The sad truth is, right now anything that isn’t a regular weekly release is a tough sell for me as far as coverage is concerned. Pluto is an exception, but that’s a unicorn in pretty much every sense, and I’ve basically turned it into a weekly by covering it on Thursdays (otherwise an open night for me this season). Akuma-kun is good, I actually like Good Night World a fair bit, and then there’s Shingeki – which I’m damned if I’m not going to finish covering after all the frustration it’s caused me. “I’ll get to them eventually” is about the best I can do at this point.
Then we have Gridman Universe. And taking this long to blog it is a testament to the above, because I really like this franchise. Both SSSS.Gridman and SSSS.Dynazenon made their respective year-end Top 10 lists comfortably. And they represent by a wide margin my favorite Trigger series (I hope Dungeon Meshi offers some eventual competition), and by far the most authentically Gainax in feel. One of the things I loved about them is how distinct they were in style, despite being set in the same fictional tokusatsu franchise’s mythology. I thought that might pose some challengers in merging them, but that’s a different matter.
Well, the solution was pretty simple – Amemiya Akira and Hasegawa Keiichi didn’t really try. They made a Gridman movie with Dynazenon guest stars. Partly that’s reflected in the respective screen time and importance to the plot, but no less so in style. As I said in my Dynazenon finale post, that was a character-driven series, and Gridman a plot-driven one. And this movie was all plot – an avalanche of mecha battles and fanservice. As I also said in that post I wound up liking Dynazenon just a bit more than Gridman, so this wouldn’t have been my first choice in crafting a gattai film. But for what it is, Gridman Universe is undeniably successful.
This was certainly fun, though I never stopped wishing the Dynazenon cast had gotten equal footing or that the complex character dynamics of that show had been more integral to the story here. Pretty much every character of any importance whatsoever in the mythology was present, including the ones supposedly dead (like Gauma), and even some cameos from the original live-action Gridman. There were a few strong Dynazenon moments – like that reunion between Yomogi and Gauma. And it was fun seeing Yomogi and Yume acting like a real couple, especially as the contrast with Yuuta and Rikka (much commented on after the Dynazenon finale) wasn’t ignored.
One thing I was really waiting for was a Yuuta-Yomogi conversation, and we did get a couple. And the Dynazenon kids coming to the Gridman school (they had to wear guest slippers, of course) to help with the culture fest prep was fun. The culture fest was a major theme here, with Rikka and Shou writing a play about the whole Gridman experience (which Yuuta has completely forgotten). The device used to bring the two casts together was the titular Gridman Universe, which is causing an overlapping of worlds. It’s also more or less confirmed that the Dynazenon world, like the Gridman one, is a created universe – which comes as rather a shock to them.
In the end I think this is mainly a love letter to tokusatsu and mecha anime, and given that those are clearly things the director and writer love dearly that’s perfectly fine. One of the things that made the two series so endearing is that the creators’ love for the material was so obvious – and infectious. The mecha battles are too long for my taste (especially the last one), and one thing the movie did for me is confirm that I do in fact like the Dynazenon cast a little better than the Gridman one. I don’t think Gridman Universe is centered on the elements of the franchise that are most appealing to me, but I like pretty much everything about it to some degree so it still works.
In terms of fanservice, I think this movie has to have scratched pretty much every possible fanbase itch. And really, that’s a pretty good thing for this sort of film to do – it serves as a kind of reward for the loyalty of that fanbase. As a franchise Gridman has been around a very long time, much longer than the anime itself, so it certainly seems possible there could be more to come in the anime side of it. Gridman Universe does feel pretty conclusive – I mean, most of the theoretical wishlist was systematically checked off. But with the Dynazenon gang especially there’s still a lot of potential story left in the tank (a function of its reliance on character dynamics and growth), so I’d love to go another round with them. Either way, this leaves things in a pretty satisfying place.