Anime Review: SSSS.DYNAZENON – Blazing Bonds Burn Bright

After the success of SSSS.Gridman, Tsuburaya and Trigger Studio decided to expand the franchise into a cinematic universe called Gridman Universe, and launch a prequel – SSSS.Dynazeon, in 2021. Without the advantage of nostalgia like its predecessor, SSSS.Dynazeon still surpassed everyone’s expectations and proved that director Akira Amemiya, screenwriter Keiichi Hasegawa and Trigger’s team are constantly improving to “perfect” their work. With the Gridman Universe movie coming up in a few days, it’s a great time to take a look at the 2nd instalment of the SSSS series.

Like SSSS.Gridman, SSSS.Dynazenon is based on episode 18 of the original Gridman series, but takes place in the “real world”, rather than inside a virtual city of Computer World. The plot revolves around a group of people having nothing to do with each other, suddenly chosen by the Dynazenon to fight against the Kaiju Eugenicists, giant monster controllers hellbent on creating a world for Kaijuus, and destroying humanity along with it. The premise of this series isn’t really that unique, except that the main characters all lead unstable and problematic lives.

Contrary to the series before it, SSSS.Dynazeon does not have a heavy or mind-boggling plot: the plot of this series is simpler, lighter and easier to watch than its predecessor. Instead, the anime focuses more on character development, which is said to be not good in the previous series. The pacing, in my opinion, has improved a lot: the first episode managed to attract the viewer with its fast pace, and the subsequent episodes have elements of character building, action and plot divided and spread evenly, making no episode uninteresting and boring. Such in contrast to SSSS.Gridman, but interestingly, SSSS.Dynazeon’s plot has a structure that is almost identical to that of SSSS.Gridman: the first 5 episodes establish the plot/character as well as the relationships between the characters; episodes 6, 7 mark the major turning point of the characters, followed by an ultimate combined form debut episode (that both take place on the same day as the school festival) and an episode of psychological challenge for the main characters, ending their character arcs (both directed by Kai Ikarashi storyboard and animation director) and the last two episodes serve as the climactic battle. The only difference is that episode 8, 9 of SSSS.Gridman corresponds to episode 9, 10 of SSSS.Dynazenon, since SSSS.Dynazenon includes an episode 8 about Yomogi taking pity on kaiju. In addition to the structure of the plot, the director also added many parallels to SSSS.Gridman to the anime with artistic intent.

Although not the highlight of the film, the plot of SSSS.Dynazeon still put up many commendable things. The plot twists, although not as mind-blowing as the twists of SSSS.Gridman, are still quite surprising to me, such as the cause of death of Kano-san, Yume’s sister, or the kaiju inside Sizumu. The fact that Sizumu has a kaiju inside of him has been hinted at, but they are cleverly inserted so that the viewer doesn’t notice right away. As for Kano’s death by slipping and falling from the dam, the plot lead viewers to believe that she committed suicide, tricking us into thinking that this will be a dark story like Akane’s. In addition to surprising twists, the series also tells a lot of stories with images and sounds, instead of long explanations for viewers. In addition to using symbols such as Yume’s Ankh puzzle, Chise’s Kaiju Seed, and Team Dynazenon’s scars, the show also let the characters express their emotions through expressions and tones, without having to say many words. Regarding this, the scene that I remember the most is in episode 3, after Gauma reveals the real reason why he fights, all the Dynazenon pilots have an identical determined expression, and then shout battle cry “BATTLE…GO!” very uniformly, exuding a very burning synergy without words. The chanting of “BATTLE…GO!” used to express the determination, mood and unity of the Dynazenon team is a way that is, to me, quite clever and interesting.

In short, SSSS.Dynazeon doesn’t focus on plot development, but writer Keiichi Hasegawa and director Akira Amemiya still show a talent that cannot be underestimated in this anime.

In terms of characters, the main characters of SSSS.Dynazenon are really unique, and the way they are built is amazing. The five members of Team Dynazenon, Gauma, Yomogi, Yume, Koyomi and Chise, form a “ragtag group” – they differ greatly in terms of personality, background, age, and the only thing they have in common is their personal issues – their scars.

