by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
The question of the exact place SSSS.Dynazenon occupies in relation to its ‘Gridman Universe’ predecessor SSSS.Gridman has been a slowly-burning one. That first anime's multitude of rug-pull reveals meant that anyone familiar with it going into its follow-up had to question the true nature of the setting the Dynazenon crew was occupying. But as the series has gone on, it's been content to present itself as, seemingly, an independent and original story that simply shares a lot of the same style and influences as the Gridman anime. The major link that does persist has been the conspicuous use of backgrounds, shots, and framings that directly mirror those used in SSSS.Gridman. It was an element that was difficult to discuss in a weekly review format just on account of how fleeting and uncertain the purpose of their inclusion was. This week's episode brings us to the crescendo of that, featuring a shot with Yume directly recreating Akane's famous rooftop intro from her series. I might have previously shied away from analyzing that scene's usage with direct comparisons to SSSS.Gridman, except that the very end of this episode, if not letting the cat completely out of the bag, at least lets us peek inside to see that there is, in fact, a cat in there. As of this moment, SSSS.Dynazenon and SSSS.Gridman are connected, and moving forward I will probably need to talk about both of them together to an increasing degree.
We can back up though, since there's still plenty to pore over in this episode of Dynazenon on its own. In fact, the metatextual question of whether the show has been lightly teasing or overtly messing with us this whole time is also directly relevant to degrees of character arcs that advance here. The ambiguity of a situation is something the show has loved playing with, especially this week. It's still uncertain if Yume's sister Kano died via accident or suicide, and now even the events that preceded that are framed in uncertainty. We get to watch the video of Kano and her classmates along with Yume, and it definitely feels presented in a way that makes the games they play with her feel awkward and unpleasant, if not outright hurtful. It's a tone Yomogi directly calls out for our benefit: a ‘gray area’ that may be intentional bullying, or simply unintentionally harsh treatment towards someone who didn't enjoy it but couldn't bring themselves to speak up. SSSS.Dynazenon constantly depicts different levels of communication, and how much we shoulder the burden of people's perception of us in how clear we make our feelings. Yume claims she feels increasingly like she “never knew Kano at all”, but as someone who also takes time to uncertainly open up to the people she gets to know, we can see that as something they have in common.
Previous parts of SSSS.Dynazenon's story had focused on how the characters' connections and situations helped them progress. In this episode as well, it's indicated that following up on her sister's death was something Yume always could have done, but didn't find the drive to pursue until she met her fellow disaffected Dynazenon drivers and took up a part-time job piloting a toy stealth bomber. But by that same token, this episode looks at how our own internal hang-ups can cause us to recede from those same connections. Yume is so stuck mulling over that video footage, all the new information about Kano and how it relates to her own self and choices in life that she retreats even further from the connection to Yomogi the two had been lightly nurturing. It's almost understandable: Yume just came by the revelation that her sister was being potentially hurt by the people she considered ‘friends’, a concern reflected in her dismissing Yomogi but entertaining the musings of Sizumu, nominally an ‘enemy’. At least you can always trust the feelings of your enemies to be honest and consistent towards you.
Right here is where I can discuss the kinds of direct parallels Dynazenon wants to call attention to with choices like Yume duplicating that Akane shot. That's an establishing scene for the entire tone and point of SSSS.Gridman, indicating that Akane's isolation is the true crux of the whole story. But while Yume initially retreats to that same self-imposed loneliness, she's all but immediately joined by an inquisitive Yomogi, and then Sizumu, in variations on that same shot. The developing character ensemble has been Dynazenon's distinction from Gridman since day one, and this setup is here to highlight that difference: Yume is not alone. Her story is one that intersects with the stories of all these other people, even as she attempts to mentally inflict isolation on herself in this case.
