by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 10 of
One extremely good problem I had back while I was reviewing SSSS.Gridman was how it seemed like every episode was the ‘best ever’ for the show. Akira Amemiya, Keiichi Hasegawa, and their supernaturally in-synch crew managed to continually top themselves and build on their story with each successive step, and that mounting energy has continued through SSSS.Dynazenon now. It's reached a point where the series always ends up existing as the best possible version of itself, and we can get excited about what sort of flex the people behind it are going to pull out next. And far be it from me to have any doubts about the increasingly impressive abilities that the staff of Studio Trigger has demonstrated with this thing, but anyone else who's seen this week's Dynazenon episode already knows it's going to be a particularly tough one to surpass. These guys went off in this one, providing us with an episode that delivers on every front we've come to expect from this project, easily surpassing its limits and our own expectations.
The presentation this week is the obvious place to start talking. The episode lets us know we're in for something special right from the beginning, forgoing the opening sequence and starting with one of its signature quiet moments that still give way to immediately demonstrating the threat posed by the latest Kaiju. Unsurprisingly, this episode has the same storyboarder, Kai Ikarashi, as SSSS.Gridman's famous ninth episode, another brilliantly-crafted dreamscape that opened on a “Wait, wtf?” moment. The major difference is leading us in by showing how the monster in this case abducts its victims to send them on their vicious vision quests. It arrests the viewer with uncanny single-frame removals of characters, making clear to us that this is not an episode we'll be able to take our eyes off of, even for a moment. Even apart from the disappearances, so much that happens in this episode exists at the behest of that trained attention to brevity: Our first split-second glimpse of Gauma in his Kaiju Eugenicist uniform, or Anti's memory wherein we get the most fleeting glimpse of Akane. Keep watching, it urges, you don't want to miss any little thing.
The almost nonchalant disappearance effect is an extension of SSSS.Dynazenon's well-worn languid directorial style, doubled-down here not just with that quiet horror of the characters going away, but in the presentation of the traumatic pasts they're then trapped in. As formative as these fully-realized flashbacks are shown to be, they were still ultimately part of the real-world day-to-day lives of these people. So instead of any sweeping melodramatic direction, things stay firmly grounded. Even the most fantastical side shown, Gauma's betrayal and attack on the other Eugenicists, is communicated mostly at this level, in the aftermath. With the stifling mundanity cranked up to eleven, the showrunners are able to do the same with the more extreme action side of things, as Yomogi, action figure in hand, smashes and crashes his way through his friends' self-imposed barriers into the past problems they're still hung up on. There's a rhythm to this, and Ikarashi's looser take on the character designs for this episode are expressed in those visceral directorial blasts that sell the spiritual impact of someone finally helping you move past your hang-ups.
It at first seems hypocritical of SSSS.Dynazenon, which just last week presented the apparent lesson that searching for concrete answers in the past is futile, and that moving forward with people who care about you is what's most important. To then immediately thrust us and the characters back to confront the possibility of uncovering so many of the still-teased mysteries motivating them would seem to fly in the face of that priority. But of course, as we've caught on since then, that's not why we're really here. Yes we get some backstory and lore-dumping on Gauma's side, a tease at the mysterious ‘Princess’ he's motivated by, but even that most direct explication seems here to lay out how our heroes will be propelled into a conflict for this show's final stages. Yomogi embraces Dynazenon's power and breaks out of his oppressive illusion ahead of everyone else, seemingly symbolizing his belief that his own trauma has impacted him less than the others. Or perhaps it's that, whatever precise issues he had with his mom dating a new guy, he's mostly managed to overcome them, making him suited to crashing into his friends' lives and helping them navigate their own ways out. Koyomi simply grapples with the always agonizing question of “What might have been”, less focused on navigating the exact details of Inamoto and the money they found than how things might have turned out differently had he not ran away from either of them.
I feel like Koyomi's immobility as a response to his feelings of past mistakes has been the most clearly-communicated among the cast in his initial NEET lifestyle, but it really applies to everyone. All these characters found themselves boxed in, trapped by feelings of regret for what happened to them before, and it wasn't until Dynazenon came along and introduced them to each other that they were able to find a way to smash those barriers. It's not so much about resolving or getting closure for what happened in the past – Koyomi's never going to have a real answer for “What might have been”. But friends like Yomogi have given him the tools to stop asking that question and move forward instead.
Which brings us, of course, to Yume. She, as well as us, was already coming to understand last week that there probably was no clear answer to be found at the bottom of her investigation into her sister's death. Trying to prevent it in this illusory space would be just as futile, so instead Kano herself articulates how this is so much more a projection of Yume's own reckoning. She didn't know everything about Kano, but there is an odd warmth present in its presentation of what she did know. She and her sister at least used to be close, so would that understanding not be enough to believe that she didn't actually commit suicide, that she really did want Yume to come to her recital? The desperation in Yume not to let Kano go in this dream sequence is obviously indicative of her not wanting to let go of her sister's memory in real life.
It's why the admission that it makes no difference if her death was suicide or an accident is such a difficult one to make, since it would mean moving past the last connection to Kano that Yume could chase. Is that a betrayal of a dead loved one, or a genuinely healthy move for one's personal growth? Dynazenon does seem to firmly believe the latter: The past, including the people in it, is the past, and it's only our own interpretations of it that keep us there. Yume had besmirched Futaba for seeming to have moved past Kano's death, but now envisions her sister asking her not to blame him. Relying on people who are with us in the present is more formatively important than desperately trying to connect with others who are already gone. Is it thus super on-the-nose for Yume to uncouple those Ankhs at this critical juncture, finally ‘solving the puzzle’ of her life apart from her sister's? Perhaps, but it's entirely in keeping with Dynazenon's dynamics up to this point, and there's a raw bittersweetness to the illustration that the past incarnation of Kano and Yume's solution to what had puzzled her can't coexist within her worldview.
One reason I love SSSS.Dynazenon so much overall is that not only is its central message of moving on from the past, living in the now, and the ways in which to do that communicated in such a clearly crystalized manner, but it's also a deeply important lesson, I believe. Virtually everyone has some manner of past trauma that defines them, and spending time turning it over in our heads constantly trying to find retroactive answers can ultimately do more harm than good. What Dynazenon presents isn't simply a cold assertion that you have to ‘Get over it’, but a showcase of the tools and tactics we can actually embrace in doing so: Connections with people in the now, roles and jobs and duties we can take on to work our way forward. I can't speak to what the writers and directors and other artists guiding this project have been through themselves, but there's a genuine sense of having been there exuding from this, the creators acting similarly to Yomogi in this episode to guide others through their acceptance of the scars they bear.
The ninth episode of SSSS.Gridman that this Dynazenon entry parallels ended with the dense revelation of Akane's centering in the plot and the need to save her from her own trauma-imposed illusion that drove the entire narrative of the show. Here, SSSS.Dynazenon continues its mirroring of Gridman's structure. The heroes have broken out, saved their own souls from their trauma, and can now move forward to a battle to save their whole world from the attack it's under. It speaks to the ‘living in the now’ philosophy that this series is centered on. The issues needed to be overcome by the pilots weren't the whole of the story it's telling, they were one component of that arc towards an ultimate goal they'll reach together. That makes this episode feel less like a turning point than a culmination, yet another stamp by Trigger of their continuous ‘best ever’ achievements with this anime. And like Ikarashi's ninth episode of SSSS.Gridman, this one's a showcase, ensuring itself as almost certainly the most densely memorable instance of the series.
SSSS.Dynazenon is currently streaming on Funimation.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.
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