Team TokuNet staff writer Brody Salzman dissects Studio Trigger’s anime tokusatsu tribute, SSSS.Gridman, and how its ending changed everything.
Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers. Please be advised.
The Winter anime season is drawing to a close, and the Fall anime season’s SSSS.Gridman from Studio Trigger is still weighing heavily on my mind. When it finished airing in December, Trigger left audiences with a lot to ponder. With a mere twelve-episode run and its roots in a 90’s tokusatsu show from Tsuburaya, what made SSSS.Gridman so deeply moving?
To answer this question, you need to understand a few things about Denkou Choujin Gridman and its adaptation.
Enter The Grid
Tsuburaya’s Denkou Choujin Gridman (Gridman The Hyper Agent) is a 1993 tokusatsu superhero show about a group of kids who create a digital superhero character that becomes possessed by the inter-dimensional “Hyper Agent,” Gridman. By using his Accepter to perform “Access Flash,” one of the kids, Naoto, enters the computer world through a PC called Junk and combines with Gridman to fight Khan Digifier’s monsters. Khan Digifier is a demon Gridman chased from Hyper World, and he manipulates a kid into helping him create monsters which wreak havoc on the computer world, causing difficulty in the human world as a result.
The plot structure of the show is that monsters-of-the-week cause trouble in the human world, and Gridman always grows giant within the computer world to face them. He typically defeats the monsters with his Grid Beam and repairs the damage using his Fixer Beam. Gridman’s energy was also limited to that of Junk, and if Junk were to crash he would be deleted. One year after Gridman began airing, Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad began airing in the US. In this show, Gridman’s name is changed to Servo, and band leader named Sam Collins combines with Servo to fight Kilokahn’s Mega-Viruses. The “SSSS” in the title of Trigger’s Gridman successor is a reference to this American adaptation.
Many details found in the original Denkou Choujin Gridman and Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad were later referenced or included in SSSS.Gridman, but let’s talk about just how much of an influence tokusatsu had on the show.
SSSS.Gridman certainly isn’t the only example of a tokusatsu property seeing an anime installation in its series. Recently, the Godzilla franchise had an animated film trilogy concluded, and Ultraman just had a Netflix anime based on an alternate-future manga premiere.
However, Studio Trigger went above and beyond in their efforts to create a show that felt like a homage to not only Denkou Choujin Gridman but all of tokusatsu.
From the very beginning, Trigger set up their world to operate like a tokusatsu superhero show. The CGI kaiju are animated and designed like the kinds of rubber costumes one might expect to see in the original Gridman or even in Super Sentai. For instance, Gridman’s first opponent, Ghoulghilas, has a long protruding neck and a large humpback. The suit actor’s head would probably be in the hump with the head sticking out from his chest. There are even large orb-like pieces on the hump which could be how the actor would see. On top of this, all the CGI animation has a certain lumbering nature to it that mimics how suit actors really move in the costumes.
As another example, Go’yavec is a massive kaiju which likely would have been just part of the set or painted into the background, based on the way it was framed in every shot. The attention to detail in animating the show to look like a tokusatsu production goes beyond just the kaiju. The way cars bounce around instead of catching fire, breaking apart, or even exploding is meant to mimic the sets for such scenes involving large scale battles in tokusatsu shows.
There are many more examples of tokusatsu-inspired sequences I could point out like the way all of the extra weapons and armor for Gridman enter alongside one another when they come in together like the robots in Sentai shows like Zyuranger/Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers before they combine, but I think the point has been made. The people behind SSSS.Gridman designed its entire show to feel and look like a traditional tokusatsu production so much so that most of the show could have been actually filmed in live action. This show is a true tribute to tokusatsu and that alone is why it’s more than worth discussing here.
Still, Trigger did even more than just pay tribute to tokusatsu and its source material. Trigger created a love letter to fans of Gridman with deeply-seeded connections and references to the world of the first show. They crafted a story that, while it seems straightforward at first, reveals its deepest layers in one rather short scene.
Let’s make like Naoto standing in front of Junk and jump into it.
