「接・触」 (Se~tsu Sawa)
Sometimes it’s quite easy to describe the charms of a series, and sometimes it’s not. I find myself puzzling sometimes over why SSSS.Gridman is a good as it is, since it has very little flash to it (hint: that’s part of the answer). I don’t view anime write-ups as a vehicle to convince people to watch something – that’s a rewarding effect sometimes, but it’s not the cause. But if I were to try and flat out make a case for Gridman, a straight-up sales pitch, I would find it very difficult to communicate all the reasons why I love this show and why people should watch it.
That’s even more striking, of course, when you consider the vast library of references and in-jokes this series tosses at you that go right over my head unless I look them up. The message here is that you don’t have to be a Gridman, kaijuu, or tokusatsu fan to appreciate this show. You do, however, have to be an anime fan I think – because for me at least, the charm lies in the way this show epitomizes so much that I love about anime and rarely see any more. Whatever you chalk it up to, I have no doubt about this – SSSS.Gridman is the nuts.
This was a great episode, despite there being no battles and no real action of any kind. It’s not a word I use often in anime criticism, but Gridman is superb when it comes to economy. It does little that it doesn’t need to do, but everything it does works and feels necessary. The kids act so authentically like real kids, everyone in the cast has a personality that’s communicated no matter how brief their screen time, and the narrative isn’t cluttered with any unnecessary sounds or sights. When you do hear music, it means something. When you see detailed backgrounds, they grab you by the throat. And when you don’t see them, that means something too.
That’s a perfect segue to the introduction of Anoshiras (Takahashi Karin). The only way you’d know that was her name is if you watched the credits or looked it up on the official site – and the only way you’d know why that name was significant is if you knew the history of Ultraman. Here she’s a little girl who introduces herself to Yuuta as a kaijuu (and proves it), then takes him for a ride in both the literal and symbolic sense. Much of what’s been hinted at (no one ever being on the trains or buses besides relevant characters for a start) seems to be true – there’s nothing outside of Tsutsujidai (whether there’s meaning to that name – “Big Azalea” – I have no idea). And the entire city is a creation of Shinjou Akane.
Several threads are quietly, fascinatingly playing out simultaneously here. Akane has sent Anti off after Yuuta after telling him he’s Gridman, but Anti ends up crossing paths with Rikka again. Rikka’s kindness towards him – this time around it’s a meal, bath and a wash of clothes – is surely building to something. Akane then decides to go the Utsumi route to try and get more dirt on Yuuta. All the while Anoshiras and Yuuta are taking a gorgeously depicted train ride to nowhere, as she uses music to break him out of the stupor leaving town causes in everyone (gas, apparently) and spins a narrative about what’s really going on here. And the Neon Genesis Chuugakusei are keeping an eye on all of it, each in a way that reflects their quirky nature.
Most of what Anoshiras tells Yuuta is what you probably suspected, but there are some curveballs in the pitch mix to be sure. She thanks Yuuta for the debt her “predecessor” owes him, for starters – suggesting a direct link to earlier versions of the franchise, perhaps? That Akane is responsible for most (though not all, Anoshiras included) of the local kaijuu was pretty much a given. That said, Anoshiras makes it clear Alexis is using Akane for his own ends – she neither confirms or denies that he’s an alien – but also that it’s her own warped nature that made her a suitable tool. What we still don’t know is just who’s “real” in this matrix and who isn’t – are the people dying really people? Are even all of the main cast actual humans, or are some of them Akane’s creations too?
Again, words don’t do all this justice. The 8-bit explanation with techno-pop backdrop, the close-ups of Anoshiras’ face and Yuuta’s reaction shots, the surveilling Chuugakusei squad – it’s all great, frankly. I was also a big fan of the way Shou-kun wavered in the face of Akane’s charms (he’s in love with her, after all) and held his ground – be it instinct, loyalty or some combination of both. The ability to say a lot with seemingly little effort – again, economy – is a pretty rare thing in anime. It represents a totally different side of Trigger than anything we’ve seen before (and probably the most dissimilar-to-Imashi style of Gainax), and I certainly hope it’s one we see a lot more of.