Yume Minami is a strong-willed high school student who is not used to relying on others. In the first episode, she’s known to viewers through rumors from her classmates – she regularly asks boys in school out, and then ditches them, like a “promise breaking affliction”. Those rumors were true, but behind them was another truth – she always feels lonely, having no friends in her class. Gradually, the hurt goes hurting others – she deliberately “retaliates” to those who abandoned her, not spreading their arms to save her from loneliness. But thanks to that, Yume had a fateful meeting with Yomogi.

Yomogi Asanaka, Yume’s classmate, was a bit timid at first and didn’t dare to defend his opinions. He doesn’t have many problems in life, except for not being smothered by the adults around him, especially his mom and her “boyfriend”. So he goes to work, earns his own money so he doesn’t have to spend the money his mother’s boyfriend gave him, and is determined to become a strong and independent person. The first time Yomogi talked to Yume, Yume told him to meet in the evening, at the place where her sister died, and of course, he had a crush on her and went, but was stood up. However, thanks to Gauma, someone he helped in his time of need, Yomogi was able to meet Yume that night.

Gauma is a mummy over 5000 years old, resurrected due to kaijus appearing in modern times. His personality is kinda inspired by Kittan and Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann – is a mature elder of the group, but sometimes also impulsive and acts foolishly. When he first met Yomogi, he was starving and was saved by his Special Dog. Because of that, Gauma repays Yomogi by finding Yume and making her apologize for not coming to see him. Just then, the sudden appearance of a havoc wreaking kaiju drags the three of them, along with Koyomi and Chise, on a journey of a lifetime.

Koyomi Yamanaka is a genuine NEET who lives in the same city as Yomogi and Yume. Even though he’s in his thirties, he doesn’t have a job and just lies in his room all day, plays game and chats with his cousin Chise. Koyomi doesn’t have much of a personality at first, and his past is only revealed in episode 5: when he was a student, Koyomi ran away after his crush showed him a bag full of money and asked him to elope, and to this day he is still haunted by the incident, making Koyomi himself always lack confidence and always consider himself a coward.

Chise Asukagawa, in contrast to her cousin, is full of personality – she is very well dressed, loves to draw tattoos and is energetic and sometimes mischievous. Despite being the age of a Middle Schooler, she dropped out of school to hang out with her cousin – which the anime later revealed was because she always felt left out and out of place in class. Because she couldn’t get along with her classmates, Chise actually felt self-deprecating, and always covered the tattoo on her hand with a cloth band. The two cousins had no relation to Yomogi, Yume, or Gauma, and their involvement in the war between humans and kaiju was purely coincidental, but thanks to that, these strangers were able to form a very strong bond.

At first, not only were the personalities and backgrounds of each person on the team different, but so were their reasons for fighting. The reason they MUST fight is that “if they don’t fight, the kaiju will destroy everything”, but the reason that really excites them, motivates them to fight is personal: for Yomogi, this is an opportunity for him to be closer to Yume; for Yume, this made her feel less lonely; for an unemployed person like Koyomi, this is like a job, and it helps him feel less useless; with Gauma, he looks forward to seeing the princess he loves again, as revealed in episode 3; As for Chise, she simply want to be included and hang out with the group. It can be said that Dynazenon is the only link between them right now.

Over the course of the first few episodes, that bond becomes thicker – especially the bond between Yomogi and Yume. Keiichi Hasegawa let the five of them go through many things: training together, using teamwork to defeat kaiju for the first time in episode 2, being united in hearts for the first time in episode 3, going to a water park together in episode 5 – every episode has a very good character building situation. The relationship between Yomogi and Yume also gradually formed and tightened: ever since they combined into the Dynasoldier Wing Combine; until Yomogi realized he likes Yume, got restless when Yume talked about seeing someone and feeling normal again after Yume visits him sick and clarifies the misunderstanding; and finally the moment they had fun together at the water park. Besides, Yume and Yomogi also have many influences on each other: protecting Yume gives Yomogi the strength to fight – what he can’t do in practice, he does very well when fighting for/with his crush; and Yume’s search for the truth, while negatively affecting her mind, brings her closer to Yomogi. The anime takes great care of this couple, to the point of showing progress through small details like the way they talk, or the way they glance at each other in class.