The Story of SSSS.Gridman, The Story of the Gridman Alliance
If you’ve seen the show, this section isn’t necessary to read. However, it highlights some of the most significant parts.
SSSS.Gridman follows Yuta Hibiki who wakes up with amnesia and discovers that large kaiju are attacking his home city, Tsutsujidai. Hearing the voice of Gridman calling from an old computer in a junk shop owned by the mother of his classmate, Rikka, Yuta discovers he can enter the computer and combine with Gridman to fight the kaiju. Strangely, the city is set back to normal the next day, and everyone’s memories are wiped of the kaiju encounter as well as of anyone who died in the attack. Gridman gives Yuta an Accepter and together with Rikka and his friend from before the amnesia, Sho, they form the Gridman Alliance with the goal of defeating the kaiju while getting to the bottom of the mysterious attacks.
Soon, four hyper agents appear, claiming to be “Neon Genesis Junior High School students” who can also enter the computer and become support gear for Gridman. They help guide the Gridman Alliance in their battles. Before long, Yuta meets a small girl who is actually a kaiju. This “Kaiju Girl,” as we’ll call her for now, reveals that the group’s classmate, Akane Shinjo, is actually the god of their world who’s been creating the kaiju to eliminate whatever and whoever she doesn’t like. Akane uses the large “scenery-like kaiju” that only the Gridman Alliance can see to fix the city under the cover of a memory-wiping fog. Kaiju Girl also reveals that Akane is being manipulated by a being from outside their world.
Meanwhile, Akane creates a kaiju boy named Anti whose sole purpose is destroying Gridman by copying his abilities. He transforms from a human-like form into a giant kaiju, and Akane rewards him with meals. However, Anti grows increasingly aware of the complications of his life’s purpose. What would he do once Gridman was destroyed? Can he attack Yuta if his enemy is Gridman? After all, Yuta is not Gridman, himself, is he? As Anti wavers in his devotion to his mission, Akane considers him a failure of a creation. Behind the scenes, an alien named Alexis Kerib pushes Akane to make more kaiju even as she begins to doubt herself.
Anti finally joins the Gridman Alliance after figuring that if Gridman were destroyed, he would have no purpose. He transforms into a new form: Gridknight!
As these events unfold, one of Gridman’s fights reveals that there truly is nothing outside the city. Flying high into the sky, Gridman and Yuta discover a strange ceiling in the sky that has the appearance of computer circuits, though that last part isn’t pointed out. Then, in a particularly fascinating episode, Akane traps the Gridman alliance in their own dream worlds in which she is best friends with them. She tries to keep them there, but they make the decision to return to reality because they cannot delude themselves forever. They reject the fantasies where Akane made them happy. This episode’s events will be important later in my analysis.
Finally, as Akane falls into desperation, she stabs Yuta with a knife, hoping he’ll die so he can no longer become Gridman. When he wakes up, he fully awakens as Gridman inside Yuta’s body. Yuta had amnesia because it was never Yuta to begin with. Gridman is able to join Gridknight in a decisive battle against all of Akane’s kaiju from the past. However, Akane refuses to make more kaiju for Alexis Kerib. With no options left, he turns her into a kaiju. Even so, Anti is able to save her from within it. In a last ditch effort to feed on Akane’s negative emotions, Alexis Kerib combines with Akane to turn himself into a powerful kaiju.
Finally, with the entire Gridman Alliance present, it’s revealed that the Neon Genesis Junior High students are also part of Gridman’s full consciousness. Everyone but Rikka and Sho are given Accepters to unite their hearts. Even elsewhere, a fatally wounded Anti also calls out, “Access Flash.” As Rikka and Sho type the access code, “GRIDMAN,” the “Special Signature to Save a Soul,” Gridman takes on his true form: the suit design from Denkou Choujin Gridman. Together, the Gridman Alliance defeats Alexis Kerib by fixing Akane’s broken heart with his true power: the Fixer Beam. This also fixes all the damage done to the world.
