Gridman is a series where creators and fans are not separate entities, but rather intertwined and constantly co-evolving groups. We’re due a retrospective about the production of its latest film Gridman Universe, the franchise altogether, and how the staff navigated that unique situation.
For what reason is anime produced? Not generally, albeit given the state of the industry, it’s fair to ask, but more precisely, why is an anime produced? Financial and creative incentives are interwoven in more complex and muddy ways in the real world, so it is impossible to separate them like you would with any other work of commercial art. It would be easier to see things if there was a distinction between creative passion initiatives and avaricious cash grabs that start with suits, but that isn’t the case. There is no starting a production without producers, and even within their ranks, there are those who will cynically ride popular trends for profit and those who look for ways to finance their friends’ creative ideas. Some of the most well-known producers in the business today, such as Kadokawa’s TanakaP, demonstrate that a single individual can also switch between those seemingly opposing positions. Rather than offering a choice between artistic fervor and avaricious cynicism, reality offers a diverse range of incentives that may or may not veer toward either of those extremes.
Having said that, we are unable to separate the concept of the “fan” or “customer” from these endeavors—something that carries a heavier weight than a simple reader or watcher. Someone has at some point thought about that fan, regardless of the finer points regarding the projects’ priority. If it’s an adaptation, you might not want to shock the pre-existing group with something too unlike from what they are accustomed to. There will be suggestions on how to appeal to as many people as possible with components that are known to have delighted audiences in the past, even in the case of an original title. Each team will react differently to such pressures, but they are always present. Furthermore, there aren’t many contemporary anime as intriguing as the Gridman series when it comes to the relationship between the artists and the fan figure. More than other initiatives, its continuous existence has been dependent on its supporters, but in recent years, there has been a significant shift in the collective it represents and how best to accommodate their desires.
You’re probably already familiar with Gridman’s history because this isn’t our first time discussing it, but it’s still important to review it from this perspective. Gridman the Hyper Agent, a live-action tokusatsu series, debuted in 1993 and was followed by a few side projects that contained concepts for full-fledged sequels that were never produced. Official publications such as Uchuusen Bessatsu: Gridman the Hyper Agent have compiled information regarding those hypothetical scenarios and print-only narratives, pointing out that the toy line was successful enough to inspire plans for follow-up releases. The most recent version of Gridman Complete Works gives reasons for the cancellation, including production costs. This is consistent with the fact that, as that Bessatsu documentary shows, Tsuburaya themselves also had ideas for future series that they intended to develop. No reasonable producer would take up the property again for financial gain, as the fandom, which was once rather sizable, had become so little due to the lack of materialization beyond brief periodical serializations and decades of dormancy.
Luckily for Gridman, Akira Amemiya was still one of its staunch supporters. Even though I previously stated that while producing commercial anime, it’s impossible to avoid the question “How will this make any money?” But what if one were to utilize their limitless Evangelion riches to grant other producers in that field the freedom to simply make any kind of short film they want? We may see difficult works of a kind that is rarely funded, personal narratives that particular people had been thinking about, and possibly even someone gushing about their forgotten toys if a project like studio Khara and Dwango’s Animator Expo were to materialize. Thankfully for all of us, Animator Expo and Gridman: boys create great hero—conceived, directed, and co-animated by Amemiya—do exist.
Boys invent great hero, albeit rather obscure to most, is brimming with affection for the original series; not only does it have ideas that would have been used in those shelved sequels, but it even has designs like Gridman Sigma that go all the way back to the TV show’s abandoned plans. Its existence was closely linked to the fan, but in that instance, the project leader himself was the external element. Even though Amemiya had used his love to subtly put the series back on the most watchful radars, Gridman was not suddenly a hot issue. As he clarified in this Comic Natalie interview, it also aided in his transition from animator to series director by satisfying his need to just sketch the title character frequently, which was his primary driving force behind boys invent wonderful hero. Now that he had cleared his system, Amemiya was prepared to take on a more challenging role.
