“What Is This Pain?”

Brooding over his past with Inamoto, Koyomi accidentally allows Dyna Striker to be stolen by the Kaiju Eugenicists

Zigg’s Thoughts

This episode can basically be divided into two parts: The Thing which happens right at the end, and everything else. It’s tempting to immediately go all in on The Thing because it’s such a major shift to the status quo of Dynazenon going forward, but I think that the rest of the episode is also great and worthy of some thought in its own right, so let’s begin with all the other stuff.

One thing we’ve constantly praised Dynazenon (and SSSS.Gridman) for is the constant focus on characters, their motivations and their emotional responses. It’s a tired cliche to say that this is a mecha show ‘that’s really all about the characters’ – all good shows are about the characters, including mecha shows – but it’s true that Dynazenon continues to be unusually good at examining the minutiae of how our characters are affected by the things going on around them. In this case we’re focusing attention on Koyomi and Yume, both of whom are haunted by the past. The difference is that Yume is trying to uncover a past that’s a mystery to both her and the viewer, whereas Koyomi knows exactly how the past affects him, it’s just something that is currently concealed from the viewer.

Koyomi is to me one of the more interesting characters in Dynazenon for a variety of reasons. Part of it is that it’s simply so rare that we see adult characters in anime these days – once you’re out of your teens you may as well be ancient history. Anime does feature a fairly high amount of NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and shut-ins, but they tend to be presented as either audience surrogates or objects of derision. Koyomi is neither, since the writing is good enough not to be so reductive about the stereotype. He’s portrayed as an entirely functional human being, one who’s perfectly capable of basic tasks and one who isn’t even necessarily terrible at interacting with other people, albeit with a bit of awkwardness. His shut-in lifestyle is thus clearly a deliberate decision, rather than being a result of compulsion or illness, so what is it that prompted that choice? We get a bit more of an insight into his relationship with Inamoto this episode, and it’s clear that he’s attracted to her, given his shitty complaints about being ‘led on’ before her husband shows up.

There’s also more of the deeply sinister flashback to their middle school days, revealing that the secret Inamoto spoke of was a bag containing….something, which she found in an abandoned toilet. Whatever it was was scary enough to Koyomi that he fled, and that makes it tempting to assume that this was the incident that changed him from a normal boy into a recluse. I’m not so sure though, considering he later mentions that he used to have ‘tons of money’. The way it’s phrased seems to suggest he himself was personally wealthy, as opposed to the family coming from money, and that means he had to have been in the workforce at some point. One thing that clearly does date back to his middle school days is his attraction to Inamoto. It’s presumably why he covered for her, and why he’s still attracted to her enough to take her up on her regular dinner invitations, even though in many ways they’re hurting him more than helping him. Overall, the portrait that this episode paints of Koyomi is a complex but broadly sympathetic one. It’s clear that beneath his apathetic exterior he’s struggling a great deal with self-loathing and the skeletons in his closet. Notably, one thing this episode doesn’t address at all is his relationship with Chise, although it’s clear she’s got her own baggage which no doubt will be explored further on in the story.

Cleverly, the script indirectly links Koyomi’s plight to Yume’s, as he praises her bravery in confronting a difficult truth and not running away, in contrast to himself. Yume’s hunt for facts about her sister has all along been defined by vaguely remembered half-truths and ambiguities, and that reaches possibly its ultimate form here. The ‘bullying’ video is a masterpiece of context-free ambiguity – is this a harmless dumb prank done by a gang of friends, or one step in a campaign of systematic bullying that the victim has no choice but to smile and play along with? It’s pretty much impossible to tell without knowing more about all the actors involved, and that’s Yume’s problem as much as it is ours. Her confusion carries over into her behaviour towards Yomogi, who then gets the wrong impression from her talk with Sizumu because he’s a horny dumb teen and of course he does. This is one of the things which Dynazenon does so well, and is a hallmark of good shows in general. The interactions between characters feel human and natural, and as a result the ways in which they affect and react to each other are very believable. Dynazenon is far from the first show to have an empathic robot whose strength fluctuates with the willpower of the pilots, but it’s rarely been done as well or as expertly as this.

