“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” –Walter Winchell
Rikka Takarada encounters an amnesiac Yūta Hibiki on her way home from classes one day, and although he recalls nothing about his old life, connects with an entity known as Gridman, who informs him that he must fight off great evil together with his friend Shō Utsumi. It turns out that classmate Akane Shinjō is under the influence of the alien entity, Alexis Kerib, who seeks to use her negative emotions to create kaijū, monstrous beings that destroy segments of the world and recreate it in Akane’s image. As Yūta becomes determined to fight for those around him, and gains access to a variety of upgrades for Gridman when a group of Gridman’s allies show how, mysterious events begin manifesting, suggesting that the world is not what it seems. It turns out that the world as Yūta and Rikka know it is actually a fabrication created by Akane, who’d used this world as an escape from her problems. Airing in the fall season of 2018, SSSS.Gridman is a curious series that I’d expressed an interest in checking out shortly after hosting Jon Creator’s Showcase events in November 2019, and although my procrastination streak meant I ended up putting this off, a well-timed group watch event from the Jon Spencer Reviews community would set me on a path tofinally watch and finish an anime that I’d admittedly been curious about, especially with the hype the series had commanded during its airing.
While SSSS.Gridman presents Yūta, Rikka and Shō as the lead characters, Akane is the central character of the show: the story exists because of her isolation from the real world, and she thus created a digital space to escape from her problems. On first glance, a world one creates should be a flawless utopia, a sublime work of art to one’s specifications. However, escapes built upon negative emotions invariably fail, and Kerib exploits this in Akane, resulting in her becoming more isolated as she constantly tries to rebuild her world as her dissatisfaction mounts. Ultimately, it is through the Gridman’s intervention (which in turn prompts Rikka to speak with Akane) that leads her to realise the cost of her actions and gain the courage needed to return to reality. In this way, SSSS.Gridman suggests that the titular Gridman is able to enter worlds created by peoples’ hearts and help them to overcome their problems – in SSSS.Gridman, this manifests as visually battles. While SSSS.Gridman does meander with its execution and only loosely connects these themes in its conclusion, the series nonetheless manages to tell a straightforward story of how escaping from one’s problems aren’t a sustainable solution, only creating new problems and leaving people vulnerable to be taken advantage of. In this area, SSSS.Gridman lives up to its name “Special Signature to Save a Soul”, and although a fair number of detours was required to reach this point, some of which were frustrating (e.g. how the inhabitants of a simulated reality have enough agency to be aware they exist in a simulated reality but swing between accepting it and rejecting it), I found that the series does speak well to how negative emotions can impact people, and how a modicum of understanding is the first step to helping folks set things right.
Screenshots and Commentary
- For the first time since SSSS.Gridman aired back in 2018’s fall season, I’ve finally got some screenshots of Rikka to grace this blog. I had originally intended on watching SSSS.Gridman after a Jon’s Creator Showcase submission put forth the idea that Akane was the protagonist of this series and piqued my interest to give this one a go. Having now finished SSSS.Gridman for myself, I find that this assertion has merit, especially given the knowledge that Akane had created this world to escape her real-world problems.
- In this case, one might see Yūta, Rikka and Shō as being entities that Gridman, an external force, empowers in an effort to reach and ultimately safe Akane from herself. In the beginning, however, SSSS.Gridman gives no indicators that this was the case, and instead, viewers are treated to a range of eccentricities from this world, least of all the fact that Yūta can easily transform into Gridman by digitising his biological aspects without suffering the same fate as Halo 4‘s Prometheans.
- The biggest challenge about SSSS.Gridman was keeping up with the #AniTwitWatches crew while simultaneously working on the several other things I had going on; towards the end of the watch, my inclination to pick the series apart faded as I became increasingly exhausted from trying to keep up. Having said this, SSSS.Gridman’s story is relatively simple, and I found that even if I were not fully attuned to nuances, things would present themselves in due course for my understanding, allowing me to gain a satisfactory idea of what was going on.
- While the story takes several massive subjective leaps to reach a conclusion, the fight scenes in SSSS.Gridman are about as enjoyable as they come. As the series wore on, and Gridman gains access to more support gear, a wide range of transformation sequences are presented for the viewers’ enjoyment. The closest equivalents I can think of are the docking sequences in Gundam 00, and how the Strike’s weapons packs are exchanged in Gundam SEED. It is clear that cool poses in Gundam likely had their origin in tokusatsu series: the Strike Gundam’s sword pose is identical to Gridman’s when the Calibre package is equipped. Here, Gridman fights a sentient kaijū that takes the form of a boy named Anti.
- SSSS.Gridman has a lot of moving parts in its story, and initially, it was a little tricky to see what precisely the series had intended to tell during its runtime. I resolved to ease up on the speculation until the end, so that I could make a call after all of the facts were laid on the table. Early on, all that’s known is that Akane is blowing away people who have dealt her insult or injury previously, and she’s working with some shadowy entity. While friendly on the outside, Akane’s brusque manner and short temper manifests whenever she’s alone: her computer monitor and phone screens bear the brunt of her displeasure.
