After having watched the SSSS.GRIDMAN animated series not once but twice, I finally got the chance to see the original series which inspired it: Gridman The Hyper Agent.
There are no spoilers in this post, but I do go into some general aspects of the series without going into great detail.
First, a bit of a warning for those interested in Gridman The Hyper Agent. The English subtitles on the official release are a bit of a mess, and that’s putting it mildly. If you can get through the series reading them for all thirty-nine episodes, as I have, you deserve a medal. That also makes it a challenge to objectively review the series, but if you can separate the translation (and I use that term loosely) from the content of the show itself, there is something worth watching here.
Another caveat is also worth offering. Those not otherwise familiar with Tokusatsu works may find themselves massively disappointed if they are expecting something like Studio TRIGGER’s SSSS.GRIDMAN. TRIGGER was allowed to play in Tsuburaya’s sandbox for the animated sequel series, but they made it their own. The original Gridman The Hyper Agent is a one-shot Tokusatsu series from 1993, and is a minor blip in the grand scheme of Tokusatsu. Gridman doesn’t have the vast lore of something like the Ultraman series, but it isn’t as over the top as the many Super Sentai shows either. It also seems to have operated on a much smaller budget than those more famous and long-running Tokusatsu franchises. Tokusatsu shows are much different in tone than TRIGGER’s anime series, so those preferring the darker intensity of SSSS.GRIDMAN should probably stick to the animated iteration of the franchise. Gridman The Hyper Agent is a much lighter series, for lack of a better term.
Those choosing to dive into Gridman’s origins after watching the anime (which was my path) will still find an entertaining series. For me, the fun part was spotting all of the elements which TRIGGER used or adapted for SSSS.GRIDMAN. It was essentially reverse Easter egg hunting. It’s very satisfying to see something in an episode and then say to yourself “Now I know where that came from!”. There were a fair number of things adapted, which will keep keen-eyed viewers busy for a while.
Then there is the story of Gridman The Hyper Agent itself. Taken on its own merits, it stands up well enough, though it does suffer from pacing issues. The acting and choreography are capable enough, and the main trio of middle-school kids are able to carry the show (along with Gridman himself, of course). I was also personally happy that the dialogue recorded during filming was used in the final cut, as opposed to the 100% ADR (dubbed) approach of most of the Super Sentai shows I’ve seen.
Gridman The Hyper Agent is a Tokusatsu series based on then-current computer technology of the early 1990s, so anyone who grew up in that time will feel right at home with the technology in the show. Naoto, Yuka, and Ippei are a trio of middle-school friends who build their own computer, which they name Junk. One day, a figure mysteriously appears in their computer, who turns out to be Gridman, a Hyper Agent sent over on a mission. There is an enemy named Kahn Digifer who, unbeknownst to Naoto’s trio or Gridman, has a lackey who is creating kaiju which are then sent out to cause mayhem and destruction. It is up to Gridman to stop the kaiju and keep the world safe.
Now that I’ve rambled on quite a bit, it’s time to address the question I’m sure many of you have… How does Gridman The Hyper Agent compare to SSSS.GRIDMAN? As alluded to above, it’s really not fair to compare the two directly since they are made in different ways for different audiences. In terms of characters, the only one who appears in both series is Gridman himself. (Well, that’s not entirely true… Keen viewers take note!) Of course the computer Junk also appears, but that’s not really a character. SSSS.GRIDMAN is a sequel to Hyper Agent, though it does also function as a reboot for TRIGGER’s take on the title. There are also some similarities in how things work in each series. Gridman still pairs with a human to power up, and some other aspects of the battles also have parallels. Gridman’s enemy is still a mysterious being who controls someone making kaiju for them to bring to life. Unfortunately, Kahn Digifer is no Alexis Kerib, and Kahn’s flunkie is no Akane Shinjo. Kahn’s ambitions are nowhere near high enough for a villain (though he has flashes of inspiration in the later parts of the series), and Kahn’s flunkie is an unlikeable sad sack with a victim complex and an inflated sense of entitlement. That said, their surface motivations do mirror Akane’s (wanting to get rid of things they don’t like), but like Kahn, they lack true villainous ambition.
Or if you want the short version, SSSS.GRIDMAN is a supersized reimagining of Gridman The Hyper Agent.
Gridman The Hyper Agent is a fun, obscure Tokusatsu show which capitalizes on the then-current computer technology boon of the early 1990s. As long as you don’t go in expecting something on TRIGGER’s level, and if you can bear the barely intelligible subtitles, there’s a good show here. The pace is a bit too slow, but the main trio and Gridman are fun to watch, while Kahn Digifer’s evil ambitions are sure to cause a few puzzled looks. But most importantly, Gridman fights a kaiju in nearly every episode, and that’s the main reason to watch Gridman The Hyper Agent. Finding the connections to SSSS.GRIDMAN is a nice bonus.