The interview’s opening question suggests that the process wasn’t nearly as straight-forward as one may have thought. In publications such as this roundtable for SSSS, Amemiya and later line producer Masato Takeuchi—now a freelance director—had already approached Tsuburaya with a suggestion to film an anime tied to Ultraman.GRIDMAN Super Complete Works, they clarified, was a concept for a variety show-based animation that drew inspiration from Ultra Zone; this spirit ultimately materialized in the anime’s several voice dramas. Whatever the precise vision, however, Tsuburaya declined to lend them such a valuable asset and instead gave them access to less valuable intellectual property; fortunately, Amemiya was the ideal person to provide Gridman to. He established his reliability by taking a chance, as he was scheduled to do something for Animator Expo by the time they received that response. The path to SSSS.Gridman becomes more apparent with that accomplishment on his résumé, his standing as a rising star in a well-known anime studio, and the IP owners’ reaffirmed backing.
But those weren’t the only things that made it possible for the project to proceed. Once again, as has been the case with every milestone in Gridman’s history, the project’s destiny was decided by its supporters. A genuine one, in the individual who would be directing the program, and the imprecise notion of late-night anime enthusiasts as a group. In actuality, Tsuburaya had been willing to let them experiment with other tokusatsu series besides Gridman; for all they cared about, Amemiya could have decided to create an Andro Melos series, for instance.
Nevertheless, as he clarified in those earlier interviews, Amemiya also believed that Gridman was a natural fit for this target audience’s preferences. According to him, even while a lot of tokusatsu fans also watch anime, it’s not always the case that way, which is why familiar features would need to fill the gap. Gridman was more compatible because it constantly featured enormous robots in the story, which he considered to be a hallmark of anime. He felt he had the method down pat to reformulate a series he previously enjoyed for a contemporary anime audience, especially with the addition of some attractive females, a familiar aesthetic for the human side of things put front and center, and a reordering of the writing priorities. Whether or not such stereotypes are true, they were all created with the intention of satisfying followers, even when those persons were merely fictitious.
However, it’s crucial to remember that this initiative has never completely given in to outside pressure. As writer Keiichi Hasegawa humorously illustrates in the Blu-ray booklet for the most recent movie, creators do not have to give up on their vision in order to consider what their audience may find more enjoyable. Amemiya was shocked to learn that Hasegawa, a well-known writer in the tokusatsu genre, would allow him to collaborate. Since most of his screenwriting had been done on daytime shows or under other lead writers, even though he had a respectable anime portfolio, he didn’t really have experience leading the writing efforts for regular late-night anime. Amemiya therefore took it upon himself to teach him the (unwritten) rules of late-night anime, such as avoiding adult characters in excess or overemphasizing romantic elements if that isn’t the main premise of the series. Hasegawa nodded at that point, but they had already violated every single one of them by the time he realized what they had been up to with its sequel. He pointed out that there was no error because the outcome was amusing and well-liked by a large number of individuals.
It’s true that people loved what they did. Whether it was because of the captivating realism of the delivery, the love letters to toku and mecha history, the combination of resonant character writing with confident mystery prepared to withhold answers, or all of the above, SSSS, a brand that had lapsed into oblivion became one of the new anime sensations of 2018.Without a question, Gridman was a success. Since there were now many of those fictitious admirers, SSSS, a sequel to a work intended to be standalone, was authorized.Dynazenon. A series that was only made possible by the (many!) new fans, but it nonetheless delighted die-hards like Amemiya and voice actor Hikaru Midorikawa, who was the one who asked the director to work on Dyna Dragon. However, what may be even more intriguing is how this sequel subverted expectations to engage with that fans on a whole new level.
Structure-wise, Dynazenon is very similar to its predecessor, but the decisions made regarding what to preserve and what to modify helped to leave fans wondering what the hell was going on, not only until the very end but far beyond. As many secrets as SSSS.Gridman had been unwilling to express, the nature of the universe and characters were discussed in public since Akane’s story could not be concluded without disclosing the truth about the made-up world she had escaped into. Dynazenon, on the other hand, dropped the camera to a more human level while continuing to repeatedly film the same locales, using them to suggest character arc parallels between shows and just heightening the mystery.
However, there’s a more sensible—though no less fascinating—reason for the decision. The creative team behind these pieces believes that judgments about specific character development and artistic choices are frequently made in order to meet production restrictions. As he discussed a rejected pitch that we’ll talk about shortly, Amemiya stated as much in an interview for Gridman Universe Heroine Archive. This pitch would have added a character who could call back kaiju from the TV series, allowing them to reuse materials.
