The show is packaged as a Japanese Superhero show where Super Hero Cop Gridman fights the city against giant Kaiju monsters. There is however much more to this show and the Ultraman and Kaiju part of the show is just a layer to a much bigger picture.
Even though I feel I can't say too much about the show itself, I do believe that most people will have made up their mind about the show before they even really get into it which is also why many people will probably never end up finishing the show.
I personally have never never been a fan of these Japanese Superhero shows and it took me a few episodes to pick up what the show was really about. I am however a huge fan of the Transformers universe and due to that knowledge it really helped me understand what the show was really about.
I feel I can't really write too much about the show itself because I feel you just have to experience it.
Great execution, stunning art and even though the characters will feel a bit goofy at times you will come to appreciate them. SSSS.Gridman is filled with great references to other shows like Ultraman, Gridman, Evangelion, Transformers and many more.
Really, just give it a try... It's Studio Trigger, you know you'll love it.
SSSS.Gridman is a truly bizarre experience. After the monumentally disappointing Darling in the FranXX and the surprisingly worthwhile Planet With, this show completes the year’s holy trinity of super robot anime by being a confusing mixed bag that is a nightmare to discuss. While it doesn’t exactly go full Evangelion, there are still references to it as well as stylistic similarities between the two. However, there’s more to this peculiar anime than just being another run-of-the-mill mecha series.
First and foremost, this is both a tokusatsu and super robot anime. Sparing you the lengthy history of both concepts, it’s clear that the trappings of the two genres aren’t easy to deal with in contemporary anime—or any anime in the case of tokusatsu. Case in point: while reused animation is common in mecha series, they’re mainly utilized for robot transformations and special attacks. However, SSSS.Gridman goes as far as to rewind even non-action scenes, creating unnecessary repetition. Studio Trigger also decided to render the Gridman and its Kaiju foes using CGI, and the jarring blend between these 3D models and their 2D environment causes a serious case of the uncanny valley. Not helping matters is how these hulking titans continually swap between 2D and 3D, making everything they interact with --i.e. the road, the cars, the debris, etc.-- become a visual disaster. It’s a shame these graphical problems make the fights harder to follow given their cool choreography and sakuga moments.
The art style of this series is far from appealing. Aesthetically, the show is incredibly bland. The inconsistent animation can sometimes make the faces look like deformed potatoes, which are further accentuated by the uninspired character designs. The characters look incredibly plain apart from their vibrant eyes, and even the more appealing individuals such as Anti and Rikka seem lacking. Another problem is the awkward movements, specifically the hand and arm motions. Long story short, this show has a bunch of visual oddities that dampen the experience.
In spite of all the aforementioned problems, SSSS.Gridman has a striking direction. There are moments between fights that highlight a sense of discomfort and eerie quietness, similar to the atmospheric pauses in Evangelion. These scenes feel pretentious at times, but the clever framing of shots that illustrate the emotional distance of the characters makes them more engrossing than not. Film buffs might find this directing standard fare, but such a thing is noteworthy in the anime landscape. The dream sequences in episode nine are particularly fun to witness and showcase the creative talent of director Akira Amemiya.
S^4 Gridman heavily restrains its usage of background music. Most non-action scenes lack an accompanying soundtrack. You would think the absence of music makes their purpose more meaningful, but sadly this isn’t the case. Since the soundtracks aren’t utilized frequently, none of them are memorable as a result. However, there is one track that stood out: the opening theme “Union” by OxT. As an uplifting song, it works as a call to action that plays when the main cast is gaining the upper hand against their Kaiju opponents. The song doesn’t always mesh properly with the sequence since it’s sometimes too quiet, but when it does, be prepared for some epic moments. Sadly, all this can’t be said for the forgettable ending theme.
The cast of SSSS.Gridman is a mixed bag. For every character like Calibur, whose quirkiness comes from his silent, dorky attitude, we have someone boring like Yuta, our unremarkable protagonist. Most of the main characters, including the titular Gridman, are one-dimensional; the most interesting thing about them is their genuine interactions amongst each other. On the other hand, the three antagonists are highly fascinating. Akane is similar to a child trapped in her own sandbox video game world, twisted by her own influence, loneliness, and creations. One of these creations, Anti, is a foil to Gridman. He’s an overly serious edgelord so hell-bent on destroying Gridman that he ends up being hilariously awkward in social interactions. He would even pick fights with other Kaiju simply because of his desire to personally kill Gridman. As for Alexis, his voice and demeanor make him seem incredibly humorous and lackadaisical -- even as he shoves a buzzsaw to someone’s eye.
