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Good direction is hard to define, and I think that’s in large part because the word has been sanded down to the point where it doesn’t really mean anything and is just another generic line to put in a criticism or analysis.
So let’s take a quick second and actually rediscover the meaning here: Direction is the execution of how the concept is conveyed in the narrative.
There’s a huge variety in the scope here, it can be as macro as how the themes are carried from premise to conclusion, to the specific details in one shot – from how the score is used in one scene, to how a character’s journey is reflected through the color palette over the course of the show.
Direction is NOT the words spoken by the character but the tone with which they are spoken, it is NOT the specifics of plot details but the way those details are given life on screen.
The Direction is the Vision – It’s what makes a sequence designed to make you consider the majesty of the forest more engaging than a generic table-top conversation constructed only to vomit exposition.
Eventually I’ll make a video going through commonly used terms in analysis and criticism so that we – as a community here on Replay
Value – have a shared understanding of what certain words mean.
But until then, I’ll keep on using my intros to define words before quickly switching gears to the topic at hand – and would you look at the time it’s SSSS Gridman.
Quadruple S Gridman has been getting a lot of attention for…reasons…but not just for those assets but also for its solid understanding of framing shots, subtle details and explosive fight scenes.
And hey would you look at that, it has good direction – scenes are generally well composed and strung together, and even when it does something weird that I’m not a particular fan of, it’s at least trying something new
which I can appreciate.
I’ve chosen a particular scene from Episode 4 from SSSS Gridman because I think it highlights why having clear direction is important for a scene, and how we can convey a concept beyond just dialogue – but also through shot composition, sound design, setting and pacing.
The opening 3 minutes of Gridman’s fourth episode take the plot element of Akane’s goal in the opening scene, and utilizes that to show character relationships, what Rikka desires and our character’s personalities
all without necessitating being told anything, but rather by showing it.
Our opening shot is Akane bouncing her foot in irritation – which we can put together because of the anxious nature of this action and the way the line is being delivered – This continues until the alien being begins to speak which brings Akane to stopping her bounce – either the alien’s presence is
calming for her or she’s refocusing that energy elsewhere.
Here there is a wide shot to reconfirm that Akane’s room is still littered with trash bags and kaiju figures while establishing that Akane wants to confirm Gridman’s identity through dialogue – this is where she’s refocused
that frustrated energy from earlier – before we bounce to the title card.
The title card has the sound of cicadas, which primes us for the cut to Rikka’s hot summer day, visually represented by the heat distortion
and bright sun lines.
Rikka stands alone at the bus station, before Akane arrives, causing Rikka to take out her earbuds.
The two stand together by the station – and from this far away position it would look as though they’re close, but it isn’t until we get a closer perspective that we see that this closeness is an illusion, they’re pretty far apart in the construction of these two shots, they’re even the window frame
splitting the two in this shot.
Sure enough, Rikka mentions that it’s been awhile since they talked like this – which Akane says she didn’t realize.
As they grab their seats, Rikka is surprised that Akane walks past her – we see in this shot that she made room for Akane to sit next to her.
This mini-sequence makes it clear that although Rikka wants to have a closer relationship with Akane, Akane doesn’t seem particularly interested in Rikka’s attempt at reaching out – illustrated through Akane creating space
between her and Rikka and using her phone instead of continuing the conversation.
The two sit in silence for a bit, and again we get this illusion of them being close from afar.
The windows are empty because of the sunlight so the bus becomes isolated from the world, and I like the framing here because it highlights the solitary position that Rikka is currently in, Akane is really underplayed in the shot
due to the bars and the shadows.
Akane gets to the whole reason why she’s there by asking why Rikka’s been talking with Yuta so much – but she’s continues to be entirely disinterested in Rikka – not even bothering to make eye-contact, and ignoring her brush-off attempt.
These are two characters who are alone even when together, as the shots are designed to isolate them.
Even though Rikka looks back to Akane and we can even see her phone in this shot, it is clear that this desire for closeness is one-sided, as the tight close-up of Akane shows no change in her eye-line.
Akane is now leaning forward engaging with Rikka as this happens, the phone is put away and the two look close again.
She can’t get the answer she wants without fulfilling Rikka’s desire for a return to their close relationship – and this carries over to the group date later, which Rikka only goes on because Akane says she’s going.
We aren’t explicitly told that Rikka wants to be closer with Akane until later, but the direction in this scene makes it clear far before we reach that point – and more importantly, we can feel the distance between these two
characters through the shot composition, the timing of the sequence, and the settings utilized between the bus stop and the bus itself.
There’s a lot of really great small details packed into this episode – from Rikka’s icon being her and her friends to highlight how much she values relationships, to Akane taking her bag causing Rikka’s to fall over, mimicking how Rikka now no longer desires to be in this group date.
One of my favorites is the not so subtle EVA reference in the elevator – this is something very satisfying about holding on a shot like that, letting the irritation of Akane wash over the scene.
It’s too early to say whether Gridman will stay at this level of form certainly it’ll remained a discussed show if only because Trigger and Rikka – but for now Gridman is a blast to watch and a great example of how good direction can convey the essence of a concept through every aspect of it’s production.
Hope you enjoyed.