Building castles in the sky is a forte of mine. From a very young age, I immersed myself in books, reading everything I could get my hands on from local library recommendations to my mother’s romance novels (which I really shouldn’t have been reading at that age and definitely didn’t understand until I was much older). In junior high school I found anime through Sailor Moon and never looked back. This coming April I will have been blogging about anime here at Atelier Emily for six years. Anime obviously means a lot to me.
It was all too easy to become lost in the media I consumed. Walking down the street with a pair of headphones, I could suddenly imagine myself figure-skating an olympic-winning routine. At night, I could re-read one of the many books stashed underneath my pillow and imagine myself as someone who wasn’t cold, awkward, and ugly. Instead, I was gregarious, beautiful, and warm.
Sometimes, you have to wake up.
Unabashed fans of not only their own previous works and the GAINAX oeuvre, but anime as a medium and certain older properties that served as inspiration (like Gridman the Hyper Agent) the team at Studio Trigger was never going to tear down the idea of losing one’s self in an anime. That is their forte: to celebrate and embrace anime’s potential for silliness and bombast in particular. This is why I find myself drawn to Trigger works time and again, not only for the animation or cinematography but for the joyful celebration found in works like Little Witch Academia or Kill la Kill.
The real-life Akane Shinjou waking up in the final moments of SSSS.Gridman isn’t an indictment of losing yourself in a fantasy world, it’s a gentle push. It’s time to move forward, the series tells her, and it manages to say this in a way that uses both the members of her homemade world and a character beloved to her tokusatsu heart in Gridman.
One of the more impressive nuances of the series is how SSSS.Gridman handles its teenaged antagonist, later revealed as the show’s protagonist. It never absolves her of pettiness or outbursts of violence even as we grow to empathize with her. While egged on by Alexis Kerib — alien force, stand-in for depression/anxiety or all of the above — these are ultimately Akane’s mistakes. She makes the choice to abuse her creations. SSSS.Gridman makes the choice to introduce said creations to us (and Akane’s dream in-universe avatar of herself) first, thereby making the lack of remorse shown by Akane later on in the series all the more shocking.
All too often, conversations around media run strictly for or against, with a lack of grey area or overlap. Akane isn’t a terrible person, but her self-hatred drives her to do some terrible things, none of which SSSS.Gridman writes off as being under Alexis’ control. These are Akane’s mistakes and faults alone. In my own escapist escapades and bouts with depression, I know that I’ve hurt people either intentionally or unintentionally. Akane is remarkably relatable and the series eschews labelling her as “good” or “bad” for the better.
Akane invites empathy. Driven by depression and loneliness, she finds solace in her nerdy hobbies to which nearly all SSSS.Gridman viewers (if not everyone who watches the series) can relate. Yet there comes a time to stop escaping reality and face it instead. Akane also finds these answers while in her fantasy world, especially through Rikka Takarada. Rikka is a character that Akane created as the perfect friend, but is also the character most in Akane’s own real-life image. Although many other viewers disagree, I think Rikka and Akane’s reconciliation and Rikka becoming the final catalyst that allowed Akane to finally wake up was ultimately an act of self-love.