「敗・北」 (Hai Kita)
It’s not the best series of the season so far (that would be Golden Kamuy for me), but in many ways I think SSSS.Gridman is turning out to be the most interesting one. It’s a big of a head-scratcher, in the sense that it’s defied my expectations in most ways and in equal measures it feels totally familiar and completely alien. But a couple of things are clear as day as far as I’m concerned:
- Three episodes of Gridman so completely blows any complete Trigger series out of the water that it could jump the shark totally next week and still be their best show by far.
- Visually, this show is gorgeous. Whatever you may think of the content, the production is a full-on eyegasm.
What’s familiar? Well, this is like waking up in 1999 for me – it’s by far the most Gainax series Trigger has ever done, authentically in a way the Imaishi series feel like a cheesy cover band. This is the Anno Hideaki school of directing to be sure, and while it may not have been a direct nod to that (I have no idea if there’s a “Shinseiki” anything in either Gridman or Transformers), the introduction of the “Neon Genesis Chuugakusei” certainly brought a smile to my face. In this sense, watching SSSS.Gridman is like a long-awaited reunion with an old friend.
But then there’s the fact that all this familiarity is the package for a product that’s quite unfamiliar to me (and Gainax) in most ways. I know next to nothing about either Denkou Choujin Gridman or Transformers: Shattered Glass, the two wellsprings for most of the content of SSSS.Gridman. Thus I get the feeling there are a ton of references in every episode I’m simply not getting. I know Obari Masami of course, the inspiration for much of this show’s non-Gainax visual flair, whose legend far exceeds any of the numerous franchises he’s worked on. Gainax, Transformers, Gridman, Obari – it’s a heady and peculiar mix of influences but so far, it’s working damn well.
And that’s the other interesting thing about SSSS.Gridman – for all the terrible aggregator scores it’s getting in English, the series seems poised to be a monster hit in Japan. Perhaps there simply aren’t enough Western anime fans who are fans of those influences or Gainax nostalgia buffs, but the series has clearly struck a nerve with Japanese otaku. It’s set at 12 episodes, but unless the pre-sale estimates (I guess we can’t call them “stalker” anymore) are off by historically unprecedented numbers, SSSS.Gridman is a lock for at least a sequel or a movie (or possibly both).
Perhaps the story might not be moving along quite so quickly had Amemiya and Hasegawa known they were likely to have all that extra time to work with, but no one can accuse them of treading water. A ton happens in this episode, starting with the introduction of Anti (Suzumura Kenichi). Akane’s pet kaiju who takes the form of a young boy, his presence seems to lend credence to Shou’s theory that the kaiju are people – except they’re not, and Shou was just yanking Yuuta’s chain anyway. Unfortunately Yuuta took that seriously and it stayed his hand in the fight with Anti, seemingly causing the death (and certainly the defeat) of he and Gridman. And considerable guilty feelings for Shou.
One of the big questions hanging over the series is the matter of Akane’s future. It’s strongly hinted at by the OP and ED that she’s headed for a redemption, but boy, that’s going to be a tough sell for me. Thus far she’s frankly a colossal asshole – she kills people casually and for the pettiest of reasons. She created Anti as a weapon specifically to kill Gridman, then after he fails (more there in a minute) she literally tosses garbage on him and blows him off (the kindness Rikka showed him earlier may pay dividends later). Maybe Akane is going to be let off the hook on the grounds that all this is some kind of virtual simulation, a matrix – but even so, her character seems pretty irredeemable to me.
The dynamic amongst the Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad is rather interesting. They’re still basically strangers to each other, and they act like it – their interactions are awkward to be sure. But when Rikka thinks Yuuta is dead, she’s so unmade that she can’t even bring herself to call him or ring his doorbell to find out for sure. And Shou is so aghast that his joke may have led to their demise that he doesn’t know what to do. I loved the fact that it was simply a matter of calling Yuuta on the phone to confirm he’s alive – though Rikka had a right to be pissed that he’d never tried to call them from wherever he was.
The arrival of the Shinseiki Junior High squad seems to put all the major pieces on the board, and totally changes the balance of power with Anti. Max (Konishi Katsuyuki) is some kind of armored tractor and he gives us a full-on gettai scene when he enters the fray. There’s also Borr (Aoi Yuuki), whose human form seems to be a boy even though he has twintails, and whose weapon form is unknown (to those of us who don’t know the Gridman franchise). Ditto Vitt (Matsukaze Masaya). I could point out that neither he not Max look remotely like chuugakusei but eh, that seems like a blind alley…
The name of the game here – what makes all this work for me – is style. Stuff like the scene where Calibur picks up the kids one by one and carries them to the junk shop in the rain, and the beautifully-rendered wet clothing on Rikka and Shou as they watch the battle with Anti play out, and the eerily Anno-like shots of telephone wires and utility poles giving every long shot depth-of-field, and the battles between Gridman and Anti. One doesn’t need to know anything about tokusatsu or Transformers or even Obari to appreciate that. It’s timeless and glorious if you love anime – especially mecha, especially Gainax – from the turn-of-the-century era. I do, and so far I’m gobbling up SSSS.Gridman like candy.