Normally when a show is concluded I would move straight into a review. But with this being the likely final season of Symphogear, I thought something different was in order. A review or spoiler-free discussion just didn’t seem to be enough. Instead I decided to take this chance to look at the Symphogear franchise as a whole. This series first arrived in 2012 and really surprised me. Every season or so you do see new original anime. But they are often one and done shows. It isn’t often that you see an original series blossom into anything more. Symphogear broke that pattern. In the end the franchise stands at 5 seasons, 65 episodes, OVA short s, a mobile game, dozens of songs on many character CDs, and yet it has almost been completely missed by the English speaking anime audience. Thus I feel a need to look back on Symphogear.
Symphogear is a franchise that is difficult to describe simply. The show mixes up a few different genres and themes together into something that just works. Of course it is an action series. There are big fights almost every episode (especially as the franchise continued along). But it is also one part magical girl series. It is closer to magi-tech like the Nanoha franchise, but we are still talking about girls using ancient relics to transform and fight supernatural threats. But it is also in part a superhero story with origin stories, global threats, some secret identities, a girlfriend who at times need to be rescued, etc. And then you have to consider the musical side of the franchise and how it has idol show like qualities.
There is just a lot going on with Symphogear as a franchise. The first season started out as part of that almost ‘dark magical girl’ genre we were seeing at that time with shows like Madoka. The first season had plenty of dark elements and stared off pretty shocking. That first episode was complete with a concert massacre, a major character death, and heavily suggesting the actual main character would die by the end of the show. The character arc in that season for Yukine Chris was heavily dark with parental deaths, kidnapping, torture, and abandonment. Tsubasa was dealing with the loss of a close partner and was messed up for much of the first season. But through all of that Symphogear began to find its footing and its own tone. A show that ended up defined by over the top action, wonderful battle songs, and people coming together.
What I want to talk about most though is what sets Symphogear apart. There are few franchises where music is integrated to the core of what a show is. Characters breaking out into songs have existed since someone conceived of the concept of the musical. But in those cases those songs tend to randomly break out and it is sometimes uncertain if the characters actually recognize that they are randomly singing. But Symphogear makes music absolutely central. The abilities of the main cast are powered by song. Their attacks are fueled by the energy created through their singing and the lyrics to the songs themselves are created by the connection between singer and relic. Team songs actually matter in that they power up the characters to higher levels of power. Even the existence of music ties into the themes of communication and overcoming humanity losing its original unified language.
The songs are just a glorious part of the franchise and one element that I love about it. Every character has their own catalogue of songs, specific musical style, and the lyrics over the 5 seasons reflect their growth as people. Character arcs are crystalized into these songs. Of course the lyrics don’t change within the season since that’d be a lot to ask of the voice actress singers and the individuals writing the lyrics in the first place. But it is a wonderful way to connect the musical part of a franchise directly into the story. The songs both feel like the characters. You get great variety with Hibiki having Celtic style to her songs, Tsubasa being traditional Japanese style music, Chris being classic rock, Maria being more R&B style, Kirika being more symphonic rock, and Shirabe being closer to j-pop. They all have their style.
But beyond what Symphogear is, what I love is where it has gone. The show started out just doing its own thing and almost certainly wasn’t intended to go beyond that first season. But it found success, found an audience (even if that has mostly been locked to Japan), and took off. Season 2 reflected that success with a sizable bump to the animation budget and the franchise starting to find its own direction. The show from that point onward began to embrace its over the top nature. It still had great emotional key moments, but also stepped away from how dark S1 got. Chris especially had some of her backstory almost retconned or ignored. The creepy torture she suffered wasn’t brought up again along with the backstory of being captured by slavers before Fine captured her. S5 did touch on the darkness, but overall the show became brighter.
That isn’t to say the show was all sunshine and roses. The show had a variety of crazy moments like Hibiki’s arm loss, the concert attack in S5, FIS capturing (and probably making people) orphans to train them into child soldiers, delving into Hibiki’s family being harassed, etc. Some of the brightness simply came from characters growing and overcoming the darkness that dominated their pasts. Kirika and Shirabe moved past their origins in that training hell and became lovable and sometimes silly characters. Hibiki always shoulders her own painful past when reaching a hand out to those that she wants to save. This is a franchise where the darkness exists but moving forward to a brighter future is an important element.
The progression of the show across five seasons has been interesting to watch unfold. Season 1 was a very good start that established the setting, the powers at work, and allowed the three Sympohgear users (plus Kanade) to develop and grow. There was more than enough focus to go around and side characters like Hibiki’s school friends could get moments to shine. Season 2 arrived and things stepped up in terms of action and intensity. Kirika, Shirabe, and Maria were added initially as antagonists, but finished as unexpected allies. That left the show with 6 active Symphogear heroines. At that point the line was drawn in terms of how far the main cast could grow.
