SSSS.Dynazenon Defies What A Sequel Can Do, And What Reboots Of Childhood Properties Should Be

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

This column doesn't really cover second seasons or follow-ups separately, but it only took a couple of episodes before "SSSS.Dynazenon" showed why I needed to make an exception. "SSSS. Gridman" was already a wonderful surprise, reviving an obscure tokusatsu show with incredible animation and a meaningful story of loneliness and longing, and somehow this sequel/companion is better in almost every way.

After 5,000 years, they're free, and it's time to conquer Earth! Except this is not Rita Repulsa but a group of teens who call themselves the "Kaiju Eugenicists" and want to use the power of giant monsters to destroy humanity. It is up to a group of teenagers with attitude (well, there are two adults, but the sentiment stands!) to use literal toys that combine to form a giant robot that can defeat the kaiju.

From there, "SSSS.Dynazenon" offers a brand new experience that still comments on and adds to "Gridman," expanding and contrasting that show with direct parallels and callbacks. All while also showing that you can do an exhilarating action anime about giant robots combining to form a dragon/T-Rex agent of pure coolness and still tell an emotionally complex story about the importance of bonding with others, and how those bonds can help us heal from our trauma. Add the fact that this show aired just shortly before the last "Evangelion" movie and offered similar themes with a similarly exciting action epic, and you've got yourself an absolute must-watch show.

What Makes It Great

Though not directly a sequel, "Dynazenon" is constantly calling back to its predecessor, making it essential to watch both shows to get the full experience. Several scenes replicate the same framing as scenes in "Gridman," including an episode that is a near-perfect mirror of an episode of that show. But rather than just offer references and nods, "Dynazenon" uses these mirrors in order to reinterpret the same imagery through a new lens in a sort of thematic "Rashomon" — like how the score remixes the same song over and over and makes it feel fresh every time.

Like "Gridman," this show is an absolute marvel to look at. The animation is dynamic and the framing is exquisite, replicating conventions and visual cues of tokusatsu shows like "Ultraman" and "Power Rangers," like having entire buildings fly off when a kaiju knocks them rather than them tumbling down. Similarly, the show uses color scheme and framing to convey symbolism and character arcs without the need for words. More often than not, anime shows (especially those with big spectacle like this one) feel too noisy and overstuffed, but not "Dynazenon." Instead, the color of the characters' backpacks tells you a story of what their role in the team is, the framing is loaded with allegory and symbolism that shows where the characters' mindset is at any particular moment, while a constant use of loaded silence and pregnant pauses makes every moment feel meaningful and significant.

Easily the biggest difference between this show and "Gridman" is the bigger focus on the ensemble of characters. Sure, we got a meaningful and emotional story in the previous show, but it ended up focusing on a single character and leaving the others behind. "Dynazenon" on the other hand gives equal screen time and importance to each and every one of its characters, to the point where even the villains are treated as three-dimensional characters with their own ambitions and personal issues. There even is an episode where the villains just get to take a day off, having fun at the movie theater (in 4D no less!) while the heroes are dealing with hell breaking loose.

What It Brings to the Conversation

The biggest strength of "Dynazenon" is in its ensemble. Rather than the story of a single character learning to embrace life, this show is about how pain and trauma can bring people together, and how those connections are essential to start healing. The show's ultimate meaning is not saved as a third act surprise, but is spelled out right at the beginning of the show, as the first episode reveals the meaning of this SSSS to be: "Scarred Souls Shine Like Stars." Each character is given an emotional arc about accepting what has happened to you, and to start looking forward rather than being stuck in the past.

It is certainly an escalation and logical step forward for the original show's message "You are not alone," but also a perfect companion to "Evangelion," particularly the latest movie, "Thrice Upon a Time." Sure, there are giant robots and cool fights, but at every corner, "Dynazenon" makes it clear that these are distractions and not a thing to be obsessed over. There will come a time where you should leave the toy dragon behind and go outside, hopefully with people you care about — it's not a coincidence that the antagonists are 5,000 beings obsessed with completing their ancient task. Like "Evangelion," "Dynazenon" makes the case that obsessing over any sort of popular escapist entertainment is dangerous, as each of the characters have parallels to the protagonist/antagonist of "Gridman," but each of them also has the possibility to heal before that happens with the help of a support system, and embrace the real world.

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

Now that every childhood property is getting a somber reboot that sacrifices colors and glee for self-seriousness in an attempt to appear important, "SSSS.Dynazenon" makes a case for that being just a stupid excuse. Here is an anime that is equal parts stupid fist-pumping fun, robots combining to form even bigger robots, lots of special attack moves being yelled out loud, and general moments of goofiness, but also an anime with a beautiful subdued human story about trauma, coping mechanisms, and acknowledging that your scars can remind you of where you've been, without preventing you from moving forward.

Watch This If You Like: "Power Rangers," "Neon Genesis Evangelion," "Gurren Lagann."

"SSSS.Dynazenon" is streaming on Funimation.