Koyomi and Chise’s individual psychology is also fully exploited. Koyomi reunites with his old crush, Inamoto, and is often invited out to eat by her, but gradually these encounters leave him uneasy. Chise’s actions are motivated by her desire not to be left out : she wants to be part of the Dynazenon team, to the point that when Yomogi is sick, Chise is excited to take his place. However, Chise’s sense of inability to fit in persists, as shown by her Kaiju Seed, which absorbs emotions to grow, slowly taking root.

Although Gauma is not very developed, he is the driving force behind changes in the team: thanks to Gauma’s reminder, Yomogi went to find Yume, or Yume visited Yomogi when he was sick, etc; Besides, he also helps Koyomi become more confident.

Episodes 6, 7 are the two episodes I really appreciate. Aside from bringing back Knight (Anti) and (Anosillus) the Second, these two episodes are a major turning point in the character arcs of each Dynazenon team member, lifting their foot away from their personal problems one by one in a skillful way. Episode 6 leaves the protagonists distracted by many problems: Yume is bothered by the theory that her sister has committed suicide and is even more upset when she sees Yomogi being close to other female friends; Yomogi was concerned because Yume was mad at him, and then seeing her talking to Sizumu on the rooftop made him even more worried; Koyomi’s heart is troubled after Inamoto invites her husband to eat with her, falling in being splashed with cold water while falling in love; and Chise feels even more alienated by the team. As a result, the distracted Dynazenon pilots were defeated by two pumped up Kaiju Eugenicists. Episode 7 opens these knots in a very natural way. Koyomi talks about how she saved her former crush’s husband to Gauma, and Gauma advises him to stay true to his feelings, helping Koyomi accept his conflicting feelings. Thanks to that, Koyomi felt more confident because he put aside his feelings of jealousy and did the right thing. As for the two lovers, Yomogi’s sympathy for Yume, after she first opened her heart to others, mended their relationship. As a result, the Dynazenon team is back to its fullest, stronger than ever, and even has two new teammates.

Episode 9 is the equivalent of episode 8 of SSSS.Gridman, one of my favorite episodes of the series, and this time Trigger Studio have outdone themselves. Yume’s investigation into the death of her late sister has always weighed heavily on her mind, and after her conversation with Futaba, Kano’s former lover, her mind is broken. Yume projects her own problems into Kano’s story, and accuses Futaba of not reaching out to save her sister, in the same way she blamed her loneliness on her classmates. Of course this broke Yume: the scene where she collapsed, her hands clinging to the railing with the iron bars all around her, as if she were locked in an invisible prison. But thanks to Yomogi, who came to her rescue, both figuratively and literally, and Chise, who made Yume realize that her efforts were not in vain, the girl regained her spirits. Thanks to this emotional leverage, along with Kaiser Gridknight’s epic combination scene, episode 9 became a memorable new gattai form introduction to me. But the fruit of this episode is when the whole group sets off fireworks after the battle: the image of the Dynazenon team laughing under the night sky, after all the difficulties and sorrows they have gone through, with the background music “Strobe Memory”, highlighted with bright and cheerful kimono-clad Yume appearing in front of Yomogi, creating a rather wholesome ending to the episode.

Episode 10 is the ultimate test for the Dynazenon team – a direct attack to their mind. The main characters are confronted by Garnix, a kaiju capable of sending anyone who regrets anything in the past back to that point in time, and of course the group is caught up in this trick, except for Chise and Second who are protected by Goldburn. Yume is lost in the time when her sister was still alive, Koyomi returns to the time when he was asked to eloped by his crush, Gauma goes back to 5000 years ago, and Yomogi goes back to when his mother started dating a guy he doesn’t like. Their strongest bond, the parts of Dynazenon, crumbled after each lost themselves to a fantasy.
Yomogi has matured, no longer the shy boy at the beginning of the series, but has become truly strong and independent. As the person with the least regret about his past, Koyomi quickly broke out of his fantasy. Fueled by his desire to protect Yume and her pure soul, he goes to rescue the other members, one by one, using Dyna Soldier to mend the other Dyna components – the team’s bonds, and to break each person’s fantasy.

