SSSS.Dynazenon – 01 (First Impressions) – Battle, Go!!

Like its predecessor Gainax, Trigger is known for ambitious, sumptuous, stylish, and sometimes chaotic action bangers that usually pay tribute or homage to anime history in some way. Trigger’s first big hit was Kill la Kill, which approached and sometimes surpassed Gurren Lagann’s iconic escalating insanity.

Seemingly every Trigger series has been polarizing, perhaps none more than Darling in the FranXX (which I personally loved).  Even with series generally considered middling like InoBato and Kiznaiver, you’re assured a feast for the eyes and ears. There’s also a lot of love and joy in its series; they almost always reach for the skies rather than go through the motions.

Trigger’s Fall 2018 entry SSSS.Gridman revived an obscure 90s tokusatsu series and imbued it with vibrant, dynamic, flawed characters and the kind of crazy world-flipping twists that would have been unheard of in the original series. Dynazenon (which sounds like something invented by Buckminster Fuller) is the follow up to Gridman, but so far shares neither setting nor cast with its 2018 predecessor.

What is does share is a relatively mundane first couple acts, in which the kaiju and its anti-grav effects are only hinted at on the margins of the frame. We meet the four main kids: the utterly ordinary Asanaka Yomogi; the aloof Minami Yume, who serially asks boys out then stands them up and is possessed with an exceptionally icy glare; the shut-in NEET Yamanaka Koyomi; and his truant cousin Asukagawa Chise.

The fifth character is Gauma, who stands out from the others with his bizarre hair, clothes, and insistence he’s a “kaiju user”. He’s out of place in this world where the other four are just hanging around, carrying on with their normal, unexceptional lives. Still, when Yomogi hears Gauma’s stomach growling when he encounters him under a bridge, he gives him some food, and immediately gains Gauma’s gratitude and loyalty.

Yomogi’s family situation is such that his mom brings him on dates with her wealthy gentleman caller, who gives Yomogi a fat stack for his birthday to ingratiate himself. Meanwhile, we learn Yume’s sister Kano is dead her room hasn’t been repurposed yet. Yume has to ask to even enter the room, and she finds two things: a calendar with a particular date circled (a recital perhaps Yume promised to attend but didn’t) and two interlocking metal ankhs that gently clink like a rain chime and shackles in equal measure.

What I love about these establishing scenes is that they are so normal and undramatic, but also intimate. It grounds us the realism of this humdrum world and its realistic characters before things go all tokusatsu. Yomogi and Yume cross paths by accident, when the former is running away from a far-too-insistent Gauma chasing him like an eager dog.

Yume wastes no time arranging a meet-up with Yomogi when he gets off work at nine. Meanwhile, the antigrav incidents around town increase, and Chise wants to drag Koyomi out of bed so they can go investigate. As expected, she stands Yomogi up, as he waits 40 minutes in vain. Fortunately for him, Gauma’s on the case: he’ll locate Yume for him.

Turns out Yume is within eyeshot of Yomogi on a nearby bridge, and when Gauma finds her and starts yelling at her for daring to mess with his new best bro, they’re within earshot as well. Yomogi heads to the bridge, and Yume admits to him and Gauma that yes, she stood him up, because yes, there is “something wrong” with her. It’s as if her “promise-breaking affliction” is a self-fulfilling prophesy.

There’s no time to get into this further because a giant robotic dino-kaiju suddenly appears in the midst of downtown, kicking up apartment blocks and office towers like a batter kicks up dirt when stepping up to the plate. The spacial relationship between the three characters on the bridge and the kaiju is clearly established, adding to the sense of scale and realism.

Deciding this is his time to shine, Gauma pulls out a glowing package, which causes a giant purple wireframe robotic hand to coalesce above his and the other’s heads. Chise and Koyomi watch it all, and Chise snaps a pic only for the purple wire robot to glare at her.

She and Koyomi run for it, but Koyomi is caught. He finds himself in a multi-chamber cockpit already occupied by Gauma, Yomogi and Yume. Then we get the first money shot of the red-and-gold mecha Dynazenon that Gauma learns he needed a total of four people to operate.

With that quota met, Gauma takes the reins—for what he admits is his first time—flies over to where his purple-and-silver enemy is waiting, and then we get a good old-fashioned rock-’em-sock-’em mecha-vs.-mecha-kaiju fight of yore—only with far more modern and enhanced production values.

You can feel the weight of the massive metal beasts as buildings crumble around them, and the heat of their various vents and exhausts as Gauma grabs his opponent and Dynazenon transforms into Dyna Rex, complete with dragon wings with which he launches high into the sky with his opponent.

