“What Was I Entrusted With?”
“I don’t know yet. But I want to live through all the good and bad things that happen in my life.”
For me at least this final episode was a show of two halves, fairly literally. There’s everything that happens before the credits roll, and everything which happens afterwards. To my mind, that split also pretty fairly divides the episode into the good-but-not-great part, and the really very good part which delivers all the stuff we’ve come to expect from Dynazenon. I think that’s broadly reflective of the overall ethos the show has prioritised – character over action, complex emotions over simple ones, and a more nuanced, low-key take on the super robot genre (well, relatively speaking) compared to balls out set pieces every few minutes. The consequences of that is that certain choices will hit harder than others, and we see both the positive and negative fallout of that in this finale.
It kind of feels weird to say that a battle between a giant robot, an Ultraman with dragon wings, and an enormous dinosaur-thing was anticlimactic but…I honestly felt this final battle was fairly anticlimactic? To me at least part of the problem is that there just doesn’t feel like there’s been enough done to make the Eugenicists truly compelling villains over the run of the show. Yes, there’s been some limited interaction between them and the team, but it’s almost always been fairly benign and occasionally even comedic, and consequently there’s not really a genuine sense of animosity in the fight. There’s Gauma’s history with the team, but that’s been (wisely I think) mostly alluded to in broad strokes and kept offscreen. It doesn’t help that Sizumu, arguably the head of the Eugenicists, and certainly the visionary and guiding force, is totally silent and effectively absent during the battle, although that’s a separate artistic decision we’ll come to later. We know the Eugenicists are bad news, but their actual objectives remain a little vague and that makes it difficult to define what’s at stake here. Cliche is also something of an issue – we’ve seen so many heroic comebacks where the team unites and multiplies their strength with fiery determination that it’s inevitable the beats of what happen here are a touch familiar. To get away with this stuff in 2021 you really need to have a trump card or unique twist to dazzle with, and there kind of isn’t one here. That’s not to say that I disliked this battle – it’s wonderfully shot and animated and delivers the expected pyrotechnics – but it lacks the triumphant, punch-the-sky euphoria that characterises the best examples of the genre, something which Dynazenon achieved much more effectively back in episode 9.
To be entirely fair to Dynazenon though, part of this is due to the inherent way the show is structured and the things it’s chosen to prioritise. Dynazenon is so heavily character driven and so focused on its leads messy, complex lives that their personal exploits were always going to command more attention than the grander plot machinations. In that sense it’s the opposite of its immediate predecessor – whereas SSSS.Gridman focused the main plot on a single character and the progress and fallout of her actions, Dynazenon has always emphasised the ensemble above all else, even on the villainous side. There’s been less of the ‘puzzle box’ storytelling that that SSSS.Gridman and much modern fiction emphasises, and many of the mysteries that were present (Koyomi’s past, Gauma’s true identity etc) have largely been resolved before this episode even begins. The only thing that is really resolved in this episode is the Eugenicists, and that’s not really been the main plot for much of the show’s run. This then is a finale which is less concerned about ‘solving’ the story and more about concluding the series on an emotional and thematic level.
To be clear, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s something that I wish more shows would do. There are always trade-offs for every approach though, and some of those show here. I found myself frustrated by how peripheral Chise is to this finale for example, and how little closure we seem to get on her story. Sure, having her overcome her fears and go happily back to school would have been fairly basic and predictable, but it would at least have provided some conclusion to her character arc. Uncovering her tattoo leaves us with the impression she’s learnt to accept herself a bit better, but I think I could have handled a bit more time spent exploring where she ends up. Likewise, we don’t get much Koyomi in this finale, though his transformation into slick-haired besuited office worker is a great shift for the character (I genuinely did not recognise him when he shows up). It’s another case where the culmination of a character’s story has already happened, in this case in episode 10, so this is more postscript than climax.
That’s a lot of words about things which didn’t quite work! So what did? I think the most powerful, poignant parts of this episode come right at the end, which is fitting as Dynazenon‘s strength has always been about placing these characters in the context of their ordinary lives, contrasting with the extraordinary circumstances. Key to this is the final scene between Sizumu and Yomogi, presented as a flashback to a moment inside of their final battle. At first I was a little confused as to why you’d choose this framing, given that the conversation provides valuable context as to why the two are fighting each other. Increasingly though, I’m convinced that moving it out of chronological order and presenting it here at the end is a miniature stroke of genius. That’s because, in all the important ways, it’s this scene which is the culmination of the story, the final moment where Dynazenon pulls together its themes and ideas, and presents its complete vision to the viewer.
