Fall’s SSSS.Gridman wasn’t the most-watched anime on television (internet?) last season. However, it was extremely popular around these parts, winning our authors’ pick for hidden gem of the year and even making it into our top 10 list. Nonetheless, the question remains: why did we like it? As an answer, five of us including myself, DilKokoro, hybridmink, Koda Kazar, and TheMamaLuigi decided to each give our respective thoughts on the series. What did we think, and why? Find out for yourself:


DilKokoro

One of the bigger things I reflected on with SSSS.GRIDMAN was just how clever and entertaining a series that can arguably be viewed as a parody of an entire genre can be while still managing to be fun and simultaneously fully aware of the roots and history of said genre. This starts simpler with characters that reference back to how things would go in old Kaiju series (specifically the Ultra series) and peaks with a very intrepid move in using one of the biggest reveals in the final act of the series for the sake of nostalgia. This bold jump into parody is so on the nose that instead of working against it, this creative decision allows GRIDMAN to fit the hectic artistry that is a Trigger studio work well. It doesn’t try to be a masterpiece, and it stays within means that keep things really fun in typical Trigger way — beautiful art, breakneck action, and comic relief moments that hit far more often than they miss.

Another part to be really respected with GRIDMAN is how it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The working plot-lines know when to conclude and the characters develop tastefully . It doesn’t set out to make anything revolutionary and instead keeps the action going while still making the audience care enough about the characters to keep watching. For being something that draws from the same well that originated the “monster of the week” trope, the situations the characters are placed in with the conflict of Kaiju are interesting enough to keep the narrative on the plus side instead of being a negative. There is a particular scene that best shows this where the series’ antagonist even comments on the pointlessness in just churning out monsters. This example falls in with the aforementioned self-awareness to what it is and works in favor of the series not dragging on too much. The premise alone could be stretched to a 24 episode series at least, but I was thoroughly impressed with the decision to keep it contained to a single cour.

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TL;DR: SSSS.GRIDMAN is a fun ride that is packed full of all of the right Trigger hallmarks like beautiful animation and wild over-the-top action; at twelve episodes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and has a rather respectful self-awareness to the genre to which it belongs.


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hybridmink

I went into this show knowing two things: it’s Trigger and it’s got a mech in it, possibly a very large man. So while I wait with bated breath for my hero Imaishi Hiroyuki to deliver Promare to us, this one will have to do. Much like Trigger’s last work, Darling in the Franxx, the main protagonist felt bland, but his world was eerily unfamiliar. The camera shifts around, forcing you to pay attention when people are talking. Mundane shots of blinking stoplights or scenery portray a very lifeless city. Even more lifeless are the kaiju silhouettes in the distance. It was uncomfortable and extremely curious at the same time. I felt like I was watching a horror anime, and wondered when something was just going to jump out at me already! Yet, this direction didn’t feel like a gimmick; rather, it’s what makes SSSS.Gridman stand apart from anything else in the genre. Well, you could certainly draw comparisons to the portrayal of Tokyo-3 in Evangelion.

Direction aside, when I think Trigger, I think fantastic animation that’s going to get a bit unclean if it’ll make an impression. This time around, the characters didn’t move all that much, but their subtle gestures (especially Akane) were impressive. The fight scenes, though, were ENTIRELY too clean (CG) and lacked a choreography that could really be called “stylish.” There IS something to be appreciated in a giant kaiju battle, however. Gridman and his monster friends feel like they have weight, exemplified by the number of cars that get thrown into the air every time one of them crashes their foot into the ground. Each episode seems to push the animation a bit more and the action gets better with every fight. Did I mention I’m a sucker for a boisterous shouting of the word “BEEEEEEAAMMMMu!”? Trigger, your GAINAX is showing...again.

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In a show with such an interesting world, localized into a single city, the human characters act as the supporting role. Akane is a great antagonist; one that you could find annoying at first (like me), but I really empathized for her in the end. Rikka acts unlike what we typically see in anime high school girls these days. Her softer tone contrasts Akane’s exuberance, making for some of the best dialogue in the series. Calibur and friends play an even smaller role, but they’re really fun to watch. As for Yuta and Shou, they’re...fine. I don’t want to make excuses for weak characters, but they didn’t detract from the big picture all that much for me. SSSS.Gridman likes to keep things moving and I was too busy wondering what the hell was going on to care about the weaker characters. Wait, is that alien wearing Kamina sunglasses? Am I seriously doing this again?

TLDR: If you liked season 1 of LOST and you like anime, you will probably like SSSS.Gridman.


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Koda Kazar

Trigger is a studio whose shows I always go in hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst; despite always being clutch when it comes to delivering a pure visual spectacle, the writing in their shows can be a bit hit or miss. Suffice to say it shocked even a die-hard Trigger fanboy like myself that they managed to finally deliver a show where for once the visuals were not the main reason to watch. Prior to this show, the closest they probably came to achieving this was the drama series Kiznaiver, because that show had minimal opportunities for Trigger to flex their action series muscle.

SSSS.Gridman, of course, has some phenomenally animated, if a bit brief in the grand scheme of things, fight scenes nearly every episode. These fights even manage to perfectly encapsulate the feel of watching a tokusatsu show, albeit in animated form. However, the true strength of the show far and away is its writing. In a surprise turn of events that almost certainly no one saw coming, SSSS.Gridman is actually a shining example of how the main character in a work does not have to be its protagonist or even its point-of-view character.