- En route to a rafting trip, Yūta and Shō fall asleep on the train. Upon arriving at the river, Yūta and Shō’s classmates immediately set about having a good time. This was probably one of the episodes I heard the most widely about prior to actually watching SSSS.Gridman: in the days after the series began airing, Rikka became the centre of all attention owing to her typical outfit to the point of being a meme. One of my interests in this series, then, was to see what lay beyond the memes, and unsurprisingly, once I was a few episodes in, it became clear that SSSS.Gridman had more to offer than just Rikka’s shapely legs.
- Just to indulge those who believe that no discussion of SSSS.Gridman would be complete without at least a few screenshots of Rikka and her bikini, I’ve included these moments at the expense of the cool super robot vs. kaijū fights elsewhere in the series. When a gigantic lava-spewing kaijū appears during the class trip, Yūta and Shō rush off to a phone so that they can contact the others, who’ve decided the best way to save the day was to bring the entire computer over by train. Rikka struggles to keep up with Yūta and Shō, which admittedly was surprising: going from Rikka’s figure, I supposed that she’d be in good enough shape to run a fair distance.
- Rikka is voiced by Yume Miyamoto, who I know best as Yuri Kazami from Miss Caretaker of Sunohara-sō. Beyond this, I’m not familiar with any of her other roles, but in SSSS.Gridman, I found that Miyamoto did a solid job of portraying Rikka. The plus side about running the swimsuit episode relatively early in SSSS.Gridman is that the remainder of the series was able to focus on exploring a bit of the mystery behind this particular world, and so, I’ll leave readers with another angle of Rikka, who can only encourage Yūta to keep fighting. While Rikka yearns for a normal life and to spend time with her friends, she also understands the role Yūta has to play and supports him as best as she can, although she seems oblivious to the fact that Yūta has feelings for her.
- The various equipment that Gridman can make use of was the biggest source of enjoyment for me: from an animation and art perspective, SSSS.Gridman does succeed in capturing the tokusatsu feel. Between the lengthy but spirited transform sequence, propensity for shouting out attacks and exaggerated combat, SSSS.Gridman is probably the first time I’ve ever watched a super robot series: I’m typically more fond of the real robot genre (such as Gundam) because the technology is as much of a part of the story as the characters. Limitations and constraints on the technology govern how the characters act, and this helps them to learn, as well. Gridman has no such limitations, and while he is occasionally defeated, always has access to the tools or circumstance needed to win. Against the mountain-sized kaijū, Gridman calls upon Borr to equip a dual laser setup, which is powerful enough to triumph.
- During the course of #AniTwitWatches, fellow blogger Moyatori also participated: it speaks volumes to where the show is going when one of the most insightful bloggers around opened that week’s discussion with mention of, and I quote: “Rikka’s thighs and her tasteful snowflake blanket” as being the episode’s highlight. I don’t mind admitting that Rikka and her thighs were why I ended up joining this round of #AniTwitWatches, although if this is all SSSS.Gridman had going for it, it would be admittedly disappointing. This was not the case, and it was the combination of fight scenes and the overarching mystery that kept me around.
- Akane’s knowledge of the kaijū is unsettling to Yūta, and as he learns more, it becomes clear that this world is not the true reality. Instead, it is a space that Akane had created and has control over. However, since Akane had come from a world where she felt as though she had no control, she develops a taste for kaijū and the destruction they cause as a means of controlling her life. I imagine that Kerib, the Vader-like figure here, has his own reasons for “supporting” Akane, and as the series wears on, he begins making physical appearances to keep an eye on Akane.
- It strikes me that until now, I’ve not shown any screenshots of Akane’s room. This garbage-filled space acts as her lair, and the combination of drawn curtains and grim lighting suggests that even in her utopia, Akane remains quite withdrawn. In this post, I’ve not actually got any screenshots of Anti, who is initially sided with Akane and professes a single-minded desire to destroy Gridman. In each confrontation, he is defeated, but his resolve never wavers, even though Akane continues to abuse him for his failures. Altogether, Akane’s personality is that of someone who’s given up, who tries to put up a façade to conceal hollowness.
- When Akane explains that she created Rikka as her friend, Rikka finds this a little difficult to accept and rejects Akane’s world. I had to guess, I’d say that Akane was fond of Rikka because of all the inhabitants in this world, Rikka was modelled after what Akane would consider her best self. Unfortunately, when Akane’s test of her creations leads them to independently reject the reality Akane had created, her ego takes a further beating, and she loses all motivation to even create kaijū. At the heart of SSSS.Gridman is Akane’s isolation, and the status quo that had existed up until now quickly falls apart as Akane becomes increasingly withdrawn.
