SSSS.DYNAZENON – Production Notes 11-12 And Final Impressions

SSSS.DYNAZENON – Production Notes 11-12 And Final Impressions

We’re due a final in-depth look at SSSS.Dynazenon: the creators who stood out in the last stages, the fascinating answers to some seemingly unanswered riddles, and what to expect from this unique team in the future.

After the doozy of an episode that was Kai Ikarashi’s SSSS.Dynazenon #10, episode #11 offered as much peace and quiet as the show could afford at this point—in terms of both narrative stakes and in the (de)prioritization of the resources. Now, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting on either front. In contrast to Gridman’s escalation heading to one final confrontation against a singular villain they had to defeat to free Akane, Dynazenon approached its final arc having nearly wrapped up the many tasks that composed its homework.

The penultimate episode provided the finishing touches to many character arcs, with a focus on making amends—most notably by making characters revisit the show’s prologue in the process of bettering themselves—and facing the future. There was undeniable friction when it comes to the latter, since you can’t simply dump this delightful group of weirdos into the socially approved normalcy they didn’t fit into in the first place, but the episode went out of its way to reiterate that there was no need to get rid of who they are, nor these supportive relationships they’d found in the Dynazenon crew. Sure, Koyomi’s going to get a standard job, but he’ll still do it by listing self-taught mecha skills as one of his fortes. Personally, I would hire anyone like that on the spot, regardless of the post I’m supposed to cover.

This mostly quiet process was depicted by a similarly modest team; clearly sandwiched between the production’s final major efforts, and led by Keita Nagahara as the storyboarder and episode director. If that doesn’t make it clear enough, this was a deceptively tricky job for him. For starters, there’s those limited resources we’ve mentioned, but also the fact that he was a rare newcomer to a team that’s otherwise consistent to an extraordinary degree, and that’s without even mentioning that his KyoAniDo background makes him stand out from everyone else in the crew. Seeing how even the most attentive viewers seem to have missed all these points while watching the episode, I’d say that he succeeded with ease. In the end, the episode wasn’t the clearest showcase of Nagahara’s budding directorial style, and yet his contributions summed up perfectly what he’s all about. Let me explain.

Back when he worked at Kyoto Animation’s Osaka branch, Nagahara already stood out for his speed and adaptability. As a general rule, it’s extremely uncommon for the studio’s staff to show up in any production elsewhere; they’re all employed full-time, meaning they have no need to seek those jobs in the first place, and not that much time to do so anyway. And yet Nagahara, a complete animation junkie, constantly sneaked out under a pseudonym to work with acquaintances all over the industry, especially during his last years employed at the studio. Being able to juggle very different jobs in a limited amount of time and turning in high-quality work to ensure that he could keep being invited like this is no easy feat.

Things didn’t change much once he became freelance; if anything, those qualities have come to define Nagahara even more. He will constantly pop up in movies and TV anime projects all over the industry, mostly providing animation for troublesome scenes, but increasingly more so as a director as well. Over the last few months alone, Nagahara has acted as the assistant series director on Assault Lily—with all the subsequent episodic tasks that entailed—while providing animation for several films and shows. None of this would be possible without his extraordinary ability to fit into any environment regardless of the style and available resources.

In short, always put a Nagahara in your team.

Although Dynazenon’s lucky production schedule didn’t put that speed to test by itself, his adaptability definitely was. As a late newcomer, Nagahara had to preserve the show’s unique flavor, while also directly calling back to a legacy that now spans multiple series. And he did so as organically as possible, much like his reliance on symmetrical compositions; easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, but always quietly memorable and with a strong sense of finality, much like the episode as a whole.

Or I should say, much like most of the episode, as the solemnity went out the window around the end, once Sizumu decided he’d had enough of everyone’s shared moments of self-actualization and blew it all up one last time to lead into the finale.

For all we’ve talked about the parallels with Gridman, this is another case where the contrast between the two series is stark. Unlike its predecessor’s high stakes climax and life-affirming closure, Dynazenon’s last episode feels more like a victory lap, doubling down on points it had already made and offering sweet action and sweeter romantic closure in the process. I don’t think it makes for as memorable of an ending—few compare to Gridman’s as far as I’m concerned—but at the same time, I doubt that anyone who actually followed Dynazenon expected any different.

