Fans of the studio, Trigger, will probably disagree with my points: feel free.
This isn’t a rant or a hate post. Studio Trigger has put out some big name anime and even as someone who mostly has not enjoyed their body of work I can see that their work isn’t garbage. From an animation and visual perspective most of their work is actually quite creative and beautiful. Looking at their list of works, a large number are science fiction or fantasy focused with Darling in the Franxx, Kiznaiver and even BNA (which I made it through exactly one and a half episodes of before I surrendered and gave up).
Actually, my favourite Trigger anime remains Uchuu Patrol Luluco which as a comedic short managed to keep me relatively entertained for its short run-time.
So no, this post isn’t going to tell you that Studio Trigger is hopeless and that people shouldn’t watch their anime.
Rather, it is a post for me to explain why, despite their being plenty of good things about their anime, the vast majority have never hit their mark with me and why after only watching one episode of SSSS.Dynazenon I decided that there was no point in my even attempting to review it because I would end up saying much the same things I always say when I attempt to review works by Trigger.
Which makes me wonder what it is that Trigger anime do that put me off or leave me feeling disengaged. Rather than leaving this question unanswered I decided to watch the opening scenes of SSSS.Dynazenon again and to actually identify what it was that was stopping me from getting immersed in the world, for really caring about the characters, and why my usual red flags were going up around a story that was probably going to tie itself in a knot and then leave me unsatisfied with the conclusion.
Actually, that last point is easy to answer. It’s Trigger. Trigger definitely goes by the rule of cool rather than logic when writing narratives and I’ve learned not to expect things to come together nicely, or even sensibly, but rather to expect a logic breaking twist just when you think things might resolve.
Here’s the first look at SSSS.Dynazenon. Already the audience is distanced from the characters. Rather than seeing them we’re seeing shadowy reflections of them. We’re dropped into a conversation that is already in progress with no context. While this is just an establishing scene and it is establishing a group dynamic and the normality of the current situation, it does nothing for making me care about the characters we’re about to meet.
And yes, that is reading a lot into a single opening shot, particularly when so many anime open with narration or drop us in medias res, particularly mid-battle, before explaining themselves, however it means that these first few moments aren’t hooking me in and getting me interested. I am noting how pretty the water looks with the light and shadows playing on it and wondering why the rock’s shadow is all squiggly while the human reflections are lacking distortion, but what I’m not noting is anything about the plot or characters that might make me keen to see where it goes.
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We then cut from that scene (with no further explanation) to a shot through a window or a man talking to or yelling at a girl who walks away. We don’t hear the dialogue or see either character clearly so again, no real need to connect here. Just look at the pretty pictures. And sure, the scene gets context later when we learn that a senior student got mad at a girl who stood him up, but why show us this scene here. We could either flash back to it when its relevant, or actually see the scene play out to learn about the girl’s character. Instead we get a silhouette show that feels disconnected and then we cut off to a night sky (how did it get to night-time) and a hand dropping some sparkly things over a city. Multiple cuts of the sky with sparkles, people walking, etc, before we focus in on one of the landed sparkles.
And this is why I can’t just write-off the works of Studio Trigger. As much as there are a lot of things in their anime that bother me, they throw in things that intrigue and make me want to know. I want to know what this sparkling thing is and why it is here. I know I’ll probably not find out or the answer won’t make sense, but I’ve followed this sparkle from hand in the sky, falling across the city, to now landing here in the street. This sparkle is so far my biggest connection to this story and I actually do care and want to know more but in a few more minutes I’ll probably have forgotten about this because the SSSS.Dynazenon isn’t actually ready to do anything with the sparkles just yet.
Instead we now see Yomogi (one of the main characters) collecting his pay-packet. He’s asked, out of the blue and with seemingly no context, whether he’s trying to help out his family but he shrugs that off and claims he just wanted some extra spending money. It was almost like Trigger saw the opportunity to create a down-on-his-luck boy who helps his family trope, set-it-up and then smacked it down hard all in the space of two lines. However, that leaves us without any clues to who Yomogi is. Is he actually the trope but lying to hide it? Is he something entirely different? In which case, what?
Given his clothes I’m assuming Yomogi was the one in the reflection earlier so this is his second scene and so far I’ve worked out he works (not sure doing what because we didn’t see him working, just leaving work).
