ssss gridman

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

Anime is full of remakes and revivals of beloved decades-old shows, which struggle to recapture the magic of the original while also serving its own standalone story. The fact that it’s so hard to make revival shows right only serves to make the few that pull it off feel even more special, like in the case of Devilman Crybaby, or Studio Trigger’s SSSS. Gridman.

The anime serves as both a reboot/sequel to the forgotten ’90s gem Denkou Choujin Gridman, or Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad in the West, and also as a love letter to the entire tokusatsu genre (think Ultraman or Power Rangers, but also kaiju movies).

SSSS. Gridman follows Y?ta, an amnesiac high schooler who wakes up one day to find his city under attack by giant monsters, and also a special device on his wrist that allows him to communicate and even merge with an armor-clad figure inside an old computer called Gridman.

From there, Y?ta and his friends Rikka and Shou will have to battle a constant stream of kaiju attacking the city with the help of Gridman, while trying to uncover the mystery of why no one else sees the kaiju or remember their existence the next day, as well as find out who in their classroom is creating the kaiju. The result is a show with a poignant exploration of loneliness and self-hatred that also perfectly encapsulates what makes tokusatsu so fun to watch, making this the Power Rangers meets Neon Genesis Evangelion show you didn’t know you needed.

What Makes It Great

SSSS. Gridman is a fantastic love letter to the campiness, the absurdity and also the pure, unmitigated fun of the tokusatsu genre. What Gurren Lagann did for the super robot anime — by embracing both the fun and the absurdity of the genre, and filling its episodes with hundreds of references to everything from Gunbuster, to Getter Robo and Mazinger Z — Gridman does for tokusatsu. There are, of course, direct nods to the original Gridman (and even its American dub), but the show extends to every corner of the genre to reference Ultraman, Super Sentai, and even Transformers — four of the main characters bear a striking resemblance to the design of the Shattered Glass line of Transformers toys.

This extends beyond just Easter eggs but in the way the CG animation goes from silky smooth to purposely replicating the lumbering movements of live-action actors in rubber suits. Every kaiju’s design looks like it could be done in a live-action movie, and you can even see where the actors’ eyes would go if it was a real suit. It’s a testament to the writing in SSSS. Gridman and the way they pay homage to its influences, that by the time the original Gridman‘s theme song kicks in during the final episode, it manages to make you nostalgic for it even if you’ve never seen the show.

Of course, SSSS. Gridman is more than just cool mecha vs kaiju fights, and the show does a great job in slowly building its world with a sense of intrigue and focus on character. In many ways, this is a slice-of-life show, as the majority of the episodes’ runtime is spent following the daily lives of Y?ta and his friends as they navigate the mundane high-school life. Even when the plot pauses in favor of Rikka going on a girl’s night out, it’s all in the name of character development and showing us how the protagonists emotionally interact with those around them.

What It Brings to the Conversation

While the kaiju fights are great to look at, the heart of the show lies with its villain. In many ways, SSSS. Gridman feels like a companion to Neon Genesis Evangelion (not only because the former is filled to the brim with references to the latter), in the way it deals with depression, loneliness, and the desire to remake the entire world so it can’t hurt you. Like the other criminally underseen mecha show from 2018, Planet With, Gridman‘s ultimate message is one of empathy and overcoming fears of reaching out for help.

To say more about the villain or the message of the show would be to spoil what makes SSSS. Gridman a show unlike most others. For now, I’ll say that the anime plays with expectations of what a tokusatsu anime, especially a reboot at that, can do in terms of themes and even animation. The meaning of Gridman and its “SSSS” title don’t fully snap into place until the very last frame of the show, where it breaks all rules and pulls one of the biggest plot twists in the past decade of animation, recontextualizing everything you’d seen before while paying one last homage to the original message of the original Gridman, “You are Not Alone.”

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

Whether you grew up watching Power Rangers and Ultraman, or simply want a cool show about giant robots punching kaijus in the face that also offers a meaningful and poignant exploration of loneliness and longing, SSSS. Gridman captures the feeling of being a kid jumping up and down the couch in joy while watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Watch This If You Like: Power Rangers, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Godzilla.

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SSSS. Gridman is streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

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