Walk the Dinosaur!
When Studio Trigger’s SSSS.Gridman (based on the classic tokusatsu series Denkou Choujin Gridman) dropped back in 2018, it wasn’t even a contest. It had a one-of-a-kind tokusatsu-and-mecha mashup and colorful presentation that—while it already makes for quite the contender—was only one part of the whole story, that of an introverted girl so overwhelmed by real life that she sought refuge in a fabricated digital world that catered to her every whim (the final scene of which makes for one of the most thematically satisfying—not to mention shocking—conclusions I’ve seen in a while). It was a quite the formula, so it was only a little natural that there would be some apprehension how its sequel series, SSSS.Dynazenon—a spring 2021 original anime—would follow up on all of that.
Actually, “sequel” might be the wrong word in this case, because, although this is set in the same universe as its predecessor series, based on what I’ve seen (only 5 episodes have aired as of this writing), Akane and company are not present in any fashion. This show chooses instead to focus a completely new cast of characters, aiming for more of an ensemble vibe: we’ve got Yomogi, who’s too busy with his parents’ divorce to be concerned about monster attacks; Yume, who’s trying to find answers about her dead sister and has a compulsive need to lie to people, though why is this so remains to be seen; Gauma, a “Kaiju User” whose powers seem to have diminished for reasons unknown and has to pilot the titular robot as a result; the Kaiju Eugenicists, a group of people who feel the world belongs to the kaiju; and Koyomi and Chise, whose circumstance have yet to be properly addressed.
Right away, before getting to what we all obviously came here for, SSSS.Dynazenon does the work of establishing these characters as characters and not just pilots drawn together by the titular robot. Whether this is Akane’s world or not, Yume and Yomogi are too deep in their own issues to be too concerned about any kaiju attacks. If anything, the kaiju are merely footnotes in their lives, at least for the time being; even Gauma gets involved in Yomogi’s life due to their similar conflicts. Getting drawn into the battle between Dynazenon and the kaiju is merely a catalyst to kickstart the internal development rather than to push the plot into overdrive. In a way, it makes sense; SSSS.Gridman was, ultimately, about a single girl realizng that no one is truly alone (“Special Signature to Save a Soul”), whereas SSSS.Dynanzenon seems to be about people uniting to become a single power (“Scarred Souls Shine like Stars”).
None of this is to say that the show ignores what we all came here for, far from it! When the characterization cascades into its “Hell Yeah Giant Robots” showdowns, it cascades. They’re as big and loud as we were promised. Dynazenon itself is much more pompous in presentation—I mean, it is a giant robot that can transform into a flying dinosaur, after all. There’s a sense its trying to mimic the weight and movement of actual tokusatsu suits—just as things were in Akane’s world—but this time there’s a little more flexibility for the sake of flair (again, FLYING FIRE-BREATHING DINOSAUR). There’s certainly no worry that the show could replicate, let alone surpass, Gridman’s sheer awesome factor.
So far, SSSS.Dynanzenon has a lot going for it. Any robot-kaiju climax feels secondary to the overall character work so far, but it makes up for that with complete balls-to-the-wall action and explosions. And while there is a lot to be said about the parallels found between Gridman and Dynazenon, at face value Dynanzenon has more than enough to stand on its own, whether you enjoy character or just want see giant monsters get smashed in the face.