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The series has a highly entertaining group of characters that work in their own right, but the cast is anchored in particular by Akane, the show’s central antagonist. SSSS.Gridman completely revolves around Akane, and I mean that on multiple levels. I came into the show expecting a fun, nostalgic action romp but instead was treated to one of the best character study pieces I watched in all of 2018. Each week I witnessed the progressing downward spiral Akane subjected herself to, and yet, for the most part, this was expertly handled from an outsider’s perspective, making for an enthralling and often surprising experience.

TL;DR: Come for the signature energetic Trigger action, stay for the highly compelling character drama.


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Protonstorm

I came into SSSS.Gridman with little knowledge or experience in the genre(s) that influenced it. It may pain some of our more informed readers to hear this, but I have never seen any of the super sentai/tokusatsu shows, Ultraman, or even any Transformers outside of the first Michael Bay movie. In truth, I have never had much interest in watching any of them. The reason I first picked up SSSS.Gridman was because I heard good things and was curious what Studio Trigger would bring to the table for such a series. The answer, as it turns out, was quite a bit.

Perhaps this is strange, but my favorite part of Gridman was never the action sequences. If anything, the fight scenes were a weaker part of the series for me. I’ve never been a fan of shonen-style battle mechanics where the opposing sides trade blows with increasingly powerful special techniques that appear each time the protagonist seems to be on the verge of losing. The fight scenes in Gridman were often quite short and might initially appear almost anticlimactic, not because of poor writing but because the show’s focus is on the characters’ interactions and the moments that take place outside of combat.

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Contrary to many other Trigger shows where the smooth and flowing animation is a selling point, Gridman is a master of the art of standing still. Despite not being the type of show one might expect to be quiet and suspenseful, Gridman does so to surprising effect. The first episode opens with a series of still shots and images of little to no movement with only the sound of crickets and distant human voices in the background. This style of giving glimpses of different perspectives in the same scene is typical to slice-of-life series but less so for more action-oriented ones. However, Gridman masterfully utilizes its unique style not only through its well-established setting but in its numerous moments of emotional tension between characters. The soundtrack is similarly often minimalistic in these moments, making tonal shifts such as a transition from complete silence to the sudden sound of pouring rain even more effective in using contrast to establish mood and suspense.

In place of fast-paced animation or an aggressive soundtrack, the focus instead draws towards the characters’ emotions through drawn-out scenes and extremely skilled voice acting. The actress for Akane, Reina Ueda, stands out for doing an exemplary job of conveying the character’s enthusiastic yet slightly twisted personality. Instead of looking forward to the battles, I found myself savoring the character interactions off the battlefield. The battles themselves became a series of fitting emotional climaxes to the tension built up by the atmosphere and characters during the earlier part of the chapter.

TL;DR: SSSS.Gridman is a surprisingly tense experience. It masterfully weaves a suspenseful atmosphere through use of subtle sound design and animation combined with skilled voice acting. I can easily recommend it for longtime genre fans and newcomers alike.

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TheMamaLuigi

SSSS.Gridman is a show of surprises. For me, that surprise started with the fact that outside of Power Rangers, my experience with tokusatsu shows is very limited. I went into this show expecting something light-hearted, unassuming, and fun – the kind of show you enjoy as its airing but promptly forget about after its conclusion.

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I will not be forgetting SSSS.Gridman anytime soon.

From its loveable cast of characters to its incredibly strong direction, SSSS.Gridman kept me consistently captivated and engaged in ways that few shows in 2018 did. Much of that captivation came through the aforementioned direction. Each shot feels purposeful and enhances the show’s broader themes. Shots often feel claustrophobic, bringing us uncomfortably close, physically and figuratively, to the show’s cast of characters. Moreover, a tremendous sense of atmosphere pervades the entire show. Long stretches of each episode contain no music, forcing us to listen to the sounds of the oppressive summer heat, the footsteps of characters, and the subtle noises often drowned out by background music. All this serves to make SSSS.Gridman a deeply intimate show – something that might not be readily apparent based on its source material.

That sense of intimacy extends most notably to the show’s characters, especially Rikka and Akane. Though Yuta is billed as the show’s protagonist (he is the one who partners with Gridman, after all), the two central females steal the show. Each of the girls embodies malaise, teenage anxiety, and the want of companionship in distinct, yet entirely interconnected ways. Though they may initially come off as “waifu-bait” (thanks in large part to the massive surge of fan-art), SSSS.Gridman elevates both Rikka and Akane beyond mere body-pillow-fodder towards characters that stand among the best in 2018. Akane’s arc, in particular, is captivating in how it transforms our view of her from repulsive and insane to someone empathetic, alluring, and ultimately, recognizable. Additionally, the show’s larger cast of characters are all fun to watch, especially the Neon Genesis Junior High Students.

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Some spare thoughts on SSSS.Gridman: the show is consistently well-animated, with fight scenes achieving an impressive mix of modern-day sakuga and CG that feels like a direct homage to the rubber-suit fights found in tokusatsu. Some episodes do veer a little far into monster-of-the-week territory, but the moment-to-moment of the show is appealing enough that this issue is minor, at most. Finally, I should mention that I watched Funimation’s dub of the show, which is really well done. Rikka and Akane’s English VAs, Jill Harris and Lindsay Seidel, in particular, killed their performances.

What truly appealed to me about SSSS.Gridman was how, like a good jigsaw puzzle, every piece fit together to create something beautiful, something that leaves you feeling satisfied yet yearning for more. Start it again from the first episode, take apart that jigsaw puzzle, SSSS.Gridman is rich enough that repeat visits won’t dilute your enjoyment.

TL;DR: SSSS.Gridman’s marvelous direction and atmosphere, compelling characters, and striking visuals and animation come together to create one of 2018’s very best shows – a superbly rich package that showcases the unique audio, visual, and storytelling opportunities that anime affords.

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