With seasons 3, 4, and 5 we just added antagonists with Elfnein joining the cast as mostly a support character. The school friends were mostly discarded once we got to Season 3. But the school overall was left behind. There was a shift in the franchise to the cast being less magical girls that stepped up when their home was attacked to global heroes that would go wherever needed to face a threat. They fought in international waters in S2, fought overseas in S4, and fought on the moon in S5. The main cast were the Symphogear users and the side characters were part of the UN supported organization S.O.N.G (Squad of Nexus Guardians). Miku was the main exception as Hibiki’s closest friend/love interest/girlfriend. She was the one school related influence to be important no matter what.
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for the franchise though. Season 3 is no doubt the season that most would consider the weakest. The franchise struggled with pacing, characterization, and moving into the next phase of the franchise which moved away from the Noise and enemy Symphogears towards Alchemists as the main threat. Much as I tried to embrace that season, there’s no doubt it had issues. Although I am happy to say that Season 5 took care of a lot of issues I had. The pacing issues were locked in stone, but characters that got a bit of the short end of the straw like Hibiki’s father or Carol got chances to be better fleshed out. And for all the flaws of GX, it did allow the show to turn a page and set up for the confrontations that would define the last three seasons of the show.
And I truly think the show steadied out when it came to Season 4 and hit its best moments in Season 5. AXZ let them work through elements like the Linker crisis, focused more on resolution for Chris’ past, and spent a bit of time developing Kirika and Shirabe as individuals. AXZ and XV were announced together and it makes sense from looking at the overall story across the two seasons. Characters like Kirika, Shirabe, and Chris didn’t get as much focus in XV but did get their chances to put stamps on their character arcs with AXZ.
The franchise started out well with the first season and I truly think it finished out spectacularly with the final season. If you are going to have a low point it is probably best to put it in the middle. Stumble at the start and you won’t have a long series and stumble at the end and it will leave a sour taste in people’s mouths.
Across 65 episodes there was plenty of time to develop the main cast and the show did a fairly nice job there. Hibiki’s arc was truly something to follow along. She was very much someone just finding her way in S1. Her songs and action were all in an immature state. It was the perfect choice to have Aoi Yuki voice her since her singing career only really got going professionally in 2012 along with the start of Symphogear. It allowed Hibiki over the years to grow more stable, mature, and become a leader in her own right. It’s amazing looking just at the immature girl of season 1 and the much more matured heroine she became by the end of XV. Of course the story did take place over a couple years so she grew literally and as a person.
The rest of the cast is much the same. Yukine Chris started out a truly angry girl who hated her own songs and was prepared to destroy the ability of people to fight in order to force world peace. She became a more relaxed (but still prone to anger) girl who didn’t lose her desire to save lives, but instead used her power more intelligently for the sake of that goal. Chris went from someone who relied on one person who instead wanted those close to her to rely on her instead. Her songs transitioned from angry destruction to true appreciation for those that helped save her. Also Chris remains somewhat unique in that she has ties to everyone in the team, but doesn’t have any hinted romantic or platonic partnerships. Chris remains a kind of free agent who can team up with just about anyone.
Tsubasa had quite the ride throughout the franchise. She started out in grief and angry at the loss of her close partner Kanade. She steadied out and tried to be more reliable while following her own dreams. Her love of singing was very much key to her and she faced her greatest challenges at the end of the series. Tsubasa struggled at times trying to be more mature or more of a leader than she truly was. But she often rose to the occasion much like in S2 when she did help bring Chris back to the fold. Tsubasa remains a good hearted person at her core.
Maria has one of the most interesting character arcs in the franchise. She appears in S2 as this big leader and key antagonist. But S2 reveals that she is almost entirely putting up acts and is in true a fairly weak person. She tries to pretend at being an incarnation of Fine, a cool enemy, and even pretending that she’s fine with following Ver’s plans late that season. Everything blows up in her face and she makes constant mistakes. All of that leads to Hibiki taking Gungnir away from her. But past that point Maria gets a great upward trajectory where she accepts her weakness, grows, matures, and becomes a capable and mature leader in reality. She takes on the weight of wielding her sister’s gear and becomes the person who brings Tsubasa back from the brink. Maria goes from someone who truly needs saving to a savior.
Kirika is an interesting character. Some of her best moments truly are in S2. Her stress over thinking she was Finé’s incarnation lead to intense moments. She embraced Ver’s crazy plans because of desperation of having her very being taken over and having left nothing behind. Past the point of needing Shirabe to help save her we see a person who can be naïve, but with weight to it. Kirika is silly, goofy, and loves a good meal. But she’s also a girl who doesn’t know her real birthday. But instead of stressing constantly she channels it to embracing others and celebrating their birthdays. For Kirika it is important to keep being that way. Because she’s not weighed down it leaves her able to help share the load that others are carrying.
