SSSS.Gridman – 09 – Don’t Wake Up! , Or: The Intolerable Dilemma of Shinjou Akane

This week things start out different…and weird. Well, weird-er by SSSS standards. A new kaiju appears in the city, from the POV of a random passerby on the phone. We know there’s something fishy going on when Yuuta wakes up in Rikka’s apartment and Akane is there instead, even calling Rikka’s mother her’s.

There’s too much fog; too little activity; and in the glare of many a shiny object, Gridman can be seen for an instant, but goes unnoticed by a confused, amnesiac Yuuta, who at first takes it on face value that he and Akane is dating.

Meanwhile, at school, Rikka goes to the nurse’s office to find Akane already there. The two are friendly together, as friends are (and much like the end credits unfold), then Akane takes her to her house, as friends do. There are no parents, just Alexis, whose odd appearance Akane explains away as elaborate cosplay.

Then, in a repeat of an older scene, Akane strikes up a conversation with Shou in the bookstore about mecha and kaiju and the two hit it off, much to Shou’s delight. While walking home to or from school, we see Akane happily walking with Yuuta, her watch on his wrist. She leans in to hold his hand…and everything pauses.

These three scenarios involving Akane and the three members of the Gridman Alliance are all occurring in dreams. In “real life” (whatever that is) the three are unconscious on the couch in the junk store. The kaiju stands menacingly outside, striding about, but isn’t destroying anything.

As Anti learns when he tries to attacking it (being told by Neon Genesis that its keeping Gridman from appearing), it is a kaiju out of phase: unable to affect anything; unable to be affected. Akane is atop a construction crane with Alexis, watching the dreams…and hoping.

Not hoping to defeat Gridman, or kill someone she doesn’t like…but hoping these three can be re-made to be her friends, as they were originally programmed by her to be.

But the longer the three dwell in the dream, the more they feel like something’s not right. In a graveyard, in the glint of the gravestone of the family of one of the classmates Akane killed, Gridman appears again. In a flash, Yuuta’s memory has returned; at least the bit where he can be confident he’s currently in a dream.

After showering him with attention and rare swag, and about to be invited to Akane’s place to spend the night, Shou also snaps out of it; this is all just too good to be true; too ideal. On the bus, Rikka also quietly comes to the realization she’s not on a real bus and this isn’t her real life…and Akane just might not be a real friend.

She pleads for all three not to wake up; not to go. But they go. Three times she must watch someone get up and three times she must hear the sound of receding footsteps. Three times she’s left alone. Three times her hopes are shattered. The friends she made for herself have abandoned her and allied with each other. No matter what she tells them, or what she gives them, they’ll leave her for each other.

As the kaiju materializes and begins its march of destruction in the real world, the three friends run toward one another, and towards Gridman, in his time of need. Neon Genesis mobilizes on their own, de-scaling and combining into a kind of “substitute hero mecha” to bring down the kaiju.

What’s left is a cloud of dust, and Akane, in her created world, still profoundly, intolerably alone. She asks no one in particular what she should do before jumping from the tower and plummeting hundreds of feet. She lands on her feet, physically unharmed but clearly mentally spent.

At first, Akane was a one-dimensional villain: create kaiju to defeat Gridman every week. But after who-knows how many iterations of that scenario, Akane seems tired, worn out, and above all, lonely and miserable. If it was Alexis who gave her the powers she possesses, perhaps she was excited about having them….at first.

But now those powers have created a cycle without end with no friends to comfort her. A dream from which she cannot wake. A prison from which there is no escape—not even suicide.

As Yuuta, Rikka, and Shou wake up in the shop, and thank Gridman for bringing them out of their dreams, Gridman informs them there’s still a fourth human who must wake from their dream. Then Rikka tells everyone there’s something she wants them all to hear. I for one can’t wait to hear what that is.

So ends the best Gridman episode to date; one that harkens to the weirdest headspaces and corners of Evangelion (the background sound of clanging we hear at one point is straight from Rei’s ‘hood); and even one that seems to take some steps in its own directions after drawing from Gridman lore for so long.

