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.

Oregairu 3 – 07 – The “Psycho” Project

Zaimokuza introduces Hikki and Yui to Hatano and Sagami of the gaming club, who harbor a very crude opinion of Iroha. Hikki manages to convince them they’ll be better positioned to influence next year’s prom if they help him this year—and that one eventually comes to see Iroha’s “wickedness” as “cuteness” in time.

As the newly-formed team forms some broad strokes, Yui suggests they try to ally with a neighboring school they’ve already had dealings with in order to make their project both more realistic and more likely to be pooh-poohed by the PTA. That’s right, Orimoto Kaori and Tamanawa are back!

While Tamanawa has ditched all the corporate lingo, the gesticulating and weird ticks remain. So naturally, his and Hikki’s discussion of the feasibility of the plan in its current state unfolds as a EPIC RAP BATTLE, complete with Kaori punctuating verses with her trademark vapid 2-3 word comments.

I cannot convey with words how unexpected and delightful this was. It kicked all the ass. Tamanawa and Kaori like the idea, but the former wants a little more focus and detail before committing to cooperation. They’re also enthusiastic about hanging out socially some time soon.

Back in the gaming club, Yui vetoes the rest of the committee’s decision to make her “Yahallo” their official greeting, while Zaimokuza comes up with a name for said committee: “The Saiko Project.” Sadly, his explanation is cut off by Hikki…I wanted to hear it!

Hikki steps out to speak to Hayato about collaboration, but spots Yukino with the same coffee he usually drinks, taking a break by herself. Hikki approaches her and she makes room on the bench, and the two proceed to be extremely cute, cozy, and cordial in their dialogue, like two soldiers on opposite sides of the battle calling a brief time-out to shoot the breeze.

Then Yui arrives, and made what had been pretty comfortable situation a lot more awkward. Yukino gets up to leave without saying anything, leading Yui to ask if she’s avoiding her. Yui informs her that she’s helping Hikki, but once the prom planning competition is over, she hugs her and lists all of the things she wants to do with her, and how everything will be okay because those things are on the horizon.

While these are all nice things to aspire to, they also can’t help but smack of desperation, as if not saying them straight-out might mean they won’t happen. But more than that, Yui seems to be getting a bit ahead of herself. I’ll always hope the three can remain close in some capacity down the road, but the fact is we and they just don’t know that yet. Even so, neither Hikki nor Yukino were ready, willing, or even tactless enough to talk Yui down.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 12 (Fin) – Never Gonna Give Up, Never Gonna Let Down

For the record, I was never against Akira running again, I just wanted it to be because she wanted to do it, not because Haruka or anyone else compelled her to. In any hard endeavor, if your heart isn’t in something, quality suffers, and its evident for all.

What I learned from this finale is that both Akira and Masami got nudges of varying kinds from their respective best friends. One of them, Haruka, may have pushed a little to far in her zealousness, but to her credit, is aware of that, and how it may well be selfish of her to put Akira on the spot.

At the same time, Haruka is being true to what she wants, even if it’s selfish or may not work out; even if Akira never speaks to her again, she had to make her stand, in case there was just the slightest glimmer of an ember of passion remaining in post-op Akira’s heart.

Despite the differing levels of intensity, both “friend nudges” ultimately succeed, because there were indeed embers in the hearts of both Akira and Masami, which only needed a little bit of oxygen to reignite. Perhaps due to how receptive he was to Chihiro’s advice, Masami is back to belting out pages through the night, nearly causing a dozen cigarette fires.

It’s at this point that we return to the budding romance of Nishida and Yoshizawa, never an unwelcome prospect owing to their infectious chemistry and general adorability. Both are unsure of their futures, but while Yoshizawa is simply going to college and will figure out what to do later, Nishida has decided to start on the path of hair-styling.

Yoshizawa was the one that nudged her in that direction, fortifying her courage with his confidence in her ability and satisfaction with the work she’s done and, if she’ll have him, will continue to do into the future. Bawwww.

Meanwhile, Haruka continues to wait for Akira, spotting two middle schoolers sharing a scarf while scouting the high school and remembering when she and Akira did the same exact thing, because it was a school that, according to its name, can “see the wind,” something they wanted to do together.

While Kondo is away at the Head Office again, sparking rumors that he’s soon to be promoted, his son Yuuto suddenly asks Akira if she’s fast, and whether she’ll teach him. Akira just as suddenly agrees, and does a really good job!

