These past few years have been interesting for anime and manga re-imaginings of Tokusatsu series. There’s been the Netflix Godzilla anime series of films, there was the Ultraman short that was part of the Japan Animator Expo, and there’s the Ultraman reboot manga that is also getting adapted to an anime this year (2019). And there’s S.S.S.S. Gridman, from Studio Trigger in a co-production with Tsuburaya Productions, based on the live-action Gridman: The Hyper Agent from the ’90s (released in the US as Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad).
The show follows amnesiac protagonist (wait, come back!) Yuta Hibiki, who is a high school student in the town of Tsutsujidai (a name that – writing it out – I suspect is something of a pun). He wakes up able to see mysterious passive Kaiju that lurk all over the city, and is also able to see a computer entity called “Gridman” in the screen of an old beat-up computer called “Junk” – which is currently for sale in a used electronics shop run by the family of his friend Rikka.
When some Kaiju go berserk, Yuta is able to use Junk to turn into Gridman to fight them – with Rikka and his other friend Sho (who is really into tokusatsu himself) finding out about this in the first episode of the show. From there, the three – along with the humanoid forms of Gridman’s assist weapons (who call themselves the Neon Genesis Junior High Students – in spite of not even remotely looking like Junior High students), set out to discover who is behind the Kaiju attacks.
The catch behind this is that after each rampage, the passive kaiju undo the damage, and wipe the memories of the witnesses. However, in addition to the memory wipes, some people seem to be specifically targeted in these kaiju rampages, and when they are killed, they are permanently erased from the world – not only not restored, but all memory of their existence also being erased – building on the mystery.
This gives the show a plot that makes it something of a mix of Ultraman and Serial Experiments Lain – though admittedly a kinder, gentler version of the latter – in the sense of having an overarching plot that hits on some heavy stuff (the Lain part) while being tied together by some fantastically done Kaiju fights.
The fights, in particular, are definitely worthy of being singled out for praise. The animation feels like people in rubber suits are fighting, and the animation, which is done in CG, has weight to the movements – and I don’t just mean that in terms of having narrative impact, but that the movements feel like they have the weight and impact of a person going behind them – which is definitely notable considering the toy-tank physics of the tank battles in Girls Und Panzer (a show I love, though I found those aspects laughable). I don’t know if Trigger used performance capture for the fights, or if the animators tapped the knowledge of the various suit performers who have worked for Tsuburya Productions (along with tapping the hours of footage they undoubtedly have in the vault for reference).
In either case, it makes for action scenes that are remarkably smart, and lead to me enjoying the hell out of that part of the show. This is a series that could have just been a bunch of dumb action – but the show has some significantly smarter writing here, that kept me watching through all of the series.
Gridman is currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll, with a simul-dub through Funimation for those who prefer to go that way. When the show gets a home video release, I’ll probably come back and update this space with more information on how to pick it up.
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