- Towards SSSS.Gridman‘s later episodes, the Hyper Agents supporting Gridman both attempt to connect with Gridman and also assemble to form what’s called the War God Combine Powered Zenon in the Gridman’s absence when Yūta is unavailable. Further to this, Anti also becomes a second Gridman, called Gridknight, after he steps up to defend Gridman against a grotesque new kaijū that appears and destroys the scenery kaijū, which sends the world into imbalance. The mechanics in SSSS.Gridman are not always explored fully, and the explanations that viewers are given can come across as being somewhat contrived at times.
- For me, this meant that thinking about the rules and constraints within SSSS.Gridman in any detail would’ve likely caused the story and development to unravel: this is why I approached SSSS.Gridman with a more relaxed approach. I won’t hold the inconsistencies or missing details against the series; while the story certainly could’ve been shored up to emphasise the themes, I did find that SSSS.Gridman was, at the end of the day, fun, and this is the single most important metric that I have in assessing a series. Here, I present a still that is probably one of my favourites in the whole of SSSS.Gridman owing to its composition: it really gives a sense of scale, and has an impressive quality about it.
- While Akane begins to doubt her reason for being, Rikka asserts that real or not, they’re friends anyways. In classic fashion, Kerib shows up and transforms Akane into a kaijū. Anti, now Gridknight, appears and manages to free Akane, but in the chaos, is himself stabbed. Kerib subsequently absorbs Akane and manifests as a kaijū, but on Gridman’s end, Shō and Rikka figure out how to power up Gridman’s true form. A titanic battle ensues, although Kerib makes the fight immensely difficult owing to his ability to endlessly regenerate. Gridman reveals his ace-in-the-hole subsequently, which restores the world.
- Gridman’s true ability appears to be being able to revert things to a certain point in time, which helps Akane to recall why she’d come into this virtual world to begin with. Akane subsequently accepts that she must face her problems, and this revelation weakens Kerib, allowing Gridman to take him down for good. When everything is said and done, SSSS.Gridman isn’t particularly complex in terms of themes (“people who try to escape their problems invariable create new problems”), although it did take me the whole of the series to ascertain what the anime had been going for.
- Altogether, SSSS.Gridman scores a B- in my books (7.0 of 10, or 2.7 of 4.0): with a passable story but stunning fight scenes, the selling point in SSSS.Gridman for me was the spectacle. While the story and progression wasn’t particularly impressive, there’s a fun factor about this series that the other shows I watch typically don’t possess. As a result, even though SSSS.Gridman might not have the strongest or most compelling narrative in the world, the generally-likeable characters and tokusatsu-style fights offset the story enough for me to have a good time overall.
- I would contend that SSSS.Gridman is probably not the sort of thing that I’d actively seek out to watch: folks with interests similar to mine will probably find this series to be fair, but I imagine for tokusatsu fans and folks who enjoy shonen battles, SSSS.Gridman would be right up their alley. With this post now in the books, I will note that I am going to be sitting out the next #AniTwitwatches: as much fun as they are, Shin Sekai Yori is a 25-episode anime, and the schedule indicates that it’ll be running right through to June. Since I am undergoing a bit of a transition, I’d like the spring season to have as much wiggle-room as possible as far as scheduling goes.
- With SSSS.Gridman now in the books, I can finally say that I’ve seen the series in full. I have heard that the upcoming SSSS.Dynazenon is supposed to be a continuation of SSSS.Gridman: having the latter finished means that, should I decide to pick up SSSS.Dynazenon up, I should have an easier time getting into the swing of things. The spring season does have a few series that catches my eye, and I imagine that as we get closer to April, I’ll have a clearer idea of what I’ll be checking out.
Being an anime tokusatsu series, SSSS.Gridman is quite unlike anything that I’d previously watched – while I’m no stranger to mysterious worlds, the tokusatsu genre is one I’m unfamiliar with. Series such as these typically feature flashy special effects and weekly battles; in SSSS.Gridman, every week was defined by exposition and ordinary aspects leading up to a battle in which Yūta, as Gridman, overcomes whatever kaijū that Akane had concocted with help from Calibre, Max, Borr, and Vit. The fights and transformation sequences are an anime incarnation of tokusatsu, being over-the-top and fun, a captivating visual metaphor for how negative emotions (the kaijū) are beaten by forces of good (in this case, friendship and compassion). SSSS.Gridman excels here, although oftentimes, I found the series to have been quite uncertain of how it aimed to bridge the gap and make this connection to the viewer. While the combat is top-notch, from a story perspective, SSSS.Gridman is moderately satisfying: Yūta, Shō and Rikka are static characters in the end who experience very little growth, but Akane’s progression offsets this and offers a curious note about how one does not gain by running away from their problems; these problems can be compounded in a dream world with rules and constraints unlike that which govern our world. Altogether, while perhaps not exactly a moving or world-changing story, SSSS.Gridman does get points for effort, for creating a generally fun experience that made it worthwhile to check out, and for Rikka Takarada.