Even if this is more of that borrowed and reimagined mythos, you couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous, cerebral, unnerving, and ultimately  heartbreaking execution. I’ve never felt more for Akane’s plight than I do now, which is quite a feat considering the wrongs she’s committed. And I hope that Rikka, Yuuta and Shou can help her escape her prison and wake from her dream.

SSSS.Gridman – 08 – Stealing a Kaiju March

When Neon Genesis shows up at Yuuta, Rikka and Shou’s school—with outside shoes—and risks being reported or escorted away, you know something big is brewing. Akane has dusted off the first kaiju she built to defeat Gridman and souped it up into a kind of mega-mecha-kaiju.

She’s also not shy about her role in the kaiju-making. Assuming Yuuta has caught Rikka and Shou up, she tells them upfront that she designed her latest kaiju especially to attack the school’s cultural festival. If they don’t like it, well, they’re just going to have to try and stop her…if they can.

How to proceed creates a rift in the “Gridman Alliance”, which I only put in quotes because in the midst of said rift Rikka calls into question whether it’s an alliance at all, since only Shou has been insisting that’s what they are. Shou thinks they need to fight at all costs, but Rikka is far more hesitant—Akane is her friend; she doesn’t want to fight her friend.

When Shou accuses her of letting her emotions rule, Rikka wordlessly stalks away, and Shou knows he’s stepped in it. At school, Yuuta and Shou again try to get through to Akane, asking if she’ll have the battle somewhere else where their classmates won’t get hurt. But Akane hates the festival, and suspects the two of them wouldn’t mind if it were interrupted by a cool kaiju battle. There’s nothing left to say; she ain’t budging from her plans.

Back at the junk store an extremely hungry, one-eyed Anti shows up looking for Rikka…then passes out. Rikka’s mom feeds him and he goes on his way without incident.

In one of the more unsettling scenes of the entire show, Rikka is alone on a bus with Akane, hoping to change her mind about attacking. But Akane hugs her from behind, lauding her for being such “a good girl,” and assuring her no matter what she does, Rikka will never hate her, because she’s been “set up from the start” to like Akane like everyone else in the city.

Akane is convinced she is a god and there’s no one to prove otherwise, even though I wonder how far she’d get without Alexis’ help. Rikka leaves the bus, no doubt creeped out at the prospect of having been born programmed to be Akane’s friend.

She meets with Yuuta and reveals another reason she’s so upset about the whole situation: she feels she hasn’t contributed anything to the Gridman Alliance. All she feels she’s done is be related to the people who own the junk store and computer. But Yuuta tells her she’s wrong: she has contributed vital moral support throughout this whole ordeal.

Yuuta draws courage and strength knowing she and Shou are cheering him and Gridman on. Sadly, when Yuuta tries to use the opportunity to say more about how he feels personally towards her, she interrupts by saying she’ll apologize to Shou tomorrow, saying it would be folly to think Shou would apologize first.

Her mention of “going first” illuminates a light bulb in Yuuta’s head, and suddenly he has the right plan for the festival: Gridman will invade the school first, forcing an evacuation before Akane can mobilize her kaiju. He also has Gridman summoned at only half-size in order to allow all the Neon Genesis to sortie at once and combine to form Full Combo Gridman, who is of a size with Akane’s mega-mecha-kaiju.

The ensuing battle takes place outside of the school, leaving the festival untouched, which Akane is very upset aboutin addition to being outmaneuvered when Gridman appeared first, the opposite of how it’s always gone.

More frustratingly for her, even her new upgraded kaiju isn’t much of a match for the Combo Gridman, who pulls of its head, launches it into the stratosphere, tosses it down to the earth, then cleaves it with a gold-plated finishing move.

In the midst of the battle both Rikka and Shou are by the computer, watching and cheering Yuuta on as usual, and that’s how they get over their previous rift. After all, they all tried their best to dissuade Akane and she simply wouldn’t listen. Friend or not, her attack had to be stopped lest more people die.

After the battle the three participate in their class’ “reverse gender cosplay cafe”, resulting in Maid Shou apologizing to Sea Captain Rikka while a pleased Schoolgirl Yuuta looks on.

