SSSS.GRIDMAN‘s finale gave the show emotional, thematic, and even narrative closure for the viewers who paid attention to all the pieces we’ve been presented, while also offering some impressive action as the production’s final gift. These are our final thoughts on studio TRIGGER’s magnum opus, a proud heir of the Gainax spirit that was so sorely missed.
Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More: Akira Amemiya, Shuhei Handa
Episode Direction (演出, enshutsu): A creative but also coordinative task, as it entails supervising the many departments and artists involved in the production of an episode – approving animation layouts alongside the Animation Director, overseeing the work of the photography team, the art department, CG staff... The role also exists in movies, refering to the individuals similarly in charge of segments of the film.: Yoshihiro Miyajima
Animation Direction (作画監督, sakuga kantoku): The artists supervising the quality and consistency of the animation itself. They might correct cuts that deviate from the designs too much if they see it fit, but their job is mostly to ensure the motion is up to par while not looking too rough. Plenty of specialized Animation Direction roles exist – mecha, effects, creatures, all focused in one particular recurring element.: Tetsuya Hasegawa, Michel Sugimoto
Chief Animation Director (総作画監督, Sou Sakuga Kantoku): Often an overall credit that tends to be in the hands of the character designer, though as of late messy projects with multiple Chief ADs have increased in number; moreso than the regular animation directors, their job is to ensure the characters look like they're supposed to. Consistency is their goal, which they will enforce as much as they want (and can).: Masaru Sakamoto
Heroic Animation Director: Hiroki Mutaguchi
Production Assistant (制作進行, Seisaku Shinkou): Effectively the lowest ranking 'producer' role, and yet an essential cog in the system. They check and carry around the materials, and contact the dozens upon dozens of artists required to get an episode finished. Usually handling multiple episodes of the shows they're involved with. More: Rikiya Ichiyama
Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.: Masamichi Ishiyama, Atsushi Kaneki, Yoshifumi Hagano, Emi Tamura, Asami Shimizu, Sushio, Toshiyuki Sato, Kenta Yokoya, Yuho Onishi, Yusuke Kawakami, Hideki Nakagawa, Hiroki Arai, Youko Tanabe, Kengo Saito, Kana Yamaguchi, Shiori Miyazaki, Yuuki Watanabe, Yosuke Kabashima (Satelight)
Michel Sugimoto, Ken Otsuka, Hiroki Mutaguchi, Luigi Mario (lol), Hiroyuki Takashima, Bahi JD, Akira Amemiya
SSSS.GRIDMAN needed to accomplish a lot with its last episode to offer a convincing ending. And as far as I’m concerned, it absolutely did. The focus of the finale is first and foremost on giving closure to the heart of the show, but it also managed to either directly address the remaining mysteries or give us enough pieces so that we can piece together the narrative. Ultimately, SSSS.GRIDMAN is about a girl so overwhelmed by her real-life worries that she had to seek emotional refuge in a world of her own creation. We know that she might have been a bit of a nerd struggling to find friends with similar interests and dealing with social gatherings in general, as stated by herself and the fact that her fantasy is tokusatsu-themed. We can also assume that the girl had to move away from the friends she used to have (look at the typical departure gift with a collection of photos in her room) and that winter in particular seems to trigger bad memories for her; it’s no coincidence that we were shown a world dominated by exhausting heat, and yet her departure – plus the lonely Rikka shot in the ending that alludes to it – immediately leads to snow.
And so, that lonely girl’s vulnerability was exploited by an interdimensional jackass, much like Khan Digifier in the original series. Alexis Kerib’s arrival alerted the Hyper World, who dispatched Gridman with the mission to rescue her – Special Signature to Save a Soul – from the invader’s manipulation. The Hyper Agent chose Yuta as his host for the simple reason that in a world programmed to adore its creator, he was the one person who cared more deeply about someone else; this also lends credence to the idea that right before the show, Yuta confessed to Rikka, hence her initial displeased reaction about his amnesia. Gridman eventually remembered what he was capable of all along, liberating the actual protagonist from her self-destructive seclusion. As much as genre tropes indicate that victory allows you to press a button to restore everything, though, SSSS.GRIDMAN‘s never intended to whitewash the girl’s crimes. Alexis remarked that unlike his predecessor, he didn’t actually brainwash his host. When she realizes it’s important to leave by her own will, the hand that makes the move is stained with blood. So, while it pains Rikka and her very deeply, she accepts never to return to the world that she’s done so much damage to. Only then she can awaken in the real world with renewed will to live. That’s Shinjo Akane’s story.
