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This Week in Anime
Does Too Much Fanservice Distract From SSSS.Gridman's Story?

by Andy Pfeiffer & Michelle Liu,

SSSS.Gridman has a strong story and a confident style, but do its safer and more marketable anime hallmarks dampen the show's potent edge? This week, Micchy and Andy hash out the show's highs and lows.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You can read our weekly coverage of SSSS.Gridman here!

So Andy, I realized the other day that it's been exactly six years since I started following anime seasonally, which means it's time for a sabbatical. From now on, I'm renouncing anime and only watching quality entertainment where guys in rubber suits pretend to punch the crap out of each other.
Which is why today we're going to be taking a break from anime to discuss a show that details the adventures of a normal everyday teenager who gets sucked into dialup internet and gains incredible powers in order to save his city.
I am of course talking about Freakazoid.
Tell you what, how about we watch something that's toku, anime, and Freakazoid?
This is acceptable, but only if you try to relentlessly sell me toys.
Oh, then I've got the perfect thing for you.
(I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm trying to remove it.)
Well, I'm disappointed in myself for walking right into a Heybot! joke. I guess it's technically a mecha? But I meant something more like this:

If the Adjective + Name thing didn't give it away, I'm here for some Gridman. Please explain to me why this show is so good already, please explain to me the powers that are already magically opening my wallet.
Ooh ooh, I know this one.
Ah. Well, now my wallet and laptop are closed.
It's not my fault that you don't appreciate
hammerspace bikinis.
Joking aside, SSSS.Gridman has been rad so far. The cheesecake isn't even #8 on my list of reasons to watch the thing, and it might actually be the thing I like least about it. As a reboot (of sorts) of a tokusatsu series I'm tangentially familiar with via Ultraman, SSSS.Gridman's been doing a bang-up job of keeping my attention away from the fact that it's even anime. And I mean that in the best of ways, because holy shit the direction in this show is killer when it's not dominated by T&A.
I admittedly have near-zero experience with tokusatsu. I caught a few episodes of Power Rangers in my youth, know about Ultraman more from other works referencing it, and had no idea that Gridman even existed when this was first announced. However, I am extremely on board. I'm sure Gridman is full of tons of references and in-jokes that I'm missing, but it clearly was made to work fine without them.
The direction of both the everyday sequences and the goofy kaiju fights is outstanding, and the writing is knocking it out of the park as well, even if I'd prefer the animators be hornier for robots and kaiju than high school girl feet.
SSSS comes out of the gate not with animation spectacle (though there is plenty of that later) or goofy comedy (that too), but a protracted sequence of the main cast more or less going through regular life. That might not be terribly notable on its own, but what really makes it work is the sound design. We hear the chirping of cicadas and the conversation of classmates, but no music. That's a pretty bold choice to take! Half the show is absolutely committed to recreating this atmosphere of mundane school life, where you can hear distinct conversations in the walla, not just intermittent "yabai"s and "maji"s, but actual dialogues people might have.
It absolutely captures that feeling of everyday banality, the kind that had you ready to get home after school to play with your toys, and the OP in particular drives home this tone they're going for.
Meanwhile, the other half of the show is this absolute bonanza of kaiju action and robot upgrades and big punching with lots of property damage and what even is this show.
Whatever SSSS is going for, you can at least tell the folks working on it have great fondness for Ultraman and the like. I mean, have you seen the trash princess' figure collection, I'd kill for that.
It's shameful that she has all that and won't even keep the damn room clean to show it off.
Hey, at least she got the trash into the bags and tied them off, that's more than some people can manage. Incidentally, the biggest toku geek in the entire show is also the villain, and I don't think that's an accident.
There's a lot going on with Akane, and I think that relates to how Gridman is handling technology in general. She clearly has a deep love of kaiju and tokusatsu. She has all the toys. But the only person she has to share them with is a sketchy dude with an Inferno Cop avatar that empowers her to hurt others for any perceived slights. Contrast that with our heroes who hang around in a junk shop and get forced into relying on this outdated tech alongside living toy accessories, but through it they're learning to grow closer together.
Also those toy accessory people are the fucking best.