Being right in the middle of these kinds of personal arcs with all their growing pains, however, means this represents a difficult point for pretty much everyone. Yume's sulking and as uncertain as ever, sure, but she's downright collected compared to the mess poor Koyomi devolves into this week. I had remarked earlier that it felt like they cut short his plot developments with his old classmate Inamoto, but there was actually a pretty clever reason for that: At least in the present, there's hardly anything else to tell, as this really is just an instance of Inamoto catching up with someone she considers an old friend. The problem is that Koyomi's stunted neuroses have vastly overestimated his old friend's intent, not unlike an over-analytical anime critic also assuming this was leading to more of their story. And make no mistake, it's absolutely painful to watch Koyomi struggle and stammer in the presence of this girl he's still carrying a torch for and her doofy, if good-natured husband, then retreat into a miserable rain-soaked bender to rant about how she was ‘leading him on’. The man who was previously depicted as blending into the static clutter of his room with his similarly directionless cousin Chise suddenly feels totally out-of-place in any of these outside scenarios with other characters, and Dynazenon's consistently clever composition keeps emphasizing that level of social awkwardness.
Even as he may be questioning the wrong things, Koyomi's arc is one still anchored by questions. The pressing point of what exactly he and Inamoto found back in their middle-school days impresses on our own feelings the idea of a story being motivated by looking backwards. Koyomi also gets his own odd bonding time with a Kaiju Eugenicist, Mujina, who feeds the viewers' questions about plotting into the show's more salient conceptual work. We still don't really know who the Eugenicists are, and at least Mujina doesn't seem to know herself either. Not knowing who you are and not knowing what you want to do are two sides of the same listless identity coin, something a NEET like Koyomi can definitely identify with. Like Yume, the connections within the Dynazenon crew seem to have spurred Koyomi on to try to force change in himself when the chips are down, including smashing his way into a warehouse to recover his stolen Dyna Striker from Mujina (hey, do you know how expensive those toys are?). And even then, Koyomi's sudden surges of impulse seem to threaten to disconnect him from his cousin Chise, who is visibly concerned that her shut-in role model might be moving away from being such a comfortable constant in her life. Are these the kinds of changes that also speak to Mujina's personality suddenly springing to energetic life when she controls a Kaiju in tandem with Onija in the last part of this episode? Finding a purpose in life and people to do it with – that's a point SSSS.Dynazenon has been pointing a giant neon sign at since it started. With those kinds of effects, we get more perspective on Sizumu's remarks about the world moving in a good direction in tandem with the changes brought about by Kaiju.
Because the battles with the Kaiju really are just a recurrent framing element at this point. They drop in to provoke character-progressing combat as in so many tokusatsu and/or monster-of-the-week shows, but each time it's made clear how necessary they are for that in this setting. Back in episode 3, it took a combative crisis situation for the pilots to get Gauma to open up about his past to them, and now in this episode he finds himself trying to wrangle this group as they all struggle under the weight of the problems they're dealing with. It's oh-so-subtly symbolized by this week's Kaiju having the power to crush them with some unseen, yet very real force. The characters are so hung up on their current angst that it would risk feeling overly melodramatic if the feelings communicated didn't also come off as all-too-real. These aren't problems that can be overcome with a single robot-bashing breakthrough, so the show instead rewards our engagement with a shocking outside entry at the very end: GridKnight, the heroic transformation of SSSS.Gridman's Anti, appearing out of nowhere to save the day and make the wait for next Friday absolute agony.
Obviously I can't get too deep into theorizing about the particulars of GridKnight's appearance here until we get more actual context, but the defining point of the revelation already stands: The characters and content of SSSS.Gridman are now totally on the table for this pseudo-sequel, along with all the ways their themes can intersect beyond that aforementioned parallel shot composition. It's fitting, I suppose, for this direct connection to drop out of the sky just as the ‘You Are Not Alone’ messaging of the previous series was so intimately involved in the journeys Dyanzenon's characters were undertaking. What better way to show that Yume, Koyomi, and Yomogi didn't have to shoulder their burdens by themselves than by making clear that the series they're in itself doesn't exist in isolation?
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.
discuss this in the forum (56 posts) |