Right now, I know some people are asking what I am expecting minutes into a story.
So let me compare with the opening scene of Mars Red.
Like SSSS.Dynazenon, we get an ambiguous opening shot. Initially just the brown background and then the disembodied hand that glides through it. Where Mars Red differed was what happened next. Rather than cutting away to yet more ambiguous scenes, Mars Red establishes a character. The woman who will ultimately be at the centre of the episode. An actress who was caught in a horrific accident and should have died but woke as a vampire. And they establish her character in this first scene as she performs the lines from her play.
We also establish that something is not quite right through the music and through the reflection on the glass in front of her with a man in uniform seemingly staring at her. As she continues to perform, we don’t know exactly who she is or why she is performing and we don’t know who the man is, but a relationship is established between them and the audience gets a sense of who she is. This was ambiguity that made me want to know more and drew me into a story. It wasn’t cutting away and revealing nothing just to create a sense of false intrigue.
By the time it is revealed that she is a vampire and her innocent seeming question of asking the uniformed man to be her co-star I’m already hooked into the story. It takes only a minute to make me care about these two characters, one of whom has not spoken in the entirety of the opening scene.
Meanwhile, at exactly one minute in as well, we’re cutting away again from Yomogi and to a character called Gauma. He’s walking up a hill. Why? Don’t know. What’s he like? Fashionably challenged – well I don’t actually know but there’s something going on with that outfit.
Again, the art is gorgeous here. I mean, look at the water, the sky, the contrast to the shadows in the foreground… It is beautiful to look at. The sound design is gorgeous to as we get kind of a background of low traffic with a few bird chirps (which kind of makes me think maybe this is sun-rise but I’m not sure).
Trust me when I say I want to like this anime. And yet…
Gauma walks away and we cut once again to Yomogi and now we’re discussing school projects. As his group crosses a bridge we draw back and see them only from a distance as the inane chatter of teens fills the subtitles. Again, I get we’re establishing the base line of normal life but this would be easier if they’d given me any chance to connect with any character so far.
We then see the girl sitting atop whatever that structure is and singing. She’s looking away from us. The kids talking about her are looking away. It is like they are doing everything possible to keep us distanced from the scene.
The kids discuss a rumour about the girl, Minami, and follow it up with ‘it’s just a rumour’ before Yomogi, in his first I’m going to be a main character kind of moments claims he can’t see her that way. To which one of the girls in his group tells him he’s so pure and they walk on. I’m guessing this was an attempt at characterisation. Yomogi is the nice guy who looks for the best in people? Maybe? It’s all a bit random and nothing has been given any time to stick.
What it probably comes down to here is that I don’t like how this story is being introduced to me. I don’t like that intrigue only exists here because of a lack of coherence, that characters appear but aren’t in any way established, and that we keep cutting from moment to moment and scene to scene without anything really being added of substance to the plot.
In under three minutes we went from what I assume was the group of kids going home after school, to a night shot with the sparkling things, to Yomogi working and I guess this was also night time, to another random guy in the morning, to the kids walking back to school, and for all that nearly a full day has been portrayed as passing I still know nothing.
Even shows that drop you straight into a battle give you something even if it is only which side wants to kill the other.
Sure it looks great and I know that as the episode goes on we learn that Minami’s rumour is a little exaggerated and Gauma and Yomogi will interact and so on and so forth but as a viewer I’m already detached. There’s no narrative hook in the first half of this episode and by the time we kind of get around to it I’m already so disconnected I don’t care. There’s no character hook in these opening scenes with us learning as little as possible about any of these characters despite repeated sightings. By the time we start getting a sense of these characters I’m already wondering what other shows are at episode 3 to watch.
I get this is my opinion and that some people really do enjoy Trigger anime and some people seem to be enjoying this anime, but for me SSSS.Dynazenon has kind of made it clear to me that I’m just not into Studio Trigger anime and while I keep thinking I might like the next one, each one seems to wear down my patience faster than the last.
So I’ll ask my readers their thoughts on Dynazenon, studio trigger, or just ask if there are any anime studios that produced anime you consistently like or dislike and why?
Images in this article from:
- SSSS.Dynazenon. Dir. A Amemiya. Trigger. 2021.
- Mars Red. Dir. S Sadamitsu. Signal.MD. 2021
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