As for Akane, who was so sure that this time she’d win and that she couldn’t lose, stays home, lying on the floor of her filthy house, in the dark…a fallen god. Maybe she’s just done with this…one can only endure so many defeats until it’s just not fun anymore.

Alexis isn’t mean or anything, but he’s very firm in his belief that she can “do better” than this. However she feels here and now, Alexis isn’t done with her, and intends to keep relying on her inimitable “talents.” More and more it’s looking like it’s ultimately not the city that must be saved from Akane’s kaiju, but Akane who needs to be saved from Alexis.

SSSS.Gridman – 07 – City in the Sky

While the Gridman Alliance is still in force, neither Rikka nor Shou believe much of what Yuuta tells them about his encounter with the little kaiju girl and Shinjou Akane’s role in creating kaiju and destroying/rebuilding the city. They even break out kimochi warui, a famous line in Evangelion.

Yuuta knows he can only find out what’s up from Akane from Akane herself, but for a number of reasons he just can’t come out and ask her about such things. Anti also invades the school unbidden, accosts Yuuta and tries to make him “bring Gridman” so he can fight him.

Still, when the team meats up at the Junk Shop, Max admits he too saw the girl. Yuuta remains the most logical person to ask Akane, he just has to suck it up and do it. Akane makes it easy for him by being in his bedroom when he gets home, having clearly sensed that he wanted to talk at school.

Akane proposes they join forces, telling him “it will be fun with a god” while rolling around in his bed and cuddling his pillow. Ueda Reina’s lazy yet sensual delivery really pays dividends here, but Yuuta won’t be seduced; he won’t betray his friends.

Trigger then demonstrates Wes Anderson (or perhaps more appropriately, Akiyki Shinbo) levels of precision in an intricately-detailed top-down composition of Rikka reclining in her room, her various belongings strewn about or just off right angles.

I wouldn’t mind having that shot framed and put up in my living room, and it’s just an incidental scene where she gets a call from Namiko and Hass.

Akane and Yuuta go out to eat on Akane’s “friend’s” dime, and somewhat cruelly picks the restaurant of their now-dead classmate. Her friend is Alexis in the flesh (or whatever he’s made of), and he’s nothing but cordial to both Yuuta and the proprietors.

Before any pertinent discussions can take place, Yuuta’s wrist alert thingy goes off. Akane assures him there’s no kaiju out there or she’d know, but there is something out there…a weird alien-like floating ball of red energy with pointy chrome appendages.

Rikka ditches Namiko and Hass (who are taking advantage of her generosity with her notes), while Akane goes out to see what’s up, and for once, the god doesn’t know what’s going on or why.

Yuuta joins Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis, Yuuta merges with Gridman, and they blow up the…whatever. But then it rebuilds itself, gets angry, and starts darting around like a Snitch. Back home, Akane learns that Anti designed the kaiju that’s out there, with Alexis informing her that because Anti hates Gridman more, the kaiju he built is stronger. Akane is not pleased.

Despite not being at all enthusiastic about it, Sky Vitter sorties in order to link up with Gridman and give us one hell of an nighttime aerial battle. There’s a cool contrast in movement between the chunky Sky Gridman and nervously-hyper alien bogey.

Eventually, Sky Gridman soars so high, he hits a ceiling, or rather something that looks like a city in the sky (shades of Patema Inverted). Since Rikka and Shou are watching Yuuta’s progress on the computer, now they believe what he said about there being boundaries to the city.

Also up there is the kaiju “pulling the strings” of the regenerating “snitches”, along with Anti, who quickly transforms into another kaiju. Gridman and Vitter split off, with Gridman cleaving the “puppeteer” kaiju with his sword and Vitter obliterating Anti with missiles.

So Anti fails, and Alexis goes back to Akane, now convinced he needs a “ral human” to make the best kaiju, not just the person who hates Gridman most. (On a side note, Akane’s trash level is really getting out of hand). But there is now a question of whether Akane really wants to kill Yuuta.

