My tweets in the aftermath of SSSS.Gridman's last episode
In the spirit of not doing my blogging only on Twitter, I'm copying what I said about SSSS.Gridman's ending and it as a whole to here. The actual tweets start here, and there are interesting discussions with people who replied to me that I'm not copying here.
There are some spoilers here, but that's how it goes. Some expansion on bits of the tweets that involves spoilers is hidden behind HTML abbreviations.
SSSS.Gridman episode 12: Oh wow. Certain portions of that were kind of as expected, parts were pleasant surprises of the Gridman 'no beating around the bush' variety, and then the extended ending was really something else (something great). The final coda, too. Good work, Anti.
In the end SSSS.Gridman made the extremely smart choice of basically not explaining a lot of things, which I am perfectly fine with. It nailed the emotional and practical landing, and in retrospect it was carefully never framed as having mysteries.
To expand on this, SSSS.Gridman had things that it didn't explain, but it never presented those things to us as mysteries. No one ever asked 'why X' or 'how did Y come to be' or 'where did Z come from', and since those questions were never asked and were never part of the plot, it was easy to not answer them without letting people down (or at least I didn't feel let down). If a show is going to have things it doesn't answer, carefully keeping them in the background is in my opinion the best approach. Call this the anti Checkov's gun principle; if you don't want to have to shoot the gun, don't put it on the mantelpiece.
I still think the SSSS.Gridman OP and ED are probably saying some interesting things, but I'm not sure about it and the final episode didn't provide clarity. But they probably are strongly talking about the show's overall theme.
Before the last episode, I increasingly came to think that SSSS.Gridman's OP and ED were pretty meaningful; they not just had things to say about the show itself, but also gave us hints about what was really going on and had happened before the show started. In light of everything in the last episode, I no longer think that this is literally true. For more on the ED specifically, see Emily's great article on it.
Also, I know just enough about the surrounding context of the overall Gridman series of shows to know that the very ending of the show is perfectly fitting and a great callback. (I actually wondered earlier if the show would go that way and yep.)
Oh. I suddenly realized the obvious reason and meaning for why Anti stayed behind in the end of SSSS.Gridman, given what Anti is. Well done, show. And I bet he's going to hang out with Rikka to a certain extent, which ... really makes sense and casts another light on him & Rikka.
The expansion of this, which involves a more detailed spoiler:
It's strongly implied that Anti is effectively a piece of Akane's heart. Akane had to leave her dream world, but at the same time she loved it and sort of wanted to stay in it with the people there. So, with Anti staying, a piece of her heart is staying in the dream.
Back to my thread:
In fact, looking back a whole lot of Anti's interactions with Rikka are now really quite interesting if you look at them from the right angle. Poor Akane, in a way.
Another SSSS.Gridman thought: Alexis Kerib could be a metaphor or it could be real, and in fact it could be a mixture of both at once. Certainly as a metaphor, Alexis is eternal, as it said. And you cannot just beat it up; the real fix is something else entirely.
As a metaphor, Alexis Kerib is clearly the whole cocktail of depression, self-hatred, isolation, and so on, a cocktail that is eternal and cannot be directly defeated, only banished from the current sufferer. SSSS.Gridman did amazing work in showing us how much Akane hated herself and suffered from this cocktail all on her own.
In light of the very end of SSSS.Gridman, I think we have to rule out certain interpretations of the OP and ED. They now seem at least unlikely to be portraying Akane's real pre-series life, although they can be metaphors touching on it.
Also, the show gave us the meaning of SSSS, and it was well done. SSSS indeed.
Also, another important thing to note about the ending, from a Twitter conversation thread:
I choose to believe that the ending shot implies that there is, since Rikka's present is there in Akane's room as she wakes up. (Perhaps that present is in fact the trigger, lingering in Akane's subconscious all this time.)
You can read this many ways, but if nothing else the show wants us to know that the transit pass case Rikka bought as a present for Akane and finally gave her lingered into Akane's new life. It is very explicit about showing it as the first thing visible in the final scene of the show.
(And, in light of SSSS.Gridman's unusual soundscape, it strikes me as potential interesting that this final scene does have a background music track. Of course this might just be for practical reasons, in that there's no particularly appropriate basic environmental noises to use and dead silence would feel wrong.)
Update: Sakugablog's episode 12 coverage has a nice rundown on what we can reasonably piece together about the narrative from clues and allusions in the show, and also the things we have no idea about (of which there are any number).
SSSS.Gridman's unusual soundscape
It's no secret that most anime is generously slathered with background music. Unless characters are talking, and sometimes even if they are, there's almost always BGM running in the background, a constant soundtrack for what's going on in the show. It's even a cliche than when the BGM cuts out, something serious is going on. Sometimes this BGM is used to communicate mood or comedy or the like, but often it is simply there.
SSSS.Gridman is an exception. From the start, one of the quietly unusual things about the show has been how little it uses background music. Rather than BGM, its passing moments and full scenes are filled with incidental environmental sounds; things like little noises of things thumping and squeaking, people's footsteps, the warning bells of railway crossings, the flapping and cawing of passing birds, doors opening and closing, rain falling, thumping machinery in the distance, the natural noise of busses humming along, and insects. Even when the show fills a silent time with background noise, it's not music; it's with, say, a quiet drone.
(There are times when music crops up in Gridman as diegetic sound, which is to say that it exists in the world and the characters hear it too.)
SSSS.Gridman does have background music, but it's rarely used. When the music starts up, things are about to happen, usually the kaiju fights or other climactic events touching on them. And generally the moment the fight is over, the music cuts out too. If there is music and it's not a fight, something important is happening and the show wants us to know.
(And Gridman generally considers fights over, at least for BGM, once the decisive blow has been struck. There is an explosion afterward, but the BGM does not continue through it in the way it might in another show.)
I'm sure that this is a deliberate decision on the part of the production. If nothing else, designing and putting together this soundscape has to be a lot more work than commissioning some BGM tracks and mixing them in underneath the vocals and any important foley sounds. But I don't know enough to guess why the show handled its sound this way. Perhaps it's for the same reason that the show had its animators draw a lot of what would normally have been background art, which is apparently to make the show's world feel more alive and real; see the Sakugablog discussion of this in their coverage of the first two episodes.
(Without knowing enough about anime production to be sure, I suspect that the prevalence of BGM in anime in general is because it is the simplest and cheapest way to fill in what would otherwise be completely dead silence (or voices talking in otherwise dead silence). Live action works can at least do scratch recordings during filming to have a basic 'bed' of background noise, but anime doesn't have that unless you deliberately go collect field recordings. Dead silence is somewhat unnatural in real life, which is probably partly why it's used for emphasis in anime.)
Looking back, one of the surprising things about this is how little I consciously noticed and notice both sides of BGM usage. For SSSS.Gridman, I didn't realize just how little BGM was used and how soon it cuts out. For other shows, I didn't realize how pervasive BGM usage was until I was spot-checking things as part of writing this and discovered, for instance, that it seems to be not unusual to continue BGM underneath even people talking, which is something I wouldn't have expected to need or use BGM. On the other hand, how pervasive BGM is seems to vary from show to show; I encountered others that had significant sections with only ambient noises and no BGM, although none that went anywhere as far as SSSS.Gridman.
(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)