First Impression: SSSS.Dynazenon

The episode opens with a rapid montage of ambiguous scenes: teenagers hanging out along a riverbank; a muted argument in a school corridor; a hand releasing pearl-like beads that seem to sparkle into stars in the night sky in the next shot; a train station; a closeup of a bead on the platform; and an intertitle that reads, “Scarred Souls Shine like Stars”. All will no doubt become clear as the episode and series progress, though fans of SSSS.Gridman might recognise the twinkling stars. The next fifteen minutes introduce a fairly wide cast of characters: hard-working, kind-hearted high schooler Asanaka Yomogi; his friends who think that high school bullying is a myth and then proceed to spread nasty rumors about Minami Yume; Minami Yume herself, who perches mysteriously on the edge of an even more mysterious building along the riverbank, and stares at Yomogi—you guessed it, mysteriously; the strange man under the bridge whom Yomogi saves from starvation with his egg sandwich, and who identifies himself as Gauma, a kaiju user; and the cousins, diminutive delinquent Chise and her NEET senpai (whose real name is Koyomi, according to MAL), who is so committed to remaining under his covers that it takes nothing short of levitating cars and buildings to convince him to leave their comforting embrace to go see what’s happening. Yume and Yomogi receive the most development, as we’re introduced to their fraught home lives. Yume’s older sister has died, driving her father to the bottle and her mother to apathy, while Yume herself suffers from a compulsion to make and break promises. Meanwhile, Yomogi is being raised by a single mother who is dating a fellow he doesn’t much care for. When the kaiju appears, the pair are with Gauma who excitedly activates the titular Dynazenon. It turns out that this is his first rodeo though, and that Dynazenon requires four “drivers”. All three are absorbed into the mecha, as is innocent bystander Koyomi (much to Chise’s distress), and Gauma manages to trigger Dyna Rex mode (as in T-Rex, but with wings and blue flames) and defeat the kaiju in a single bite. In the final shot, everyone is freaking out inside the mecha, apart from Yume who reiterates that there is something wrong with her. Fade to black.

“Your mind to my mind…er, live long and prosper!” I don’t think the kaiju is Vulcan, Gauma, but nice try! (left to right: Yomogi, Gauma and Yume)

SSSS.Dynazenon is my most anticipated series of the season, and so far I like what it’s doing. The show is set in the Gridman universe, but is not a sequel to the 2018 series, sharing none of its characters. (So you don’t need to have seen SSSS.Gridman to enjoy this one.) It does, however, pick up where Gridman left off in the most important sense, that is, with regard to its sensitivity to damaged souls and the healing to be found in relationship. But whereas the first series only revealed this secret preoccupation gradually, by around episode 8 or so, SSSS.Dynazenon is wearing its heart on its sleeve from the get go, foregrounding the wounds of its leads, Yomogi and Yume, alongside their tentative (and so far, failed) efforts to reach out and find some kind of genuine connection with another human being. Yume is a kind of Akane and Rikka rolled into one, tied up with a ribbon of her own peculiar pain, while Yomogi seems set to escape the “fade-away mc” syndrome that took out Yuta pretty early on in the first series, and could become a protagonist with presence. The mechas are well-designed—the animation is crisp and the CGI doesn’t jar the eye—and the familiar rock power ballad during the transformation into Rex mode is oddly nostalgic. But I’ll admit it, I’m here for the relational arcs. SSSS.Gridman carried one of the most powerful redemptive messages I’ve seen in anime, and I’m excited to see how SSSS.Dynazenon builds on it! If you’re someone who (like me before Gridman) doesn’t usually prioritise mecha on the anime watch list, this series may just be for you as it promises to be a character-driven story rather than merely a Michael Bay-esque parade of explosions and battle tech. Though the explosions are pretty cool too.

I think Gauma may end up being my favorite. I mean, what mecha hero does his own laundry? This guy’s a keeper. Also, the ED animation (which this shot is from) is brilliant in its use of the split screen. Just be sure to hang out for the final shot.

SSSS.Dynazenon can be streamed on Funimation.

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