If she did, you’d think he’d be dead by now. Maybe she just hasn’t created the right kaiju yet, but between Gridman and his Neon Genesis buddies, Yuuta will always have a fighting chance against whatever Akane can throw at him. It’s been a straight stalemate, with the only gains Akane’s made being the elimination of things in the city she doesn’t like.

But Yuuta knows he can’t keep letting her get away with that. Can she be redeemed, or will the lure of her godlike powers, augmented by Alexis and his constant egging-on, continue to consume her? On top of all that (literally), there’s the mysterious sky city. Here’s hoping we get a closer look at that soon.

SSSS.Gridman – 06 – The God who Went to a City School

“They shouldn’t be making episodes without kaiju!” proclaims Akane while at the Starbows having coffee with Shou. It’s a meta comment on the episode they’re in, which has no big kaiju battle. The resulting outing is largely a return to the quiet, normal, naturalistic sights and sounds of city life that distinguished the first episode, before All Hell Broke Loose.

And yet, the city always returns to that state after a kaiju battle. None of Yuuta’s classmates remember anything about the battle during their field trip, and because there’s no kaiju battle this week, he, Rikka and Shou are isolated from each other for the bulk of the episode.

Something sticking in Yuuta’s mind is Akane’s words to him, which suggest she has memories of the battles just as he does. He just needs one more push to learn at least some of the truth about her, and he gets that. But not before Akane puts out a hit on Yuuta, telling Anti that the two are one and the same.

The silences in this episode, or rather areas where there’s nothing but ambient sounds, are well-placed, and as such I really felt Rikka’s boredom of lounging around the house then milling through stores on a hot summer day.

It’s clearly a relief to her when she encounters Anti, who is not only hungry but also in great need of a bath. Rikka’s scenes with Anti further establish her as someone kind and generous with a good heart—someone Yuuta shouldn’t be so reticent about talking to.

When he can’t quite approach Rikka to discuss recent events, he tries the junk store, but she’s out. Then he’s confronted in an alley by a small girl who seems to revel in the creepiness of her own voice. She claims to be a kaiju, and grows to the size of a catbus to prove it. She’s not there to fight, but rather to repay Yuuta for something he doesn’t remember doing.

I just got done saying last week that I really don’t mind not having all the answers about what’s going on and why, beyond the fact that Akane makes the kaiju Yuuta fights. But the little stinky kaiju girl gets on a train with Yuuta and proceeds to provide some answers.

The city in which Yuuta lives is essentially ruled by Akane, whose lonely heart is being used by the outrageous-looking being we know as Alexis. Thus she creates kaiju who then go on rampages, constantly knocking down and remaking the city into something of a kaiju itself, while eliminating people or things she simply doesn’t like.

Beyond the confines of the city is a great fog, and then nothing, the kaiju continues. Thus, Akane is basically the city’s god, deciding what exists, stays, or goes. But because Akane is hurting and killing people, Yuuta knows what he has to do, which I imagine means confronting her soon.

In addition to ordering Anti to kill Yuuta, Akane ends up running into Shou at the bookstore, and then having coffee. He sole reason for interacting with him is to gather more info on Yuuta, just in case Anti didn’t fully understand her orders and fails. The thing is, Shou eventually catches on that Akane has no real interest in him, and stays loyal to Yuuta by saying nothing.

As for Anti, who now has a full belly and is squeaky clean thanks to Rikka’s kindness, he finally locates Yuuta and attacks him, only to be deflected by the members of Neon Genesis, whom we’ve seen lurking on the episode’s periphery the whole time, keeping an eye the Gridman Alliance.

When trouble comes in the form of Anti, they’re ready, not just with weapons, but words: If you kill Yuuta, you will never be able to defeat Gridman. That’s enough to get Anti to retreat. Akane’s words ultimately weren’t convincing enough for him to go against his primary directive, just as her charm wasn’t enough to get any info from Shou.

Those two failures belong to Akane this week, and while they’re not as big or flashy as the defeat of her various kaiju in the past weeks, they are defeats nevertheless that add to her frustration and rage, which Alexis is only too happy to exploit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Akane gets to work on a new kaiju design, which Lex will then embiggen so it can wreak havoc and challenge Gridman anew.