If you’re thinking that some details are still cryptic or seemingly ignored: well, you’re right. We still don’t know why Rikka’s mother had yellow eyes, something that’s been coded to the beings from another dimension – could she quite literally be the Luluco character she shares voice actress and design elements with?! Is the similarity between Rikka’s design and Akane’s real appearance a sign that she was her ideal or that she sought self-acceptance? There’s plenty to ponder about, information we simply aren’t privy to even though the team behind the series definitely thought of it; if you want to check just how deliberate everything in the series was, simply return to the ending set in the real world, or the opening with its lyrics about saving someone and one shot that sums up the entire premise.
Nevertheless, I’m not walking away from SSSS.GRIDMAN with the feeling of having experienced an incomplete work in any way. By this point it was a given that the show would fulfill its aesthetic goals. It offered a nostalgic experience that clicked even with the viewers who hadn’t experienced this franchise in the past (a lot of them, considering its relative obscurity) because the creators understood the appeal of the genre in the first place; incidentally, I’ve got to thank the writer Keiichi Hasegawa for insisting on the original opening playing as an insert song as a must despite the copyright nightmares it caused. And after this last episode, I can confidently say we’ve been given enough pieces to make it a narrative success too… and most importantly, a thematic one. SSSS.GRIDMAN encourages us to face our lives, but it’s too kind of a show to reject escapism – after all, it was in the world Akane created where she found her drive to move forward. Much like her, Series Director: (監督, kantoku): The person in charge of the entire production, both as a creative decision-maker and final supervisor. They outrank the rest of the staff and ultimately have the last word. Series with different levels of directors do exist however – Chief Director, Assistant Director, Series Episode Director, all sorts of non-standard roles. The hierarchy in those instances is a case by case scenario. Akira Amemiya was a tokusatsu nerd who loved series like Gridman the Hyper Agent. That doesn’t mean the entire series is autobiographical, but I believe that its thesis might have been the same conclusion he arrived to, hence why it feels so authentic.
Though those are my closing thoughts on the show as a whole, I owe you some final remarks on the show’s production as well. Don’t expect many surprises, though; a major upside to covering a show with an identity as consistent as SSSS.GRIDMAN‘s is that by the end of it, we’ve already talked about every single element. With Yoshihiro Miyajima and Amemiya himself – arguably the two most important directors in the entire show – handling the finale, it was bound to deliver more of the same in the best of way. It expanded on the existing visual vocabulary, taking existing compositions that captured Akane’s oppressive feelings and bringing them into their most extreme, striking form. Even the shamelessly referential shots have remained just as evocative, achieving that magical balance of fun self-indulgence and poignancy. Up until the end, the characters have inhabited a setting that felt like a natural extension of their existence due to the large number of full cel shots, giving a feeling of authenticity to a world that, while technically fake, was validated by the message of the show as well.
Throughout this show, Amemiya’s shown to be a director with very clear ideas and, perhaps most importantly, possessing the ability to realize them properly. This alone would be a reason to rejoice, but I’m especially happy about him being able to channel his endless love for Hideaki Anno into a genuine legacy of his work. In the same way that the mecha animation has been non-stop nods to Masami Obari – a story with a happy end despite some unexpected friction – Amemiya’s direction has taken countless cues from Anno’s, ultimately using a similar toolset to convey a message that all Evangelion fans will be familiar with. While always feeling like its own thing, SSSS.GRIDMAN felt like a worthy heir of the intangible Gainax spirit, a rare occurrence despite the massive aesthetic influence the studio’s golden age had over other titles. After this show, I’d welcome Amemiya to the select group of directors who’ve managed this feat in recent years – and by select I mean it’s really just him and Kazuya Tsurumaki. Which is to say that if you enjoyed this series and haven’t seen much of the latter’s modern work yet, I recommend you go watch I can Friday by day and both versions of The Dragon Dentist. After that, feel free to cry about Khara’s inactivity.