When Yuuto falls, he asks if he wants a break, but he refuses, not wanting to give up; wanting to reach the finish line even if he’s last, or else it will feel like he never ran. Just when it sounds like a “from the mouths of babes” moment, Yuuto makes it clear it was his dad that said this stuff to him, adding that he wasn’t going to give up either.

When she catches Kondo in the office, he thanks her for teaching his son, and she tells him what Yuuto told her. Akira can tell he’s gotten back into writing novels, and he tells her he’s essentially added a promise to a promise one from which he’s both suffered and learned, wondering out loud if she has a similar promise she’s forgotten.

That night, she remembers. Unpleasant and overdone as it was, Haruka’s confrontation nevertheless helped unsheath a still-warm ember in her heart. Kondo’s inspiring words and those of his son then reignited it.

Kondo finally announces why he’s been at the head office so much: it’s not that he’s getting promoted, but he has to master a new menu…which he hasn’t been able to do. His coworkers assume it’s another episode of their pitiable bed-headed manager bumbling about again…but nobody knows that he hasn’t kept up with the new menu because he’s so absorbed in writing. Nobody, that is, except Akira.

When he even leaves the menu book behind, Akira decides to tracks him down to return it. She remembers that after the fall that tore her Achilles, Haruka urged her to get back up, and she did, limping across the finish line. She didn’t give up.

Kondou encounter her in a light jog, and after what happened the last time she chased someone down, Kondou is worried. But Akira is perfectly fine, telling him “It’ll stop raining soon.”

Kondou is about to say something but is interrupted by a phone call—no doubt the head office tearing him a new one. But as Tachibana quietly walks away, the rain stops, the clouds part, and a lusciously gorgeous deep blue sky opens up, reflected in the pools of fallen rain.

He calls out her name once more, and she comes running, practically throwing herself into his arms. And she’s fine, no re-aggravation. They resolve to fulfill their own promises—his writing, her running—they’ll let each other know right away, whenever that may be. Akira then texts Haruka, indicating her desire for them to “see the wind” together again.

It’s a lovely end to a lovely show to put a very necessary pause on their romance. Rekindling fires is one thing, keeping them going long and strong is another. It takes time, dedication, effort, and care. As such, I imagine by the time Akira makes some good progress fulfilling her promise, she’ll be sufficiently old to remove the elephant from the room of their relationship.

However things go, it’s good to see Akira and Kondou end up in such a good place. They both know what they have to do, but more importantly, they know what they want to do, and are going to give it their all—come what may.

Sora no Method – 05

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With help from Koharu and Noel, Nonoka starts to implement her plan to bring everyone back together and apologize for breaking her promise, by making a new promise to Yuzuki: that they’ll launch fireworks from the lake in a week’s time.

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Yuzuki is dubious and quick to run away from Nonoka, Koharu, and Souta, an action that’s grown somewhat repetitive these last two episodes, to the point that if you took a shot every time she ran away in a huff, you’d be pretty boiled. But Nonoka and Koharu’s concerted efforts to make the fireworks happen ultimately manage to draw out what’s been eating Yuzuki all along.

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Even Shione agrees to come in a week…if Nonoka can make the fireworks happen, which she doubts, meaning she thinks Nonoka is lying again, because she’s a liar. Shione has been feeling lied to an abandoned for so long, it’s formed a cold, hard, cynical crust. But we learn her and Yuzuki are not angry for the same reasons at all.

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Yuzuki has really been angry at herself, ever since she ran away from home with fireworks and Souta rode off, desperately looking for her. In the process, he crashes his bike and badly hurts his leg, ending up in the hospital. Yet when their parents ask what he was doing, he protects Yuzuki and shoulders the blame himself.

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Even before that, when the five friends were to meet at the pier for fireworks, nobody was able to make it. Yuzuki and Souta got separated at the festival, while Shione and Koharu stayed home. The only one who actually got to the pier was Nonoka, who was at the waterfront with her mom. When Yuzuki sees the dated photo proving she was there, she’s compelled to apologize to her too.

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I for one am glad Yuzuki figured stuff out and there was finally a cathartic reunion. Even more significant, the four friends together (minus Shione, who’s still loitering around nearby, ever at a distance) actually get to see fireworks courtesy of Noel, who projects them off the saucer. This time, Nonoka was able to keep her promise. She’s made up with Yuzuki; but is that enough to move Shione?

