SSSS.DYNAZENON – Production Notes 05-09

SSSS.DYNAZENON – Production Notes 05-09

The time has come for another deep dive on SSSS.Dynazenon‘s production: a mix of unique in-house Trigger talent and outside help, working in conjunction to create a show where the animation, writing, structure, and even the staff allocation responds to (and subverts!) existing expectations.


A lot has happened over the last month in SSSS.Dynazenon. In fact, and despite having turned out to be a way funnier and comfier show than expected, it was such an eventful stretch that I wasn’t sure when to stop and publish the next set of production notes. But seeing how episode #10 will be storyboarded and supervised by Kai Ikarashi, whom you might know for the unforgettable experience that was SSSS.Gridman #09, now feels like the right time to get to it. Part of the reason is that I expect an episode of similar caliber and thus deserving of a fully focused dive into it, and another part is that it might be another game-changer for the series, so I want to let my theories out before the episode crushes them all.

If that sounds like I’m putting too much stock into the importance of the next episode just because its young director proved he’s very good before, you should keep in mind one of the main takeaways from this stretch of episodes: Dynazenon’s production deliberately echoes Gridman’s—as I joked about before, like poetry, they rhyme.

In the interview with series director Akira Amemiya that we recently translated, he talked about Dynazenon as another valid starting point to get into the larger Gridman universe. To be fair, he wasn’t lying there; Dynazenon is accessible enough as a standalone series, with its intriguing narrative, an ensemble cast that is arguably more compelling than its predecessor’s, and plenty of self-contained qualities to Amemiya’s directorial voice; works by itself, might hook you in enough to give its sibling titles a try. At the same time, though, there’s no denying that having watched SSSS.Gridman unlocks a whole new level of appreciation to it, in a way that not even the original tokusatsu Gridman the Hyper Agent—nor experience with the genre as a whole—did for the previous anime series. Amemiya’s parting words, saying that Dynazenon was conceptualized to meet expectations of existing fans but also to subvert them, paint a clearer picture of what the series is actually like. This started manifesting immediately, with all the recurring shots and locations we already went over, but with the passage of time, it’s taken more significant form in the show’s writing and even the assignment of work.

Let’s talk some specifics, then. The fact that the show started with a couple of Amemiya storyboards isn’t particularly worthy of note; even with the suspicious constant visual callbacks, storyboarding the beginning of their show is simply something that most directors do. Things got more amusing with the latest episode we covered here, as Dynazenon #04 was outsourced to the same team that had handled Gridman #04. That crew, still led by Tatsufumi Fujii and with Masataka Nishikawa animation supervision, even got to revisit some of the same locations seen in their previous episode. The only difference? Animation circle ALBACROW is now under the larger umbrella of Yostar Pictures, because the economics of studios change faster than their works do.

That brings us to the start of this stretch of episodes. Dynazenon #05 was the mandatory swimsuit episode, storyboarded by Hiroyuki Oshima… who had happened to draw the storyboards for Gridman #05, also the mandatory swimsuit episode. It contained some instances of direct continuity, as well as amusing recurring characters, but given the overall quirkiness of the episode, it didn’t seem like more than a funny series of coincidences. This isn’t to say that there were no important details in the episode—it’s here that we saw that Gauma’s ominous mark on his back is growing, and Yume’s trauma was addressed too—nor that it was a lesser episode in the grand scheme of things. Amemiya has talked about his deliberately austere approach in spots, an art that he’s refined into a violently funny weapon; the long awkward silences have been a constant since the start of Gridman, but Dynazenon is taking them to the next level.

