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SSSS.Gridman (2018)

Yuta Hibiki has no idea who he is or where he is. He wakes up staring at a ceiling he does not recognise with a high-school girl, Rikka, he thinks he's meeting for the first time sat a few metres away. He appears to be suffering from amnesia so Rikka, with the help of Yuta's friend Sho, get him home.

Things get strange as the next day Yuta seems to be the only one who can see motionless kaiju all around the town. He is also the only one who can see and hear Gridman talking to him from a very old computer off to the side in the junk store owned by Rikka's mum. When a new kaiju appears raining destruction on the town Yuta fuses with Gridman and the pair defeat the threat. However the morning after nothing looks out of place, no one remembers the previous day bar Yuta and his friends. Some people are now missing and they have been forgotten.

Yuta needs to find out who he is, what or who Gridman is, the mission he seems to be on and just what is going on in the town of Tsutsujidai. He'll need his wits about him and more importantly, his friends as the Gridman Alliance get to work.

SSSS.Gridman is loosely based on the Gridman the Hyper Agent tokusatsu giant hero series from 1993. In the original 39 episode TV show, three teenagers create a computer game super hero who provides the means for an otherworldly law official (Gridman) to track down and confront a nefarious computer programme. Gridman fuses with one of the teenagers and combats giant monsters at an alarming rate to save the town and Earth. A great premise for an anime aimed at teenagers.

SSSS.Gridman is a 12 episode anime series brought to us by Studio Trigger. They exploded onto our screens in 2013 with the phenomenal Kill La Kill. They also gave us Little Witch Academia (available on Netflix) and most recently the movie Promare. As you can imagine Akira Amemiya (the director) and Keiichi Hasegawa (the writer) have included nods and winks in SSSS.Gridman to Gridman and similar tokusatsu series. This is to be expected as Keiichi Hasegawa has written for many shows including Ultraman and Kamen Rider. From what I have read the main elements of the story are there with names changed and the computer hosting Gridman, called Junk, is found in the Junk Store. There are also other mecha-shows which are referenced throughout the series including EvangelionGravion and other combining robot shows. Some are more overt than others but it does provide a bit of fun for an older viewer to spot them.

Broadly the show can be divided into three narrative arcs. The first establishing the world and poses some questions - mostly *what* is going on? The second arc feels like it is resolving the story whilst the third and final arc is the resolution of the story where it all comes together. The spirit of the tokusatsu show lives on in SSSS.Gridman which is both a weakness and its strength.

The first arc sets up the Gridman Alliance (as Sho likes to call the gang). It is here that the repetitive nature of tokusatsu shows rears its head as a new kaiju is revealed, Gridman arrives, has a bit of a setback but with his power-ups is able to defeat the kaiju and everyone can relax. The power-ups come from four mysterious strangers who seem to have a similar ability as Hibiki who, once transformed become a sword, armoured vehicle, burrowing vehicle and some kind of fighter aircraft. This gives Gridman various fun variations and he continually thwarts the plans of the villain, Alexis Kerib.

Bar a few small changes it felt like I was watching the same episode for a while. It was fun but I hoped this was not how the series was going to continue. Thankfully it inserts its mystery element early on - people don't remember the kaiju attacks nor can they see the ones dotted outside the city. Who or what is bringing the kaiju in and why?  It also takes care to hint and reveal the antagonist over several episodes and with even greater care, their motivation.

The second arc plunges right into addressing some of these questions very directly. I did not see some the events playing out as they did but really enjoyed the direction it took this middle arc. Of course, we have kaiju-Gridman action but now they are peppered with neat touches and nods to tokusatsu series of old. Because it so completely answers most of the questions set in the first arc it does leave you with a sense of where can this go next. With one of the reveals, I thought they explored the consequences of it rather deftly - a single expression said everything that was going through my brain at that time.

I found the first and second arc to be the most entertaining. The third act was a bit of a mixed bag of ideas and threads that just about come together. It takes a brilliant dark turn (for the show), the villain is revealed and we have the climactic battle. Given how this was based on a tokusatsu show SSSS.Gridman *had* to have a finale in that spirit. It just left me feeling a bit ... unsatisfied. Everything just seemed to come together so quickly and then it was done. I wanted a bit more to build to the climax.

Reflecting on it my lack of satisfaction with the end was that the characters never really felt like they developed. Broadly they were the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Perhaps that was for the viewer to be able to identify and insert themselves into the narrative. The world, however, was interesting and I liked the direction it was taking which felt slightly undone at the end.

I liked the character designs for the complete cast of the show. Their look served the story well and balanced that ordinary high-school student with something more memorable. Their eyes looked quote other-worldly and colourful and that is something that I will remember. The character animation was serviceable and did the job well enough. Of course, the kaiju looked great and walked a fine line between paying homage to the human in the costume and making the most of what animation can offer. Some kaiju were as big as a mountain and others quite Godzilla-esque. The animation reflected the different scales and one of the final monsters was given the best animation possible. It bounced, somersaulted, skipped and ran all over Gridman - it was a joy to watch even though you knew where it was going to end up.

SSSS.Gridman was a fun show to watch. It kept me entertained, poked fun at the tokusatsu shows but knew when to progress the story on and had a definite end-point in mind. The 12 episodes skipped along but perhaps an additional episode would have helped in the final arc so it felt less rushed. I really enjoyed the mystery element of the story a great deal but could have done without the "hot springs" episode. In fact I would have enjoyed the mystery elements without the fighting. The animation is perfectly fine with bold colours all set in a neatly realised world. The kaiju definitely are fun to look at and certainly hark back to the tokusatsu shows of old. The final act of the series didn't quite deliver for me - it felt rushed.


IN A NUTSHELL:  A fun bold and colourful animated homage to the giant hero tokusatsu series of old. 

*Review disc supplied by Manga UK*