“What’s Your Reason for Fighting?” & “What is a Traitor?”
The Dynazenon crew manage to persuade Yomogi to commit to battling Kaiju, and sucessfully defeat another of the rampaging monsters. Afterwards, they’re confronted by the Kaiju Eugenicists and doubts about Gauma begin to grow among the other members.
It’s always interesting when you’re confronted by a sequel like Dynazenon. As with any follow-up work there’s a delicate balance at play – how much do you take from the original source material to ensure continuity, and how much do you strike out on your own to make your work stand apart? The situation here is further complicated by the fact that Dynazenon is not only a sequel to 2018’s SSSS.Gridman, but also (in a roundabout way) to the original Gridman the Hyper Agent tokusatsu production. With that complex history behind it, Dynazenon’s approach so far has mostly been to ignore it in favour of telling its own story, an approach I heartily agree with. Thus, these two episodes are mostly well-spent building out character and relationship drama, with hints and references to the overarching story mostly relegated to the edges of the narrative.
What’s immediately striking to me is how much more of an ensemble piece this show appears to be than SSSS.Gridman. While that show had an excellent, well rounded supporting cast, it very much zeroed in on Yuta and Akane and their position on opposing sides of the conflict. Here we’ve not only got more characters, but each of them immediately seems to have their own intriguing storyline attached. It’s fairly safe to say that Yomogi is our ‘main’ character, insofar as he’s our primary POV, but Gauma takes the more traditional leadership role, and the tension between the two is clearly going to be at the heart of the drama going forward. Koyomi and Chise have their odd recluse/shut-in situation to explore, while Yume’s deceased sister is clearly going to be the factor at the heart of her character arc.
Where Dynazenon goes beyond your run of the mill show however is in how skilfully it has begun to weave these individual character stories not only with each other, but also with the show’s greater mythology. So we’ve got the Kaiju Eugenicists (even the villains are an ensemble this time, as opposed to Gridman‘s lone antagonist), who have history with Gauma, who is himself connected with Dynazenon in some mysterious way. But already the Eugenicists refuse to be pigeonholed as simple bad guys, with Juuga trying to pull Yomogi into their orbit. Then there’s Yomogi’s weirdly fierce desire to work, with his manager Inamoto being an old crush of Koyomi’s, and an uncomfortable reminder of his pre-NEET days. Already there’s tangible potential for these arcs to intersect and play off of one another in unexpected ways, and that’s very exciting. Despite its giant monster pyrotechnics, the real meat of SSSS.Gridman lay in its keenly observed character and mood pieces, so it’s gratifying to see the team pay equal attention to those factors this time.
Speaking of SSSS.Gridman, we should probably talk a little about this show’s relationship to that one. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the intent largely appears to be not to bog Dynazenon down in too much continuity, but there are plenty of tidbits there for eagle-eyed viewers. There are a multitude of stylistic call-backs in terms of framing, shot composition, and blocking, but most prominently there also appears to be some straight-up reuse of certain locations, notably the supermarket the crew assemble at in episode 3.This raises a LOT of questions, since one of the big twists in SSSS.Gridman was that (spoilers!) the entire show took place in a dream world constructed by antagonist Akane. One indicator of this was that the world always ‘repaired’ itself after major battles to conceal the existence of Gridman and the Kaiju, but Dynazenon goes out of its way to show us that is very much not the case here, with major emphasis placed on the very real damage left in the aftermath of the throwdowns. It’s a choice clearly meant to distance the show from its immediate predecessor, and yet it’s hard not to speculate about a possible connection.
If the show is a little reluctant to embrace its immediate predecessor, it has no such compunctions about its live-action forebear. Indeed, a great deal of the plot revealed in these episodes can be tangibly linked back to the original Gridman the Hyper Agent. Most immediately relevant is the revelation that both Gauma and the Kaiju Eugenicists actually died 5,000 years ago and have only been recently resurrected in our current timeframe. We don’t really have anything on the Eugenicists yet, but it’s fairly easy to link Gauma to episode 18 of Hyper Agent, which concerned a 5,000 year old Chinese mummy being briefly brought back to life through bad guy meddling. Not only does the time period line up perfectly, but the mummy is accompanied by several pieces of regalia which exactly match symbols we’ve seen in Dynazenon, most notably the dragon statue which Gauma used to summon Dynazenon in the first place. Episode 3 also tells us that Gauma is looking for a woman who entrusted him with Dynazenon, and the mummy in Hyper Agent is described as having been in love with a Princess who placed the statue in his grave when he died. Oh, and Gauma is covered in bandages. It’s possible these allusions are just surface level of course, but it’s hard to deny the production team are once again letting their reverence and passion for the original source material shine through in fun and intriguing ways.
Despite its unconventional style, this is still a Trigger show of course, so I’d be remiss in not mentioning that it looks gorgeous. SSSS.Gridman was a terrific fusion between the hyper-kinetic battles which are the studio’s stock in trade, and a more slow, introspective style, with lots of emphasis on long still frames and atmospheric tight and wide shots, and there’s been no change on that front. If anything, director Akira Amemiya and his crew have pushed even further into arthouse territory with standout sequences like Yomogi and Yume’s conversation outside the choir room. Meanwhile, the battles are as delightful as expected, with the same terrific melding of 2D and CGI we’ve come to expect from Trigger, along with fabulous fight choreography and brilliant visual gags. The sequence of Gauma’s junk being hidden by the tap is a delightful example of a joke told solely through imagery, one that’s very funny yet naturally blended into the scene so well you may not even notice it as a distinct punchline at first.
Dynazenon had huge shoes to fill after SSSS.Gridman but based on these first few episodes it appears to be doing so handily. The mixture of mystery, comedy, slice-of-life and action which made its predecessor so enjoyable has been faithfully preserved, but at the same time we’re seeing an expansion and re-imagining of that formula. After three episodes I’m not necessarily any closer to knowing where the show is going to ultimately take us, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to have a great deal of fun finding out.
- For those of you unaware, Gridman the Hyper Agent (and therefore both SSSS.Gridman and SSSS.Dynazenon by extension) is a spin-off of the Ultra series, the granddaddy of all TV tokusatsu shows. There’s a visual reference to this in episode 2 when Dyna Soldier grows large using the iconic Ultraman shot.
- Another great visual gag – Chise holding her empty hands out as everyone else is given Dynazenon pieces.
- All the classroom scenes so far have been about Achilles and the Tortoise, the most well known of Zeno’s Paradoxes.
- Continuing the Egyptian theme, Yume is often seen carrying around a pair of ankhs, implied to be a memento of her sister. In ancient Egypt the ankh was the hieroglyphic for ‘Life’ but was often specifically associated with ‘life after death’, hence the modern connotation of the symbol with death. Perhaps in recognition of this duality, one of the ankhs is silver and one is black.
- It’s a rule that every Trigger anime must eventually go to space, but they normally take a little longer to get there than episode 3.
- Onija is fairly clearly meant to have been killed by the meteorite impact, and even he seems surprised he’s alive. Do those resurrected from 5,000 years ago have some sort of functional immortality?
- Seemingly no Transformers references this time around unfortunately, but I’ll keep my eyes open.