by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
SSSS.Gridman is already a deeply weird series. Just off the bat, it's steeped in several layers of nerdy lore, specifically the kind that Studio Trigger regularly indulges. It's an animated take on the relatively obscure tokusatsu series Denkou Choujin Gridman, its title references that show's Power-Rangers-style western adaptation (Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad), and it's got several dialogue shoutouts to the Gridman progenitor Ultra series. And oh yeah, virtually the entire cast is designed after an obscure set of convention-exclusive Transformers toys from ten years ago. Trigger's shows often have a sense that the teams behind them are doing whatever they want, but SSSS.Gridman more than others comes across like director Akira Amemiya and all his dorky pals showing off their collection of model kits and action figures for our amusement—and it is indeed amusing.
But the most striking thing about SSSS.Gridman is its direction and how differently it actually comes across from what you might expect given all the toyetic excess I described above. When all the giant robot vs kaiju action isn't happening, this is a very slow and methodical series. The first episode in particular has an oddly oppressive atmosphere about it, selling the daze Yuta's in upon waking up with amnesia. There's a definite dream-like quality to the execution, from the bizarrely-edited argument between Yuta and Rikka to the frozen giant monster in the middle of town that only he can see. As Yuta, Rikka, and their other friend Utsumi idly speculate and investigate things that barely seem like they might be happening, the unique tone of this story begins to solidify. Nothing crazy has happened yet, but everything just seems to be "off".
This structure repeats in the second episode, though the odder editing choices smooth out somewhat. That's perhaps because the series has shown its hand, so the situations these characters are facing can speak for themselves. The revelation that the characters seemingly killed in the first episode have now been dead for many years strongly cements the consequences of the previous battle while also building up further mysteries about how everything in this world works. As Utsumi says, “the situation hasn't sunk in yet”, but there's still grim portents over everything now that we've gotten more context.
In general, plot revelations are paced out in a way that feels satisfying and doesn't string the audience along. Even if you aren't aware that Akane is based on the main villain from that aforementioned Transformers series, the sequence of questions she probes Yuta with still comes across as antagonistic, and sure enough she's revealed as the main monster-making menace a couple scenes later. The mysterious man who gets just one shot in the first episode is properly introduced as Samurai Calibur in the second, gets some great scenes highlighting his oddities, and caps it off by revealing that he's actually a Gridman-enhancing giant space sword in disguise. There's a sense of an arc with pointed build-up and a strong release to all these elements as the show delivers with confident pacing.
Of course, all that methodical pacing goes out the window once the action gets going. It's all very much in the toku style, with ground-level shenanigans from our human cast leading to a special-effects-heavy main confrontation. The fights in both episodes are electrifying mash-ups of live-action-style kaiju battles and ridiculous super-robot anime hijinks, all in the hard-hitting, dynamic style Studio Trigger is known for. Generally, the show makes good use of its CGI elements, with the computer-generated monsters and Gridman moving and grappling in ways that evoke the giant tussles of the original Gridman show and its Ultra brethren. The framerate of the CGI does get a bit more choppy in places than necessary, but overall it works well to evoke that specific type of combat. There are great details like the first monster's wire-fingers or its modeling-material body flaking off in parts, and the show also isn't afraid to deploy traditional 2D animation for Gridman and the other giants when they can, resulting in a great grab-bag of showy styles.
SSSS.Gridman just looks great in general, delivering the best of Trigger's specific balance between stylized minimalism and glossy polish. The cityscapes and backgrounds are gorgeously detailed, and the first episode does a clever job of highlighting lonesome shots of areas around the school and town. It's another element that contributes to that haunting atmosphere the show is pushing so well. And the colorful cast of action-figure character designs stand out as more distinct because of it. We barely get a few moments of scenes with Rikka's two friends, but we know exactly who she's calling at the end of the second episode because the show's style and direction has made them just memorable enough to us. That odd focus on Tonkawa and Toiko in the first episode seemed like an unusual choice at first pass, but it becomes apparent when they turn up dead in the second, giving the main characters' shock at their departure immediate emotional impact.
Right now, SSSS.Gridman seems to be a show about how accepting the role of a hero when you're called upon to act might affect our lives. It acknowledges the loss of life that would be inherent to ridiculous giant fights like these and embraces the point that while we can't save everyone, we still must do what we can. This is a show that just seems to know what it's doing. It's interesting that there's a sense of awareness surrounding all the classic tropes it's playing with, but instead of diving into cynical deconstruction, the show embraces a genuine love for those cliches and all this nerdy toku robot stuff.
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