As an important side note, it’s worth mentioning that this episode was outsourced as well. With a few weeks left still, Dynazenon has already had more subcontracted episodes than Gridman ever did, which is understandable given how well Trigger’s approach of offloading major chunks of work to focus on what they thought mattered most worked great the first time. This episode produced at Traumerei Animation Studio admittedly got the short end of the stick, with the roughest animation we’ve seen in the series; a fairly high bar all things considered, but it’s still worth pointing out. And as always, it’s not as if the core crew completely abandoned the episode. The usual mecha aces like Simon Dohi and Kenta Yokoya still showed up, crowd animation legend Yusuke Yoshigaki lent a hand because a setting like a public pool simply calls for him, Amemiya himself assisted the design work, and Mayumi Nakamura got promoted from her role of designing the casual outfits in Gridman #05 into full-on swimsuit duty—alongside Erika Nishihara, who already was treated as the fashion expert at studio WIT. Smart resource management there!

In this scene animated by the aforementioned Nishihara, Kaneishi takes a glance at Yume as she stares at Yomogi—not necessarily out of jealousy but because the situation reminded her her sister’s casual bullying—and immediately gets in the way, as if to say that it’s her prey. Highschool dynamics are by far the scariest thing in this show.

If Dynazenon’s very structure echoes Gridman’s, that means that the sixth episode had to be a pivotal one. And that it was. But how come it was directed and storyboarded by Yoshiyuki Kaneko then, if the workload really is being split following the same pattern? Shouldn’t it have been Yoshihiro Miyajima’s duty, since he was the one in charge of Gridman #06? There’s a fun answer to that: the two of them have essentially switched scripts.

Before we get to that, though, I think it’s important to give some context about who those people are, as their interchangeability comes from the fact that they’re two unusual existences within studio Trigger. Kaneko and Miyajima are up-and-coming directors who’ve followed the management route into that position rather than maturing as animators, despite working with a company that is by all means an animator’s studio. Kaneko earned their trust as an outsider while Miyajima is fully Trigger-raised talent, but they’ve both earned the right to direct episodes on their own at the studio—and that’s no easy feat.

When it comes to handling an episode of TV anime, there are two major directorial roles: storyboarding and episode direction. If there’s such a thing as an ideal approach to animation production, the same person will handle both roles, allowing for their vision to be fully realized. With how hectic the industry has become, the two jobs get separated more often than not nowadays, with Trigger actually being at the forefront of that movement.

As a studio with access to wildly imaginative artists but lacking an orderly production culture, Trigger often load the storyboarding rosters with crazy inventive talent, then treat the episode director seat more like an extension of the production assistant role; still extremely important and highly valued in bringing ideas to life, but by all means separate and with more of a focus on the management side of things. To give some context: over the last 5 years, Trigger have produced as many full-length TV anime of their own. Over 70 episodes where just around a handful had the same person fully in charge of those two duties. And if you remove outsourced episodes and one-off guests, you’re left with only three names affiliated with Trigger: Kaneko, Miyajima, and Makoto Nakazono, whose career followed that exact same pattern. Unless you’ve got that unusual mix of wild imagination and ability to get things done in an often chaotic place, you simply aren’t up to the challenge. Fortunately for the studio, these two absolutely do.

Now that you’re aware of their valued skillset, you’ll easily understand the position they occupy in this franchise’s team, as well as how they pulled off that switch. During Gridman’s production, the more experience Kaneko acted as the assistant series director under Amemiya, tagging in for some episode direction on the side—most notably for Ikarashi’s stunner #09—but mostly focusing on the whole. On the other hand, Miyajima acted as the ace director on the field: handling the first episode alongside Amemiya, getting a solo opportunity in episode #06 that changed how we saw the show, and even returning for the finale. They both had well-defined objectives and pulled them off to near perfection.

What about Dynazenon, then? Well, this time around it’s Kaneko who assisted Amemiya with the premiere and then got a solo opportunity in episode #06 that changed how we see the show, while Miyajima is focusing more on the whole as the new assistant series director—any of that sound familiar? That’s how cheeky this team is being.

