“Who knew this fleeting moment could be so beautiful, so cherished, filling the hole in my heart.”
-‘youthful beautiful,’ Maaya Uchida, SSSS.Gridman ending theme
From what we know of gods, they tend to create beings in their own image. Akane Shinjou’s Rikka Takarada is no exception.
When Mayumi Nakamura’s sequence for “youthful beautiful” initially appeared at the end of SSSS.Gridman‘s second episode, it was a pleasant surprise. Against the backdrop of what appeared to be a slightly different, mostly standard sentai/kajiu series, the ending featured Akane and Rikka hanging out after school, snapping photographs of each other and selfies together.
Along with Maaya Uchida’s bouncy ending theme song, it appeared to be like many ending sequences of its ilk — showcase the cute girls in a setting that is slightly different from how they actually interact with each other in the show. Maybe a few hints at their relationship with each other and others would be shown through, say, flower language, but ultimately, it would be set apart from the series’ events.
These types of ending sequences so frequently occupy a nebulous place between meaning something to the emotional narrative but not actually taking place within the scope of the series itself. The post-processing Instagram-ready filters of “youthful beautiful” along with Rikka and Akane’s close relationship — unlike anything in the series to date — seemed to be in this same undefined space, the place of ending sequences like Kiznaiver‘s “Hajimari no Sokudo” or Darling in the Franxx‘s many ending themes.
Now, after the SSSS.Gridman finale, Nakamura’s storyboarding of “youthful beautiful” means so much more. It’s not only about Akane finding friendship, but finding peace with herself.
When given the opportunity in a virtual world, Akane made herself into a busty, beautiful, and in the words of Shou Utsumi, “miracle girl.” She’s someone that her entire class likes, if not loves. She then made Rikka in the image of her real-life self — the black-haired girl we see peeking out of her bedcovers before looking towards the sky in the last few frames of the series — and made them friends.
Throughout the series, the relationship that gives Akane the most trouble, and also makes her feel the most, is her friendship with Rikka. She appears to want to control Yuuta Hibiki and Shou Utsumi — you could also make the case that these two are certain facets of Akane’s personality as well — to keep her world intact, and to keep Gridman from appearing. Rikka is a different case. A misguided and frightened Akane exerts force over Rikka to have a friend. Akane is at her most stressed when Rikka pushes back against Akane, refusing to do as Akane says.
Yet Rikka always returns to Akane, even if she doesn’t directly follow Akane’s orders. Rikka accepts her position as Akane’s virtual creation, but also uses it to show Akane that she is loved, blurring the line between what Akane expects from her creations as their “god” and actually feeling a friendship close to what she desperately desires in life. Rikka is also the character that most resembles the real-life Akane, which makes a few interactions particularly important to Akane’s ultimate escape from her virtual, self-imposed prison.
It’s telling that Alexis Kerib interrupts Akane before she can answer Rikka’s question of what Akane thinks of Rikka. By association, this would force Akane to say something, hopefully somewhat complimentary, about herself. Instead, the “alien” Alexis Kerib suddenly appears and says, “Excuse me for interrupting this pointless conversation.” You couldn’t find a more direct representation of self-loathing and depression than Alexis’ entrance here if you tried. Akane’s development is constantly interrupted or stunted by Alexis, a force that encourages her to lash out and separate herself from others rather than grow closer to them.
Returning to Nakamura’s ending sequence, there are two parts where both young women walk their fingers across the top of a railing to coyly reach out to each other. Rikka reaches out first.
Towards the end of the sequence, Akane finally reaches out.
In their final conversation, Rikka has her own “Best part of my day” speech for Akane.
“You know, Akane. Wherever you go, you make an impression, because you’re our god. So god, would you hear my one last request? I want to be together with you, Akane. Let’s hope that my wish never comes true.”
After Akane reaches her fingers across the railing, Rikka is shown alone in the cold. Akane has left Rikka’s world, the virtual world.
She wakes up, having accepted herself a bit more.