First Look: SSSS.GRIDMAN

Tokusatsu adaptation(?) by Trigger
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Yuta Hibiki is your totally regular Japanese high school kid who wakes up in the home of his classmate, Rikka Takarada, with no memories of who he is or how he got there. Thankfully, a voice from an old computer belonging to the titular Gridman tells him he has an important mission.

Gee’s verdict: Electrifying

Having watched SSSS.Gridman’s premier at the Anime Expo Trigger panel earlier this year, I’ve had some time to process my thoughts. I think on the whole, Gridman is a fascinating beginning and the more I read about its production, the more I become genuinely curious about where it could go. That said, you could forgive me for my skepticism when I heard it was being directed by Akira Amemiya, of Inferno Cop fame. With that kind of pedigree, you imagine that Gridman was going to be some kind of absurd comedy in the vein of Trigger’s past comedic works. Instead, Gridman reminds you that Amemiya is also a longtime Gainax vet who’s been involved in some of their most iconic works, ranging from Gurren Lagann to Diebuster. It may lack the manic energy of its studio’s past work, but makes up for it in a kind of surreal almost ethereal art direction highly reminiscent of 90s anime like Serial Experiments Lain or the Mamoru Hosoda Digimon episodes. While I don’t particularly care for the characters yet, SSSS.Gridman’s aesthetic is so striking in every regard that I can’t look away.

And that isn’t to say that Gridman only shines in its dreamlike unease. Once the action picks up, it turns into something genuinely interesting to look at for entirely different reasons. At their Anime Expo panel, Trigger staff explained that they specifically modeled Gridman’s animation off of the timing and movement of tokusatsu, to further evoke the anime’s inspirational origins being found in the old tokusatsu series of the same name. I’d say for the most part it works. Between the way the monster lumbers as if there is a very obvious human being on the inside of the suit and the weighty way the building sized characters move and fight, Gridman has an immediately eyecatching style. And thankfully while the CG is mostly decent, Trigger also knows when to cut back to the kind of frantic dynamic 2D animation the studio has become so famous for.

So while I’m not entirely sold on its story or its characters quite yet, there are enough interesting things to be found in SSSS.Gridman to keep me around. The fact this project is intended to be a proving ground for Trigger’s younger animation staff is an interesting idea and one I’m curious to see how it develops. The tantalizing rumors surrounding the show’s later episodes only adds to the fire. If nothing else, the show certainly has me intrigued.

Iro’s verdict: Intriguing

The big question hanging in the air is if Gridman will morph into a “Trigger Show” as we’ve come to know them from the likes of Imaishi and this show’s director Amemiya, or if it’ll become its own weird thing. Because this is weird, no doubt; more reminiscent of Neon Genesis Evangelion or Serial Experiments Lain (mysterious and conspicuous power lines abound!) than Kill la Kill or Ninja Slayer. Keiichi Hasegawa – of numerous tokusatsu shows as well as perennial GLORIO favorite Rage of Bahamut: Genesis – is on writing duties, and interviews/panels have stated that the studio is taking an opportunity to let some of their younger, less experienced staff take the helm with this one, so I well and truly have no clue what to expect. And that’s exciting, in its own way.

Zigg’s verdict: Together in Electric Dreams

This is almost entirely not what I was expecting from a Studio Trigger adaptation of a 90’s tokusatsu show. With that pairing, you’d expect a loud, over-the-top and totally bombastic action comedy. Instead, Gridman is mostly a soft, dreamy character piece, full of slow lingering shots, surreal sights, and awkward interactions. Even the obligatory giant monster battle at the end feels almost apologetic, as if it’s just something the show wants to get through before going back to being a little spacey. And you know what? I couldn’t be more excited.

To be clear, it’s not that I’ve disliked Trigger’s recent works, but they’ve definitely fallen into something of a groove of producing loud, goofy, and mostly shallow action shows. It’s become a house style to the extent that we joke about every Trigger show ending with a battle in space. So to see them apply their considerable artistic and storytelling talent to something that’s very different from that is incredibly interesting, and Gridman largely rewards that interest. There’s a beautiful, isolationist quality to the visuals, the endless rows of power lines or the very slow static shots drenched in atmosphere. That largely carries over to the writing too, which emphasizes teenage awkwardness and uncomfortable silences, especially in the mostly exposition-free first half. Even Gridman himself is extremely restrained, more a quiet delusion than the sort of screaming hero we tend to see a lot. The net effect is something closer to Evangelion than Trigger’s usual touchstone of Gurren Lagann.

That’s not to say the crew don’t bring it once the action starts getting going though, with some truly fabulous camera shots and animation cuts. As a longtime toku fan too I’m encouraged by the way Gridman simultaneously homages and brushes up the conventions of the genre, while nodding affectionately at its source material. There’s a few bizarre hints of traditional Trigger here and there, but even the cutout animation and flamboyant villains play closer to charmingly quirky than obnoxiously hot-blooded. The whimsical mix of the melancholy and the bonkers brings to mind the finest moments of FLCL, a high bar if there ever was one, but a tremendously exciting one to try to reach. I’m fascinated to see where the story goes from here, and while the shadow of Kiznaiver looms, I’m hopeful that this compelling mix of new elements can continue.

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