Akane decides to return to her own world; the world of the gods, saying goodbye to Rikka who considers her to be a true friend. Before departing for Hyper World, Gridman reveals that even as he inhabited Yuta, Yuta’s romantic feelings for Rikka came through. He explains the real Yuta will awaken soon, and the group leaves. Sho ponders why Gridman chose to inhabit Yuta as Yuta wakes up.
But that wasn’t the end. There was a final scene that changed everything.
Dear Gridman Fans… Love, Trigger
Before we get into that final scene, I understand that was a lot of information. I want to take some time to point out how much of a loving tribute this was to the original Gridman.
I wouldn’t expect Trigger to skip out on animating sequences seen in the original show. Sure enough, when Yuta first uses the same Accepter as in the original show to enter the computer and combine with Gridman, the two stand across from one another in the digital space with glowing lines connecting their heads before the transformation occurs. This is pulled straight from the original transformation sequence complete with the same sound effect. Additionally, the computer comes to be known as Junk like in the old show, and Sho even delivers the same line as Naoto’s friend when Naoto first joined with Gridman: “Yuta’s been swallowed by Junk.”
When Yuta and Gridman transform together, it uses the same growing effect the Ultra series has been using for years which Tsuburaya also used in Denkou Choujin Gridman. This makes it especially fitting that Sho is a huge Ultraman fan. What’s more, the room in which Gridman combines with Naoto in the original show is used as the departure point for Gridman and his fellow Hyper Agents at the end of Trigger’s show.
Did you notice how the solution to the entire show’s plot was the same Fixer Beam Gridman always used to repair the computer world in the original show? How about the circuitry in Tsutsujidai that matched the appearance of the original show’s computer world? There’s even a parallel between Alexis Kerib and Khan Digifer in that they are evil beings who take the negative feelings of kids, feeding off of them and harnessing them to create evil kaiju.
The more I look into the original Gridman, the more parallels I notice in SSSS.Gridman like how the original show’s “Thunder Gridman” uses a “Drill Break” attack similar to the new show’s “Twin Drill Break” performed by Full Powered Gridman. My personal favorite aspect is the fact that Kaiju Girl is actually Anosillus the 2nd.
The original Anosillus was a monster that dwelled within the computer world in a keyboard and used a sound-based attack based on a sound program. Khan Digifer brainwashed Anosillus, and Gridman was prepared to destroy her when Naoto’s friend, Yuka, attached a keyboard to Junk that played a melody to restore Anosillus’s mind. She is the only kaiju Gridman was able to save in the original show. Anosillus the 2nd references this when she meets Yuta and when she saves Anti at the end of the show. She wears earbuds for listening to music and a t-shirt with a treble clef on it as a reference to her “predecessor’s” specialties. She helps Gridman as thanks for saving the original Anosillus so many years ago.
Anosillus’s story offers incredible closure for fans of the original show who would remember Anosillus, and the themes of her story parallel Anti’s own story. Anti is also a kaiju who wants to pay his debts for the damage he did, and he also becomes friends with Gridman. This was the revelation that showed me just how much heart Studio Trigger poured into this project. They even saved the original Gridman character design for the end, along with the original theme song, as a way to show that was Gridman’s true power. This is why I believe SSSS.Gridman is a true love letter to fans of the original show, but it’s even more than that.
As I said, the final scene of the show changed everything. Let’s talk about it.
The True Meaning, The Story of Akane Shinjo
At the very end of the show, Rikka gave Akane a gift (a pass holder) which we got a glimpse of in a live action setting. It was strange to see live action footage at the end of an anime, but it showed a girl played by Akane’s voice actress (Reina Ueda) waking up in her bed. That’s all it showed, but details in this girl’s room (most notably, Rikka’s pass holder) hint that this girl is, indeed, Akane Shinjo in real life. This revelation blows open the door to a whole new lens through which we can analyze the show’s plot.
First, this scene acts as a sort of confirmation that the entire show takes place in the same continuity as the original Gridman. Our first hint is the fact that Gridman grows giant in the same world the humans inhabit. In the original show, he could only exist in the Computer World. The computer circuits which make up the boundaries of Tsutsujidai serve as proof that this world exists within the computer world. This also explains the room Gridman departed from at the end.
