Initially, it seems like a fairly innocuous shot of backpacks. Yet, in the world of SSSS.Gridman — which uses a variety of pillow shots to create a stifling summer atmosphere in contrast with its kaiju and robot fights — these stills are not only creating a mood but can also tell us a bit about the characters involved. In this case, these three backpacks belong to the series’ main trio: Yuuta Hibiki, Rikka Takarada, and Shou Utsumi. The colors also auspiciously match up with traditional tokusatsu (or really, Super Sentai) color coding.
Studio Trigger and Tsuburaya Productions’ SSSS.Gridman isn’t the first more recent superhero series to riff on what came before — in this specific case, tokusatsu series and Gridman the Hyper Agent. Depending on how SSSS.Gridman progresses, Gatchaman Crowds‘ use of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman as a building block for what it had to say could be an apt comparison. Even the “SSSS” in the title is a reference to Tsuburaya Productions’ own 1994 English-language adaptation of Gridman the Hyper Agent, called Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad.
This brings us back to SSSS.Gridman‘s color-coded backpacks, and what they say about our would-be heroes (or not). The series doesn’t limit the color-coding to this one shot. Instead, it frequently reiterates each of the three Gridman Alliance members’ respective colors in shots like the ones above. Yuuta lands on the floor next to not only his red backpack but red bar stools and the muted background makes his red hair, tie, and vest trim stand out in relief. Meanwhile, Shou carries his yellow backpack which takes the foreground alongside the blue chair back where Rikka is sitting.
Tokusatsu covers anything and everything from kaiju films like the Godzilla film series — which Tsuburaya Productions founder, special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya, worked on as well as the popular Ultraman series — to Super Giant, Kamen Rider, and Moonlight Mask. All tokusatsu really means is something with frequent use of special effects. What we know of tokusatsu in the west is a lot more along the lines of Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad or the breakout Power Rangers franchise which was based on Super Sentai. Frequently the heroes involved would be color-coded due to personality. Red was reserved for the hot-headed leader, blue was the cool-headed intelligent type, and so on. In showing these backpacks and assigning them to the individuals in the main trio, SSSS.Gridman uses this tokusatsu shortcut to tell us more about their potential roles on the team (or how they could be reversed within the series).
The Red Ranger: Yuuta Hibiki
It should come as no surprise that the owner of the red backpack, and SSSS.Gridman‘s default red ranger, is none other than Yuuta, who is also color-coded by his bright red hair and the red armband he uses to cover up his transformation device.
The title of red ranger is frequently reserved for the leader of the group. Other standard red ranger qualities include a hot-headed attitude, willingness to jump into the fray to save someone regardless of the situation, strong emotions, and dedication to a very standard sense of justice. As Samurai Flamenco joked, having an entire team of red rangers would be absolutely awful, since it would make for an unchecked team of hot-blooded weirdos.
Yet, these personality traits don’t really fit Yuuta per se. Every week, SSSS.Gridman reiterates that we have no idea who Yuuta is. We can’t tell if his amnesia makes him hesitant in most high school social situations or if he’s naturally hesitant. He seems more than willing to hop into Gridman and help people, but that sense of duty could also be seen as a confused boy who had lost his memory reaching out towards any type of purpose. Even in his first fight when he seeks out Gridman, he pushes back when Gridman says that he’ll explain the situation to Yuuta later, hinting at a more diligent personality than that of a stereotypical red ranger. Yuuta also only takes action first and asks questions later when Gridman is involved. In other social situations, we often see him getting dragged along for the ride by Akane Shinjou or his friend Shou.
The Blue Ranger: Rikka Takarada
A blue ranger is often the most intelligent of the bunch — someone who will assess a situation first before making an educated decision. Another series that borrows a lot from tokusatsu and sentai shows, Sailor Moon, uses similar color relationships with the blue-coded Ami Mizuno (Sailor Mercury) as a standout example of this archetype. As an aside, Rei Hino (Sailor Mars) fits the red ranger archetype despite not being the leader and Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) fits the yellow ranger archetype. Blue rangers can also become rival figures to the red rangers since their personalities are opposites, and tend to be older and more serious.
Rikka is not only coded in blue by her backpack, but through the blue earbuds that she always wears while walking to school.
Although Rikka isn’t outwardly an information gatherer like Shou — a tokusatsu nerd who seems to have every Ultra Series episode memorized in a wink to an informed Tsuburaya Productions audience — she has been shown to be someone who will wait until she knows more about a given scenario. Sometimes this can lead to indecision based on fear, like in Episode 3 when she doesn’t think to contact Yuuta via phone until prodded by the Neon Genesis Junior High Students, likely because she’s subconsciously afraid that it could confirm his death. Rikka hopped on the computer, Junk, and guided Yuuta through his first battle with quick thinking to type Shou’s instructions so that Yuuta would hear them.
The Yellow Ranger: Shou Utsumi
Yellow rangers are often more peaceful and even-keeled with a strong emotional intelligence. The success of Power Rangers has led to an assumption that yellow rangers are often women, however it’s a unisex color and historically in Super Sentai, there have been more men who were yellow rangers than women.
Shou is Yuuta’s friend and stubbornly sticks to Yuuta following Yuuta’s amnesia in Episode 1. Despite stating that he’s not a lifelong friend and they only grew close that April, Shou’s loyalty is impressive and he repeatedly shows that he trusts Yuuta even when Yuuta can’t remember anything. Shou is also the one who is quick to form the Gridman Alliance, giving the trio a name and working to keep them unified.
With Yuuta’s amnesia a constant, he’s not a particularly interesting character and also doesn’t fit the red ranger archetype that the show codes him as — save revealing that his actual personality is far more brash than initially shown when his memories return. Rather than going this route, it looks like SSSS.Gridman will likely play a bit with the red ranger archetype through Yuuta instead. Similarly, Rikka isn’t always a cool blue ranger. She thinks about her actions and emotions a lot — to the point of inaction — and there are still hints that she’s withholding key information from Yuuta regarding their relationship. Shou is more in the background than either Rikka or Yuuta, but also has shown flashes of character traits and overly-emotional responses that don’t necessarily fit the even-temperedness of a yellow ranger.
It’s when the three are unified — even for something as hilariously mundane as making an emergency phone call to the junk shop from their river rafting field trip — that their individual personalities make for an unbeatable hero team. This is likely why SSSS.Gridman is using this color-coding, to build on what an informed audience would already assume, with the potential to play with these preconceived archetypes in service of further reveling in its own tokusatsu trappings.