As for Yuuta, after a long, weird day of learning some truths, he ends up back at the junk store to brief Gridman on the computer (which the store bought back). There, to his relief and joy, are Rikka, Shou, and Neon Genesis.

Akane may be using her godlike powers to change almost everything, but the bonds Yuuta has formed with his friends and allies remain, and they look to be ready for whatever their opponent throws at them next.

SSSS.Gridman – 05 – Wear Some Damn Clothes!

SSSS.Gridman 05 is a swimsuit episode, but only peripherally. It doesn’t matter how skimpy the outfit or how piercing the male gaze, this was also an excellent episode; the best since the first, because of how it shook up established formula of previous episodes.

It did so with a savvy understanding of the universe it’s built so far and how those who live within it should feel and act. The fanservice, while abundant, never distracted from that.

Shinjou Akane is regarded not just as the idol of the class, but its goddess. So its ironic that we see her resplendently reclining…on a giant pile of bags full garbage she’s too lazy to take out. Her class is going on a rafting field trip, and the only way she sees it not being a complete hassle/waste of time is if she can manage to finally beat her nemesis Gridman.

Just as Akane is looking forward to confirming that Gridman is Yuuta and then mopping the floor with him, Yuuta is looking forward to sharing an activity with Rikka, to whom he has yet to confess his feelings. That hesitation leads to a distance between them; there’s little screen time with just the two of them.

Heck, in the first half of the episode, Akane spends more time with Rikka, even getting her to rub sunblock on her back (and jokingly asking if she’ll do her front too). Shou is embarrassed when  Rikka’s cool friends mock his paunch, but when Akane does it, he turns beet red, only seeing the surface of Akane and not the evil lurking just beneath it.

Akane also ends up spending a good amount of time one-on-one with Yuuta, remarking how they’re alike in “not being used to things like this”, this being the rafting trip and all the physical and social calisthenics involved. But again, Akane is trying to get Yuuta to admit he’s Gridman, and in a way, succeeds when, in the middle of a string of questions, she asks if he’s “transforming” and he answers in the affirmative.

One day, Yuuta, Rikka, or Shou (or heck, maybe even Hass) will confront Akane about who she truly is…but not this week. Akane’s weird question sticks in Yuuta’s head, but he has more pressing issues, like the absolutely humongous Leviathan Akane has Alexis conjure shortly after getting her confirmation.

Akane admits it might not be fair or sporting to scale up her kaiju so dramatically, but considering the losing streak she’s endured I can totally understand her desire to take the proverbial gloves off. Unlike previous conjurings, not only is this one bigger than ever, it’s in a non-urban area, and indeed is created from the lush natural landscape; a mobile mountain with jaws and two beady red eyes. Honestly…it’s kinda cute.

We’re also in uncharted territory with the Gridman Alliance nowhere near the kitbashed computer terminal that enables Yuuta to transform. They can call the shop in hopes Neon Genesis folk are there (and they are; just waiting around), but they left their cell phones in the lockers.

Yuuta and Shou run ahead (leaving Rikka to escape with the others), but while Shou has change when they find a payphone, neither knows the number to the junk store. But Rikka does, and in catching up to provide it, she demonstrates that she won’t easily break the bonds of the alliance by leaving her comrades behind so easily.

The cavalry gets the message, buys the computer from Rikka’s mom, boards the same train as Yuuta and Shou, fall asleep on that train and almost miss their stop, and set up the computer at the station where they plan to rendezvous with Yuuta.

While he takes a tumble down a hill and gets a bit scratched up, he manages to make it, and he and Borr transform into Gridmand and Buster Borr, respectively. At first glance they look comically outmatched against an opponent of such lopsided superiority in mass. The only advantage they seem to have is that the kaiju’s attacks are very slow and inaccurate.

As if they didn’t have enough to deal with, Item shows up, determined as always to fight and defeat Gridman, regardless of what Akane wants or doesn’t want. However his time on the stage as an effective combatant is brief, as Borr has a projectile for every need, from forest fire-extinguishing water missiles to super-adhesive projectiles that immobilize Item’s kaiju.