So basically, it turns out this was an anime inside of a tokusatsu show all along. This use of live action footage to reveal the anime’s framing device blew my mind, but there’s more to pick apart.
The final episode is called “Awakening” because Akane needs to literally wake up from her dream and return to reality. This directly parallels the way she traps the Gridman Alliance in dreams in episode nine. Akane is brought into her perfect dream within the computer world, and she thinks this is enough to satisfy the Gridman Alliance since she thought it was what she wanted for herself. They reject the dreams to return to reality, and this is something Akane doesn’t want to face. Still, this motif of “awakening” persists beyond just two episodes as Gridman’s true consciousness was dormant within Yuta all along until he, too, was able to awaken and utilize his full power.
While it’s unclear how Akane was brought to the computer world, Anosillus the 2nd’s take on Akane gives us some insight:
“All the kaiju that appeared until now were given birth by a single person… from the heart of a lonely human. And that’s Akane Shinjo.”
We know from her conversations with Sho (an Ultraman and kaiju fan) that Akane is practically a kaiju otaku, and she appears convinced that she doesn’t have any friends. Perhaps she was alienated by her peers for her love of kaiju (or maybe even a love of tokusatsu in general if we want to get especially meta) and shut herself away where she would be preyed on by Alexis Kerib to be manipulated into making kaiju.
We also know that the people in Tsutsujidai were created by Akane and that Akane owns not only Rikka’s pass holder in real life but also her sweater. It can be seen off to the side in the final scene. According to some, this hints at a connection between Rikka and Akane who Rikka considers a dear friend. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that Rikka is the embodiment of everything Akane doesn’t like about herself. Note how she put Rikka in a junk shop among what she considers garbage. After all, it’s natural that a creator would put aspects of herself into her creations.
In this dream world of Akane’s, Akane was able to reinvent herself and become someone she wasn’t before. If she was so lonely, of course she would make herself popular in this world. Although, we do see that she’s alone or with Alexis pretty often. Even in one of the show’s first scenes, pictured above, Akane is alone as she looks down on her creations. Nevertheless, she made herself attractive and appealing to many people in the school while Rikka would have few friends and live in a junk shop. Similarly, it seems clear that Sho represents Akane’s love of tokusatsu. As for Yuta… Well, he’s got a bit of a different role.
Gridman points out near the end that Yuta has romantic feelings for Rikka, and Sho wonders why Gridman chose him. Rikka points out that Yuta was sitting next to Akane and then thinks back to how Akane was once surrounded by people who adored her. Even Yuta’s own best friend standing next to him, stares after her. Meanwhile, Yuta was only looking at Rikka.
Again, Yuta sat right next to Akane before the events of the show. Yet, he only had eyes for Rikka who might just be the embodiment of who Akane truly is, of everything Akane doesn’t like about herself. Yuta loves the true Akane who doesn’t love herself. In truth, I think SSSS.Gridman is a story of self acceptance. Akane’s heart was broken, fixed by Gridman with the help of the one person who loved the real her. I think that’s just beautiful.
Thank You, Gridman… Thank You, Trigger…
For being only twelve episodes long, SSSS.Gridman was a seriously wild ride. Studio Trigger paid tribute to tokusatsu, to Denkou Choujin Gridman, and even to Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad. Along with that tribute, the people behind this beautiful show constructed an incredibly deep, beautiful story of self acceptance and provided some extra closure to stories from the original show.
SSSS.Gridman has become one of my favorite anime series of all time. I’m sad it’s only twelve episodes long, but it said everything it set out to say. It told its story in a perfectly contained way that left no room for anything extra. I really appreciate it. This show is, in my opinion, a must-watch for any die hard tokusatsu fan and certainly worth a look for any anime fan. I especially recommend it for anyone who watched Denkou Choujin Gridman or even Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad.
Maybe one day we’ll get to revisit the computer world. Until that day….
Thank you, Studio Trigger, for this incredible experience.
Thank you, Hyper Agent Gridman. Rest up in Hyper World.