Amemiya has described why 3D assets were chosen in the first place, emphasizing the inhuman, object-like aspect of some beings, in interviews like this one from years ago as well as more recent ones that will also become relevant eventually. An idea that is both captivating and a means of navigating the reality that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a 2D mechanical production. In a prior Natalie conversation with Amemiya, author Hasegawa shared his conviction that creativity is fueled by constraints. When questioned about the reports that the original Gridman’s computer world was set due to a tight budget, he went one step further and stated that the lack of funding for a proper Defense Team, as in Ultraman, was the reason why kids were assisting the main character. Therefore, by combining that ingenious and inventive thinking with the franchise’s unbreakable tie with its fans, we were able to produce a sequel that kept fans guessing why the setting was so familiar while also cutting design expenses. A question left unresolved until a movie sequel explained it in retrospect.
In contrast to its unplanned predecessor, Gridman Universe was conceptualized during the production of Dynazenon. Amemiya stated in an interview with Febri before to the show’s premiere that he felt comfortable leaving Gridman out of the second episode because he had previously thought of this crossover. The irony of all this foreknowledge is that, of all the franchise entries, Gridman Universe—the one they had really braced themselves for—has caused the crew the greatest difficulties in the idea stages. The core crew of Febri has shared all of their challenges in conceptualizing this film through all of the interviews they have conducted, including the ones stated above, those in the Heroine Archive book they released, and those throughout its extensive bluray booklet.
The first stage of pre-production involved a rough script created by chief producer Yoshiki Usa, who also served as the model for the adored terrible mascot Wooser, who also lives (and dies) in this reality. Following the franchise’s custom, the draft narrative highlighted the role of the fan once more, indicating that it was only fanservice, something the committee had already obliquely demanded. Amemiya has been attempting harder than ever to please the fan base he built with Gridman Universe, but he drew a line in the sand right away. If the film only satisfied preconceived notions and reduced the characters to puppets repeating fan-favorite lines and completing arcs, it would never come together in a way that made for a fulfilling viewing experience. That difficult storyline was dropped, and it was time to start over from scratch.
Amemiya’s next move was to rely more on the storytelling structure he had become accustomed to. The initial preliminary plans that survived featured the introduction of an original character, since both TV series had been developed around female characters whose interior difficulties would be thrown outwardly in truly monstrous shapes. That girl, who went by Layla or Mimika depending on the pitch, would take on a role similar to Akane’s original one but from the viewpoint of a non-otaku, thereby affecting how she introduced kaiju into the world. The original plan had the tale pick up more or less where Dynazenon left off, and it started to take shape with Hasegawa returning to the crew. Yomogi met underground idol Layla as a result of his mother’s forced marriage and relocation, which made Yume envious of a rival interfering with their now-long-distance romance. As previously mentioned, another otherworldly entity would control the darkness within Layla’s heart to bring forth demons that Gridman had previously vanquished.
The next pitch was more Gridman-centric than that Dynazenon-centric. Now, this original character would be Mimika, a high school student with a thing for Yuta whose prose corresponded with the appearance of kaiju in the real world. She opposing his romantic relationship with Rikka, which was always part of the team’s goals, even in the earlier edition, would, as you can guess, cause a lot of the friction in the story. Unlike any prior idea, this one made it through three iterations before animation producer Shunsuke Shida, who was six months into pre-production at the time, asked Amemiya whether he was really okay with it. Shida’s interview appears in the bluray booklet. Amemiya allowed himself some time to consider it, prepared to rely on this plan in the event that a better one did not emerge. And by the third week, this entire pitch was dropped in favor of the movie’s plot, spurred by the general consensus that the traditional format would be far too constrained inside a film’s running time. In other words, it’s time to start exploring Gridman Universe!
The abrupt reappearance of kaiju to destroy the planet and sightings of Rikka maybe dating someone older cause this new Yuta a great deal of worry very quickly. Granted, that’s a lot to suddenly have to digest, but the director was surprised by how erratic his reactions were. In a comical contrast to Yomogi, the protagonist of Dynazenon, Yuta is the kind of person who magnificently folds at the slightest bump in a relationship; while Yomogi was also prone to tears, the series established him as a very sensible, empathetic boy, whereas Yuta turns out to be a cute crybaby prone to overreaction in any direction. Mayumi Nakamura, an assistant character designer who had a pivotal part in overseeing the animation for the first half of the first act and the introduction in the film, expressed that she had never found creating him to be so effortless. Given the circumstances, she believes that SSSS.Gridman’s lack of visual humanization is a good thing. However, as an animator who must put herself in a character’s shoes, she found that version of Yuta to be far more difficult to work with than this more realistic Yuta.