All along, Sizumu has represented the idea that the Kaiju are more than just big stompy monsters. In this scene, he reveals that they instead offer the possibility of limitless power, unchecked by the traditional laws of time, space, or mortality. It was that power which brought him and the others back from death, that power which gives him the unique abilities to stand out from everyone else, and that power which represents, to him, the only true freedom from the mundane concerns of the world. One the most important themes throughout Dynazenon has been people attempting to escape their painful lives, be that Yume pushing away anyone who gets close to her, or Koyomi hiding away from the world in his room. When Sizumu talks about people ‘losing their freedom’, that’s what he means. People’s emotional connections have become anchors which weigh them down, make them unable to move forward. Kaiju then represent the ultimate escape, the power to go anywhere, do anything, and be held back by no-one.
Yomogi though rejects that power because, as he says, it’s not something he can understand. Through his own struggles, and through forming bonds with the rest of the team, Yomogi has come to realise that the bad experiences in our lives define us as much as the good times do, and it’s only through our connections to other people that we can work out what it means to be truly human. He’s not seeking escape any more, but rather is prepared to take a gamble on carrying on with his life ‘through all the good and bad things’, because he has faith that the former is worth enduring the latter. His friendships with other people aren’t holding him back from a better existence, but rather are the thing which makes existing worthwhile in the first place. The tragedy of Sizumu, and by extension the other Eugenicists, is that they’re so much closer to our heroes than they realise. Damaged people, searching for a way out of the pain they’re in, banding together for a common cause. Yet even here, at the very end, Sizumu can’t comprehend what Yomogi is saying, so fixated is he on the power of Kaiju.
It’s fitting then that the show spends its final moments concentrating on Yume and Yomogi together as a couple. Really, this has been a story about the evolution of their relationship, and the way that they’ve overcome their individual traumas together. The mundanity of the school festival setting throws into relief what they were struggling for – not some appointed destiny as warriors or pilots, but the simple pleasures of having fun and living your life with somebody you care for. There are still problems, still things they’re unsure of or reluctant to go through with. But now there’s a sense of optimism that they can face them together. When Yume says she hopes their scars never fade, it’s because she wants to be reminded not only of the adversity they faced, but also that they overcame it. Together. That’s the heart and soul of the Dynazenon story and it’s why, despite all my quibbles, this is a powerful and meaningful way for the show to end. You could have a thousand rocket punches or a million explosions and I don’t think it could match up to a simple shot of these two kids smiling.
- Though he never gets a chance to say it, it’s fairly easy to guess that the last of Gauma’s three important things is ‘friends’
- The place that Gridknight, Anosillus, and Dyna Rex end up in is the Computer World, as previously seen in both Gridman the Hyper Agent and SSSS.Gridman.
- As Yomogi says “Don’t ‘ugh’ me” and moves his head, you can very briefly glimpse Gauma over his shoulder, sitting in his usual spot.
- We see a shot of Yume’s ankhs next to the calendar, implying that she’s not carrying them, and has finally let her past trauma go for good. It also tells us it’s her 16th birthday on the 25th of September.
- One of the posters behind Yomogi’s mother is for Trigger’s upcoming Cyberpunk:Edgerunners anime
- Yume is sitting in a shadowed spot, but when Yomogi takes her hand he pulls her into the light.
- The ending is, of course, deliberately ambiguous. Has Dyna Rex come to life again because Gauma himself has returned? Or, since it’s been heavily implied to have been a kaiju all along, has it grown a heart of its own?
- Although it was not on the international streamed version, the Japanese TV broadcast ended with a title card saying NEXT GRIDMAN UNIVERSE: GRIDMAN X DYNAZENON.
