「裏切り者って、なに？」 (Uragirimono tte, nani?)
“What is a Traitor?”
It occurs to me in watching this episode that while I genuinely love this series, it’s unusually hard to capture the reason in words. I can tell you why Fumetsu no Anata e or Nomad is great pretty easily, but with SSSS.Dynazenon it’s much more difficult. There’s something more elemental and less intellectual about it, I think – less emotional even, at least in the superficial sense. I have an instinctive reaction to Gridman and Dynazenon – they speak to my soul as an anime fan. They connect with parts of my brain that anime hasn’t connected with in many years.
An episode like this is really a marvel of direction and writing, I think. You sit back and think not much as happening, but then you realize at the end a crazy big shit-ton of stuff happened. But it felt so relaxed, so natural. This is the essence of the Anno style of anime direction (a style he himself largely abandoned in the Rebuild movies, apart from the brilliant prologue section of 3.0+1.0). The intersection of the bizarre and fantastical with the mundane realities of adolescent life is the heart of Evangelion, and could be argued even to be the heart of mecha anime in its most elemental form. Dynazenon isn’t as emotionally tortured as Eva to be sure – or Yomogi as much so as Shinji – but they’re painting on the same canvas.
It certainly helps that in Yomogi and Yume we have a truly winning pair at the heart of the story, and in Gauma a pretty charismatic plot driver. The Ys are an adorable couple even if they aren’t one yet – their faces make for lovely close-ups and tell us a lot about what’s going through their heads. Yume has evolved a good bit already, clearly opening up to Yomogi in a way she hasn’t with anyone else. And this has given her the courage to start reckoning with what happened to her sister, about whom her own feelings are complicated. As for Yomogi, he’s the anchor at the heart of the narrative. He’s got a sensible, practical solidity to him. He asks the questions he should be asking, though his demeanor in doing so is astonishingly calm.
Yomogi deciding to start training indicates that he’s taking this whole kaiju thing seriously. But he’s a skeptic at heart, and Gauma has given him no reason not to be. And after a generally low-key (apart from Onija, who seems incapable of it) meeting with the Kaiju Eugenicists, he finds himself asking himself uncomfortable questions. Juuga in particular seems quite reasonable. And when Juuga seeks him out for a one-on-one meeting, Yomogi has even more reason to be uncertain. Juuga is polite and what’s more, he tells Yomogi more in their one chat than Gauma has in their entire relationship.
Juuga’s info drop adds some fascinating new elements to the mystery here. As Gauma later confirms, the bunch of them are former comrades who died 5,000 years earlier and were revived in the present (which may explain Gauma’s vaguely mummy-like appearance). There’s a very Wrath of Khan feel to this scenario, which strengthens my belief that Dynazenon is referencing Star Trek quite purposefully here. It’s not that Juuga tells Yomogi everything, but he quite possibly doesn’t fully understand what’s happening himself.
Yomogi shares his doubts with the others, and their skepticism of Gauma is warranted. But there’s one essential fact they can verify with their own eyes: the eugenicists are killing people (or trying to), and Gauma seems intent on saving them. Whatever their motivation doesn’t that make Gauma a person you’d trust over Juuga? Gauma doesn’t make this easy, refusing to talk about himself until he’s literally given absolutely no choice. But while his ultimate answer is “for a woman”, that’s still enough to get the kids (and Koyomi) to buy in for the moment – just the fact that he met them half way earns Gauma some slack in the heat of battle.
It certainly doesn’t hurt SSSS.Dynazenon’s case that it’s beautiful to look at. The character designs are beautiful, the panoramas are beautiful, and the battles are beautiful – mostly 2D with a judicious addition of well-integrated CGI. It’s all immersive, which I think is a crucial element for a mecha anime – you want to feel like you’re living a quiet life and suddenly get stuffed into a mecha cockpit in the middle of a crazy battle. That’s why something like the lack of background music outside of the battle scenes and the prominent use of it in them is so clever – one of many elements that make SSSS.Dynazenon (for me at least) a thoroughly satisfying and visceral anime experience.