The theme of bonding and purpose is so integrated into this episode that even the villains have something to say about it. The meeting between Mujina and Koyomi is crucial here, and it illustrates that they’re both struggling with the same issues despite the fact they’re on opposite sides. Both of them lack purpose in their lives, content to be steered by the whim of others and take no responsibility for the actions they end up involved in. And in this episode, both of them find the will they’ve been missing through the battle with the other side, be it Koyomi’s decision to take back Dyna Striker or Mujina’s control over the Kaiju. There’s also a lot more focus on Sizumu, who has rapidly emerged as the most important of the Eugenicists in many ways. It’s telling that the others unfailingly acquiesce to his decisions, be that his desire not to kill the Dynazenon team or his urging to Mujina to join with Onija and ‘change the world with Kaiju’. Clearly his empathic link to the monsters is an important component in whatever the Eugenicists’ final goal is. It’s also interesting that his more distant, detached style is better at getting through to Yume than Yomogi’s attempts to directly and personally intervene, something which obviously causes jealousy and paranoia in the latter. Several telling composition choices seem to deliberately set up Yume as a parallel to SSSS.Gridman antagonist Akane, and having one of the Eugenicists getting closer to her is another sign of that. Perhaps most intriguingly, Sizumu also brings up the idea that the presence of Dynazenon is the very reason that the kaiju are arriving, and thus destroying it would be counterproductive. We know almost nothing about the origins of our titular robot, but ‘robot is really a version of the monsters it was designed to battle’ is a classic mecha trope for a reason, so it’s one more factor to ponder on.

Finally, there is The Thing, and that thing is the arrival, in the dying moments of the episode, of Gridknight. For those of you unaware, Gridknight is a returning character from Dynazenon‘s predecessor SSSS.Gridman. In that show he began as Anti, a kaiju created by the aforementioned Akane who also had a human form, and with it the intelligence, personality, and feelings of a human as well. At first a sworn enemy of Gridman, he gradually grew to oppose his creator and allied with the heroes, at which point he took the Gridknight name. His appearance triggers an absolute plethora of questions to put it mildly. As noted previously, SSSS.Gridman took place inside an artificial world that was Akane’s creation – calling it a dream world isn’t precisely correct, but it’s close enough. Dynazenon has been extremely coy about whether it’s set in that same world, offering evidence both ways, but Gridknight’s presence is a very strong hint that in fact it is. That in turn spawns further questions about the show’s relationship to SSSS.Gridman and the fate of the characters from that show, especially since Akane made the decision to leave her world behind at the end of that story. Her absence is presumably the reason why the world no longer repairs and replaces itself, as it did in SSSS.Gridman, but it also leaves wide open the question of where the kaiju are coming from, as they were her creations back in the earlier show. What happens when a world loses its god? I guess that’s another question we’re going to have to keep watching to find out the answer to.

Random Observations

  • Chise makes a fairly pointed interjection into the conversation about Kano and bullying, in a way which strongly suggests she’s got personal experience with the issue.
  • Koyomi and Inamoto’s umbrellas form a heart motif at the beginning of their dinner, one which is broken when her husband shows up.
  • Inamoto’s husband’s mention of futsal suggests he’s a member of the fairly large Japanese-Brazilian ethnic group (Brazil has the highest population of Japanese people outside of Japan)
  • I only noticed it this episode, but each of the Eugenicists has a different number of bands on their left arm. Sizumu has one, Juuga has two, Onija has three, and Mujina has four.
  • Even by the very lax standards of fiction, Koyomi breaking a plate glass window with an umbrella is a bit of a stretch.
  • A nice subtle touch that indicates the team’s disunity is that Gauma and Yomogi’s transformation calls are out of sync with each other.
  • The last we saw of Anti in SSSS.Gridman had him in the care of Anosillus, a kaiju from the original Gridman the Hyper Agent. It’ll be interesting to see if she also makes an appearance.
  • I’ll be pretty disappointed if the thing in the bag is just Japan’s favourite worst thing in the world, drugs.

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