“I’ve come to rescue you from ‘boredom.'”
Oft-forgotten due to Yuuta Hibiki’s amnesia, Rikka Takarada’s awkwardness, and the initial launch of Gridman himself is the fact that none other than Akane Shinjou is our first introduction to the world of SSSS.Gridman. The title of the series first appears over a shot of her on the school rooftop, looking out at the city. She is dead center, position zero, the one entity that draws our attention. Leading up to this, there is a shot of the summer sky (another nod to Akane). Tsuburaya Productions’ title card appears over a shot of Akane’s scratch-filled desk, presumably from carving kaiju. Even the shot of shoes shows one purple shoe out of place, purple being the color most associated with Akane throughout the series. All of this tells us from the series’ very first visual sequence that Akane Shinjou is not like everyone else.
Akane is, in similar fashion to Haruhi Suzumiya, a god in this world.
“Akane Shinjou is one heavy-duty girl with both looks and talent. She’s like a miracle girl, someone the whole class likes!”
-Shou Utsumi to Yuuta Hibiki, SSSS.Gridman, Episode 1
Unlike Haruhi, Akane begins the show as an object of worship. SSSS.Gridman first frames her as the most popular girl in class: pretty, outwardly nice, well-endowed, and smart. Shou Utsumi has already placed her on a high pedestal, like most in their class, and admonishes the memory-less Yuuta for even suggesting that she’s in a league close to either of them. In this way she’s “worshipped” by her peers as much as any teenage girl can be worshipped and the camera of SSSS.Gridman follows. It simply loves her, much like many young women in anime.
Being an actual deity that destroys and rebuilds the city in a recurring cycle is an added layer on top of this. This naturally-occurring teenage hero worship of a pretty classmate becomes, in the words of Akane herself, a statement that she made all of them this way. “Everyone that lives here loves everything about me,” she tells Rikka in the eighth episode. “That’s why you and I are friends.”
Akane’s true nature is petty and murderous. She kills her classmate Sakiru Tonkawa over a sandwich. She attempts to kill her teacher for bumping into her in the hallway. Being a god doesn’t seem to give her any joy. She recognizes Rikka’s strong attachment to her and twists the knife by saying that Rikka was created to feel that way. When Gridman appears, it gives Akane a new purpose — as the opening song says, “I’ve come to rescue you from ‘boredom.'”
Since Yuuta, a boy with amnesia, is frequently our primary window into the world of SSSS.Gridman — which we later find out is of Akane’s making — there’s a lot of context still missing. An undercurrent of unease and dread follows his presumed rekindling of friendships with Shou and possibly Rikka as well. Something happened between Yuuta and each of them in the past of which we and he are still unaware.
This also applies to Rikka and Akane’s relationship, which seems far deeper than any other relationship in the series. At some point, they were close friends. At another point, things seemingly went sour, but not enough to make Rikka fully pull away. She still bought a gift with Akane in mind. In Episode 8 when even Shou backed off, despite his romantic worship of Akane’s person, Rikka refused to fight Akane until she could speak with Akane herself. (As an aside, part of the reason that the friction between Shou and Rikka is palpable in this episode could be seen as Shou recognizing that Rikka is a lot closer to Akane than he will ever be, a fight between her patrons, so to speak.)
Although SSSS.Gridman makes it clear that Akane isn’t truly omniscient — otherwise she’s playing dumb really well, again using others’ expectations of her to her advantage — the series’ camera can easily be seen as Akane peering in on her presumed minions. She sends drones throughout the city to scout, and the kaiju become, either symbolically or literally, her eyes and ears throughout the city.
SSSS.Gridman has made frequent use of obstructed-view shots throughout the series’ run, making it clear that someone is always watching. It makes sense for this someone to be Akane. Even though she doesn’t know everything, she observes the town, especially subjects that are of particular interest to her, like Rikka and Yuuta. In the scene immediately following Rikka’s confrontation with Akane on the bus, a streetlight blinks on overhead as Yuuta meets up with Rikka. Akane has been previously associated with summer sunlight, and this could be another nod to the fact that she’s listening in.
Shots like this are used to foreshadow conflict — in this case, Shou is separated by windowpanes as far as possible from Rikka, who is placed on a similar side as Yuuta — but they also tell us that someone is watching. Similarly shots like this, from around a vending machine, and the one featured above, which uses a fisheye lens as if Akane is creeping on them with one of her drones.
Lastly, there’s the alien entity Alexis Kerib to consider. Typically, an alien like Alexis would absolve Akane of her sins. Shou in particular initially supports this theory, as well as Rikka, because they both — whether it’s by Akane’s design or not — don’t want to believe badly of Akane. In Shou’s case, it’s the standard inability to believe that a pretty girl that he likes could be behind something so awful. In Rikka’s case, she doesn’t want to let go of her friendship with Akane.
Yet, SSSS.Gridman consistently places Akane’s pettiness and anger at the forefront of her character. Alexis may be responsible for the kaiju’s physical existence, but it’s Akane who wants them there. Akane chooses the targets. Akane designs the kaiju herself. And Akane, through her conversation with Yuuta at the restaurant, shows no remorse for the death of Tonkawa, even when in the restaurant of Tonkawa’s family — in fact, she purposefully takes Yuuta there, almost presenting the death as a trophy.
Even if this world is an entire creation of Akane’s imagination, fostered and brought to life in a computer, it doesn’t reflect well on her character. Alexis may be taking advantage of her anger, but Akane’s actions are still her own. The natural progression of the story would be for Akane to turn in the process of escaping her world. When this happens, the complexity of Akane’s character, and her actions taken in this world, should be considered. Akane is the star of this show, and not simply because she tells us so.