One irksome trait the cast share is their tendency to restrict themselves for no proper reason. For example, in episode three, Yuta, Calibur, and Gridman worry the others by disappearing after a Kaiju defeats them, only for them to be on standby the entire time. One could make the argument that rushing back into battle or retreating immediately would have tipped the Kaiju off, but they could have escaped after it left since they can just warp back to the shop.
All this segues perfectly into SSSS.Gridman’s obscure narrative. The mystery surrounding the show’s existentially horrifying world is unnerving in the sense that the narrative gradually becomes more destructive as secrets begin to unravel, a la FranXX. While I don’t feel the show crosses that line enough to destroy any investment I could possibly have --at least until episode 10-- there’s a fundamental aspect of the world-building that doesn’t strike me the right way.
Tiptoeing around spoilers, one of the major gimmicks of this show's world is that everyone’s memories of the dead are altered when a character dies at the hands of a Kaiju, or a Kaiju gets destroyed. With the exception of the surviving combatants, everyone’s mind starts to become hazy. It’s not quite on the level of Re:Zero where society begins to doubt the existence of certain individuals, but it’s still a frustrating gimmick that doesn’t entirely make sense. As such, the show’s convoluted narrative makes it difficult to recommend. The asspulls in the second half only adds to this problem.
Despite its various shortcomings, SSSS.Gridman is still an entertaining mecha anime. The fights are fun to watch, the banters between the characters are engaging, and the twisted hellhole of a world leaves viewers with much to ponder. Maybe I would have enjoyed this more if I’m familiar with the tokusatsu genre, but I doubt such knowledge would make this show any less difficult to unpack. It’s an enigmatic mixed bag that I am glad to have watched.
Oh, and on top of the Eva references, this show makes a Gurren Lagann reference, so there’s another link between the Gridman Planet With FranXX trio.
Written/Edited by: CodeBlazeFate
Proofread by: Peregrine and Skittles
Watching SSSS.Gridman is like biting into an okay sandwich. You’re sure there’s filling inside – that’s what everyone who’s tried it says – but then it turns out you’ll have to bite through a lot of the boring bread first before getting to it. And what bland, stale stuff the bun is, so even after you get to the promised filling and find it isn’t so bad after all, you’ll end up wondering why you had to go through so much flour before getting to it.
There’s a substantial story here that's packed with teaching moments about the dangers of isolation, the importance of having friends, and the perils of strange worlds and selfish indulgences. But a lot of these got buried in what the show probably felt was subtle direction and gradual exposition, that it was really hard to give a proper shit when things actually started to happen. As this was my first-ever shot at the Gridman franchise, I’m aware there are a lot of callbacks I missed out on. So it’s a credit to the show that, despite the rich lore of the franchise, I was never really lost throughout the whole thing. But I did nod off at several points and a lot of that’s got to do with how slow-going each episode was.
For an action series, Gridman isn’t very exciting. And that might have been the point anyway, since this offers a more character-centered treatment of the classic mecha genre. But between long, deliberate moments of quiet and characters I didn’t know what to do with, it was hard getting myself to care about anything that was going on. While the awkward silences were meant to draw out uncomfortable instances and ramp up the humor, these long pauses didn’t always work in every scene. Meanwhile, the characters were people you could neatly divide into three categories: the just theres, the “I don’t even know what this show wants to do with you, fam, honestly” types, and Akane Shinjou.
And then, you get to the animation, which looked clunky and stilted, even if you could tell a lot of love went into the robo-kaiju showdowns. Set these fight scenes to a recycled soundtrack, and it gets easy to tune out altogether, even if all the rich background details really helped Gridman’s world come alive.
So, you know, okay sandwich. It’s the best-seller everyone’s tried and liked, but like the special dog Gridman’s characters like to eat so much, I wasn’t able to find much by way of presentation or style. It’s clear what the show wanted to do with itself, the same way the special dog makes itself known with the huge sausage sticking out in the middle. But like the special dog’s unremarkable appearance, it was Gridman’s technical aspects and directing choices that took some attention away from the stuff that really mattered.
[This review was made for the Anime-Planet Bingo Challenge: Winter 2019 event. Is it weird that I couldn’t take big bad Alexis Kerib seriously, because I kept expecting him to say, “Justice is over!” at some point?]