Trigger’s sequel to SSSS.Gridman started as a slow burn, but as Jean-Karlo and Nick find out the fuse is quickly burning up to set off a bombastic action spectacle. Come for the emotional stakes, stay for the kaiju battles in SSSS.Dynazenon!
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
IT’S FINALLY KAIJU TIME MOTHERFUCKERS!
I have fond memories of watching Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad as a kid, I love tokusatsu as an adult, SSSS.Gridman was my anime of 2018, and I’ve been waiting for this show since it was announced. Even now, I have a big smile on my face at the thought of getting to sit down and jaw about this show.
I’ve got way less tokusatsu experience than you Jean-Karlo, but I also loved SSSS.Gridman, and since pretty much the first second of SSSS.Dynazenon I’ve been calling it the best show of the season.
Sharp-eyed toku fans who watched Syber-Squad might have wondered why nobody in the Neon Genesis Junior High team turned into “Drago,” the dragon robot that “Servo” used to combine with. Turns out, that omission was on purpose. Because Studio Trigger didn’t just decide to make a sequel to SSSS.Gridman. They’re making a universe.
This is a tall order! SSSS.Gridman wasn’t just a phenomenal giant robot show or a Shattered Glass R63 gijinka AU fanfic or a deep-cutting story about learning to heal from trauma—it was all of those things, and in doing so greater than the sum of its parts.
To all the perverts buying horny Akane PVC figures: I salute you for singlehandedly funding this project. Thank you and please do not talk to me.
When you tell us your theme is “Scarred Souls Shine Like Stars,” I’m gonna expect you to bring the big guns.
And baby, this show brought it.
For real though, I have some issues with the early parts of SSSS.Gridman, but it eventually came together as a startling unique and earnest creation that both embraced its silly and childlike origins while crafting a resonant and heartfelt character drama. And somehow Dynazenon has managed to do both of those things even better. For one, it has absolutely upped the game on giant monster fights.
Testify! The men and women working on SSSS.Dynazenon are such fans of tokusatsu that they went out of their way to animate Gridman and his opposing kaiju not as flesh-and-blood creatures but as people in suits. The result is fights that not only look like much more dynamic fights like those you’d see in the Ultra series, but also just feel like massive things are just pummeling the living daylights out of each other.
… Also, they love doing little call-outs to effects regularly used in toku shows, like the debris that flies up when the hero lands after a transformation.
My point of reference is a bit different, but the fights in Dynazenon consistently channel the same energy that got me into the first season of Gundam Build Fighters: Combining the freedom of a child smashing toys together with the artistic energy of people who fucking love robots. The result is a glorious alchemy of passion and craft that has literally made me fist pump while watching it.
See, this stuff is why I just can’t with Pacific Rim. Pacific Rim wants to tribute stuff so badly it forgets to be fun with it. Dynazenon is just plain infectious in its love for the hallowed art of grownups in spandex doing karate at each other in an abandoned quarry while a metric ton of TNT goes off in the background.
That, and it has a lot of heart in regards to its characters… and oh boy, its characters…
Time to cram into this bathtub and talk about trauma. Oh boy!
So, it’s like this: the show focuses on a group of teenagers who are brought together by Gauma, who claims to be 5,000 years old and also a Kaiju User—a person who can bend kaiju to their will. Gauma brings with him the Dynazenon robot, composed of a jet (Dyna Wing), a race car (Dyna Striker), a submarine (Dyna Diver) and a dragon-dude (Dyna Soldier). After fighting off a kaiju that attacks the city, the group solidifies as a team in opposition to the Kaiju Eugenicists.
Also Chise is there. She is very important.
The Kaiju Eugenicists, for their part, used to count Gauma among their number. Currently, their plan is to control kaiju to ensure the destruction of the human race.
Aaaaand that’s about all we know concretely about Gauma or his old buddies. One of the things about this nascent Gridman universe is they don’t spend a lot of time on particulars. In the show’s opinion, it’s less important to know WHY characters do what they do, and more that we dig into how they feel about their actions, themselves, the people around them, etc. Take episode one, where you could strip every bit of kaiju-related adventures out of the script and still have a massively compelling snapshot of the four leads’ lives.
This was something that the original SSSS.Gridman did that I appreciated. We never learned what led to Akane falling in with Alexis Kerib or what pushed her into deciding that making kaiju to kill people was the way to go. The show offers cryptic hints with which you could make a good theory, but ultimately it doesn’t matter: the show isn’t concerned with explaining why Akane is doing what she is, it wants you to know just how wrong it is that she’s doing it and where she’ll go from there. It wants you to feel how wrong Akane’s actions are and how much it twists her soul to do it.
