Play Therapy: SSSS.Dynazenon

The first thing to know about SSSS.Dynazenon is that you don’t need to have watched any of the prequels to get into SSSS.Dynazenon. Sure, its name implies a connection to 2018’s SSSS.Gridman, which is itself a sequel of sorts to the 1993 live-action Gridman the Hyper Agent. Even so, SSSS.Dynazenon is an insightful anime that stands on its own merits. 

The story of SSSS.Dynazenon follows a teenage boy named Asanaka Yomogi. After encountering an eccentric guy named Gauma claiming to be a kaiju user, his city is attacked by actual kaiju. Gauma is able to call upon a giant robot named Dynazenon, and Yomogi (as well as a few others) end up becoming Gauma’s copilots. With a different part of Dynazenon in each of their hands in the form of toys, they battle a group known as the Kaiju Eugenicists, who have the ability to control kaiju by bending them to their will. 

One question to ask when looking at many tokusatsu and mecha series is how much the characters’ primary motivations tie into the larger overarching plot and setting. In Gundam, for example, the connection is usually extremely strong—protagonists like Amuro Ray are thrust into the middle of long and painful wars whose physical and mental scars are the primary driving force of these narratives. Evangelion takes a different approach, forefronting the existing psychologies of its characters and using its science fictional setting as a means to explore their traumas. With respect to that dynamic, SSSS.Dynazenon falls a little more towards the Eva side, but goes its own direction.

SSSS.Dynazenon has a grounded feel that highlights both its characters’ personal histories and how their current circumstances as impromptu heroes impacts their views.  As Yomogi and the others battle, they’re forced to confront their own unique fears and values. Yomogi is trying to cope with his parents’ divorce and his mom’s new boyfriend. Minami Yume, one of Yomogi’s classmates, is emotionally distant ever since the mysterious death of her sister. Yamanaka Koyomi is a NEET in his 30s who constantly regrets not making certain decisions in his life (particularly a romantic one) that could have brought him down a different path. Koyomi’s younger cousin, Asukagawa Chise, refuses to attend school. Gauma searches for his past, explaining to the others that he’s actually thousands of years old.

While it can seem as if the fantastical elements are just a flimsy backdrop to the human drama at play, that’s not the case. Rather, one of the key strengths of SSSS.Dynazenon is the way that feeling both the added responsibility and thrill of fighting kaiju reshapes or reinforces their priorities and core beliefs. The fact that they carry around their respective vehicles like toys before growing them to giant size also makes me feel that there’s a link between the childish notion of “playing with toys” as a way to engage with the world and connect with others. In that respect, the antagonists of SSSS.Dynazenon, the Kaiju Eugenicists, seem to also have their own hang-ups but engage with them in less healthy ways.

SSSS.Dynazenon is also different enough from its predecessors that those who didn’t enjoy Gridman the Hyper Agent or SSSS.Gridman might resonate with this series. In particular, its characters are portrayed in a more subdued manner than SSSS.Gridman, where the central female characters, Rikka and Akane, cast a long shadow and often stole the spotlight through their sensual portrayals and powerful yuri energy.

Though I say that knowing the prequels is unnecessary to gain something from SSSS.Dynazenon, that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to have been a fan. Using my personal experience as an example, I came to the series cognizant of the fact that “Dyna” and “Zenon” are references to support robots from the original Gridman due to having watched Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad (the Power Rangers-esque adaptation of Gridman the Hyper Agent), and later found myself excited over some mid-series character arrivals that call back to SSSS.Gridman. The key is that while the series does reward those with prior knowledge, it doesn’t punish those who are new and unfamiliar. 

SSSS.Dynazenon hints at ties to the prior series in everything from the title of the show to the character Gauma himself. However, unlike with SSSS.Gridman, the mystery of what exactly is going on is less of a core element and more an added bonus for existing fans of either one or both previous series. The core story—one of friendship and growth—remains.