All this production trivia is neat, but I’m sure few of you would be interested if it wasn’t tied to some fantastic work in its own right, and that’s what Kaneko offered with episode #06. The brilliant umbrella motif that Amemiya confirmed was Kaneko’s own idea followed Koyomi all the way through as his arc took a turn, and even the simplest imagery like hands to highlight details caught the eye better than ever. The contrast between the dramatic angular shading and the much more involved compositing he brought to the table gave gravitas to the episode that could have fooled you into believing anything was a game-changer, but then it truly was, so no fooling had to occur. Kaneko returned to the Akane’s most iconic shots just as Yume got offered the possibility of escapism—a path Akane took and deeply regretted—and retroactively made all the vague links between the two characters much more unsettling. Could we have another Akane in the making?

That question started getting addressed in episode #07, which was directed and storyboarded by the aforementioned Miyajima. So, what was it that made him step into the field relatively late into the game, now that he’s got a role higher up? As you might have guessed, this was another example of that rhyming production. In Gridman, Miyajima’s solo directorial opportunity came with the introduction of Anosillus the 2nd: a naturally existing kaiju implied to be the spawn of a benevolent creature by the same name from the original tokusatsu and Unison, the spirit of sound that defended it. Her arrival gave the protagonist a whole new understanding of the world he was in. And now, Miyajima’s return also marks her own, ready to give the main cast a whole new understanding of the world they’re in. And she’s not alone!

Alongside her new adult form came Knight, who’s none other than Gridman’s Anti in adult form, having grown to be more polite, reasonable, but so admiring of Gridman’s Calibur that he also became a dumbass space cop who smashes his dangling sword into his surroundings. No one’s perfect. But really, why them? Amemiya has been very specific about not wanting to mess with Akane’s story as that would devalue it, so instead he relied on the one way out he left for himself. One of the last scenes in Gridman features the couple of kaiju departing together under an umbrella, and the comic he personally drew at the end of the staff book has Rikka walk by them still sharing that umbrella, so of course they’d be the ones to show up in Dynazenon—still under that same umbrella, incidentally!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In contrast to Kaneko’s focus on the lighting via the compositing, it’s the colors themselves that truly stood out in Miyajima’s episode, as well as the impressive mechanical artwork led by a Hiroki Mutaguchi who by his own admission simply missed drawing the Gridknight. In contrast to Gridman, the action in Dynazenon hasn’t been a constant source of homages to Masami Obari’s work—something that was so prevalent that it actually got them in trouble. Now, that issue was amicably solved and Obari is now happy to draw illustrations of this franchise’s mechs, but within the show itself, the 2D mechanical action is mostly reserved to combination sequences that have become—quite literally—beasts of their own, as well as stunning detailed stills. I won’t deny that I miss Gridman’s more balanced action at times, but Dynazenon’s approach is truer to Amemiya’s vision, with all the 3DCG denoting the lack of humanity and life.

One aspect where Miyajima did follow Kaneko’s steps perfectly is Yume’s character arc, as this episode returned to imagery that’s been traditionally associated with Akane, but did it to hint that she might be heading in a different direction; opening up to others rather than letting herself be overwhelmed, forced to escape into a world of her own. A pivotal scene in this regard was the candid conversation she had with Yomogi, where she confessed her anguish and doubts over the potential suicide of her sister, only to realize that our hero’s superpower is being the nicest, most empathetic kid in town. With his layouts, young Trigger talent Kazuki Chiba transports you to a world of their own, feeling both very intimate and completely desolate beyond them, all in another showing of how strong Miyajima’s eye for color is. One of the best scenes in one of the best shows.

Since the world is a mean place, the following episodes did their best to test that beautiful budding relationship from various angles. Episode #08 was storyboarded by Yuichi Abe, a unique talent with extensive experience in the realms of both tokusatsu and animation, making him the perfect man for this job. And even more relevantly, he’s been acquainted with Dynazenon’s writer Keiichi Hasegawa for many years, so he would also be the one to know how to handle a delicate turn in his story; which is to say, dealing with the conflict he introduced without devaluing masterful developments like the aforementioned conversation. Very much in this series’ tradition, Abe made use of the recurring shots to measure the distance between the main two characters, as well as their mental state. After the setback that was losing her sister’s trail, Yume closes in on herself again, taking some distance and feeling incapable of accepting Yomogi’s invitation to go hang out somewhere. But after Yomogi valiantly saves her, she’s the one who closes in that gap and actively approaches him with the same offer.