Heck, other shows would trip over themselves with LORE about how kaiju-making works and what the deal is with these tiny crystals that keep popping up in Gridman or Dynazenon. Here, all that matters is that they exist and that they’re connected to kaiju.
It also does benefit from having Gridman precede it here. If you watched and enjoyed that show, you probably know what the deal is here. That allows Dynazenon to just go full throttle into its own unique tone without making accommodations. It’s a potentially alienating approach, but one I think works really well in these particular hands.
It also helps that Dynazenon is not just a chronological sequel to Gridman but a thematic one as well. Where Gridman was about rescuing someone from the pit of their despair and self-destruction, Dynazenon is about what people do in the process of healing from trauma—hence the subtitle being “Scarred Souls Shine Like Stars” this time.
Take protagonist Yomogi. He’s going through a lot of adolescent ennui because his mother is dating again and he’s not cool with her new boyfriend. Is she widowed? Divorced? Doesn’t matter—don’t focus on the wrong part of the story, this ain’t Cinema Sins this is Dynazenon.
And Yomogi is arguably better off than everyone else. Sure, he’s got some awkward family drama that he’s doing his best to avoid dealing with. But he’s also got an amicable friend group and seems fairly well-adjusted for a teenager. His arc is largely about learning to follow his better instincts and reach out to others when he sees them hurting, which is foreshadowed with the first of a thousand cheeky callbacks.
He can be awkward sometimes, but he’s a teenager. It’s Shinji Ikari all over again: people hate it when teenagers aren’t Bruce Willis.
I mean I love him. He’s a good kid with kind instincts who’s simply got to learn to reach out to others even if it seems scary or he’s convinced himself it’s invasive. I’m just saying he’s got relatively less baggage weighing him down compared to uh…everyone else.
Well yes, Yomogi’s situation is ultimately not as bad as everyone else. His classmate Minami is dealing with plenty; her sister died five years ago under mysterious circumstances. She isn’t happy with her family moving on, and wants to get to the bottom of the hows and whys of her death. Meanwhile, she’s picked up the habit of asking men out and leaving them standing, watching them waiting for her from a distance.
Special shout out to how this show handles Minami—a very nice touch is how she’s regularly all-smiles with her best friend, but significantly more withdrawn with everyone else. You know, like a teenager.
Hers is probably the most “anime” situation of anyone here—5,000 year olds notwithstanding—but even this relatively dramatic motivation is grounded in an extremely human desire to just…understand who her sister was. She’s not looking for revenge or uncovering a diabolical mystery, she’s grasping in the dark for closure while surrounded by people who have all seemingly found theirs and moved on.
I especially love the way this is expressed with her sister’s ankh puzzle. It’s something she always has on her, but only brings out when she’s alone, constantly picking at a riddle she can’t figure out but also can’t let go of, because giving up would mean wasting all the time she’s spent on it.
Minami’s plot feels more to me like the movie My Girl 2. In and of itself, it’s a fantastic coming-of-age story, and Yomogi grows alongside Minami while he helps her unravel the mystery. He’s a good kid, offering a shoulder when she needs one and keeping quiet when it’s prudent.
Though figuring out the difference between the two isn’t something he’s great at. Which is why he’s got Gauma, the ultimate feral Good Boy to set him straight.
That’s probably my favorite bit in episode one. Yomogi’s sitting and sulking over Minami ghosting him, and Gauma just walks up like “What are you doing assuming the worst of her? She could be hurt! Go look for her dipshit!”
There are two kinds of characters that I am a sucker for: villainesses in tragic circumstances that can and will gut me like a fish without a second thought, and Feral Good Boys.
Gauma has nothing but good intentions, and even scolds Minami for good measure once he finds out she intentionally stood Yomogi up. He only has one (1) functioning neuron, but he is definitely someone who would buy you a Happy Meal when you get dumped.
… Er. Provided you accept river crabs as a “happy meal.”
We told you he’s feral and we meant it.
According to other, smarter Ultra-fans who have seen more of Denkō Chojin Gridman than I have (I only ever saw Syber-Squad, so sue me), Gauma is potentially based off of a mummy-kaijin that appeared in that live-action series. That mummy was also 5,000 years old, from ancient China and could control dragons. What that means, I don’t know, but it’ll probably have some kind of intense emotional payoff once the show ends. Until then, that would explain the jade dragon statue Gauma has that turned into Dynazenon.
And it wouldn’t be the first time kaiju from the original Gridman appeared in the animated Gridman universe, but let’s put a pin in that one for now.
Like we said, the exact “why” of any of this is secondary to the Now. Can’t get stuck in the past, unless you want to be like Koyomi. Don’t be like Koyomi.