Yume is reunited with her sister, and after talking with the dead, her concerns from the beginning of the film have been relieved, knowing that her sister did not commit suicide, but simply slipped and died (don’t go near slippery places kids). I think this is a gentle and reasonable solution, because if the scriptwriter let Kano commit suicide, it’s hard to say that Yume would feel more relieved after knowing the truth. In the end, Yume solved the half-black, half-white Ankh puzzle – symbolizing the link between the living Yume and the deceased Kano, which had always bothered her. At the end of the episode she reassembled this puzzle, but now that connection is no longer sadness, but her source of strength.

Koyomi made the opposite decision this time – to run away with her crush, but what happened next shocked him: Inamoto just wanted to go on a trip and had no feeling for him. Despite having to face the cold truth, this revelation made his only remaining preoccupation disappear, leaving him with confidence.

Gauma, although not shown throughout the movie, but inside he feels very lonely, because 5000 years ago he betrayed his comrades and still cannot see the princess again. But aside from that loneliness, Gauma’s strong side – born of his ties to Team Dynazenon, has no regrets, and bounced back dynamically when Yomogi came to his rescue.

Dynazenon’s Fantasy-Breaking Punch marks another excellent psychological episode directed by Kai Ikarashi.
The last two episodes show viewers the fruits of this beautiful journey. More mature, the members of the Dynazenon team are now truly mentally strong, and dedicated to protecting humanity. With a firm belief in their ideals and in themselves, they combined one last time and defeated the fusion of the Kaiju Eugenicists. Gauma finally realizes the reason the princess gave him Dynazenon: the princess doesn’t want him to obsess over her, and wants him to make new bonds, to make up for the ones he’s lost 5000 years ago. The film closes with a happy ending for each of the main characters: Yomogi and Yume become lovers, Koyomi is no longer unemployed, and Chise fully embraces herself.

“There are three important things to keep: love, promise, and…bonds.” Each Dynazenon member’s S-shaped scars, along with Chise’s S-shaped dragon tattoo, are symbols of their bond – the anime cleverly plays on words: “kizu” (scar) and “kizuna” (bond). Despite their many differences, Yomogi, Yume, Gauma, Koyomi, and Chise are connected by their own flaws, and gradually develop deep bonds, and it is these bonds that give them the strength to change themselves, as well as protect the world.

The series’ villains – the four Kaiju Eugenicists are not as dangerous and scary as Alexis Kerib but follow the villain formula that viewers can empathize with. They are like opposite versions of the main character, with the same core as the Dynazenon members:

Juuga and Gauma both abandoned their comrades because of their obsession with one person. Gauma once betrayed the Kaiju Eugenicists for the princess, and then lost his friend, lover and even his life. Juuga, after being resurrected, only thinks about Gauma, all his actions revolve around him: dragging Gauma back, surpassing Gauma, etc., and doesn’t care a bit about other Kaiju Eugenicists or their ideal.

Mujina and Koyomi are both troubled by love. Koyomi has always felt frustrated since meeting her old crush; Mujina, after talking with Koyomi and being hugged by Koyomi, has developed feelings for him, but ultimately she couldn’t break away from the shackle that her background has imposed on her. She knows that she can be free had she taken Koyomi’s hands. But she didn’t have the courage to abandon her comrades and the ideals that she has been pursuing all her life. She was afraid she will become empty and cling on to her obsolete belief.

Sizumu and Yomogi both contemplate human imperfection. Yomogi accepts that imperfection, wants to experience all the good and bad in life, and believes that it is through the imperfection that people are connected. Meanwhile, Sizumu rejects it, longing for absolute freedom and perfection, to the point of becoming a kaiju himself – an emotionless being. Onija, however, is the comic relief of the series. He’s always the one with the reckless idea and jump into action without thinking through much. And the punishment he suffers every episode is just a running gag in the series.

Like the protagonists, the four Kaiju Eugenicists initially fought for personal reasons, had several periods of bonding, experienced a turning point, became more united, and eventually returned to their common cause: for the future of kaiju. But they were unable to overcome their personal problems: Juuga was obsessed with senior Gauma to the end, Mujina was never honest with her own feelings, and Sizumu pursued perfection to the end. And so they were defeated in the final confrontation.