Of course, as an audience privy to Yomogi’s point of view, we also know that was no simple heroic feat. The truth is that he hesitated to pull the trigger after feeling the kaiju’s sentience and maybe even a bit of a bond between the two… which might have been the monster’s plan, as Masaru Sakamoto’s design was meant to be an amalgamation of things director Amemiya would hate, including the eyes of a Leucochloridium, a deceptive parasitic worm; be my guest and google zombie snail if you want to check how creepy nature can be. Either way, Yomogi’s hesitation and the way he had to feel the weight of his own actions for the first time was depicted in stunning fashion, as you would expect from the show at this point.

And that brings us to the last episode we’ll be covering this time, which addressed two of the major plotlines that had been building up with yet another fantastic Kaneko storyboard using similar devices and maybe the most inspired usage of the show’s isolative motif. The episode had satisfying callbacks for days, but if there’s one that will stick in memory, it’s returning to Akane’s salvation not just through the visuals but through the script as well. That’s powerful in and of itself, but even with just the context of Dynazenon, the episode highlights the importance of group support. In the end, chances are that Yume’s sister died by accident; sure, the fact that she was alone in a dangerous spot might have been caused by the bullying, but she likely just fell trying to grab her amulet just like Yume did. The difference between the two? That Yume had Chise with her in the first place, and Yomogi rushed to her help too. Also a giant bird kaiju. Kinda important too, I guess.

It’s precisely Chise, whom I’ve been neglecting from talking about so far, who turned out to be the star of the episode. It would be an understatement to say that the show had hinted that something was wrong with her. The fact that she doesn’t attend school, an arm she hides no matter what in conjunction with her dyed hair, plus a clear feeling of isolation that wasn’t helped by the fact that she’s the only member of the crew who doesn’t have a role in the fight. We’d seen those worries physically grow, as the baroque pearl—which we’ve known serve as cores for kaiju since the days of Akane—she stumbled upon at the start had morphed anytime her worries increased. By the previous episode, it already looked like the skeleton of a dragon, and this one started with her waking up to Goldburn: a winged kaiju with the ability to change the size of objects.

This could have been the beginning of a Chise downfall that the show has been strongly hinting at… but for now, it looks more like one of those subversions of expectations that Amemiya warned us about. Now, this isn’t to say that Chise didn’t actually have big problems; although details aren’t clear, it seems like leaving behind piano might have been hurtful to her, and that she fell into a self-defeating spiral where her pain made her distance herself from everyone else, building walls that only made her hurt more in her lonesome. But unlike in the past, and despite her fear that her new pals wouldn’t accept her nor her pet kaiju, Gauma’s team immediately trusted them, no questions asked. I’d expected the Gridknight and Dynazenon to combine—simply for the fact that they’re a Gridman-like entity plus some of its original assist weapons—but seeing Goldburn immediately join in on the fun was the best proof that this team now has complete trust in each other. It became a good excuse for Gen Asano to paint these stunning Kameda-flavored brush strokes too, so I’d say that it worked out on all levels.

Dynazenon’s spirit and goals never felt like much of a secret. Rather than basing it on the cool hero and writing around a central heroine, Amemiya took an assist weapon originally used by the hero’s friends, and built a story about an ensemble cast suffering from similar issues, although with different levels of intensity. Scarred Souls Shine like Stars was always going to be about salvation through community, but it’s this episode that made it clear about exactly what type of story it might be. If Gridman was about helping someone who had crossed a line, Dynazenon is about preventing that, for an audience who has already seen the extremes we can reach if we allow another Akane to happen. And fingers crossed, because it’s starting to look like they can pull it off. Now watch everything descend into hell.

