「疑・心」 (Utagu Kokoro)
I just can’t help loving SSSS.Gridman. This show is so damn much fun. What strikes me is that (for an old-timer like me at least) it’s both comprehensively familiar and quite unique. There’s no question that stylistically this series is a major throwback both to vintage Gainax and anime in general, but Gainax (and anime in general, to my memory) never did a patchwork quilt of the genres that make up Gridman. This is a show that’s keenly aware of its genetic makeup but not a slave to it, and that’s always a good base to build upon.
I wonder if that sense of familiarity is a big reason why the show is going over so much better in Japan than in the West. The current disc-buying market in Japan is not immune to trends by any means – they’re the ones who set them, and it’s because of them that isekai LNs and CGDCT shows are omnipresent. But perhaps their memories are a little longer when it comes to anime than the average Western fan (though not necessarily readers of this site), and they have a nostalgia for the style of anime Gridman represents that most Western fans don’t. They also have a basic awareness of tokusatsu and even the “Gridman” franchise specifically to a much greater degree than most Western viewers do.
As I said last week, none of this would matter if SSSS.Gridman didn’t have the style and general chops to pull this off in entertaining fashion. I loved pretty much everything about this episode. The interactions between the kids (especially Yuuta and Rikka) were great, and the fact that they mostly play out in the absence of BGM is really refreshing. The Shinseiki Chuugakusei Squad are displaying delightful personality quirks of their own (though Calibur remains my favorite) and getting involved in myriad ways. Even the banter between the rest of the cast and Rikka’s mom (shame on me for not mentioning she’s played by Shintani Mayumi) is hilarious in a totally old-school way.
The cast in general is doing a great job, and I can’t get over how much Hirose Yuuya is putting me in mind if Miyu Irino both in terms of his voice and his performance (high praise, that). It’s been clear for a bit now that Yuuta and Rikka have mutual feelings, but what had been hinted at – there was a history there, pre-memory loss – was pretty much confirmed. Yuuta agonizes over his inability to remember what might have passed between them in the past and how to approach her now, and this catches the eye of Max (who’s revealed to be the “strongest” of the weapons). Max takes a sort of big brother tack with Yuuta, and notes how observing the interaction (and lack thereof) between he and Rikka is both irritating and amusing.
Meanwhile, Akane has almost sussed out that Hibiki-kun is Gridman’s partner, but decides she needs to confirm it. This means getting close to Rikka, who she senses likes him. I quite liked the way Akane manages to hold the facade of being relatively sane for a while, but occasionally her sociopath side slips out. The two of them end up going on a group date with four 21 year-old college guys calling themselves “Arcadia” who the girls’ classmates apparently consider celebs because of their vlog. But they keep getting in Akane’s way by hitting on she and Rikka (which in case you’re wondering is seriously creepy), so eventually Akane bails (leaving Rikka trapped in a nightmare) and decides she’s going to off the four of them in petty revenge.
What’s interesting about this is that Anti refuses her order to kill the quartet, even though it might have gotten him back in her good graces, on the grounds that he was born to kill Gridman. In fact, he intervenes when the kaiju Akane creates to take out the college guys (successfully with three of them) squares off with Gridman – though only because he wants to take Gridman down himself. I don’t think Anti has any loyalty to Akane, really – he just wants to do what he believes he’s destined to – so it probably won’t take much more pushing before he dumps her altogether (though where he goes from there is a bit more complicated).
Also of note here – “Junk” apparently lacks the processing power to handle all of the Chuugakusei weapons at once, as it freezes (and so does Gridman) when they try and jump in together to help Yuuta (this is how we learn Max is the strongest). Rikka manages to get Junk restarted by doing an ultra-hard boot – which makes Utsumi apoplectic – and with Max’s help Gridman does a gettai and finishes the job as Anti reverts back to shota form. Back at the base Yuuta finally works up the nerve to ask Rikka out, but – either intentionally or not – she plays the dense role and misinterprets his intent.
If it seems like a lot happened this week, that’s because it did – but for me, the episode didn’t seem rushed at all. There’s a laid-back quality to Amemiya Akira’s direction (yes, it’s very Anno-like) that makes SSSS.Gridman feel relaxed even when it’s going full speed. Again, style trumps all, and all the little elements here really work – the squid IC card, the quirks in the weapons’ personalities coming out (Bora – who by the way was confirmed to be a boy by Aoi Yuuki, despite some confusion caused by the dub – is snarky, Vitt a smooth talker), the fabulous reaction shots and kaiju iconography. It’s getting harder and harder not to buy what this series is selling, despite all the reservations I had going in – it’s all clicking at the moment.