It was series director Akira Amemiya’s duty to wrap up his own work, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to you even if you’re not the type of person to pay attention to the production credits. For starters, those acquainted with his resume might have noticed that the climactic bits of action were framed in ways reminiscent of similar moments in Imaishi titles like TTGL, which Amemiya was a key contributor to. The ferocity of the animation was a good way to make up for the overall downgrade to the show’s action choreography when compared to Gridman’s more nimble hero, and to be perfectly fair, Dynazenon’s greater focus on honoring toku history also led to some extremely funny moments.

Episodes like this are also a good reminder that, despite Amemiya having a thematically appropriate reason as to why the kaiju and mecha are mostly 3DCG, if all your friends are robot nerds they will absolutely draw them by hand if possible—a quality problem to have in this day and age! Given Sizumu’s ordeal, I feel like it’s easy to justify the more organic-feeling bits of animation as still consistent with Amemiya’s belief that 2D animation is synonymous with characterful living creatures, so there’s no reason to say no to some really cool shots.

If you weren’t already paying attention to Ichigo Kanno‘s animation, Dynazenon has made its point clear: please pay attention to Ichigo Kanno’s animation. A young artist with more whimsical roots who can step up to the plate and match the likes of Ikarashi when it comes to sheer intensity doesn’t show up all that often, if ever.

As obvious as Amemiya’s hand is in conceptualizing the action, as well as in the confident storyboarding that will gladly linger on the quiet rain for a minute, perhaps the most obvious tell that the series director himself was in charge of the finale was how much the episode went out of its way to bring everything full circle. If you thought this franchise relied on repetition and visual motifs a lot before, strap in for an episode that finds a way to thread together countless bits of recurring imagery in a way that feels almost upsettingly natural. One of the most curious aspects about watching the Amemiya’s take on the Gridman universe evolve is that a series that once paid extreme reverence to one title and its adjacent genres has now built up a mythos of its own, and maybe most importantly, earned the right to pay homage to it without feeling like shallow self-indulgence.

What did that exactly translate into, then? You could easily shrug off a familiar bird song that we’ll talk about later as standard solid writing, and as cheeky as the pattern of visual bookending is, it was somewhat to be expected given the appearance of the logo in the opening. Now, did someone expect Yomogi’s dash toward his mech to be a perfect mirror of Yuta running towards Gridman in the very first episode, a brilliant reuse of the same key animation to contrast their first and last calls for duty? Apparently the answer is yes, because that’s the type of move Amemiya pulled all over the episode. In the end, the most striking case might be the pattern we see in the sky as the Dynazenon’s combination breaks apart for one last time: the exact same one Akane saw during Gridman’s prologue as the hero’s essence split, and something we’d been warned about—Scarred Souls do Shine like Stars.

Given what immediately followed in the epilogue, these extraordinary efforts to bring everything full circle became rather amusing in retrospect. As we’ve mentioned before, SSSS.Gridman was created with no sequel whatsoever in mind, which explains the airtight feeling of closure to its narrative. It’s no secret that Dynazenon has been a direct answer to its predecessor in many ways, addressing similar topics from a different angle, and this time around created with the knowledge that a lot of people do in fact like this curious reimagination of a niche tokusatsu series. And so, we’ve got a final episode where every main character reaches the conclusion to their arc, wrapped with the most conclusive imagery possible… and then a sequel hook that we know will lead to a Gridman x Dynazenon project of sorts; by we here I mean people who kept an eye on the TV broadcast, as streaming platforms overseas didn’t include that announcement.

Before talking about what’s coming in the future, though, I feel like it’s important to ascertain exactly what has happened so far. Writer Keiichi Hasegawa is an excellent storyteller who has proved to be the perfect complement for Amemiya. The charming naturalism of his dialogue reinforces the confidence the director has in the quiet downtime, his experience with this genre’s particular needs—even when they aren’t needs anymore, as this team doesn’t really have the same duty to sell toys—is unquestionable, and both of them are equal parts meticulous and funny. You know what neither of the two main voices behind this project are all that concerned about, though? Shedding light on their many secrets. In fact, Amemiya is on record talking about their deliberate attempt to increase the show’s rewatch value by letting the visuals do the talking on many occasions, which barely hides his sadistic delight when watching the audience try to piece together the puzzles they came up with.

