back to the computer-world girl who cared for Anoshiras, and the music they let Yuta listen to is exactly the sad version of the classic Gridman theme that doubled as a ‘soothing melody’ for the creature!
Anyway, the implications of a being who appeared in the Computer World becoming a member of Yuta's world are pretty huge, which is explained by the new Anoshiras in detail as the episode goes on. It hasn't been outright stated yet, but the city of Tsutsujidai would seem to be a computer-created world, with Akane looming large behind it all. The forested river area they traveled to last episode was only temporary for that situation, hence its destruction starting that we see continue to unravel this week. Yuta has been filled in on everything by the end of the episode, including Akane's involvement in the world-rewriting and monster-making. And a chance encounter with Anti has him recognize that kid as well, with the Neon Genesis Junior High Students and the Gridman Alliance all picking up on different levels of details from their other interactions.
All that makes this sound like a pure info dump episode, but watching it is something else entirely. Virtually all of the interactions between Yuta and Anoshiras see the earlier directorial experimentation from the series paying dividends. Their first conversation has some of the same types of bizarre cuts and editing as that infamous argument between Yuta and Rikka in the first episode, but to much greater effect because the mystery of the new character is truly unnerving. Their sudden size change is captured brilliantly (an effect the show has used before with Anti's transformation), highlighted by similarly off-putting animation of their speaking mouth while giant. Meanwhile, the explanation of the computerized world and Akane's role is communicated with a delightful low-poly 3D animated segment, accompanied by adorable background music. So many other shows might go for a dry conversation between talking heads punctuated by a pedestrian ‘shocking’ reveal, but SSSS.Gridman delivers in an offbeat way that still pulls out evocative punches once each scene's full implications are realized.
Just as I was glad to see Yuta be brought into the story more after complaining about his under-use last week, I was also happy to see Utsumi making a comeback. His long-standing crush on Akane could have been nothing more than a recurring joke, but it's played up for more hero/villain interaction this week, expanding on the subject of Yuta's amnesia and lending Akane more character. The turn toward the topic of Kaiju was rife with meta details for this episode, from the annoyed observation that "They shouldn't be making episodes without Kaiju in them" to Akane's assertion that the Kaiju actually have the leading roles. Utsumi finally getting some meaningful interaction with anyone, let alone bonding with Akane over their shared love of Ultra Monsters, was exactly the sort of rebound he needed to be relevant after fading out for some time now. The easy chemistry these two share was enough to make me disappointed in the truth that Akane is likely just using him.
And if Gridman himself couldn't come out to play this time, the action we did get was still enough to make this episode feel complete. The battle between Anti, Max, and Caliber was a great flash of intensity after all the exposition in this episode. It also cements how impressed I am at this show prescribing weight to elements that may be taken for granted in other toku shows. The big fight this week belongs to a mere kaiju and two of the main hero's power-up weapons, who all have their own expanded personalities and roles. This world may be getting revealed as a simulation, but the show seems to be insisting that all these people and monsters and robots matter regardless of how many 1s and 0s they're made from.
If it seems like I've spent too much of this review gushing about all the things that worked for me, I can't deny that I was just that impressed by the episode. It delivered everything I felt the show needed after a couple of weeks that were too lightweight and garnished it with outstanding presentation and deft juggling of character work. And it was all so entertaining that I didn't even care there was no giant robot fight. I can only look forward to what else this series and the people behind it can do.
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