Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Action, sci-fi, mystery
Year of release: 2018
Gridman walks a fine line between quietly unsettling slice-of-life sequences and huge, loud, fist-pumping tokusatsu fight sequences to catchy J Rock or its rather iconic main musical themes. It’s one of the most complex hurdles the show had to cross, and despite succeeding in doing that, it falls at many of the simpler hurdles. Gridman is a series that doesn’t quite put enough effort into the little things, and pays the price for it.
While Gridman uses some smoke and mirrors to disguise itself at times, you absolutely know the format of the series: every episode, a titanic-sized monster is going to come and terrorise the city, and our hero and his friends in the Gridman Alliance will have to fight it using an equally sized robot. Until it needs to finally resolve its plot, Gridman follows this structure, usually throwing in bits of slice-of-life before presenting the monster that needs to be fought and then spending the rest of the episode fighting.
Yet, despite how interested the show is in having its major characters defend its city and their normal lives, not enough time is allocated in making those things seem worthwhile defending.
Yuta Hibiki, the protagonist, is a character with a rather convenient amnesia, such that his normal life can be explained away to him and build-up some of the important themes on everyday life. Thankfully, the show plays up the mystery aspect in several ways such that it never seems as convenient as it actually is, and paired with the shows sharp, striking cinematography, it always seems like something more interesting is dwelling beneath the surface.
Yet, despite how mysterious his backstory is, not enough time is allocated to properly foreshadowing and building his amnesia into something truly interesting.
The only member of the Gridman Alliance with an arc is the series’ unlikely true protagonist, Rikka. Considering the show manages to get away with its bizarre tonal mismatch, its no real surprise that Rikka’s character is likewise well executed despite the complexity: she’s extremely down-to-earth, and able to be pleasant, kind, sarcastic, blunt and caring, seemingly at once, too. Despite following classic heroine styling in never being given an active role in the fighting of monsters, her perspective ended up becoming the most important thread in the show, as her strained friendship with, and low-key crush on the antagonist lead the series throughout its every turn and supplied the dramatic conflict.
Yet, despite being the most developed of the main characters, she never really came across as particularly memorable. Though, her thighs have some strong meme energy.
The antagonist is the most interesting character of the show. While a little moustache twirling at their inception, the show’s twists and turns almost made her sympathetic, and the way she used her fantastic powers ended up being rather extraordinary. Episode 9’s creativity, for example, was particularly memorable, and not just because of the production’s novel presentation of that episode’s unique premise.
Yet, despite how many twists and turns the antagonist’s arc introduced, not enough time was spent setting them up. Many of these twists were introduced as conjecture dumping, and developed no further despite being fully embraced.
A recurring theme in Gridman is that the show tries to flip tables with the gravity of its surprises. But the key concepts, world and characters aren’t developed enough by the time it starts deconstructing itself, and it represents more of an eyebrow raiser than ever becoming a jaw-dropper. And it’s weird for me to say this, because when I think back on it… what did it spend its time actually doing?
It certainly wasn’t using it to mess about, actually. Very little time was spent detailing school-life, despite the fact it would have benefitted the series’ core themes; very little time was spent building friendships and novel activities, despite the fact it would have benefited the series’ core themes. Even though the comic timing was slick when called for, and even though the dialogue could charm with few camera unique camera angles, offhand dialogue was fairly scant.
The styling of the series is one that demands a lot of time, so time wasting could be attributed to that. The chilling atmosphere isn’t just built up by the hazy skylines, but by slow panning and wide shots. It’s a novel watch on the back of its oft arthouse direction and seeming attention to detail, and I wouldn’t want to trade that away for it might just be Gridman’s selling point.
Despite Gridman as a series never quite putting in the foundation to pull off its grand ideas, it’s that strong direction that makes for a breezy watch. While I can’t say the time was put to tremendous use, time simply flew. Gridman may not put its chips into being as meaningful as it tried to be, and suffers from vagueness in its shocking ideas, but with likeable characters, strong pacing and a generally great production, it’s very watchable.