There's this scene about halfway through this week's episode of SSSS.Dynazenon, wherein a single camera shot is held on Yomogi and Yume as they engage in an agonizingly awkward non-conversation about the churro Yume is eating. It lasts a solid thirty seconds as they force out microscopic vocalizations in an effort to fill supposedly-social silence which only serves to highlight the interaction as even more forced and uncomfortable. It is the apex of this show's dedication to naturalistic dialogue and delivery in realistic diction, and it expertly highlights the crossroads these two characters are finding themselves at in the story. Yume and Yomogi have been getting to know each other, they've even gotten to see some sides of each other they weren't privy to before, but they still aren't so close that attempting to fill any instance of dead air with small talk actually speaks to a connection – to true familiarity with each other. This notably happens as they're supposedly acting on Gauma's boneheaded cartoon scheme to pretend they're dating, and perfectly indicative of how far off an actual relationship of that sort still is for these two troubled teens.
That's a huge amount of time (relative to both the show and the space in my review) dedicated to a dang churro, but it's an example of what SSSS.Dynazenon is doing so well this week. No shot, no frame, no second of the episode is wasted: it's all in service of expositing the atmosphere of where the tone of the show is going, or obliquely advancing character work in specific, understated ways, or even just making sure its quirky humor is still coming through even when it does find itself with some free space in its runtime. Amongst all the seriously-considered character conversations, we've still got an extremely silly B-plot going on about Gauma's efforts to ambush and capture Sizumu being thwarted by a single by-the-book lifeguard (voiced by classic Gridman actor Masaya Obi!), and the developments of the more conceptual overarching ideas of the plot are still mostly delivered by characters just sitting and having actual conversations with each other.
The necessity of learning more ‘serious’ things about people in order to truly ‘know’ them is one of the specific angles this episode is honing in on. There are two instances of Yume (with Yomogi in tow) meeting with other acquaintances of her sister Kano in her ongoing pursuit of understanding her departed sibling. The first one features a snippet of one of Kano's musical performances, an incomplete facsimile of the missed recital which Yume has hopelessly been chasing out of regret. It's basically a shorthand for that idea of the parts of people we weren't familiar with before, only now Yume can only get it in this secondhand form. The video's online behind a hidden link, something Yume had to pursue people in order to find, and its somewhat dubious iteration marks it as a pleasant-quality parallel to the other piece of information uncovered: The second associate prefacing his revelation with a lot of qualifying uncertainty before claiming that Kano may have been suicidal, the episode cutting off before he even finishes the sentence, that kind of information already doing its job before it's fully delivered.
Last week's SSSS.Dynazenon highlighted some of the small joys of learning about other people, with Yume's goofier tendencies becoming apparent to Yomogi and even coming out more around her robot-pilot comrades. But people carry plenty of dark secrets as well, things they might consider new acquaintances better off not knowing. Yume herself clams up about how much her sister's death has impacted her even as benign inputs like the sounds of people playing at a water park trigger her withdrawal from that kind of activity. By that same token, Yume, and through her the audience, takes note of Chise's insistence of wearing her arm-sleeve even when changed into a swimsuit, hinting at her own past problems she's literally covering up; We don't seriously think she dropped out of school just because she wanted to spend more time with her cousin Koyomi, do we? And for Koyomi's part, his conversation with Inamoto yields her married status which rather scuttles his clear wonderings about the possibility of romance, even as their relationship after all these years is still predicated on her own darker secrets he's still dutifully carrying. Honestly, if I had any issue with this episode and its otherwise perfect tone, it'd be that Koyomi's character work has that setup early in the runtime that they don't really return to, leaving it feeling unfinished as the plot floats over to all the other tied-in character connections.
It's thematically-appropriate, at least, since the other major movement is the otherwise-incremental advancement of Yomogi's obviously-nascent crush on Yume. I honestly should have expected it from this show at this point, but the best thing SSSS.Dynazenon does with this element is to directly interrogate it as part of the pair's conversation with their odd new frenemy Sizumu. His simple response to the question of their poorly-implemented fake-dating scheme is the remark that "People like to give themselves purpose like that". “Purpose” of course has been a theme of SSSS.Dynazenon since all its kid heroes treated the mecha-piloting as a part-time job, but that framing further questions that kind of motivation as one that affects virtually every facet of human behavior. Relationships, frankly, are something too many people enter into simply to ‘do’ something, to have a sense of obligatory progression in their life, rather than out of any feeling of genuine connection with the other person. Sure, Yomogi and Yume get along (about as well as the rest of the Dynazenon pilots do at this point), but is that pleasant proximity the only point to which pursuit of a romantic relationship seems viable to Yomogi? Is it on the same level of a desire for control of one's life that informed his dedication to work for his own money, or Yume's standing up of her previous dates, or even darker character turns like Kano's suicide or the possibility of Chise's self-harm? The point is, questions like this pierce Yomogi's previously simple-seeming interest in Yume, and I hope he understands, as he listens to a cohort blurt out her sister's most deep dark secret, that he'll need to at least be able to have a full and comfortable conversation with her about a friggin' churro before they can grow closer as he'd seemingly like to.
Those are many words digging into the dense, sometimes downright dark aspects still framing the journeys of these characters so far, but I did also say this one was a lot of fun, and it really is! I perhaps leaned a bit too much into comparisons to SSSS.Gridman in my inaugural review for this series, so I've since tried to tone that down, but it's still worth noting that this episode's water-park trip is a clear parallel to Gridman's own swimsuit-focused fifth episode. Though I will say the abject fanservice seems notably toned down in Dynazenon compared to how in-your-face parts of that Gridman episode came off as. Instead the ‘fanservice’ is just in watching this good group get along, a fun montage scene of waterpark playtimes interspersed with comedy beats of Gauma having all the effectiveness of Wile E. Coyote at nabbing the unflappable Sizumu. Even the obligatory kaiju fight has fun with itself leaning into that ‘obligatory’ aspect, the Eugenicists (save the perpetually-owned Onija, of course) once again treating it as just a job before they can get back to their own time at the waterpark. But there are also knowing bits like the enemy's crafty strategy of attacking Dynazenon while it's in the middle of its combination sequence (hey, that's cheating!) or Yomogi and Koyomi's specific mecha combination being nearly too top-heavy to stand properly, as so many poorly-considered mecha toys can attest (take note, Good Smile, we all know your Gridman set had issues, so I hope your Dynazenon turns out better). And yet even within the combat is a germ of considered meta-commentary, with Sizumu remarking that emotions are a Kaiju's favorite thing. It's true of course, as monsters in tokusatsu shows do always seem to be deployed as two or more characters are involved in some kind of storyline where they grow, change, or get to know each other better.
SSSS.Dynazenon continues to demonstrate why its particular ensemble-focused narrative structure is such a strong choice for itself. Yes, some of the character progression continues to be barely-incremental, but like the flash of Chise's potential issues or the mic-drop impact of Kano's past we finally get, each inch forward still speaks volumes. That's a testament to the economic framing of these kinds of revelations, as well as its characteristically minimalist dialogue and tonal presentation. Just like that churro conversation I keep finding myself coming back to, the characters can barely say anything to one another, but it results in both them and us coming away with a better understanding of where they currently really stand.
SSSS.Dynazenon is currently streaming on Funimation.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.