by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
My immediate takeaway from SSSS.Dynazenon's finale is a recognition of how it feels like far less of a definitive, resolute conclusion than SSSS.Gridman's. That's not surprising; since the beginning, Dynazenon's story has not been specifically about the hard-fought journey of one singular character, but rather this snapshot encompassing multiple people at different phases in their lives, and how this moment they spent together affected them. SSSS.Gridman began with the shot of Gridman and his assistants breaking apart into scattered stars, only to spend the series coming together for the purpose of helping one person. SSSS.Dynazenon, meanwhile, ends its final conflict with a mirror of that same sparkle-scattering sequence, continuing to show how these separate people will go their own ways in the wake of their experiences together. As such, perhaps the best way to evaluate the end of this story is to look at where it left each of these scarred souls.
This final battle comes down to a fight with the Kaiju Eugenicists, of course, with the distinguishing element this last time being that they're all united in their own combined Kaiju, duplicating the Dynazenon gang's defining gestalt gimmick. But it's not simply the power of teamwork and friendship that has always given our heroes a leg up; it's an understanding of their allies and themselves that's pushed them forward. Rejuvenated 5,000-year-olds that they are, the Eugenicists are still pointedly stuck in the past, with the likes of Mujina articulating her fury at feeling like controlling monsters-of-the-week was the only thing she had in her life, or Juuga still straining to understand why Gauma betrayed them. They're too dialed-in on their backstories being that which define them the most. Likewise, Sizumu is silent throughout the whole fight except the post-mortem flashback, where he questions why Yomogi, who has the potential to be a powerful Kaiju User, doesn't embrace that and join the Eugenicists' purpose. But our potential and our futures aren't based on what others want us to do, and the Eugencists' inability to move forward from their original jobs is what leads to their erasure, as villains being ultimately unimportant to the internal development of the lead characters.
Gauma, conversely, is the Kaiju User who makes all the impact on these troubled kids heading into the next stages of their lives. The question of whether he would live to see the end of the series is probably the least pivotal one. Gauma is effectively dead at the end, but he's reached a healthy understanding with his own previously-denied mortality that began with him getting computer-hacked by a misanthropic teenager way back in the original Denkou Choujin Gridman. He couldn't reach the Princess in this world, but he could reach another group of developmentally-arrested people who needed him to form those connections for him. Such as it is that he can go off to finally be with the Princess in death where she's waiting for him, but he's still ‘around’ as a reminder of how he affected them. To Yomogi, Sizumu only exists as a flashback memory where he denied his temptation and sent the Eugenicist off, whereas he still catches fleeting glimpses of Gauma in the present day. There's an ambiguous implication at the very end that the revived Dynazenon in the computer world could bring Gauma back along with it, but until the just-announced next sequel project follows up on that, it's the least-important confirmation of his fate; Gauma primarily lives on in the futures of these people he brought together.
Being the actual grown-up in the group, it makes sense that Koyomi would have the most clearly-quantified forward progress at the end here. Look at him all cleaned up in his nice suit! His growth feels the most obvious, the most defined, not necessarily in him acquiring employment (Dynazenon's commentary on ‘jobs’ has always been about self-actualizing purpose more than any sort of societal contribution) but in how he went about it. Embracing his connection to Inamoto's husband as a means to a job opportunity indicates his ability to move past his hang-ups as much as him healthily clarifying that "She's not my ex. She's a friend.” to Chise. Conversely compared to his clear-cut growth, his cousin Chise's placement by the end of SSSS.Dynazenon is going to be the most contentious point for a lot of viewers, but honestly, even if I'm not 100% satisfied with it, I understand why that is and follow the story's point here. Up to the very end, the show remains almost unbelievably coy with the details of Chise's backstory it had so tantalizingly teased, but as the series has codified again and again, the specifics of our past trauma aren't the most interesting, important parts of it. How we take in those issues and move forward with them is what defines us, and to that end, we see that Chise has removed her arm-sleeve, still covering herself now with an adornment of her very best friend, Goldburn.
One implication of SSSS.Dynazenon's thematics was that any of its main characters had the potential to turn into another Akane. Chise's particular parallels effectively lead her to run Ms. Shinjou's character development in reverse: Recognizing the sparkling separation of the show's titular hero at the end in a way that heartens and encourages her, before she must bid farewell to a dear friend even as she's been granted the support network and coping mechanisms to move forward. Chise's demonstration of coming to grips with herself is expressed not in her going back to school the way everyone would expect her to, but instead in the smaller, simpler declaration that she no longer idolizes the arrested NEET lifestyle of her cousin Koyomi. It's a small step, but a step forward nonetheless, the kind none of these people could have made alone.
The differing rates of recovery people have from their pasts is pronounced even in the most closely-grown pair of the group, Yume and Yomogi. They are together in the formative sense, even if, as with most elements of this story, it's left ambiguous whether they're officially dating or not. Still, they find themselves in different places moving forward and dealing with others. Yomogi's actually acting cordial towards his mom's boyfriend, while Yume still seeks periods of isolation from interacting with her other classmates. It's only through her previously-forged connection with Yomogi that she's led back from inside herself, while Yomogi himself specifically seeks her out as his own preferred connection even among his other maintained socializations. Yomogi and Yume holding their signifying scars next to each other and hoping they stay with them forever is probably the bluntest delivery of SSSS.Dynazenon's message on the supportive nature of shared trauma. It's an uncompromising escalation of the message the franchise has delivered since its spirit saved Takeshi all those decades ago: You Are Not Alone.
It's remarkable to me that SSSS.Dynazenon is this series where I can spend pages meditating on the arcs of characters and grasping the broader points they make about real-world trauma response, coping mechanisms, and the important lessons of health therein, while also being a brilliantly exciting, fist-pumping mecha-monster-battle anime. For all its delivery of those effective introspective character moments, this finale also continues the production's commitment to more over-the-top quality. It's a final battle worthy of the franchise, from maneuvers like Kaiju-Sizumu's absurd imitation of Godzilla's legendary tail-kick attack, or the Dynazenon mecha's magnificently improvised missile punch. There are little details in the boarding and direction that make me appreciate this presentation as well, particularly that delicious match-cut between the Kaiju's tail and Sizumu's own ponytail. It all makes a strong case for why this evolution of the Gridman Universe has moved from its tokusatsu origins into the realm of an outlandish anime in the signature Trigger style. It's a flavor that sings to fans of both mediums, mixing aesthetic influences as much as inter-series plot references.
Going into SSSS.Dynazenon, my initial question was whether it would ‘live up’ to SSSS.Gridman as a successor. But that's turned out to be inapplicable to the series, because it's made clear that it's not a sequel or a spiritual follow-up to SSSS.Gridman, but a companion to it. Dynazenon's reflects and inverts so many of the prioritized concepts of characterization and exploration of that prior show that the comparisons between both of them enhance each experience. So many follow-ups of series like this are focused on growing the fictional lore of a series, building up the ‘Universe’ in a hard-coded content sort of way. And fair play, Dynazenon's does that as well, directly springboarding off of a specific Denkou Choujin Gridman episode as well as bringing in fan-favorite SSSS.Gridman characters Anti and Anosillus II for additional hype factor. But most importantly, the anime grows and develops the ideas that previous iterations in the fiction had communicated, finding new applications for the franchise's illustrations of computerized group therapy. And that devotion to its core conceit is what keeps it feeling so cohesive with the qualities of its forebears. It's unmistakably the same series as SSSS.Gridman, and so SSSS.Dynazenon is unmistakably an amazing anime itself.
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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