SSSS.Dynazenon – 03 – Helping People In Need

Onija, the fiery member of the Eugenicists, gets into a yelling match with Gauma, calling him a traitor and ready to kill him. The only problem, as the level-headed Juuga (a calm Kamiya Hiroshi) points out, is they have no kaiju with which to fight Dynazenon, so they’d better just split for now. But it’s clear there’s bad blood between them, and Gauma’s human co-pilots want to know what led to the rift.

In the meantime, Yomogi attempts to practice in his Dyna Soldier, and then he and Yume actually hang out during school. Specifically, they go to the chorus club advisor asking about her sister Kano, who she tells Yomogi died five years ago, just before the first recital she ever invited her to.

Yume and her sister didn’t speak much. Koyomi then runs into a classmate from middle school he once watched breaking school windows; now she’s married…and Yomogi’s boss, who gives him her contact info. Little by little, we’re being presented with bits and pieces of the Dyna-pilots’ pasts. Do their connections to each other predate their current collab?

Perhaps most mysterious is what is up with Gauma and the Eugenicists. Juuga takes the step of meeting with Yomogi after school—not to threaten, like his hotheaded comrade, but to answer what questions he can. Yomogi learns that Gauma was someone Juuga and the others looked up to 5,000 years ago, but at some point Gauma betrayed them and they all died.

Now they’ve revived…for some reason. As for how and why Gauma betrayed his kohais, he’s tight-lipped as the co-pilots visit him under the bridge, eating tiny river crabs. The next day, a new kaiju appears, and Onija uses the Vulcan Salute to activate it.

When the Dyna-pilots learn of the new kaiju sighting, they all answer the call, but remain frustrated with Gauma’s silence. When it’s clear they won’t be able to defeat Onija’s explosive-lobbing kaiju without combining, they insist he give them something so they can trust him enough to combine.

Gauma gives in, telling them he wants to meet someone, and believes he was given the power to operate Dynazenon so that he could find that person in this era. When he affirms that this “someone” is a woman, everyone understands, and are sufficiently satisfied that the combination can proceed.

The combined Dynazenon grabs the kaiju and launches it into space, where its explosion attacks won’t work in a vacuum (while proving that this world has significant differences from Akane’s “world” in Gridman). Dynazenon launches all its weapons, which apparently work just fine in space. The kaiju is blasted to pieces, one of which gets through the atmosphere and knocks Onija off his electrical pylon. But while it sure looked like he was killed, he’s actually fine.

“Kaiju defy common sense,” says Gauma. They make the impossible possible. All the pilots need to confirm this is the fact they’re floating in space. But to Yume, it means something more. If the person Gauma wants to meet revived, maybe her sister can be revived too?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SSSS.Dynazenon – 02 – What Are We Now?

The first of many wonderful decisions made in this exquisitely directed and impeccably detailed second episode is that we catch a second look at the end of last week’s kaiju battle from Yomogi’s POV. It’s great to see this confused ordinary kid simply along for the ride as Dynazenon leaps, flies, and takes its opponent down.

After that, the dino-mecha vanishes, or rather reverts to its resting form of four toys distributed among the three new co-pilots by Gauma. When Yomogi says he didn’t even do anything, Gauma says it’s possibly Dynazenon recognized his innate aptitude.

Then immediately goes back to what he was doing before the attack: castigating Yume for standing Yomogi up, leading Yomogi to ask for calm. Gauma goes on to say a group called the Kaiju Eugenicists controlled the kaiju, and they’ll be back, so the group has to train. Everyone agrees to meet up tomorrow…even Yume.

The next day at school and in Koyomi’s room, everything seemingly reverts back to normal, except for the compression of classes due to the kaiju attack. Yomogi’s friends want him to hang, but he has work. Chise points out to Koyomi that if he’s a robot co-pilot then that means he’s technically employed.

After school Yume gets a piggyback ride from her best friend Mei on a grassy hill near the flood gate. We’ve never seen her so outwardly joyful, laughing until she’s out of breath before heading to training session, this time keeping her word. Mei, a photog, notices this sudden change in Yume’s attitude and snaps some gorgeous candid shots of her as she parts.

Yomogi, who’d classically be the one most “into” this new kaiju-punching mecha scenario, has to work instead, missing the first training session. When his manager what happened on his date, he says “way too much” happened, though none of it “erotically”. He then goes home for a soak and is shocked when Gauma comes in to join him in a far-too-cramped tub.

There’s a lovely juxtaposition between Yomogi and Gauma’s bath and Yume’s. Yomogi was thinking about what having “aptitude” for Dynazenon means, while Yume is thinking about apologizing to Yomogi. Her parents are arguing on the other side of Yume’s bathroom door, one instance of many of Dynazenon’s elite sound design.