The Fun Speculation Corner That Will Look Foolish Within Weeks If Not Days

Now that we’re done with the coverage of the production, its themes, and all that serious stuff, I’d like to end with a series of more fun speculative notes, since that’s always part of the fun with original anime like this.

  • I’ve said that Dynazenon appears to be about preventing another Akane-like situation and that they’re doing a great job at it, but surely there’s got to be some conflict left, right? I don’t buy that it’ll be all up to the Kaiju Eugenicists, so if I had to guess which member of the main cast will find themselves in deep trouble, it would be… Yomogi himself? Kicking Yume down again would be downright mean, and Chise has earned a happy end too, but he’s got some hanging threads when it comes to the weight of responsibility, plus the vague hints that he might actually be able to control kaiju for real. Just a shot in the dark, but I feel like he might get an old friend of his killed or injured—maybe Kaneishi, who is most definitely in love with him—and become the target of salvation for the final arc.
  • Regarding that final arc and possible dark developments: thematically it’d be very fitting to have a happy end, but will it really? Mind you, I’m talking about a truly happy one, unlike its predecessor; sure, Gridman’s ending was uplifting, in the sense that it lifted you up after punching you in the gut and stealing your wallet, but Akane having to step away from her friends forever is hardly a joyful event. The only reason I’m bringing this up is that Dynazenon‘s name was derived from Zeno’s Paradoxes, and early episodes of the show drew parallels between the idea of two objects being unable to meet and Yomogi and Yume’s situation. Whether that only referred to their inability to see eye to eye early on or whether it’s a tease that Amemiya and Hasegawa will do something very mean at the end, I suppose we’ll see.
  • Speaking of names: it’s all but confirmed that the names of the Kaiju Eugenicists are references to idioms that tell you something about their personality and role in the story. This is most obvious when it comes to Mujina and Onija. The former’s name comes from an idiom referring to people that, despite looking different, are actually birds of a feather—referring to her and Onija, who turned out to be quite similar in the end. In his case, his name is a humorous reference to being unable to tell which dangers lay ahead, fittingly so for the character who is in danger of dying in unexpected ways every week. Why does this all matter? Well, because Sizumu’s name still remains a bit of a mystery, and given that he looks like he’ll be important in the endgame of the show, that’s some fun investigation you can do. It’s a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into and completely waste your time on!

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Episode 05

storyboard: Hiroyuki Oshima
episode direction: Hideyuki Satake
Stock Footage storyboard: Gen Asano
Kaiju Design: Kiyotaka Taguchi
Design Assistance: Akira Amemiya
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation Direction: Hideyuki Satake, Yoh Himuro, Shohei Usami, Tetsuya Hasegawa, Haruka Hinata, Maho Takagi, Yusuke Yoshigaki
Mechanical Animation Director: Simon Dohi
production assistant: Hideki Kuki, Takahisa Ishibashi, Naoto Setoguchi

Key Animation: Makito Uehara, Hideyuki Satake, Kouki Takeuchi, Keiji Shigesawa, Yoh Himuro, Tomoyuki Munehiro, Asako Onari, Jeong Inho

Seven Seas
Zhu Rong Suang, Wu Qi

Studio Colorido
Satomi Tanigaki

Ayaka Hayashi, Yuya Saito, Tomomi Sugiyama, Kazuo Takigawa, Takaharu Arahira, Simon Dohi

Stock Footage Key Animation: Kenta Yokoya

Production Assistance: Traumerei Animation Studio


Episode 06

storyboard, episode direction: Yoshiyuki Kaneko
Kaiju Design: Hideo Okamoto
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation Direction: Erika Nishihara, Minami Sakura
Mechanical Animation Director: Shouji Tachibana
production assistant: Mao Nakagawa