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Nisekoi – 16

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Well, how about that: an entire episode devoted to Kosaki and Raku? I‘m on board. In fact, I’m just as giddy about it as the two of them were at the prospect of spending some time alone together, even if the other doesn’t know just how much the other likes them, because neither of them will ever get the point unless one of them tells the other directly, and possibly draws a diagram – which neither of them will ever do.

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But who cares about that? This week Nisekoi places Chitoge and Marika on the back burner and gives us All Kosaki, All The Time, showing that Kosaki may be down, but she’s not out, and she’s not ready to give up the fight. And one should never count a HanaKana character out. In addition to being almost sickeningly adorable and endearing throughout, the mere fact she asked Raku to come and work in her family’s shop is proof that she’s getting better at looking out for her own interests.

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This is also one of the funnier episodes of Nisekoi, from the manic energy of Kosaki and Raku during their initial nervousness, to Raku imagining all of the things Kosaki does in her room, calling to mind the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Raku cursing the typhoon for not being able to “read a room.” We enjoyed the brief appearance by Kosaki’s mom, who is the opposite of Kosaki in that she’s forceful and speaks her mind, embarrassing both Kosaki and Raku, but not saying anything that isn’t true, either.

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Her mom doesn’t have to convince Raku to marry into the family; it’s something part of him already wants to do, and the more fun he and Kosaki have together, the stronger the feeling gets. The only things stopping him are an impending mob war and the ire of the police commissioner, and at least three partially broken hearts.

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The episode ends with Raku going home, both he and Kosaki proud of themselves for the progress they made, but at this point in the game, I still think they should have said a little bit more to each other. Raku at least gets Kosaki’s e-mail at last, and she comes SO FRIKKING CLOSE to texting him that she had a crush on him, but deletes the words, retreating again.

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The divine punishment Kosaki worried about after such a perfect day with Raku is already in effect from what we’ve seen: despite being the perfect couple in so many ways; despite knowing each other so well, and sticking out to each other in photos, neither is capable of believing the other likes them.

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Nisekoi – 15

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Last week I lauded the addition of Tachibana Marika to the cast, and my positive impressions were only reinforced this week. Among the hesitant, dilatory Kosaki and the tsunderes Seishirou and Chitoge, Marika is a breath of fresh air. She’s aggressive about her feelings for (and legal claim to) Raku in a way the others simply haven’t been, and it feels like her approach is already influencing Raku while simultaneously making his choice a lot more difficult.

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The memory of meeting and falling for Raku is still fresh in Marika’s mind, as she tells the story of how he visited and played with her while she was bedridden. Even back then, Raku was a kind, decent fellow. When she brought up the subject of what kind of girls he likes, Raku told her, and ever since then, she’s made herself into that ideal. She put the work in and kept the flame burning, something you can’t say of any of his other suitors.

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Raku also finally gets Kosaki, Chitoge and Marika together to brief them on the situation: there are three keys, but only one locket. Marika doesn’t remember anything about the other two any more than the other girls do, only the memories involving her and Raku, and the locket is still being repaired, so the moment of truth is postponed. But regardless of whose key opens the locket, Marika is working to make Raku hers, even as Raku clings to his certainty that Kosaki is the one he presently loves.

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As I said, she’s succeeding due to her uncompromising devotion and aggression. It doesn’t matter if he hasn’t accepted the engagement; as far as she’s concerned, they’re all but married already. As such, she invites Raku to her penthouse home to meet her father, who is frikkin’ HILARIOUS. In addition to being voiced with gusto by Tachiki Fumihiko, he’s scary as all get-out; far scarier than any yakuza Raku’s met. There’s abundant comedy just in watching Raku squirm, and it’s just as funny how Marika acts naturally through all of her father’s intense outbursts.

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When it comes down to it, though, Marika’s father gets the full truth out of Raku, and turns out to be a fair, perceptive man who obviously cares for his daughter. Whatever Raku has going on, be it another girlfriend or a girl he’s really in love with, he reiterates that at the end of the day he must keep his promise and make Marika happy. There’s no threat in this statement; it’s simply plain words from one man to another, both of whom have staked their honor on this arrangement.