Also, Keiichi Hasegawa did not disappoint with the maturity of Anti/Knight. In SSSS.Dynazeon, Knight is not built much, but we can see a drastic change compared to him in the previous series. Knight becomes a guardian of the Dynazenon team, like his master, Samurai Calibur, to the Gridman Alliance. He is much calmer, and his determination to protect the world from kaiju is unwavering, as shown in his conversation with Yomogi in episode 8. This is all the more remarkable considering that Knight’s essence is still a kaiju. As Gridknight, he also matured a lot, becoming a hero as strong and reliable as Gridman.

The visual part of SSSS.Dynazeon is definitely an improvement over SSSS.Gridman. It’s easy to see that the image quality of SSSS.Dynazenon is more HD than that of SSSS.Gridman since the combat used much more CG. It is noteworthy that SSSS.Dynazeon uses many parallel images from SSSS.Gridman, such as some memorable locations and scenes, for example Gridman’s fragmentation scene in episode 1 of SSSS.Gridman being reused in the last episode of SSSS.Dynazeon. In addition, some techniques are also reused, such as using the same explosion animation over and over again every time a kaiju is destroyed. The fight scenes are extremely explosive: this time Trigger Studio showed up more, animating many gattai, finisher and posing scenes, and added to those scenes with many beautiful visual effects; Graphinica still do a good job as 3D animators, and their abilities are put to good use when it comes to animating Dynazenon’s dynamic scenes. Continuing to play the role of character designer, Masaru Sakamoto really has improved his skills.

It’s not surprising that the Dynazenon has a stunningly beautiful design, as this mecha was designed by the creator of Mazinkaiser SKL, Tsuyoshi Nonaka. Just like SSSS.Gridman, Dynazenon is a modern and upgraded take on the Dyna Dragon of the original Toku series. Instead of being another gattai component for the Hyper Agent, the designer has separated Dynazenon into another entity, and its individual combined forms also mimic Gridman’s combination with the Assisted Weapons. With that said, viewers can pretty much predict how the individual pieces combine together, as well as a “final form” as well. Still, knowing it’s coming doesn’t mean one can’t get excited about it. And the Kaiser Gridknight is impeccable, the breastplate and shoulder cannon are very Yuusha-like, and the mecha’s cloak is truly overkill. And if you think about it, GridKnight basically fold himself in half, and keeps his arms raised to hold onto the Dragon Cannon, and that is a really silly and hilarious pose to imagine. But still, it is very much Trigger’s style.

The character designs of each member of the Dynazenon team are simple but unique and highlight their differences (I especially love Yume’s eyes); on top of that, I love how the Kaiju Eugenicists’ outfits look like flashy showman suits. The detailed and colorful design makes the kaiju look really sick (especially the Gagula, the kaiju inside Sizumu), and still retains the variety from SSSS.Gridman.

The audio part of SSSS.Dynazeon still retains its form. The opening song Imperfect is not as lit as Union, but it is still a good song thanks to Masayoshi Oishi’s strong and tireless voice. Maaya Uchida still knows how to close an episode, with the extremely chill ending Strobe Memory. The background music continues to be handled by Shiro Sagisu, and like with SSSS.Gridman, the talented composer once again makes half of the film’s OST from one track, ALL THIS TIME, and all the remixes are so good. Humanlove also returned, and even “gattai” with ALL THIS TIME to create all this human, my favorite remix of the whole OST of the series. In addition, the strong choruses when Dynazenon/Kaiser Gridknight combined/appeared captured my heart, reminding me of “Genesic Final Fusion” in “Gaogaigar FINAL”, the gattai theme that also contains choruses. The voice acting on the show is decent, with Gauma’s voice the most impressive to me – a loud, husky voice that’s befitting of a character based on hot-blooded protagonists of old Super Robot series. Daiki Hamano’s finisher shouts are as fiery as the “King of Braves” Nobuyuki Hiyama’s.

Quiet, gentle but still emotional and meaningful, SSSS.Dynazeon shows viewers the boundless power of human-to-human bonds, but can only be achieved when we actively take the opportunity and change ourselves for the better. So, if one day Dynazenon, or an opportunity to have good memories and bond with someone, appears in front of you, remember not to miss it. Dynazenon and Gridman both took completely different directions in terms of characterization and plot, and due to their restrictive episode counts, both shows didn’t really get to grow into their full potential. But with Gridman Universe coming and the worlds of both show “merge”, we can expect Trigger to explore their “growth” to their full potential, which is definitely an interesting thought to have. Looking forward to it!


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