From the tinny sound of voices on radio or TV, voices muffled through walls, far away, close up, outside and on the train, we hear voices in Dynazenon just like we do in real life. Also adding to the immersive realism are the extremely lived-in interiors. Like Gauma, we feel like an honored guest in the cozy, realistically cluttered home Yomogi shares with his mom and aging granny.

It’s also clear from this scene why Yomogi is working so much he’s missing all of Gauma’s training sessions: with no siblings or father, now that he’s old enough to work he wants to help support his family as much as he can. As odd as Gauma is, he still seems to get this, and isn’t hard on Yomogi’s choice to skip training for work.

But as we’re introduced to four suspicious figures near a wrecked station, he won’t be able to ignore his Dyna-duties for long. Yume tracks him down and decides to give him a one-on-one lesson on how to access his Dyna-vehicle. She starts by accessing hers: the aerial Dyna Wing, and he accesses Dyna Soldier. Then she merges with him, giving his robot the ability to fly and giving her robot arms and legs with which to fight.

The two combine quickly and without any fanfare, but it still feels like an intimate act, and it was foreshadowed by Yume piggyback riding on Mei’s back. Now she’s piggybacking on Yomogi, and their maiden flight together results in a very sweet and simple conciliatory talk from 40,000 feet travelling at mach 0.8.

Yume is sorry, and Yomogi isn’t mad. Yomogi asked “What are we now?”, referring to their combined Wing/Soldier form. But you could just as easily answer that “what they are now” … is friends. They were able to bridge the distance between them and start fresh…all thanks to robots.

In a very slick transition, their combined “Dyna Wing Soldier” flies behind a building as the camera pans down, and once we’re at ground level we see Yume and Yomogi walking together. They visit the collateral damage the kaiju battle caused, which distresses Yomogi, but Yume assures him it would have been far worse had they not fought and defeated the kaiju. In light of the mess they made, Yomogi wonders if they should hand off their Dyna duties to someone else—perhaps someone older or more experience.

Yume’s response is instructive: If you always go by the book, there are things you can’t protect. On the train home, Yume opens up to him about how her sister died, in an accident, at the flood gate where she spends so much time. It’s another momentous moment presented with sublime mundaneness. Kudos again to the sound design, as you can hear her voice bouncing off the metal walls of the train.

Just like that, smash cut to the kaiju of the week – initially so unassuming, taking up a tiny portion of the frame as it lurks under an overpass. Then Yuuga, one of the four too-cool-for-school “Bad Guy” kaiju users in marching band uniforms (a Trigger trademark) is chosen by the others to take command, and the kaiju grows to immense size.

The psychedelic kaiju starts leveling city blocks when Dynazenon arrives, just as Yuuga & Co. predicted. Only as expected, this second kaiju is a lot trickier than the first. One can’t just punch it, because it can freakin’ teleport. Yuuga uses this ability to great effect by kicking the shit out of the comparatively sluggish Dynazenon while dodging all it’s counterattacks.

Gauma decides to audible “Disperse!”, and the four Dyna parts split, giving their opponent four targets. The only problem is, without any training Yomogi has no idea how to move his Soldier Dyna on its own, and as he wrestles with the controls his sitting duck Dyna’s arms flail around comically. If that wasn’t enough, his manager calls him from work, a fun instance of his normal life interrupting his new kaiju-bustin’ one.

When the enemy kaiju accelerates its destructo-beams and buildings start to crumble, Yomogi spots a bus full of innocent people in harm’s way, and realizes that whether he’s confident in his abilities or not, he wants to protect them. Yume suggests they do what they did before and piggyback into Dyna Soldier, and with Yume’s added agility is able to destroy the fragile wings the kaiju was using to teleport.

After that, he and Yume launch the kaiju high into the sky, where Gauma is able to finish it off with his Dyna Launcher Burst Missile. Team Dynazenon is now 2-for-2, with Dyna-teamwork making the Dyna-dream work. As they exit their robots and bask in their latest victory, Yomogi asks if Yume was close to her sister. She says they didn’t get along well, but admits that now she’s not so sure anymore.

Just as their regular lives are portrayed so simply and realistically with both sights and sounds, there’s a similar realism to the feelings Yume and Yomogi expressed here. There’s nothing over-the-top or melodramatic about their exchanges. Instead, they’re becoming closer little by little, at their own pace.

Unfortunately the pace of battles is likely to heat up, as the enemy kaiju users Gauma identifies as the “Kaiju Eugenicists” are steaming over their latest defeat. Our ragtag gang of good-hearted souls want to keep protecting what they can, they’ll need to step up their Dyna-battle game, ’cause these drum majors look serious, and the gloves are coming off.

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.