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Perhaps the best part of this episode of all is when Marika asks Raku in the hallway how she could further transform herself to make herself more desirable to him. Taking a page out of her book, Raku is truthful and aggressive, heaping all the praise she deserves upon her, and telling her she’s cute, awesome, and sweet, regardless of her hairstyle or accent. I’m inclined to agree.

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Nisekoi – 14

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Four. Now there are four girls after Raku. Just what the hell kinda pheremones are on this guy? That’s a lot of girls in one show to be after one guy, and the episode seems to acknowledge that by having poor Kosaki fade into the background, as well as limiting Seishirou’s screen time.

Thus, out of all the triangles that could be drawn, the one this episode focuses on is between Raku, Chitoge, and the new girl Tachibana Marika, voiced by the prolific adorable-girl-voicer Asumi Kana. That said, everyone had a nice “Are you fucking kidding me” reaction to her sudden transfer into their class.

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As it turns out, adding a new girl puts a welcome charge into the show, especially considering her circumstances: all evidence so far points to the fact that she was the one Raku befriended ten years ago. Marika and Raku’s dads agreed that Raku would Marika. Because Marika’s dad is Police Commissioner, Marika’s claim to Raku can’t be easily set aside without causing trouble for his family.

I liked how Marika obviously maintained her love for Raku all those years, but is also fully aware of the leverage she has over him and the other girls after him. She’s also not above lying to be alone with him, or setting up situations where he’d pity her (the incident in the park when she left her purse, knowing he’d go after her and hear about her frailty, which may acutally be a real thing). It’s also notable that she considers Chitoge gorilla-like, just as Raku does.

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Marika gets more complex still when Raku admits he doesn’t remember her at all and frankly doesn’t know what he did to make her love him so much. Hearing this causes her to erupt into a fit of rage, exposing her Kansai dialect, which in turn jogs Raku’s memory. Looks like she tried to become the ideal woman he described ten years ago, but in the process, became someone he didn’t recognize until she dropped the act.

I like Marika. I also like how well she can spot a tail (her dad’s a cop after all); I like how she’s not as perfect as she initially seemed, and I think she has the best claim to him (assuming she’s not deceiving him). But the ball is still firmly in Raku’s court with regard to which girl to choose. Too often in these situations the girls always go through more than they should because the guy is being indecisive, leading them all on.

Raku’s been able to blame lack of information for his dalliance thus far, but that window is closing. If he can’t pick one girl, and soon, then he doesn’t deserve any of them.

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Nisekoi – 13

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One thing that’s been driving me MAD throughout this whole “mystery girl” thing is, why should it even matter? They were FIVE, for crying out loud. It doesn’t matter who Raku liked then; it matters who he likes now. Or I should say, who he likes the most now. I’d say at this point the ranking goes: Kosaki, Chitoge, Seishirou, Ruri, and lastly, whatever other attractive girl happens to get all up in his space. He is still a teenager after all.

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Sure, it could be argued that he’s kept his promise seriously out of a sense of honor and loyalty to that girl…but if that’s the case, why doesn’t he even remember her friggin’ hair color? No, the mystery is an excuse he’s using (likely not intentionally) to avoid making a decision about the here and now. Even if he and Chitoge have to remain in their false relationship for the sake of their families doesn’t mean Raku can’t be upfront and honest with the girl he/likes (most) at present. …Right? (I’m not asking anyone in particular.) But the fact is, even if Raku wasn’t overthinking or obsessing over the hazy past, he’s still in a difficult situation.

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While it may seem he likes Kosaki the most, Chitoge is definitely making inroads with her adorableness, whether she’s drawing nearer to him so he won’t get wet under the umbrella, or jumping into his arms when lightning strikes, their bond seems to be growing, in fits and spurts. And Raku’s dad continues the trend of the dads saying awesome things by confirming what I said, to Raku and Chitoge’s horror: they’re looking less nise and more koi all the time.

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Thank brings me to this week’s Big Reveal: the famous photo Raku finds, the only one from ten years ago, is neither Kosaki or Chitoge. BOOM. Furthermore, before Raku can ask his dad who the third girl was, his dad announces that she’s Raku’s betrothed (or fiancee), and she’s on her way to see him. And you know what? That’s fine with me. I’ve routed for all three girls at different times in the show’s run. I welcome a fourth, eager to see what she brings to the table…not more futility, I hope!

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