They really are! Killer fashion sense too; I approve of boys with pigtails and the general disheveled suit aesthetic. They're weird as hell, and who knows if they have real jobs or not, but they have this lighthearted sense of fun that Akane doesn't. The girl's messed up, targeting and murdering people she knows for benign slights like it's a game. She's got such a fancy rig, but all she uses it for is wreaking havoc, to hell with empathy or trying to be sociable.
So basically, she's the worst parts of the internet incarnate. With boobs.
That perfectly encapsulates why the visual framing of her bothers me so much. She's a well-written condemnation of those attitudes, but that message is severely undermined when the direction reminds you that they're still pandering to an audience. I'd like to chalk it up to me reading too much into it, but the understanding of technology and how we use it is a theme explored in more than just her character.
Like this great scene of a high schooler viewing their oncoming death-by-kaiju through their phone. The image on the phone is worse in quality than the in-person view of the incoming doom, hammering home how this common action warps real danger.
That's not to say the show views tech as evil. There's another great scene where our protagonist is presumed dead, and no one is sure how to reach out and find him. In the end, a simple phone call is all it takes. It's a good gag, but it's also a reminder that what matters is the people on the other end of the line.
Yeah, there's some neat ideas in there about how technology enables the kinds of violence that people generally don't notice, or how excessive reliance on fiction can numb people to the harshness of reality, while also recognizing that this shit can be cool as hell. Phones can be tools for chaos, or they can be avenues for social connection; it all depends on how you use them. Will you stir up hatred with relative anonymity? Or will you use them to check up on people? Akane definitely opts for the former, which is horrifying.
I just wish the camera would stop doing this.
Like y'all, I appreciate anime girl feet and thighs as much as the next tiddy-liker, but this is seriously distracting from any point the show may be making. SSSS.Gridman needs to chill.
I purposely avoided screenshotting any of those, so thanks for picking up the slack.
Andy do you even know me
I'm sorry you have to be this way.
I swear I capped them purely for the discourse.
At least they included you in the show!
You're not wrong! Anyway, it'd be one thing if the camera were horny for everyone, but in the beach episode (because of course there's a beach episode), the closest it gets to manservice is when the girls poke at Utsumi's pudge, which is rude as hell yanno?
Essentially, it's hard to take the female characters seriously when the camera won't stop checking them out long enough to focus on what they're doing, which makes me wonder what the hell they're trying to do with Akane's character right now. If it's criticism, then hell if I'm paying attention to the darkness of her character when anime girl thighs are on screen. If it's empathy, then how am I supposed to sympathize with a character who's presented like a hunk of meat?
Yeah, this is especially confounding in the latest episode where it's revealed, by way of Sim City via GDGD Faeries, that Akane is literally Haruhi Suzumiya in the year of our lord 2018.
Everything has gone according to her whims for who knows how long until Gridman showed up. It gives off the strong impression that Gridman is literally here to save her from her eternal boredom once she recognizes that having complete control of her existence is no bueno, but it's hard to focus on that potential characterization when the objectification gets in the way. It's just having your cheesecake and eating it too. I'm very here for whatever Gridman is actually trying to say, but it could stand to get out of its own way.
Yeah, that's about where I am too. The thirsty fanart can keep coming, but the show itself would benefit from dialing back. In the meantime, actual tokusatsu consistently features casually attractive ikemen whose assets don't hog the camera, so if that sounds appealing to you, then you could check out some of The Ultraman series or even the original Gridman show!
Depending on how the rest of the season goes, Gridman might be enough to get me to check out some real tokusatsu. In the meantime, I'll keep waiting to see where we're going with this Candlejack motherfu--

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