As clear as Gridman’s full picture was, you had to look under the rug to locate every single piece; to this day, I still see people whose minds are blown when they find out why the show was frozen in an unnatural eternal summer. Dynazenon’s approach hasn’t been all that different in this regard: all viewers will walk off with a solid understanding of this story overall, but there still are conspicuously missing key details to this tale that we can only fill up with a keen eye and some healthy informed speculation. So, let’s get to that.

If you’ve been following our coverage of the show, then you already knew that Gauma is related to the original tokusatsu’s mummy episode before the show decided to spell that out; something I didn’t expect it to do, such is this team’s love of mystery. As we saw briefly depicted in Dynazenon #10, Gauma and the Kaiju Eugenicists used to lend their unique abilities to a certain country until they were betrayed, which they lashed out against… with the exception of Gauma, who sided with them because of his romance with the country’s princess. The result was a complete tragedy, with all of them resulting dead.

Gridman the Hyper Agent #18 fills many blanks as to exactly what happened in the past… and in the not-so-past. The country in question was actually China, which is not surprising given the dragon imagery, and the reason for the betrayal was simply that they had grown scared of the Kaiju Eugenicists’ supernatural powers. Unbeknownst to the princess, they plotted against them—including Gauma, who still sided with them. The murder weapon in his case was poison, which explains the pretty unscathed corpse we saw at the end of Dynazenon #10, and is likely related to his unhealthy-looking purple spots spreading throughout the show.

During that episode of the original series, the duo of villains hacked into the computer that was monitoring Gauma’s mummy after scientists unearthed it, fueling its fury against a world that betrayed him and causing some good old kaiju rampage in the process. The titular hero managed to put an end to this, with the inestimable help of a new weapon that his friend created specifically for this occasion: the Dragonic Cannon, an assist weapon that would eventually form the Dyna Dragon. Which is to say, the predecessor to the Dynazenon, with a fate tied to Gauma’s since its inception. And just as important was the contribution of Yuka, another friend of the protagonist who faced the reanimated mummy in the real world while the kaiju battle was being fought in the computer realm. She conveyed the princess’ final message and will to him, pacifying the mummy and thus essentially shaping Gauma’s character as we know him in Dynazenon. You can tell this scene was truly pivotal for him because it’s actually featured in the anime, with filtered footage playing as he reveals his past to Yomogi and Yume.

There are some obvious holes in this explanation that Dynazenon has made no effort to hide. Most notably, the fact that Gauma is incapable of using his powers anymore, despite having been the most fearsome of the bunch while they first lived. This is especially suspicious once you stop for a second and think about the fact that no other eugenicist has had that problem. Could the difference be that their current selves aren’t reanimated mummies like him, having instead been brought back through different means and thus keeping their original powers? Dynazenon’s first episode disproves that idea already, as the news program Chise is watching mentions that there have been many cases of ancient tombs being busted open.

Could the difference simply relate to Sizumu’s explanation about their ties to kaiju and Gauma’s lack of thereof? Though that explains their durability when compared to our beloved rotting mummy, it’s not as if Gauma deliberately severed any bond with kaiju during the show—if anything, he repeatedly tried to use his old abilities and failed. His allegiance lies with the world of man and their emotional bonds, but this is not the explanation either.

So, what is it then? Some speculations address it by looking back at the aforementioned episode of Gridman the Hyper Agent. In the process of hacking into the computer that was monitoring the mummy, the show’s villains might very well have created a copy of its original self. One with all its memories, but without those abilities that could be rooted in the physical body; which is to say, Gauma. That’s not so farfetched when it comes to this show, but I feel like rather than the original series, it’s Dynazenon itself that holds the clues of this mystery. Right before the first title drop to wrap up the prologue, a Gauma that had presumably just reawakened turned his head towards a singing bird. In the finale, Yomogi did the same gesture to the same bird, after his friend had passed. That bird happens to be a lesser cuckoo, which all the ornithologist nerds out there had already guessed before I took a look at the actual storyboards to confirm Amemiya’s notes on the subject. Bravo for the bird lovers out there.

