Yuuta Hibiki wakes up in the room of Rikka Takarada and notices two things: he has no memories, and he can hear a mysterious voice calling his name from a nearby room. On further inspection, he finds a robot—which introduces itself as Hyper Agent Gridman—behind the screen of an old computer. Much to Yuuta's surprise, Rikka cannot hear Gridman, nor can she see the ominous monsters looming over a thick fog as it envelopes the town outside. Another giant monster materializes in the city and proceeds to wreak havoc. Amidst the confusion, Yuuta is once again drawn to the old computer and merges with Gridman. Suddenly, he appears in the middle of the battle and is forced to fight the monster. Together with Rikka and fellow classmate Shou Utsumi, Yuuta forms the "Gridman Alliance" to defeat the monsters plaguing the city and find whoever is responsible for their emergence. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
When SSSS.Gridman first began, people really didn’t like it. I think a lot of the surface-level elements turned people away, especially since the first few episodes were fairly slow and predictable. But once the show actually got going, the actual content there kept us coming back week after week, and it ended up being not just one of my favorite shows of its season, but of the year as a whole.
Gridman is a precarious mix of genres, balancing seemingly everyday school life against giant mecha fights. The former goes against what people expect from mecha anime, and is likely responsible for the show being labeled as slow. However, these two disparate halves somehow built off each other, with the tension of the daily life feeding into the catharsis of the action scenes. Since it’s the more mundane material that seems to have garnered the most criticism, that’ll be the focus of this review.
Interestingly enough, this means I really don’t need to talk about Yuta. While he may pilot Gridman, his amnesiac protagonist bit gets in the way of him having a particularly interesting school life, and instead Rikka steps forward as the protagonist. Rikka is the more emotionally-driven of the two, and while she’s aware of all the kaiju shenanigans going on in the show, it’s never really her main drive.
Instead, Rikka’s conflict is her trying to reconnect with Akane, the antagonist of the series with whom she used to be close friends. Akane creates the kaiju that terrorize the city, and it would be so easy to just view her as the villain, especially since this is how she presents herself. But unlike the other protagonists, Rikka doesn’t look at her through this lens. By refusing to play on Akane’s terms of mecha and kaiju, she is the one who is able to genuinely reach out to Akane and save her from her isolation. This story of reconnection could have been treated as secondary to the main action, but instead it’s given the same level of attention, receiving much of the show’s expressive animation and relatable character moments.
Also, the show absolutely nails atmosphere. Though everything seems mostly normal for the first half of the run, the show’s use of its claustrophobic camera and tendency for long pauses serve to constantly instill a sense of discomfort in the viewer as they try to figure out why the world seems off. The summer heat is tangible and oppressive, and the rainy days are all the more miserable. The soundtrack goes a long way to sell these scenes, and the opening and ending are both fantastic.
Briefly, I’ll talk about how the show handles homage. I think a lot of the criticism leveled at the show is based on it being too steeped in references to other shows, to the point that animator for the original Gridman Obari Masami complained that they weren’t doing anything new with the material. With that said, I don’t mind having these callbacks as fanservice to fans of the original, especially since they don’t conflict with the story being told. Plus, how upset can I really be over all of the character designs being based on obscure Transformers? That’s adorable.
In conclusion, Gridman is just really good, you know? If you’ve been on the fence about watching Gridman because of the initial negative reception, I’d say it’s worth trying for yourself. I’m still not entirely clear why so much of the community is down on this show, but I absolutely loved it, and I hope that more people will give it a chance.