Koyomi is a sad-sack of a NEET. It turns out, he went to middle school with Yomogi’s coworker. She used to bully him, while he had some complicated emotions towards her. After running away from her after finding a sack of money, he just… hid from the world. Then when he meets her again years later and learns she’s married, he has a regular Jim Jinkins moment.
Dude is a mess and the closest anyone in this show gets to feeling as toxic as Akane could be in Gridman. Despite being an adult, in many ways he’s still trapped in his middle school mindset. So you have all the emotional clarity of a 14-year-old mixed with the alcohol buying power of an adult. It’s a bad mix.
In many ways, Chise is more mature than he is. Even if she’s still in middle school. Or at least, she should be. She refuses to go to school. She spends her days dunking on Koyomi.
To be fair, he walks into it a lot.
Mostly I’m just thankful their relationship is actually sweet, and not uncomfortable like a certain other emotionally stunted character named Koyomi who spends too much time hanging around middle school girls.
We don’t quite know what Chise’s deal is. Bullying? Self-harm? We just don’t know. What we do learn is this—Dynazenon establishes that kaiju are formed from human emotion, and Chise finds herself with a kaiju of her own as the series goes on…
We get some very metaphorical hints right before said Kaiju arrives, and lemme tell you I am already not prepared for whenever Chise takes off that arm cover.
Huh, I wonder if she’s related to Miyamura…
Mostly though, Chise just wants to be involved in all this kaiju-fighting her cousin’s gotten involved in. She wants to feel included and important, but since the dragon statue didn’t give her a cool transforming robot to pilot she’s stuck playing backup. But the girl is hungry for her chance to shine.
For a minute, I thought that a plot point would be that she was actually better at piloting Dyna Soldier than Yomogi. Nope! Turns out, he just needed some practice. That’s another thing—the show treats the whole “we pilot a giant robot”-thing fairly in a fairly pedestrian manner. The gang treats their practice as just another errand to run after school.
Even people not in-the-know treat all the fantastical stuff with a befuddling amount of apathy. Like people run from kaiju attacks and acknowledge the danger, but then kinda treat the whole thing like we would a bad thunderstorm. Shoutout to Yomogi’s 1000% checked out mom.
I have the feeling that this show takes place within the computer world and everyone is just a Compoid (the digital denizens of the Gridman computer world), which might explain their blasé nature. Also adding to that theory are these two fan-favorite lovebirds showing up!
Eh, I’m not wild on that particular idea here. It worked in Gridman because it centered Akane and her emotional journey. But Dynazenon’s cast are so layered and their arcs so ingrained in the people around them that just having the larger world be a program would feel a little cheap to me.
As for those characters, gotta say their arrival felt a little…ANTI-climactic to me.
For real though, congrats on Anti and The Second getting married.
For those who can’t tell, Knight and Second there are Anti and Anosillus the Second from SSSS.Gridman. Anti now acts as the Hyper Agent Gridknight, while Anosillus is the daughter of the original Anosillus kaiju from Denkō Chōjin Gridman. Which is why I think SSSS.Dynazenon takes place in the computer world—Hyper Agents and Kaiju can’t manifest in the real world. And as a later episode points out, Anti/Knight still misses Akane…
Also don’t let the suit and haircut fool you, this is still the belligerent little dumpster kaiju we know and love.
There are a few cheeky subtle bits that help continue Anti’s story from SSSS.Gridman—like how the Kaiju Eugenicists discover that they can’t take control of Gridknight because “he isn’t a kaiju”. Let me tell you, I almost cried when that came up.
At first I wasn’t sure exactly what role he would serve parachuting into this whole scenario, but thankfully he quickly integrates seamlessly into the rest of the cast.
Hey, it’s how he found Gridman…
See that’s the other thing about Dynazenon. It can be intense, harrowing, thrilling, heartbreaking, uncomfortably relatable, and still finds time to be funny in the most deadpan way imaginable. Like the episode where our antagonists just take a day off, and miss all hell breaking loose in the city outside.
The Kaiju Eugenicists do not miss a chance to have fun. The Pool episode even had them decide to head back to the waterpark after the episode-requisite kaiju fight!
There’s also just a ton of random little details that you’d never think to include in any other show. Like when Knight turns around on a staircase and his sword clacks against the railing, or focusing for several seconds on Minami before she sneezes, or this masterful bit of avant-garde filmmaking.