This new protagonist is complete because, unlike when he was possessed by a supernatural hero, he jumps into danger less nervously and succumbs to unpleasant emotions with the same pitiful speed. By making little changes, the team tried to incorporate these characteristics into the design itself. Sakamoto claims that because he was actually worn there, his posture was somewhat altered from the relatively oversized initial shape, and Amemiya adds that the Accepter’s constant wear instead of the TV show’s wristband represents his unexplained readiness.
This series is known for its thoughtful, intricate storyline, and the director is no exception. Every scene you believe is full of subtle significance eventually reveals another layer that you only notice after rewatching it all. Amemiya’s framing is as unforgettable as it is readable on the surface, demanding closer examination and repeated viewing as well. Gridman Universe is just another example of how this series has always loved to repeat itself in order to create a variety of emotions. I usually find it most interesting when it’s used for character development, but familiar framing and positions can still make fans smile—especially if it points toward a gap they can fill in themselves.
A prime illustration of such is the appearance of the first kaiju and the Neon Genesis Junior High Students that went along with it. Though it turns out that being a normal human being this time is quite the debuff, Yuta comes considerably more weary and takes longer to perform the same acts. He rushes out with even less hesitation than when he was merged with Gridman. This is our new, true Yuta: a bold, possibly stupid, and undeniably (but endearingly) pitiful boy. It requires the help of one unexpected visitor, but we have to give credit where credit is due: Gridman and Yuta are still capable of taking down enormous creatures.
Gen Asano’s main role in the movie was for a gattai sequence, his specialty in this series. Since this early part of the film hit the animation stage much earlier while he was available, though, he said he drew a bunch of the battle in the first act—trying to do something fancy to celebrate the theatrical effort. While he didn’t specify how many cuts it was, this is likely his work. We definitely know he handled the following fierce still, because he asked Amemiya why the hell that one shot was on fire.
There have been other unexpected visitors to this world besides Gauma, who was resurrected as Dyna Rex following the events of Dynazenon and is currently a member of Neon Genesis Junior High Students; no, I’m not referring to the kaiju, as we’ve grown accustomed to them in this series. The mystery deepens with Yuta seemingly plagued by ghosts, the possibility that entire worlds are clashing, and the fact that the entire Dynazenon ensemble unintentionally wandered into what appeared to be their own reality. Hasegawa intended to hint at this in the narrative with the repeated references to a lovely, happy world, but the world slips into madness in such a gentle, calm fashion that it lulls the audience into a false sense of security. It’s true that strange things are happening, but who cares if Yomogi and Gauma end up touching one other again?
The success of this school event is being aided by collaboration between individuals from many universes. They are creating their own illustrations of Gridman, a duty that is actually performed by the studio’s management team. The playwright seems to be moving along smoothly, and it turns out that Rikka is single. Though that also sparked his contrarian tendency, Amemiya was coerced by members of his own team to include yet another joyful event—Gauma’s reunion with the princess he loved. The filmmaker chose to go in the exact other direction from what most people would expect—a melancholy moment marking the culmination of 5000 years of tragic passion. These former lovers are the source of the bittersweet tale of Dynazenon, which originated from an episode in the first tokusatsu. A man who, despite the fact that the princess represented the nation that had judged them too dangerous to live with, was prepared to betray his allies in order to keep them safe. ready to be poisoned by them out of pure love for her. Their get-together? It’s just a casual grocery shopping scene.
Dynazenon had previously amused himself by forcing Gauma to constantly repeat a smart statement from the princess, who maintained that the three things one should always safeguard were love, vows, and—well, they never said the third one. Given the chance to reveal it and Amemiya’s cheekiness, they chose to alter the final item to be protected, albeit in a way that didn’t significantly alter the meaning. The princess, who is now selling food, makes an oblique reference to the future when she states that it’s best-by dates—something she also explicitly told Gauma to pay attention to. I had already surmised that this might have been the last keyword when I covered Dynazenon’s finale on this site, and now I’m much more certain that it was. An solution that fits the theme and is given in the lighthearted manner that defines this direction and writing team.