In writing this piece, I’ve been thinking a lot about Kiznaiver. Hey, remember Kiznaiver? Studio Trigger’s first attempt to break out of its patented madcap comedy-action stylings was a resounding flop, an uncomfortable marriage of Mari Okada’s overtly earnest, clumsy script with the studio’s trademark wacky hijinks and a sheen of techno-style which proved to be utterly hollow underneath. In many eyes, and certainly mine, it damaged faith in Trigger to ever reach out beyond their action roots. That’s not to discredit the fine work that they did and continue to do in that arena, but it very much seemed that this was a marked case of ‘stick to what you’re good at’.
A mere five years later, those criticisms seem absurd in light of what we’ve seen from Dynazenon. That’s because this show wasn’t merely a sucessful marriage of traditional Trigger strengths to superb character work and emotionally resonant writing. After all, that’s what SSSS.Gridman was as well. No, it’s because Dynazenon is a fully fledged character drama in its own right, as deep and wide as any prestige contemporary drama. In a sense the familiar robots, monsters and battles are merely window dressing here, means to an end to get the chance to dig inside these characters, see what makes them tick, and what ails them so.
That’s the other major thing I think which connects Kiznaiver and Dynazenon; both are about the experience of shared pain. But whereas Kiznaiver had to rely on clumsy sci-fi tropes to communicate that idea, Dynazenon shows that an older, wiser Trigger understand that metaphor can be more powerful than statement, that implication can often say more than explicit fact. There’s a degree of subtlety and grace in the storytelling of Dynazenon that I could never have expected from the Trigger of five years ago. The idea of friendship healing damaged people is not new of course, but it’s rare to see it executed in such an accomplished way as this. It’s a script which understands that sometimes there are no easy answers or eureka moments, that refuses to portray its characters as caricatures or two dimensional cliches. Gauma may walk and talk the hot-blooded idiot shtick, but there are layers to him that only emerge over time. Yomogi is idealistic but never foolish, Yume difficult but never cruel. We’re encouraged to empathise with Koyomi and Chise’s trauma rather than laugh at their shut-in tendencies. The show understands the importance of difficult, unspoken emotion that lurks under the surface, and isn’t afraid to let our heroes have flaws and make mistakes, be unlikeable and even foolish on occasion. It’s because they’re so fallible, so endearingly human, that we can relate to them so strongly, and feel their triumphs and tragedies so well.
This incredibly in-depth focus on character development is perhaps the most surprising thing about Dynazenon, and also the thing that, I think, most sets it apart from its immediate predecessor. SSSS.Gridman definitely also had excellent character writing and a compelling cast, but those characters were firmly positioned in a more traditional narrative, revolving around a central core plot, and their interactions were largely driven by the purpose of furthering that plot. By comparison, Dynazenon is much more loose and scattered, many of its individual story strands having little or nothing to do with the battles against the kaiju, beyond the obvious impact on our cast members. This is the way the show achieves its remarkable character-focused storytelling, but it can be a weakness too, and Dynazenon struggles sometimes with pulling together those plot threads into cohesive flashpoints the narrative can build itself around. It’s frustrating is there’s no tangible payoff for many of the big mysteries that the show does raise – who scattered those kaiju pearls for example? The announcement of an immediate sequel provides an excuse of course, but it doesn’t make the absence of answers any easier to bear in this instalment as a standalone. In general, it’s a show which is much better at small, understated moments than big, epic ones, but that’s an understandable sacrifice to make given what we got in return.
Dynazenon is not perfect then, but it’s easy to love it despite its flaws. What’s more, it’s a fascinating follow-up to SSSS.Gridman, one which dresses itself up in many of the same clothes, but is ultimately a much different beast. You can debate which is better of course, but I’m heartened that the team behind the shows aren’t resting on their laurels and are digging deeper and pushing further outside of the studio’s accepted comfort zone in finding ways to tell their stories. It’s a show whose strengths are so abundant, and so resonant and fulfilling, that it’s easy to ignore the weaknesses, because they aren’t important to the core of what makes it great. It’s a show that understands very human impulses, frustration at a lost future, despair at a painful past, and the difficulty of living beyond those emotions. In its best moments it has the pathos, the bittersweet observation of existence in all of its triumph and tragedy, that only truly great media is able to capture.
Don’t forget though – No running.
Thank you very much to everybody who’s been reading along! See you again in the near future.