Key Animation: Kouki Takeuchi, Yoshifumi Hagano, Ohajiki, Hidenori Makino, Tetsuya Sakurai, Hiromi Hori, Kei Yoshimizu, Sayaka Kobayashi, Yuko Kobayashi, Shunpei Gunyasu, Ichigo Kanno, Naoki Takeda, Tomoki Yamane, Midori Nakamura, Hiroki Arai, Akihiro Sato, Yasushi Tokuda, Mayumi Nakamura, Erika Nishihara, Minami Sakura


Episode 07

storyboard, episode direction: Yoshihiro Miyajima
Gridknight Design: Masayuki Gotou
Kaiju Design: Hideou Okamoto
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation Direction: Emi Tamura, Maho Takagi
Mechanical Animation Director: Hiroki Mutaguchi
production assistant: Kenta Kawahara

Key Animation: Ichigo Kanno, Sayaka Kobayashi, Yuya Saito, Tetsuya Sakurai, Hiromi Hori, Midori Nakamura, Shunpei Gunyasu, ashcozy, Michel Sugimoto, Yoshifumi Hagano, Hidenori Makino, Kazuki Chiba, Tomoki Yamane, Simon Dohi, Akihiro Sato, Mayuko Umigishi, Hiroki Arai, Emi Tamura, Asami Shimizu, Norie Igawa, Takayuki Sano, Toshiyuki Sato


Episode 08

storyboard: Yuichi Abe
episode direction: Rei Owada
Kaiju Design: Masaru Sakamoto
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Assistant Chief Animation Director: Minami Sakura, Erika Nishihara
Animation Direction: Takenori Tsukuma, Maki Fukui, Hiroki Arai
Mechanical Animation Director: Simon Dohi
Assistant Mechanical Animation Director: Hiroki Mutaguchi
production assistant: Kazuaki Ouji, Hideki Iwasawa

Key Animation: Asumi Kato, Takenori Tsukuma, Mako Norita, Atsushi Kaneki, Yuta Shimamoto, Nobuyuki Mitani, Mai Watanabe, Yuki Ito, Yoshimi Shizuoka, Sayaka Kayo, Kimitaka Ito, Morimori, Junichi Inakagata, Katsuya Yoshii, Toshiharu Sugie, Kazuaki Ito, Takeshi Hirayama, Hirotaka Nii, Aika Kawasaki, Sachiko Yajima

Triple A

Morifumi Naka

Stock Footage Key Animation: Kazuaki Ito

Production Assistance: ROLL2


Episode 09

storyboard: Yoshiyuki Kaneko
episode direction: Noboru Furukawa
Assistant Episode Director: Koudai Nakano
Stock Footage storyboard: Gen Asano
Kaiju Design: Ichiro Itano
Goldburn and Kaiser Gridknight Design: Tsuyoshi Nonaka
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation Direction: Tetsuya Hasegawa, Michel Sugimoto
Mechanical Animation Director: Hiroki Mutaguchi, Simon Dohi, Gen Asano
production assistant: Narumi Sasaki

Key Animation: Midori Nakamura, Mitsuaki Hori, Shun Miyakawa, Yoshiaki Matsuda, Yuya Saito, Baku Hamaguchi, Yuji Hamada, Tomoki Yamane, Naoki Takeda, Yasushi Tokuda, Keinosuke Ami, Yuka Inada, Hiromi Hori, Takumi Takatsuma, Yuho Onishi, Michel Sugimoto, Kanako Oyabu, Simon Dohi, Yusuke Kurinishi, Asumi Hashimoto, Shunpei Gunyasu, Hiroki Mutaguchi

Stock Footage Key Animation: Gen Asano


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odyi
odyi
5 months ago

Absolutely fantastic article all around, it also validated my laziness to not finish my comment after last week’s interview, comes a day ahead of the Ikarashi special to get us in full Dyna mood and also came on the one day that work didn’t kick my ass physically. As expected from the master On the speculation front, I feel like we don’t know the truth to this world, as Satsuki Kiryuuin would be so kind to inform us. Personally, I believe that the series will revisit the promise between Gauma and very presumably Kano, and I believe that in contrast… Read more »