In Short:

SSSS.Gridman is a 2018 anime by Studio Trigger that centers around four high school students living in a seemingly normal world, one of whom transforms into the building-sized, robot-looking hero known as Gridman in order to protect his city from equally large kaiju monsters. The show is packed full of great animation, terrific action, excellent characters, and stand out music, as well as a well told plot that has some nicely hidden depth.

Suggested Watch Minimum: 2 episodes. You need to see the full results of the first kaiju attack before making a decision on SSSS.Gridman.

Full Review:

SSSS.Gridman, for me, was an “eh, I might as well try it” kind of show. I’m not such a big fan of Godzilla, Power Rangers, or the numerous “giant-sized hero fights giant monsters who are very obviously guys in monster suits” type shows. They always felt too cheap and silly to me. SSSS.Gridman, though, knocked the formula clear out of the park, scoring a grand slam, a drop goal, and an extra point all at the same time. Yes, it’s that good!

It’s a little hard to say much about SSSS.Gridman given that I tend to be a little more protective of first time viewers of shows I really like. At its core, the show is about four high school students: Hibiki Yūta – a normal student who wakes up one evening with amnesia, Utsumi Shō – something of a nerd and lover of old kaiju shows, and Rikka Takarada – a girl who would prefer a normal life and is shocked by what takes place around her. There’s also Akane Shinjō, who hates it when things don’t go her way.

One day, kaiju start appearing in the city, and it’s up to Hibiki to merge with Gridman, some sort of high tech computer based guardian, in order to put a stop to them. Along the way, Gridman picks up new allies and enemies as the ongoing conflict escalates. As the show continues, we learn more about the why these monstrous kaiju are attacking the city, and who is sending them. The answers are interesting and character driven and go far beyond the typical “an evil villain did it.”

SSSS.Gridman features insane, highly detailed action sequences, great effects, wonderful character animation, and some high octane action music that lets the show kick ass every episode. The battle scenes have that same “these monsters are moving really fast but are also really big so they look slow and powerful” feel that Pacific Rim had a few years back. When Gridman appears, he typically lands in the street and the entire surrounding city shakes as cars and debris are thrown dozens of feet into the air. The attention to detail is just outstanding. And so is the combat. From massive energy beams to rocket accelerated punches, to classic kaiju throws, SSSS.Gridman delivers.

Gridman saves the city from the kaiju time and time again as our three friends try to figure out what’s causing it all. The things they learn are pretty shocking. Out of our three leads, I really enjoyed the realistic human emotions given to Rikka. The way she frets over her friends throughout the series, even to the point of inaction, felt very believable and very well done to me.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention the music. It’s interesting in that SSSS.Gridman actually doesn’t use music that often, and when it does, it mainly uses its opening theme “Union” as Gridman’s upbeat battle song. And that’s kinda it. Most of the non-action scenes don’t have significant music backing them, but it works because the tension and dialogue keep things moving just fine on their own. But, wow, when the show does use music, it does so perfectly to further amp up the action.

All In All:

I’ve got no real wrap-up this time. I’m just here to say good things about SSSS.Gridman. Great art. Great animation. Great action. Great characters. Great plot. Great music. And some nicely hidden depth to its story and characters. Just go watch SSSS.Gridman, already.

Oh, and be sure to watch until literally the very last second or you will miss out! You’ll also want to watch the official music video of “Union” by OxT for a final few scenes of closure after you finish the series.

I held off talking about the plot until this section because it is so tied up with the mental state of Akane Shinjō. The show takes some care to obscure her role in the story for the first episode, but from the second episode on it’s clear she is the driving force behind everything. And, as the story unfolds more and more, we find out that “everything” really does mean “everything.”

It turns out Akane is dreaming, and everything in her dream city is set up for her by her. The city layout. The school. Even all the people who populate the city. None of them are real. All of them are geared to the ideal world that Akane wishes she lived in. Including our three main characters. Even Akane is an idealized version of her true self in this dream world!

Take a closer look at Akane. In her dream world, she is a back row student with big breasts and oddly bleached hair who lives alone in a house packed with kaiju models and garbage bags. Despite not really ever doing anything other than sitting at her desk, she is easily the most popular girl in the entire school. Everyone wants to hang out with her all the time. They’re almost always gathered around her desk. Everything about Akane, her looks, her popularity, her carefree living conditions, they’re all made up and made perfect to one extent or another.

What does this say about the real world Akane? Does she not like her appearance? Does she wish she was more popular? Does she enjoy kaiju but has to keep her like of monster movies and models a secret? Maybe! But let’s keep going.

Think about Hibiki. Near the end of the series, Gridman says he was only able to take over Hibiki’s body because… and then something distracts Gridman and we don’t hear the reasoning!

But, I think we can tease out what he was going to say. Right near the end of the series, in the final episode, Rikka and Utsumi again speculate on why Gridman choose Hibiki and we’re shown a very interesting scene. We see Akane at her desk surrounded by her many friends, but then there’s Hibiki sitting beside her, not paying her any attention. Instead, he’s looking towards Rikka at the front of the room. And they notice each other. There’s a spark between them! In Akane’s perfect world, a world where everyone was built to like her, the boy she sits beside took an unexpected interest in someone other than her!