What about the animation, then? SSSS.GRIDMAN offered a different style than people have come to expect to from TRIGGER, partly because its goals and creative origins laid elsewhere, and partly because the staff wasn’t quite the same as usual to begin with; the production was for the most part carried by outsiders and animators who don’t usually have protagonist roles in the studio’s productions, yet everyone proved to be prepared to handle that responsibility. If we look at the finale in particular, the most exciting incident in the finale was the subversion of how the action was approached. Up until this point, the fights had been clearly split between the very nostalgic, often outright referential hand-drawn tidbits and the more complex CGi sequences. Since the former are meant to capture the charm of older mecha and tokusatsu works, the more traditional craft is a must, but pretty much all continuous and large-scale action setpieces had been studio Graphinica’s 3D work.
That arrangement worked out well enough, since for once the CGi was aesthetically and qualitatively up to par. Graphinica rejected the even fluidity that CGi leans itself to – a valid avenue, but not the most fitting complement to anime’s timing – while at the same time avoiding the clunky pitfalls of most limited 3D animation in this industry. The movement and impact borrowed traditional techniques like smears and squash&stretch, capturing that ethereal je ne sais quoi that makes things so satisfying for an audience used to hand-drawn anime’s feel; at no point it felt like rendering those action scenes on the 1s would improve them, if anything they’d lose a bit of their magic. As a result, we got some fairly ambitious setpieces that increased the diversity of Gridman’s portrayal but maintained enough of the same essence that it didn’t feel like two different shows taped together.
Yusuke Kawakami’s sequence, brought to life with the help of other SSSS.GRIDMAN regulars like Kai Ikarashi and Gen Asano.
But as you can see, the last episode decided to screw with conventions and gave the 2D animations a chance to go wild with the final confrontation. Quite a few regulars in the team love to draw robots and handle action sequences in general, so they’d been doing the most they could with the limited opportunities… until the very end, which allowed them to unleash their potential. Members of the core team like Yusuke Kawakami, whom we’d seen diversifying his output with scenes like the Access Flash stock footage and my favorite bit of acting in the whole show, returned for something more akin to his specialty; if his usage of Blender to build a three-dimensional battlefield feels very familiar, it might be because you recently saw it in Black Clover‘s impossible episode. And much like the specialists from the core staff, the robot-loving guests also had a ton of fun. Yosuke Kabashima checked the live-action footage for the tokusatsu series over and over to nail every shape and even the lighting when animating Gridman reverting to its original design, while Ken Otsuka handled its moment of distress with the ringing alarm before firing a beam at Alexis in retaliation.
And speaking of guests, there are quite a few noteworthy names worth bringing up! As we’d mentioned in the previous post, some animators attached to Promare‘s production put time aside to help out with SSSS.GRIDMAN‘s finale. The most eye-catching of them all was Bahi JD, whose camerawork proved for an excellent follow-up to Kawakami’s kinetic madness. TRIGGER’s upcoming title isn’t the only one with an interesting relationship with this production, however. If you’re following this season’s Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, you might be aware that it happens to be Shiori Miyazaki‘s main occupation at the moment. As someone brought up at studio OLM but who truly matured under Yoh Yoshinari’s direction, you won’t be surprised to hear that for a couple of episodes in that series – 3 and 9 to be specific – she gathered so much help from TRIGGER people that they might as well count as stealthily outsourced works. You can consider her appearance on the first and last episodes of SSSS.GRIDMAN a payback… though considering the production schedules for both titles, these likely came first.
Who’s the most noteworthy guest appearance in this finale, then? I’m going to give that award to Luigi Mario, an animator who chooses to remain anonymous when they appear in high profile industry gathering that conflict with their main job. Since right about every animator is currently busy playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, seeing the mysterious plumber in the credits for SSSS.GRIDMAN‘s last episode felt appropriate. And with this silly remark to an otherwise important show, our coverage comes to an end!
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