Yuta, Sho and Rikka discover that, although the school has been restored to good as new, the friends who were seemingly killed in the attack are still missing. They start looking into what’s happened but are soon confronted by the arrival of one of Gridman’s ‘friends’ and a fresh Kaiju attack.
After a very unconventional opening episode, Gridman settles into a bit more of an established pattern here, though not without some persistent quirks. More precisely, the pattern it falls into is that of a typical toku episode – we start with some character based stuff, there’s a mystery to be solved, then we finish with a giant monster fight and a sweet new power-up being the key to victory this week.
The difference is of course in the presentation, and it’s encouraging that Gridman is beginning to seed questions and long-term plot arcs into the structure of the world. Especially after the ending of episode 1 implied that a certain degree of resetting was happening after the kaiju was defeated, the revelation here that the people who seemingly died really did die is quite a shock and a pretty good subversion of the audience’s expectations. TV tokusatsu like the original Gridman (and Super Sentai, Ultraman et al) are pretty notorious for having giant robot/hero/monster fights that destroy dozens of buildings but actually harm no-one, so seeing them actually have to deal with the consequences of their anime bullshit is intriguing. What’s also super interesting is the way they choose to go about it – you might have been able to achieve some of the same impact by just killing their friends in the regular way, but the weird time-rewriting shenanigans both add extra mystery to the whole affair, and crank up the heartbreak by making it so those friendships apparently never existed in the first place.
The way in which our heroes react is interesting too – Sho takes the classic shonen proactive stance, while Rikka, who was closest with the missing classmates, is the most obviously emotional and distraught. Yuta is pretty much pure neutral, which is…fine, for now at least, as he’s clearly meant to be the audience surrogate. I do hope he begins displaying some actual personality in the near future though, since I’m not a fan of blank-slate protagonists. The big character draw this episode is Akane though, and I’m digging what we see here. Yes, the cute quiet girl/crazy psychopath dichotomy is one we’ve seen time and time again, but the writing here does a good job of making it work. Akane’s rooftop moment with Yuta feels sincere in a sweet way, and while she’s clearly got a ‘dark’ side it’s more childish and petty than out-and-out bloodthirsty. The two halves of her personality reconcile in a believable way (check out the gleeful “tell me, tell me!” while she’s chatting to Yuta), and even when she’s cheering on the monsters she seems shitty in the kind of way a loner teen actually might. I’d be extremely surprised if she’s actually our ultimate big bad – she’s too sympathetic and not threatening enough.
Elsewhere, this is still a ridiculously gorgeous show and, importantly, hasn’t lost the compelling mix between stifling stillness and bombastic action that so impressed us in episode 1. The crew at Trigger continue to leverage a wonderful new appreciation of slow establishing shots with some of their more traditional strengths in elastic character animation (check out Samurai Calibur’s clumsy entrance). The meta-narrative of the show – whether Trigger can make a good story that breaks out of some of the clichés they’ve relied on up to now – is almost as compelling as the main story, and between them I’m happy to say Gridman is currently my most anticipated show of the week. More please.
- Further confirming that everyone at Trigger is a colossal nerd, several people have pointed out the majority of the cast appear to be deliberate references to Transformers, in particular the mirror-universe continuity Shattered Glass. Seibertron.com has a pretty good roundup of all the possible inspirations – nobody at Trigger has confirmed it’s true but the blanket with RAVAGE printed on it is pretty undeniable.
- Both of the Kaiju who have appeared thus far have been direct design lifts from the original show, and I think it’s safe to say that will continue.
- For anybody who doesn’t know, the SSSS in the title of the show stands for Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, which was the name of the Power Rangers-esque recut of Gridman which aired in the USA in the mid-90s. Unlike most of the 90s American toku boom it’s actually reasonably faithful to the source material, probably because Tsuburaya were directly involved in the adaptation.
With Gridman’s second episode, we begin to see its identity come into more concrete form, even if the show itself still remains as ethereal as ever. The mystery of what happens to the victims of these kaiju attacks is primary thrust of the narrative in some truly interesting ways. There’s an excellent sense of low-key dread as you realize that not only do the victims no longer “exist,” but they’ve been written out of reality in such a drastic manner that it implies a terrifyingly omniscient power at play. Even better though is perhaps the contrast between Rikka and the boys in their reaction to these truths. The boys act more like traditional protagonists, treating the mystery as an adventure to be embarked on. Meanwhile, Rikka is the one who is perhaps our audience surrogate, still trying to internalize the kind of quiet horror of it all. For the boys, the girls are just victims, tokens stacked on the bad guy to further emphasize their villainy. To Rikka, these girls were classmates, friends, and more importantly, human beings with their own sense of agency. It’s a remarkably well written moment in a show that is still ultimately about a boy jumping into a computer to transform into a giant robot man.
Additionally we get the reveal that
Chief Over Justice Alexis isn’t our only villain, and in fact might be merely a part of Akane’s grander plan. The, “seemingly sweet and chipper girl is actually an evil psychopath” isn’t the necessarily the newest twist in the world, but Akane’s characterization as a petty nerd with a huge chip on her shoulder and ready to unleash her power on anyone for the smallest of slights is well executed. If nothing else, it shows how many weird deep cuts Trigger is ready to make that will probably all fly completely over my head. An example of one is the pretty slick Obari-inspired fight we get this week when Gridman summons a giant sword to beat this week’s kaiju, which is apparently a pretty faithful recreation of a fight from Might Gaine. Trigger has always worn their inspirations on their sleeve but moreso than their past work, a part of me is deeply curious how many of them inhabit the very DNA of the show and how those inform its eventual direction. While I’m still not sure if I’m ready to throw all the chips down for Gridman, it’s undeniably still one of the most interesting anime airing this season.