The World Wide Web of Human Pain: SSSS.Gridman

If you were to ask me what my favorite Power Rangers-type show was as a child, it would undoubtedly be Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad. I distinctly recall running around the house yelling “SUPERHUMAN SAMURAI!!!!” mimicking both the theme song and the TV commercial jingle. So while I’ve never seen the original Gridman the Hyper Agent in Japanese that provided the source material, SSSS.Gridman was an instant must-watch—especially because it was being made by Studio Trigger (Little Witch AcademiaKill la Kill).

SSSS.Gridman is ostensibly about a boy named Yuuta who can merge with a computer entity called Gridman the Hyper Agent and use his abilities to fight off giant monsters attacking their city. However, it quickly feels more like a bizarre paranormal mystery that seems eager to deal out the truth piecemeal. Often times the show is seemingly less concerned with personal character development and more about pulling back the curtain. One of the biggest questions is how the monsters and even Gridman himself, who were previously confined to the computer realm, are manifesting in the real world.

The result of SSSS.Gridman‘s peculiar mixture of ingredients is that it can feel like a never-ending ocean of information to explore in both profound and frivolous ways. Somehow, it simultaneously presents itself as both a shallow case of “geek-info/reference overcharge” and an introspective look at the pain and suffering of human interaction.

The series is full of odd details that aren’t exactly vital but add to a certain meta-ness that can enhance enjoyment of SSSS.Gridman. Two side characters in the series actually come from a yuri short story by the series director. Most if not all of the characters in the anime are based on a Botcon convention-exclusive mirror-universe series called Transformers: Shattered Glass. it’s a strangely elaborate reference to make, almost purely for enjoyment’s sake (and to get the Transformers fans jumping out of their seats), or perhaps as a wink and nod to the fact that the company Takara had a hand in both Transformers and Dengeki Choujin Gridman. Even the title, SSSS.Gridman seems to be willing to play into its own American adaptation. After all, how else would a fan of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad interpret the series?

But then the anime also makes references so as to hint at the true natures of its characters, or to foreshadow what’s to come. It’s really deep-cut stuff that generally involves using monsters and motifs of past tokusatsu works (especially from Tsubaraya Productions, the studio behind Ultraman and Gridman), and far beyond my knowledge or experience to have picked up without outside reference (thanks to Mike Dent!) However, it’s not as if one needs to get every in-joke or obscure callback to understand SSSS.Gridman and where it’s going. The series is another showcase of one of Studio Trigger’s great strengths: the ability to put in all of that under-the-surface content for hardcore fans without alienating newcomers. The references aren’t a barrier to entry so much as a reward for the faithful, and it’s as much a sign of love as the very movements of the monsters themselves, who despite being animated in 3DCG are made to behave like people in rubber suits as a way of replicating the live-action feel of the original Gridman.

Right to the end, SSSS.Gridman seems to change and shift, and it can be difficult (though not impossible) to predict where it’s truly headed. Watching the series unfold is a quiet yet boisterous joy that captures simultaneously the anxieties and wonders of both childhood and adulthood.

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