Dynazenon’s link to lesser cuckoos runs deeper than you might expect. If you can read Japanese, you might have noticed that many posters and signs in the background of the show feature the bird’s many synonymous names, to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was now suffering bird-induced paranoia. Does that actually signify something, though? There are many meanings attached to lesser cuckoos with death as the common denominator, but the one I find most interesting is derived from Chinese folklore—quite relevant given Gauma’s story—as it relates them to reincarnation. Funny concept, that one.

Now, I’m no expert in necromancy, but I can still safely say that bringing a mummy back to life is no reincarnation. We’d need to have Gauma’s soul, perhaps freed after Yuka’s intervention in Gridman the Hyper Agent, reborn as a new human being. One that could have inherited that innate ability that even kaiju users have to train for years to truly master. But come on, does Dynazenon really have a character who can control kaiju for seemingly no reason, when Gauma himself has proven to be incapable of that? Does it really have a blue-haired protagonist who saved the day in the finale by seizing control of their foe for an instant, an ability they had hinted at throughout the show’s second half but never addressed where it came from? Well, I just checked and Yomogi does indeed exist, so we might be onto something.

And things don’t stop there. Wouldn’t it be kind of sad if only half of the star-crossed lovers had been reborn into this world? Out of all characters in the show, no one has as strong of a link with the concept of mortality as Yume. Her whole drive was to find out the truth about her sister’s death and come to terms with it. She even dresses up as a dead person in the final scene, while Yomogi cosplays a mummy—now you know why. It’s a no-brainer why her motif would be a pair of ankhs she carries everywhere: the key of life, representative of eternal life. But have you stopped and thought whose hands used to hold such grand symbols? Even a cursory search on Google will tell you that they were linked to important Egyptian figures like pharaohs and kings… or in this case, perhaps a princess. The natural attraction Yomogi felt to Yume, and even Gauma’s strong investment in making their relationship work out, sure take a fun turn when you look at them as the reincarnation of the princess and her hero.

Alternatively, Chise might be the actual reincarnation of the princess, given the smooth transition in the finale between Gauma’s final moments and her, as well as the strong link she’s got with dragons—the type of beast Gauma originally commanded for the princess. There’s no real evidence for this possibility beyond these coincidences, but it would have very funny implications regarding the relationship dynamics, so I had to type this out for all the chaotic shippers out there.

Everyone has noticed Gauma’s lingering spirit watching over the two, missing the much more important point that Yomogi and Yume bought matching umbrellas. She used to one a transparent one, which I’m afraid to say is imagery that belongs to a different ship. Did you notice that it was already battered by the end of Gridman, and that it’s now so wrecked that Ant- Knight has to pretend he doesn’t notice he’s getting wet for Second’s sake? Welcome to the Umbrella Blog, where we talk about items to stop the rain and other matters related to cheesy romance.

As neat as that is, it’s likely not the biggest point of speculation among fans, simply because there are more overt questions that the show also didn’t answer out loud. Things such as exactly what is the third thing Gauma felt must be protected at all costs, besides love and promises. The idea that it’s supposed to be bonds is quite fitting; it’s a summary of Yomogi’s final conversation with Sizumu, and the fact that those relationships between the main cast are embodied by their scars plays nicely with the wordplay between kizu and kizuna in Japanese.

That said, I believe that the intended answer was actually the future. It’s present at the start and end of the opening—a placement you know is given much importance in this series—and was already the conclusion to the tokusatsu episode that spawned it all, while also fitting nicely with the idea of reincarnation and the general direction of the ending. Whatever the specific answer is, it’s clear what the theme of the work was. Amemiya already spelled it out when they asked him why he built a whole show around a whole cast of combining robots this time: he didn’t do it in spite of how hard it is to have all characters on the same page, he did it because relationships are complicated.

