「修 復」 (Shuufuku)
There’s definitely a weird feeling for me in watching SSSS.Gridman. What’s straightforward is that I like it – really like it in fact. A lot. But I’m on edge all the time, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. If it’s “fool me twice, shame on me” what does that make fool me five times, or six, or whatever it is with Trigger now? At this point I’m conditioned to expect the worst and if anything else happens, it more or lies defies credulity.
Here’s the thing with Gridman, though… The only conclusion I can draw is that Trigger has been kidnapped and secretly replaced by another studio. This series is so totally unlike the vast majority of their body of work as to be unrecognizable. Gone are the self-consciously trendy “updates” of old-school tropes, the blatant otaku pandering, the stark misogyny and the self-aware posturing and humor. Gridman simply is what it is. It certainly isn’t trying too hard – the direction is minimalist, if anything. It actually shuts up for two seconds and lets you take in the epicness and try to figure out what’s happening yourself. The characters act sort of like you imagine actual people might under such extreme circumstances. It’s a remarkable transformation.
So naturally, Western anime fandom mostly seems to hate it.
I suppose the sensible thing for me to do would be to not look a gift kaiju in the mouth and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. There were many faces of Gainax, though hindsight tends to lump their vast body of work into one broad caricature of itself. And SSSS.Gridman seems to come as close as any series to capturing the “disconnect”, side – the disassociation with reality that extreme situations (most famously – though not exclusively – mecha piloting of course) inflicts on a series’ characters. That this element of the Gainax oeuvre should be absent from the Trigger one isn’t surprising, as Imaishi even at his best represented a very different element of Gainax’ repertoire. But that changes with Gridman – and I think judging by its aggregator scores Trigger fans (many of whom probably don’t even remember Gainax existed) don’t know what to make of it.
This series attacks its premise with understatement at every step of the way. Even Shou’s “It hasn’t sunk in yet” reflects the way normal people – especially kids – will tend to deal with unbelievable situations and tragedy. Empty desks – that’s how Gridman tells us five children are dead. BGM is not used as a hacksaw, but a scalpel – there’s very little of it but when we hear it in key moments, it has an impact. Most of the communication in the series is done with looks rather than words. And the most iconic moments are the long still shots of the kaiju – gorgeous and unsettling exactly as they’re surely intended to be.
There’s a lot to praise here, to be sure. I really like the way Rikka desperately tries to cling onto the mundane even as the world goes insane around her. And while we don’t yet know the full story, the whole crisis seems to be an expression of Akane’s adolescent pettiness and spite – her “Gridman”, Alexis (Inada Tetsu), perhaps tapping into this inexhaustible reservoir of negativity as a way to achieve his own ends. And I find the sloop-shouldered and shadow-eyed Samurai Caliber (Takahashi Ryousuke) to be a perfect complement to the setting – he too never says anything unless there’s something worth saying. We can learn a lot about a character with very little fanfare – such as when Caliber quietly hands Akane a non-carbonated bottle of tea. And to the end the ep the way Amemiya-sensei did – with the homeroom teacher apologizing for bumping into Yuuta as Akane watches – perfectly caps what’s happened and sets up what’s to come.
Of course this could all go to pot next week for all I know. Maybe the mass-hypnosis spell will be broken and Gridman will turn all Trigger after all, but I kind of doubt it. There’s a different sensibility to this show, and that’s not something that generally changes – I’d hoped that the fact that this was a staff mostly new to the studio would produce some sort of different result, but so far even my most optimistic expectations have been exceeded. It’s too early to celebrate, but it’s never too early to hope.