One Blazing Inferno Rex Roar later, the enemy kaiju is obliterated. Gauma celebrates, Koyomi calls a worried-sick Chise to assure her he’s just fine, and Yomogi stares at Yume while recalling her words “something is wrong with me.”

You’re not alone, sister. It’s clear there’s something a little off about all four of them, and the SSSS in the title stands for Scarred Souls Shine like Stars, their flaws are the reason they’re in that cockpit, brought together by the still-mysterious Gauma.

The first battle is typically the easiest. I’m looking forward to watching how this unlikely quartet of comrades—whom I feel we already know pretty well thanks to the quieter first acts— deal with this sudden upheaval to their ho-hum lives. We’ll see if this unexpected calling is just the thing they need to sooth those scarred souls of theirs. Until then, this was a hell of an opening salvo.

Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 08

saks81

In this, the finest episode of Sakurako-san to date, One solved mystery leads to a second, than a third, and opens up the possibility of the larger, deeper truths involving Sakurako and her brother, whom Shoutarou reminds her of so much. Shoutarou feels he’s created a rift between him and Sakurako after his outburst about her cat Ulna.

Asking if she’ll accompany him to personally deliver Sasaki-sensei’s effects to his surviving relative is a way for him to reestablish contact, but she claims she’s just “tired”, not avoiding him, and must have been mistaken when she mentioned cat bones at the school, noting quite pointedly “Even I make mistakes, sometimes.”

saks82

Sasaki’s sister, the wheelchair-bound Haruma Sayuki, greets them warmly and thanks them for bringing her brother’s belongings. She’s also able to confirm the identity of the bones in Sasaki’s office, those of Sone Natsuko. The alleged child of a sex worker who came to live with Atsurou and Sayuki, her brother fell for “Nacchan”, but she had a baby out of wedlock—not by him—that was born premature and died soon thereafter.

It was the bones of that baby—whom Natsuko buried that very night many years ago—Sayuki had hoped Shou had brought, so she could lay them and her mother’s bones to rest in the family grave, something her family would probably never have allowed back in the old days.

Sakurako has all she needs to deduce the location of the babe’s bones: in the vicinity of a monument to Mistletoe, a book both Natsuko and Atsurou loved. Sure enough, they find bones, but she also discovers a different truth that differs from Sayuki’s account, and all because Sayuki happened to be wearing open-toed sandals when she first met her and Shou.

saks83

Sayuki has “Celtic-style” feet, with the index toe taller than the big toe; the same kind of foot Sayuki has and Atsurou had. Combined with the extremely high risk of a woman who just gave birth exerting herself buring a child, Sakurako believes Sayuki is the mother, which she finally admits. Natsuko had helped her get in touch with a man she fell in love with, and she got pregnant out of wedlock.

Because her father had arranged a marriage for her, she could not keep the baby, so the fiction was created that it was Natsuko’s, thus preserving Sayuki for marriage, but destroying any chances of Natsuko and Atsurou getting marrying. Natsuko died alone, and Sayuki was going to as well, but now she’ll be reunited with Natsuko, whom she loved as a sister, and her own child, before she dies.

It is strongly hinted at that Sayuki didn’t give birth to a premature child, but rather aborted her, the means for which must have been crude and dangerous.

saks84

It’s a heartbreaking change to an already heartbreaking narrative, in this show that deals with themes and events in real life that few anime bother to. When Shoutarou wonders why Sasaki-sensei never married Natsuko even after being disowned by his family for pursuing a life of education, Sakurako has a simple answer: he believed Natsuko herself may have been a half-sibling by blood, with a shared father. That may not have been the real truth, but it was still a truth he believed in until his death. “Sometimes there’s more than one truth,” Saku remarks.

Back when Shou gave Sayuki her brother’s effects, he kept the photo with the poem, fearing it meant something bad or sad. But with all this new information coming to light, he does further research, and gives the photo to Sayuki, who identifies the poem as one by Roka, and concluding Natsuko wrote it to express her own grief when she was close to death. For a moment, Sayuki transforms into her younger self, filled with grief but also a sense of closure and catharsis. It’s a very moving scene, and it’s thanks to Shou for not closing the case too early.

But that’s not the end of Shou’s sleuthing this week. Staring at a diagram of a skeleton in his school’s lab and thinking about Sakurako’s comment about “more than one truth”, it dawns on him that Sakurako indeed stole the cat bones, and knows why: Because the ulna is only one of two bones in the forearm: the other is the radius. Sakurako had two cats.

saks85

Sakurako and Shou, who looked so cold and grey and distant during the car ride at the start of the episode, are enrobed in the warm, sensual light of the setting sun as Shou argues his case and she listens attentively. He further deduces that because she knew her way to the lab so quickly, and the school was once all-girls, that she was an alumna at his school. Sakurako heartily applauds Shou’s skills of observation: he is correct.