And speaking of the more overt mysteries, I’m sure that people who remember the show’s very start still have a bunch of questions, such as the identity of the person who spread the baroque pearls—the items that serve as kaiju cores in this universe. Sizumu is the closest Dynazenon has had to a mastermind, but the skin color of the perpetrator doesn’t seem to fit at all, and him being behind everything would still leave the question of how he and the rest of the Kaiju Eugenicists returned to life. While these monsters can easily bring back people to life, we know they require human emotions to grow, so it would be pretty hard for a kaiju with powers over mortality to casually stumble upon exactly the right series of abandoned ancient tombs.

Though it might sound like a bit of a cop-out on my part, the answer I’ve settled on for now is that Dynazenon did in fact have a mastermind that we never saw. Again, it’s important to keep in mind the different circumstances in the production of this series. Gridman didn’t spell out all its answers, but it always felt like every single question was answered within the show and related materials, because it was meant to be a finished tale. On the other hand, Dynazenon was created with the knowledge that they’d announce some sort of sequel at the end, so why not leave a couple threads to keep fans guessing in the meantime? The team hasn’t hidden that they enjoy seeing viewers speculate, so you can consider this their final gift for now.

Four S-shaped scars and a mole in the form of a dot—SSSS.Dynazenon.

In some way or another, everything about this show’s ending is a call to look toward the future. Thematically, it’s what it concluded on, and narratively, there are details that seem like they will be addressed in the next entry. And beyond that, it’s hard not to wonder about the future of this team. Frankly, the announcement of a sequel feels like it’s only delaying the question of OK, what next? for Amemiya and company. After Dynazenon justified its existence and then some, I have little reason to doubt the next crossover, but it’s clear that they can’t—and shouldn’t—be pumping out Gridman spinoffs for all eternity.

In just a couple of shows, Amemiya has proved to have grasped the essence of a specific period of Hideaki Anno’s direction to a degree that I don’t think anyone not named Kazuya Tsurumaki ever has. And he’s done so without staying in his idol’s shadow all the time, being happy to establish his own identity—the unique pacing of his humor, his own set of inspirations, and the establishment of his own mythos—even when he knew they’d make some mistakes along the way.

Could he approach other Tsuburaya tokusatsu properties with that same spirit? I’d love to see Hasegawa and him reimagine other childhood passions as multilayered love letters like Gridman, which stand alone as fascinating new anime even if you don’t notice they’re trying to sell you on the old toys under Amemiya’s bed. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that Gridman is a series he went out of his way to rescue years ago with his Animators Expo short, so it clearly held a very special place in his heart; if you simply asked him to direct similar reboots for titles that he didn’t feel the same passion for, I feel like you’d dilute the magic here. Although he was already a beloved figure in the industry as an animator and strict Imaishi follower, Amemiya managed to be one of the sweetest directorial surprises anime’s had over the last few years. When someone like this emerges and immediately strikes gold, all we can do is hope that they get to make what they believe in, without getting pressured too much to iterate on their early success. If Amemiya is happy with his next works, good things will happen.

And that’s it for SSSS.Dynazenon! A show that is undeniably in conversation with its predecessor, but much like SSSS.Gridman at the time, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy much of what it offers even as a newcomer; I still wouldn’t recommend it, because I feel like the relationship is so deep that you’ll miss fascinating stuff if you don’t watch Gridman, but its ability to stand out on its own is undeniable. In fact, and even though the ending alone might give Gridman the edge over Dynazenon as far as I’m concerned, there are plenty of aspects about this show that I feel will work better for many audiences. Amemiya’s comedic timing got even bolder, the themes led to a much more fleshed-out ensemble cast, and if you like watching giant robots combine, it’s got that for days. I’ve spent the last three months telling people that Dynazenon is good, and you know what? Dynazenon is very good.

Full series coverage:

  • Interview with series director Akira Amemiya about SSSS.Gridman & SSSS.Dynazenon
  • Episodes 01-04
  • Episodes 05-09
  • Episode 10
  • Episodes 11-12 (You’re here!)