During the series, we see that Akane’s creations can have free will. Hibiki, Utsumi, and Rikka reject her perfect dream worlds. Anti overcomes his programming and instead of fighting against Gridman he fights with him. I think maybe Hibiki was the first person, and at that point the only person in Akane’s entire city, to actively go against her designs. That’s pretty cool.

But, there’s another, super fascinating layer to that. We know Akane can’t control a whole world by herself based on what she said near the very end. Even creating a river rafting play space for a day trip takes her time and effort. So, it seems likely that she also didn’t hand design each and every person in her city or even in her classroom. Rather, the city, the classroom, and all the people in her dream world are copies or replicas of people and places she knows from the real world. Maybe Hibiki is a representation of a boy she likes in school? That could make sense. Akane clearly likes him in the dream world, and is attracted to him. It even takes her to the next to the last episode to physically attack him despite knowing that he’s the one constantly messing up her plans. She targeted and killed people with her kaiju for far less than that!

So then, what about Rikka? I think Rikka is a lot more interesting than she first appears and is more critical to the plot than is stated out loud. Think back to all the times Rikka and Akane interact. Think of how Akane singles Rikka out to be her friend when she has people fawning over her already. Take note of all the similarities between Akane and Rikka. For instance:

  • In the dream world, Rikka and Akane live directly next door to each other, a coincidence Akane must have designed.
  • They both hate walking to school when it’s hot out so they take the bus on hot sunny days.
  • They dislike the group date with Arcadia for very nearly the exact same reasons.
  • They don’t want to join a high school club and both would just rather go home at the end of the day.
  • They excuse themselves from awkward situations in the same formal manner.
  • They both dislike school festivals.
  • They both are prone to getting depressed and curling in on themselves with their knees against their chests when they’re upset.
  • And, this is the big one, Rikka in the dream world has the hair and build of Akane when she wakes up in the real world!

Here’s what I think happened. Unlike Hibiki, Rikka isn’t a copy of a real world friend used to populate Akane’s dream world. No. She is, in actuality, Akane’s projection of her real world self!

To put it more simply: Rikka is Akane.

There are so many scenes where Akane and Rikka react the same, talk the same, and even move the same. I didn’t notice this the first time through, but watching the show again a second time, knowing that Rikka is Akane’s creation the entire time, it just jumped out at me how similar the two are.

And that ties back in to Gridman and Hibiki in a fun way. Hibiki, the boy that Akane created, the one she choose to sit by in class, the one who should be drawn to her just like everyone else. He actually did like her. Did fall for her. He just fell for Rikka, the more real version of her. I think Akane subconsciously set up Hibiki to like her, but he saw through the fake version Akane choose for herself and ended up liking the more realistic version by mistake. And that little, unintentional defiance on Hikibi’s part gave Gridman his way in to help save Akane from herself. That’s pretty cool!

As for Utsumi? I wonder if he’s not a projection of Akane’s kaiju obsession in some way.

Let’s see… what else?

I really liked Akane’s choice to leave. Her friends convinced her that it’s no good being alone. That she needs to lean on and rely on the people around her. And so she does, but she also says that she’s done too many terrible things to her fictional world and that she needs to choose to leave it and go back to her real world. The first time around, I thought her choice was simply to vanish at the end. But no. It was a lot more deliberate than that! Look closer. She packed up her room. She cleaned up all the trash. She placed all her things into neat, tidy, sealed moving boxes. It was a very deliberate act on her part to go away. And when she does vanish, note that all her boxes leave with her while Rikka stays behind in that empty room in Akane’s empty house. It was a powerful moment, and also one that I think fully confirms that Akane’s dream world will continue on without her.

The last thing I’d like to note is the final thirty seconds of the series. The part where Akane wakes up in the real world. At first I saw it as a cop out. “It was all a dream!” is one of the worst turns a story can take. But here, the ending doesn’t take away from the story. It’s a continuation of it. It adds closure to it.

Multiple times during the show, most notably during episode 9 where everyone was dreaming, Akane is told that she too needs to wake up from her dream. And she does! But the coolest part of that is, her story doesn’t end with the end of the show. Go watch the official music video of OxT’s “Union”. We see Akane wake up and go out to meet up with her friends, possibly to tag along with them on the way to school.

I think the takeaway there is the real Akane had some sort of trouble at school. Perhaps boy trouble. She went home mad, depressed, angry. She had a dream where she ruled everything and could fix anything she didn’t like. During that dream, the alien Alexis Kerib invaded her mind and gave her the power to shape her world by making kaiju. She got so tied up in it and in her negative emotions that eventually she even saw killing as ok as long as it made her feel better. But then, Gridman came and together with some of the created inhabitants of Akane’s dream world, he managed to remind her that she had friends she could rely on. When she wakes up in the real world, she feels better about herself and the first thing she does is go track down and join up with her friends.

One last thing worth noting is an area I don’t have a ton of knowledge in but should be pointed out anyway. SSSS.Gridman is based on and may be even a direct continuation of the 1993 Japanese live action show “Gridman the Hyper Agent”. Many of the things that seem to come out of nowhere like the Fixer Beam or the kaiju girl who told Hibiki about Akane are directly related to the older series. I haven’t done anything so crazy as try to track down all the references, but just know that a lot of the unexplained didn’t just spring up from nowhere. They were probably things that happened a couple of decades ago that got a knowing mention in this new series.