That gives Gridman and Borr time to combine and unleash a vicious barrage of weaponry at the giant kaiju, culminating in a Double Buster Grid Beam that finishes it off. From closeups to extra wide shots of exploding giant monsters, SSSS.Gridman continues to make a strong case for best-looking, most visually-imaginative anime of the season, if not the year.

Akane, once again defeated, nonchalantly slips onto the last train back home, while Yuuta, Rikka and Shou reunite and celebrate the victory. However, Rikka spots Item, and some strangely floating rocks suggest they may be celebrating prematurely.

Still, it’s good to know that whether they’re in skimpy swimsuits or not, the Gridman Alliance is strong…and that Hass doesn’t have some weird perpetual cold, but only wears her mask for show. I love little details like that (or Borr saying the words I reused in this article’s title when she spots Yuuta in nothing but swim trunks). SSSS.G is full of them.

As for Yuuta getting Rikka to notice him, well…perhaps he should see her repeated instances of catching up to be by his side—be it for practical or emotional support—as a positive sign that she might be receptive to his feelings…if only he managed to successfully tell him what they were…

SSSS.Gridman – 04 – Truly Vexing to Watch

Akane is pretty sure Yuuta is Girdman, but not 100% sure. She wants to investigate further, which includes questioning Rikka when the two take the bus to school on a scorcher of a day. The two also end up joining Rikka’s friends Namiko and Hass on a group date with the Youtube group of college boys called Arcadia, despite the fact neither Rikka nor Akane are really into group dating…or any dating at all.

Yuuta doesn’t really like the idea of Rikka going on any kind of date that doesn’t involve him, and Gridman can sense he’s troubled about it (though Yuuta tells him not to worry about it). Yuuta and Shou decide to basically shadow the group date, as it involves two women they’re both emotionally invested in (in Shou’s case, Akane; in Yuuta’s case Rikka).

Neither really ever had anything to worry about; the only two women remotely  interested in Arcadia are Namiko and Hass. Akane is far more interested in learning why Rikka is spending more time with the guy she suspects to be aligned with her arch-enemy Gridman.

Akane also ditches the other girls at her earliest convenience, and succeeds in killing all but one of them with a kaiju. Rikka later catches on to the fact three of the four members of the group were killed and erased from the collective memory of society (including her friends), so she meets with the last surviving member, Yamato, to warn him of his impending doom.

She’s almost too late, as the fog that serves as the precursor to the latest kaiju attack envelops Yamato. It’s Samurai Calibur who ends up saving them both from the kaiju. Yuuta and Gridman deploy, but they end up having to fight not only the insectoid kaiju that killed the other members of Arcadia, but Item as well, who is singularly interested in defeating Gridman and nothing else.

All four members of Neon Genesis decide to sortie at once, but when combined with Gridman’s deployment, the computer they’re all working through basically freezes, freezing all of them in turn. Rikka scares the shit out of Shou by unplugging the computer, then plugging it back in and rebooting it, but doing so actually solves the problem, as the whole of Neon Genesis simply isn’t able to sortie simultaneously.

Instead, only one of them, the tank from last week, sorties, combining with Gridman into Gridman Max, defeating the insectoid kaiju. Item then reaches his time limit and reverts to his human state. It’s another victory, albeit a close one.

Later, at the shop, Yuuta works up the courage to ask Rikka out to grab something to eat, but she misinterprets it as a suggestion for the whole group to have a meal together. Mind you, Yuuta could mend the misunderstanding with two words: “just us,” but of course he doesn’t, mimicking Wile E. Coyote in the “trying something only once” strategy.

This was an episode in which the large-scale battles between Gridman and kaiju took a backseat to the high school romantic drama unfolding between Yuuta, Rikka, and Akane. Yuuta has proved pretty inept at getting Rikka to notice him in the way he’d prefer, but he should have plenty more opportunities, especially since she doesn’t have the slightest interest in Arcadia’s Yamato.