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Episode 11

Storyboard, Episode Direction: Keita Nagahara
Kaiju Design: Masayuki Gotou
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation Direction: Shie Kobori, Mayumi Nakamura
Mechanical Animation Director: Simon Dohi
Production Assistant: Mina Tachikawa

key animation: Junichi Inakagata, Yoshifumi Hagano, Daichi Nishimoto, Hiromi Hori, Takeshi Hirayama, Yusuke Adachi, Sayaka Kobayashi, Keinosuke Ami, Hidenori Makino, Shunpei Gunyasu, Tetsuya Sakurai, Li Mingzhen, Akihiro Sato, Kimitaka Ito, Mayuko Umigishi, Asami Shimizu, Takumi Takatsuma, Yuko Kobayashi, Toshiharu Sugie, Shinichiro Yamada, Simon Dohi, Yuya Saito, Mayumi Nakamura

Naoyuki Asano

Episode 12

Storyboard: Akira Amemiya
Episode Direction: Yuichi Shimohira
Kaiju Design: Masayuki Gotou
Chief Animation Director: Masaru Sakamoto
Animation Direction: Erika Nishihara, Minami Sakura
Mechanical Animation Director: Hiroki Mutaguchi
Production Assistant: Mao Nakagawa

key animation: Tomoki Yamane, Simon Dohi, Hiromi Hori, Shunpei Gunyasu, Yuya Saito, Akihiro Sato, Ichigo Kanno, Tetsuya Hasegawa, Yoshifumi Hagano, Yuto Kaneko, Yasushi Tokuda, Aito Ohashi, Kai Ikarashi, Gen Asano, Toshiyuki Sato, Hiroki Arai, Kenta Yokoya, Kengo Saito, Hiroki Mutaguchi, Naoki Takeda, Sayaka Kobayashi, Emi Tamura, Tetsuya Sakurai, Maho Takagi, Shiori Miyazaki, Kazuki Chiba, Shuhei Handa

2nd KA: Chiho Kiyota, Rino Kodama, Sho Ooi, Yuka Asano

Erika Nishihara, Shie Kobori, Akira Amemiya, sushio, Yoh Yoshinari

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1 year ago

Great post as usual! Although I do disagree with the whole reincarnation theory. It seems more like fans stretching things to fit a cool idea they had. Like why would the villains make a digital copy of the mummy? And why would he come to life if he didn’t have the soul of the original? And they specifically said you had to be a Kaiju user to be brought back to life, so he had to stop being one after he was brought back to life, not before. Plus if the Princess was reincarnated then that makes Gauma’s ending depressing.… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Max

I realise this might of come across as bit aggressive and that wasn’t the intention. I was just voicing my disagreement with the theory. I really have been enjoying all your posts about the show.

1 year ago
Reply to  Max

I just been doing some searching and research on the lesser cuckoo and I couldn’t find much to do with reincarnation, except that in Chinese folklore the cuckoo is said to be the reincarnation of Emperor Du Yu. But that’s all I could find. Well I don’t agree with the reincarnation theory, I do agree that the bird is definitely meant to have something to do with Gauma as it can be hard when he first appeared and when his spirit appeared behind Yomogi and Yume. And while I don’t think there’re ment to be reincarnations, I do think they… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Max

As a fellow follower of Gridman Universe as a whole and also a hardcore reference seeker and lore scholar I support your disbelief on that theory. I would like to discuss these ideas with you on the future.
You can find me at Twitter: @GetterArk

Last edited 1 year ago by Getter
1 year ago

I think we can have even more interpretations of the intentional parallels between Yomogi and Gauma, even though I think it might over-complicate things to imagine Yomogi being a direct reincarnation. Though, in the first episode when Yomogi saw Yume sitting on top of the flood gate we could hear lesser cuckoos, which could mean a lot of things. I think to be a Kaiju Eugenicist means to be self-isolating in some way. That’s what Sizumu was generally all about and the Eugenicists all wanted different things from Kaiju and were more co-workers than a team, which got them beat… Read more »

1 year ago

I like your blog. Keep writing please 🙂

11 months ago

Dear Kevin, I know, timely, but this is a small question that I had and kind of never asked until your Hathaway/state of mecha article’s now kind of forcing my curiosity. With Simon Dohi (who had his key animation debut only in 2019) stepping up as the second most frequent mechanical supervisor in Dynazenon, did you happen to notice anything particular in his episodes, one way or another? He also had heavy key animation duties (even being the only Trigger member to appear in the Yostar episode), so I’m kind of excited to see how he develops in the dark… Read more »