Saturday, 3 April 2021

First Impressions: SSSS.Dynazenon

SSSS.Dynazenon
SSSS.Dynazenon is available in streaming form on Funimation

When Tsuburaya Productions first announced that they would be teaming up with anime juggernauts studio Trigger on an animated adaption of Denkou Chojin Gridman, fans were expecting big things but perhaps weren't ready for quite how much of a rousing success SSSS.Gridman turned out to be. Offering up an incredible series that immediately won over both the tokusatsu and anime communities, it's no real surprise that three years later the two studios are collaborating once more for a second entry into the Gridman universe. This time around it's the support machines of the original 1994 seemingly taking centre stage, amalgamated and reimagined as SSSS.Dynazenon. As well as acting as a double reference to Gridman's American adaptation Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad, for this series the SSSS prefix also stands for "Scared Souls Shine like Stars".

Yomogi AsanakaYume Minami

In this opening episode high school student Yomogi Asanaka meets the mysterious Gauma. Upon giving him a sandwich to cure his hunger, Gauma reveals that he is a "kaiju user" and promises to pay Yomogi back for his kindness. Meanwhile his classmate Yume Minami is quickly earning a reputation for asking boys out and then never meeting them. When she tries to do the same to Yomogi, she's quick to earn the ire of the passionate Gauma.

During their argument a giant monster begins attacking the city, and Gauma finds he is unable to control it.  Calling upon a special item, he summons the giant robot Dynazenon to aid him in battle. What he doesn't realise however is that Dynazenon needs four pilots to operate - picking up Yomogi, Yume and the nearby NEET Koyomi Yamanaka in the process! Koyomi's cousin Chise Asukagawa watches on in shock as Dynazenon launches into action against the monster. 

GaumaDynazenon

Both Tsuburaya and Trigger have already confirmed that SSSS.Dynazenon takes place in the "Gridman Universe", but whether it actually connects to the previous series remains a mystery - especially given the revelations that came out of the latter episodes of SSSS.Gridman. This premiere doesn't make any attempt at revealing any of those answers, and if anything only poses more questions. The setting feels the same by the mechanics of SSSS.Dynazenon seem very different - structurally the episode is a classic super robot debut at its finest, and we have no idea just what being a "kaiju user" entails. But that is by no means a knock against the episode, because setting up mysteries is something that SSSS.Gridman excelled at. And with exactly the same staff on board again this time around, there's no doubt Dynazenon is aiming for that same unravelling sense of unease that pays off into a big finale. Pay attention to all the little details, because you never know which will turn out to be important!

Instead this first episode (titled "What is a Kaiju User?" and then proceeds to not answer) is all about meeting the characters. SSSS.Gridman had a pretty sizeable cast when you factor in the Gridman Alliance, the Assist Weapon Team, Akane, Gridman and Alexis Kerib, but something about Dynazenon already makes it feel bigger even though we only really met five main players here. Maybe it's just that a more concentrated team dynamic (after all, it was only Yuuta that became Gridman) that makes it feel busier, but even there was quite a bit crammed into here - so much so that you only got a rough sense of each of the characters. Yomogi tries to see the best in people and is quick to help them (even if he comes to regret it later), Yume is distant and a bit of a bitch but there are hints toward a tragic backstory/trauma and Gauma...Gauma is just the ultimate bro. Easily the standout character of the episode, Gauma is exactly what you want to see in a super robot series protagonist - a little hot-headed but fiercely loyal and above all passionate. We're also introduced to layout cousins Koyomi and Chise, but right now they're a bit more disconnected from the main story. All the main players are now in place, the good part is going to be getting to know them better and seeing how they interact.

Koyomi & ChiseThe kaiju attacks

The story gets off to a bit of a slow start as it leans more into the high school slice-of-life aspect of the Gridman universe, but it's a good introductory phase for the characters and pays off brilliantly with the introduction of Dynazenon itself and the ensuing fight. Because what an entrance that is. Appearing like some sort of mechnical deity complete with an operatic chant of its name, Dynazenon is exactly what fans are tuning in for and it does not disappoint. Previously with SSSS.Gridman there was some initial trepidation around the use of CGI models for the action scenes, but Trigger quickly established that this was going to be of no detriment to the visual quality. Trigger are making these kind of shows for themselves just as much as they are their audience, and know to strike a balance between CG work and gorgeously detailed 2D shots of the titular robot. If anyone stupidly thought that the mecha genre was dead, they'd only need to take one look at this show to know how wrong they are.

There have been plenty of images of Dynazenon circulating the web in the lead up to the show's premiere, but fans have been kept in the dark about the transformation and other modes (making it a bit of a gamble when companies want you to drop large amounts of money in the toys, but that's a different argument). Straight into the first episode and we're already getting the good stuff, as we don't just see Dynazenon in action but also it's alternate form of Dyna Rex! A wonderful homage/update to the original series' Dyna Dragon, Dyna Rex's big unveiling is accompanied by a glorious transformation sequence with the show's opening theme played over the top. From there we're just a few special attacks away from a victory, the end of the episode and being left hungry for more.

Dynazenon is summonedDyna Rex

All in all this was an extremely strong start to SSSS.Dynazenon - a more character-focused slow burn introduction that amps up the mystery and leads to one hell of a payoff. SSSS.Gridman ended on a fairly conclusive note but Tsuburaya and Trigger have definitely proven that there's still scope to tell more stories in this universe as well as expand the Gridman universe as a whole. But enough on this first episode - it's time to frantically work out which obscure Transformers characters each of the cast are referencing, see if the toys are any good and most importantly tune in each week to see how this all pans out. I can't wait.

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