This recap contains spoilers for the SSSS.DYNAZENON episode “What is a Kaiju User?”
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly three years since SSSS.GRIDMAN aired. A piece I wrote on that show became one of the first things I ever penned here at Geek Girl Authority, so the series is special to me for more than just its quality.
Now, in the new decade, comes SSSS.DYNAZENON. Not a straight sequel so much as a spin-off/new series in the same universe, DYNAZENON is one of the most promising anime airing in a ridiculously strong season. If you only know GRIDMAN by reputation, you could be forgiven for coming in a little confused to SSSS.DYNAZENON. The show’s first episode doesn’t really explain anything. While it’s not yet entirely clear how much of GRIDMAN you’ll have to be familiar with to get what’s going on here, watching that series first certainly couldn’t hurt.
As for what SSSS.DYNAZENON actually is, like GRIDMAN before it, this is clearly a series that aims to produce both compelling character drama and high-stakes, explosive giant robot versus giant monster fights. Furthermore, it aims to tie them together, such that they support and enhance each other without either overshadowing the other. GRIDMAN was pretty good at all of that, so DYNAZENON has some big shoes to fill in this regard. But it’s off to a good start.
Your Classroom a Cathedral
“What is a Kaiju User?” doesn’t start with the explosive robot/monster fight stuff. That would, perhaps, be too obvious. Instead, 15 of its 26 minutes are spent on some relatively quiet character-building work. We meet four, perhaps five, characters of note here. Yomogi Asanaka is our central protagonist, an ordinary high school student (Aren’t they always?) with blue hair who has an after-school job and a generous streak.
Yume Minami is a mysterious girl who twice claims there’s “something wrong with her” and who has a strange habit of deliberately breaking promises. Koyomi Yamanaka is an unemployed college dropout who lives with his younger cousin, Chise Asukagawa. Finally, there’s Gauma, an unusual figure who claims to be a “kaiju user.” Yomogi meets him starved near-to-death under a bridge and it’s Yomogi offering him some food that kicks off the entire plot.
The episode also plants what I suspect are plot seeds in the form of incidental conversations and bits of symbolism. A senior who ended their own life several years ago during a haunted house. Yume’s bizarre habit of ditching people. A pair of plastic ankhs that she repeatedly toys with. Ex Cetera.
The moody atmosphere is reflected in the sound design choices in this part of the episode — voice acting is breathy and close to the microphone, the soundtrack is choral or silent. What perhaps strikes me most is SSSS.DYNAZENON‘s interpretation of what “SSSS” stands for. In SSSS.GRIDMAN, it was revealed late in the series (spoiler, here) to be short for “Secret Signal to Save a Soul.” The interpretation that “What is a Kaiju User?” offers, however, is somewhat different.
It’s a curious distinction. I suspect the full ramifications of it won’t be clear until near the end of the series.
But of course, if you’re more of a full-tilt red-blooded mecha fan, the real treats in “What is a Kaiju User?” come in its final third. A Kaiju, as might be expected, attacks the unnamed city our protagonists reside in. Fate, and Gauma, bring them together. He holds a figurine over his head and the titular Dynazenon is summoned for the first time in SSSS.DYNAZENON.
The Dynazenon is a thing of beauty if you’re a certain kind of geek. It’s huge, red, ridiculously toyetic and turns into a fire-breathing dinosaur. It also continues director Akira Amemiya‘s known Transformers –referencing streak. To my eye, the mech rather resembles Japan-original Autobot Star Saber, especially around the head.
The Dynazenon’s fight with the purple kaiju trashing the city is easily the most visually impressive part of the episode. (“What is a Kaiju User?” is actually rather restrained otherwise.) It’s hard to put into words the sheer joy of watching two metal dinosaurs duke it out. It has a certain Saturday morning cartoon cool to it that complements the moodier first half of the episode nicely. I suspect, as SSSS.DYNAZENON goes on, these two elements working in tandem will be even more crucial.
It’s too early to make any in-depth theories about where SSSS.DYNAZENON might go or how it might get there. But Amemiya is a known quantity and it’s a thrill to see his envisioned “Gridman Universe” starting to form more fully. I trust we’re in good hands.
See you next week, anime fans!
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