Someone poisoned her two cats, Ulna and Radius, when she was little. She went to Sasaki-sensei with the corpses, who understood what she wanted to do. In life, the cats were always inseparable, so she wanted to reunite them in death as well once she found Radius again, if only briefly.

She hid the theft from Shou thinking he wouldn’t understand, but ironically it’s because she acts like, as she says, an “emotional, foolish human being” that he can finally realize there are some things about the two of them that are alike; that it isn’t hopeless to be friends with her; that he can understand her, sometimes. When he says she can keep the cat in exchange for fox bones, she shows more of that emotion.

That brings us to the relationship we now know of between Sakurako and Sasaki, who taught her osteology and considered her an apprentice. And to Saku admitting “even she makes mistakes sometimes.” Did Saku and Sasaki’s relationship go even deeper into “absurd emotional human” territory?

Could the titular “bones under her feet” (and the small skull that orbits her in the ED) be not her brother’s, but those of her son? All speculation on my part, but I don’t think it’s that wild. There are many more truths and mistakes and motivations to unpack in the final three episodes.

9_mag

Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 07

saks71

To Shou’s apparent amazement, Sakurako graces his school festival with her presence—in a skirt, no less!—though it could have more to do with the fact she’d have access to delicious pancakes than any particular urge to see or hang out with Shou. Or is that being too harsh? In a show full of mysteries, Sakurako remains the largest, though we’re now 7/11ths into the show.

saks72

Suddenly disappearing after her meal, Shou finds her in the one place in a school she’d go: the lab, to check out skeletons. She couldn’t care less about rudely off and going without saying something, either because she just doesn’t conform to social norms, or because she knew Shou would be able to find her if he needed to. Far more important to Saku once she inspects the bones, is that a grave injustice is taking place.

The skeletons are gathering dust as decor rather than being handled by students for educational benefit. I loved her matter-of-fact indignation and scolding of Professor Isozaki who maintains the lab but is more of a plant guy, but promises improvement, which matters to Saku more than apologies.

Things take a very Sakurako-san-like turn when Isozaki offers Saku the job of organizing a prep room full of unorganized bones left there by the former teacher who is now deceased. Saku agrees in exchange for three pumpkin Mont Blancs from Patisserie Dandelion, a very specific but also delicious-sounding (and fair) price.

saks73

During the long, dusty process of organizing the prep room and taking inventory of the bones, Saku comes across the skeleton of a dog and a cat, which disturbs Shou quite a bit due to their status as pets. He also remembers seeing a cat skeleton with the name “Ulna” in Saku’s house, and she tells him Ulna was the name of her pet cat, who died an “unnatural death.” She wanted to learn the cause, so she performed an autopsy.

This really unsettles Shou, who gets frustrated when Saku reacts so differently than him. He feels she’s being cold and heartless, even if that’s not really quite the case. It’s another depressing sign to him that Saku is so very different than him, which more than the fact she has a fiancee (that’s more of an excuse not to pursue her, not a true obstacle, as Isozaki opines), keeps him from making a closer connection, to say nothing of pursuing a romance.

They also find a chest full of the bones of a cremated human named Sone Natsuko, who judging from the writings among Sasaki’s personal effects, had at least some connection with him, possibly a close one. Alas, it isn’t a case for Sakurako-san, as the police are called and take the remains away.

saks74

The next day, Shou is confused by the lack of a cat skeleton in the inventory, when he could swear Saku was stroking a cat skull, just as he was talking about her petting Ulna. Because of the way Shou thinks and makes connections to interactions, he believes he might have upset Saku with his in hindsight over-the-top reaction to her comments on Ulna.

But of course an analytical person like Saku would want to find out why her cat died. That, not burying her in the yard and burning some incense, is how she processes the pain of her loss. And when Shou comes to her mansion to deliver her Mont Blancs, the gate is locked. Not because Sakurako is angry, but because she’s gone to visit her uncle, Shitara.

Shitara’s a professor of forensic medicine, now confined to a bed and requiring some kind of SGD to communicate. Saku, perhaps inspired by Shou bringing up Ulna, has come for Shitara’s unsolved case, which she wants to investigate, and she has Shitara’s blessing, provided she doesn’t do anything dangerous. I wonder if Saku will let Shou in on this. She’d better, if she wants those Mont Blancs…

8_mag