“Minami Eats a Churro” is 2021’s best short film to date
Through its prism of stark minimalism, audiences may discover the full spectrum of human experience, provided they’re willing to analyze each frame, as one might carefully lick away sugar crystals left behind on one’s lips pic.twitter.com/QVNL9QnrzB
Through its prism of stark minimalism, audiences may discover the full spectrum of human experience, provided they’re willing to analyze each frame, as one might carefully lick away sugar crystals left behind on one’s lips https://t.co/QVNL9QnrzB
But much like SSSS.Gridman, the emotions come like an axe and cut deeper than the nerdy references. Where SSSS.Gridman‘s Jissoji Episode marked a definite turning point in the show where we learn more about Akane’s emotions, last week’s SSSS.Dynazenon episode (#10) shows us where the Dynazenon team came from—and how they’ve grown, surprising even themselves.
Koyomi comes to grips with his middle-school feelings, Anti is given one more moment with Akane, we learn more about Gauma’s connections to the Kaiju Eugenicists and the strong feelings he holds for the “Princess”—and then there’s Minami…
Straight up, episode 10 is in contention for the best single episode of anything I’ve watched this year. It’s one of those singular pieces of animation where you could take any random screencap, animation cut, or line of dialogue and it would inevitably be a great one. Just a stunning accomplishment even compared to its predecessor.
For the uninitiated: Jissoji Episodes in the Ultra series were episodes directed by Akio Jissōji, who was known for his avant-garde directing style and hard-hitting, almost dream-like writing. Jissoji Episodes are an intense legacy to live up to, and both SSSS.Gridman and SSSS.Dynazenon deliver.
These types of dreamscape episodes are a staple, but also incredibly easy to fuck up, turning what should be character introspection into tedious box ticking. But here it’s the kind of visceral, abstract emotional climax you could honestly end a whole show with.
After an earlier episode teases that kaiju defy all common sense, which pique’s Minami’s interest, here we have a kaiju that sends her back to a moment in her life where her sister is still alive. So she does everything she can to keep her sister alive, while Yomogi tries as hard as he can to break her out from her time loop.
It’s a fairly typical setup for this kind of lotus-eater deal. All of the characters are caught up in their pasts to some extent, and the opportunity to not just recapture those moments but change them with the benefit of hindsight is intoxicating. I love the way they symbolize that by the characters’ Dyna-toys shattering behind them
The resolution of the episode also satisfied me tremendously. Much like how SSSS.Gridman doesn’t waste time telling us what Akane’s deal was, SSSS.Dynazenon teaches its cast that you just can’t let yourself get hung up on details. Minami learns to accept the uncertainty of her sister’s death being suicide or just an accident, and instead finds closure in finally being able to connect with her sister.
Meanwhile Yomogi’s resolution is even more nebulous. For a brief moment he gets the lovestruck adventure he ran away from as a teenager, and in an almost wordless moment he realizes none of it will fulfill him the way he’d convinced himself it would. He’s still reluctant to let it all go, but at the same time recognizes that he has to.
We also finally get the barest hint of what the Kaiju Eugenicists are after. As it turns out, whatever nation they swore loyalty to 5,000 years ago tried to kill them. Gauma preferred killing the Kaiju Eugenicists himself—not out of loyalty to the country, but to the princess who taught him how important promises and love are. Again, a good bit of this all stems from the live-action Gridman from the 90s, just polished up and given some TLC from Akira Amemiya and company.
There’s a lot of unanswered questions, and I imagine the final two episodes will shed a lot of light on all this. But for now it’s all emotions and energy, which is where Dynazenon shines brighter than the sun. What’s amazing is that in all this they still manage to fit in a rad as hell kaiju fight to cap the whole rollercoaster off. We go from heartrending emotional catharsis to the coolest robot fight you’ve ever seen in the span of two minutes and it somehow works beautifully.
I am legit a little angry that I am currently not able to talk about SSSS.Dynazenon in its entirety, because I love this show and everything it’s done just as much as I loved SSSS.Gridman and it has been one of the best and most-satisfying experiences in anime I’ve ever had. Whatever the ending does is gonna stick with me for years. This show has been worth the wait in so many ways. Can I call it better than other shows I’ve seen? Tough to say—this season has been phenomenal. To Your Eternity and Those Snow White Notes are damn good anime. But the extent to which SSSS.Dynazenon‘s grasp is only exceeded by its reach is definitely something. What a wonderful time we’re in where there’s so much for me to love, and not just because it’s what is known in scientific circles as being intensely My Shit™
I mean I’ll say it right now. This season has a number of great shows, several of them laser-targeted at me and my tastes. Yet somehow Dynazenon has managed to stand head and shoulders above them from Day 1. It’s a fantastic piece of anime and anyone even slightly interested owes it to themselves to check it out. If you don’t believe me, believe Chise:
My only problem is this: nobody has compiled which Transformers the cast is based off of this time around and it is driving me up the wall.
But that aside, take a hint from Chise. Watch SSSS.Dynazenon. Join us for those last two episodes. I promise you—these kids are going to become very good friends of yours.