Sakamoto is a big fan of his senior sushio, so when he found out he was going to animate his new design for Akane as she transformed, he was really giddy. When he saw the sequence, though, he realized that sushio had completely transformed the design into his own. Sakamoto respects him too much to feel comfortable correcting him, so he waited until another vet (and good friend of sushio) like kojipero corrected parts of it before doing his own redraws.
Gridman Universe’s final moments are pure chaotic bliss. Everyone experiences a fresh metamorphosis, an additional combination, an unprecedented powerup, and Yume makes a reappearance to get her husband back. The connections between the theme songs are a magnificent disregard for logic. Fans of the genre may be pleasantly surprised to learn that even the team admits that there are moments during this fight when it is difficult to remember who is fused with whom. This was the kind of fanservice the film deserved, if there was such a thing. Ultimately, Gridman acknowledges its personal frailty, which Amemiya thinks adds to the hero’s distinct appeal. It couldn’t even materialize into the world on its own. But Gridman can defeat anyone, owing to a group of kids in the original tokusatsu series and a sizable group of allies in this film.
The last act is a quiet victory lap following such an ostentatious victory. Anti expresses gratitude to Akane for everything, and she gives back a physical hug. It’s worth mentioning, in my opinion, that Yuta and Rikka’s romantic relationship with Akane is always cherished in a film that I know some people won’t watch. Rikka made it obvious from the outset of the film that Akane’s narrative was the one she truly wanted to share about the Gridman. Amemiya disclosed that even during her initial encounter with Yuta in the film, her subdued arm gesture was merely intended to highlight the purple props that stand in for Akane, the person she holds dear until she has reconciled her feelings for Yuta. Their final exchange, which again doesn’t require words, is a clear reference to their loving bond as we witnessed it in the closing scene of SSSS.Gridman. The film certainly gives their friendship credit when viewed from its own perspective.
To be clear, I wouldn’t force someone who wasn’t sold on the idea to watch it. The staff referred to this relationship as unfinished business because there were narrative elements that consistently drove Rikka and Yuta closer together, but it wasn’t as emotionally charged as Akane and Rikka’s relationship was. To begin with, Yuta wasn’t even given a character in that show. Even while this film perfectly embodies the notion of “By fans, for fans,” fans aren’t a homogenous bunch. Many people, including myself, found resonance in the two girls’ relationship, and no philosophical complexities would prevent others from reading it romantically—in fact, at times, that’s what makes it more alluring.
Although I think Gridman Universe is a fantastic film, I have friends who I know would cry over the LGBT awareness poster that was subtly inserted into the dream sequence in which Yuta’s passionate pursuit with Rikka took place. This movie reads to me like a gorgeous unnecessary addition, which is exactly how Amemiya ended his Heroine Archive interview. The movie makes a point of saying that everyone should have their own Gridman, and it’s okay if yours doesn’t include this particular one.
In relation to romance, Yuta has one final task ahead of her. It’s finally time for the protagonist to make the official farewell after many endearing farewells, including YomoYume flaunting their almost married status (maybe we can get rid of the adverb given that he casually proposes as they fly away). This final act was given to the previously mentioned Mayumi Nakamura, even though Amemiya had storyboarded nearly the entire movie, save for the final gattai that Asano himself boarded. She found herself making storyboards for a movie, even though she has never drawn one for an actual episode, thanks to a director who genuinely believes in her and who, as he stated, didn’t want the challenge of handling a confession.
Amemiya didn’t really leave her in the end because he also served as the unit director for these last scenes, which put her in an odd situation where the guy in charge of the project was executing her first narrative storyboards and asked her if she thought he was understanding things correctly. About 80% of the scenario stayed as she had imagined, even though he changed some mannerisms, largely to make the two youngsters look nicer as the confession does indeed work out. Furthermore, for someone whose career is developing with this specific series, that’s a lot of responsibility, especially considering that she also key animated the confession itself. She is as big of a fan of Gridman as every viewer who has helped make all these titles possible, and her BD interview demonstrates just how much she values Gridman.
If we take that story at face value, it’s entirely normal. A franchise’s ability to survive will depend on the loyalty and income generated by its fan base. However, in the case of Gridman, the collective that word once stood for has undergone a significant transformation, and the way the show’s makers have interacted with them has molded the series into something intriguing. In several of the interviews we’ve been revisiting, Amemiya has stated that while he hopes to return to this series, for the time being he would prefer it if someone else provided their own analysis of Gridman. That way, he can focus on being a fan again, which is an equally valuable role.