Shirabe also has some of her best moments in G. Her goal to support or save Maria and Kirika from themselves defines her. She’s a very kind person who puts up walls and a stern attitude to protect herself and those she cares about. Strangely her arsenal develops more than any other character in the show. She starts out pretty simple with saws as the key focus of her gear. Then she adds the yo-yo in S3 and has some of the most creative attack moves or combos in the franchise. Her character is tied very closely to Kirika which makes sense since they are as much an item as Hibiki and Miku. But I like seeing how afraid she is because she can’t easily connect to others and she feels a need to grow stronger. Her existence isn’t tied simply to being reliant, but using that connection to mature.
While not a Symphogear user, I have to give props to Genjuro. This man is just awesome and one of my favorite parts of the show. He was one of the few humans without a relic or anything else that could compete with gear users or main antagonists. There were times I felt the Noise and Alca-Noise were designed specifically so he couldn’t step out and fight. I love that he got to nearly defeat the first main antagonist of the franchise and had the chance with one of the last antagonists in Fudo.
And also I want to give credit to another major character in Miku. She was there from the start as the closest friend and blatant romantic interest of Hibiki. Their interpersonal dilemmas were utterly crucial to the first season. That continued into G where she ended up captured, brainwashed, and a temporary antagonist. She did take a step back until XV, but I wasn’t shocked at this. When the main cast grew to 6 Symphogear users they needed to pull the focus back. Taking it off the rest of the cast except when necessary. But Miku never straight up disappeared, but rather was just more of a support for Hibiki. The show didn’t lose her though and she got chances to shine when the final season came around. Even though Shem-ha was using her body, I still think that an evil Miku was totally worth seeing.
I do think a nod needs to be taken towards the antagonists of the franchise. They have had a decent variety of them. Now most of them have been the type that you have to fight and overcome. Finé, Carol, Adam, Fudo, and Shem-ha all needed to be taken in a fight. Ver was interesting in that he had very little power himself. He was a genius which most definitely helped. If he couldn’t create effective Linker then Nastassja wouldn’t have recruited him. But it isn’t a shock that Ver is one of the most popular villains. The man was crazy, manipulative, and more than willing to kill because he got a kick out of it.
For me I still prefer Carol as the best antagonist. Her planning was on point. She controlled the main cast for 90% of the story and made them help further her plans. Not to mention she was the first singing main antagonist and had one of the best songs in the series. It is interesting to note that both Carol and Ver got chances for heroics past their season as main antagonist. Although I still prefer how Carol stepped up in XV, knocked around Noble Red, and helped save the day. She got to go out with style and one of the best examples of dying with dignity in the franchise.
A lot of credit for the success of this franchise goes out to the voice actresses. They handled both acting and singing extremely well. Credit should also go to Studio Satelight that handled this franchise for all five seasons. Particular credit to staff such as Akifumi Kaneko. The designer and scenario writer for the classic Wild Arms game franchise and the Symphogear franchise. It kind of fits that someone involved in mixing JRPGs and a Western theme for a game series would bring together the various genres existing within Symphogear.
In the end this franchise has truly been something great to behold. It really stunned me in that first episode with the shocking concert. And then Hibiki gaining her gear in such a crazy way. But it went beyond that as time went on. I got to see this show truly embrace it’s crazy nature when S2 arrived. The show just kept going with amazing first episodes that included space shuttle suplexes, mountains being destroyed, punching tanks, and fighting gigantic monsters. This show always knew how to start things on the right note. This was a show that embraced the cliffhanger for the end of many episodes and knew how to go crazy for final fights.
I hope this isn’t the end completely. If we could still get a movie or spinoff series I’d be up for that. But if it is the end then I’m glad this show went out on a high note. Everything has to end sometime. The best thing is if something can end in a way that leaves you smiling. Symphogear managed to rise up and become one of my favorite anime franchises of all time. I will always enjoy going back to rewatch this franchise or listen to the numerous battle/character songs. Objectively it is hard to say where this franchise ranks all time. But I know that for me this franchise is one I loved to cover and I’m glad I got a chance to talk about.
Posted by FlareKnight
Posted on October 1, 2019 at 5:34 pm
Tags: Senki Zesshou Symphogear, Senki Zesshou Symphogear Anime, Senki Zesshou Symphogear Anime Blog, Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ, Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ Screenshots, Senki Zesshou Symphogear G, Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX, Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX Screenshots, Senki Zesshou Symphogear XV, Senki Zesshou Symphogear XV Screenshots
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