It's basically a magical girl show, but it doesn't use the word "magic" and instead has alien technology. It's okay, actually. I quite liked it, but there's a key plausibility gap that the show's trying to ignore in Hibiki's relationship with Miku.
The enemy are aliens called Noise. They look like funny blobby giants and anyone they touch will crumble into sand. This is irreversible. You'll be dead, which is surprising given the silliness of some of the show's ideas. You'll see more fatalities than usual for this genre, including main characters and quite often on-screen. Almost nothing can hurt the Noise... but fortunately mankind has the one thing that can, which is Symphogear armour. It's song-powered. Girls wear it and fight, singing.
No, I'm not joking.
In fact, it's quite a serious show. Not only do people get killed by the Noise, but the Americans are liable to send in military hit squads to machine-gun people they find inconvenient. Similarly the Symphogear organisation has to worry about justifying its actions to the government and making sure it's under the command of a politician who'll defend it. Our heroines are the magical girls, obviously, but they have a support staff of civil servants, soldiers and other men in suits.
The main heroine is Hibiki, who got saved in tragic fashion two years ago by a Symphogear warrior called Kanade. (Kanade's partner, Tsubasa, didn't take this well.) Hibiki ended up getting peppered with shrapnel from Kanade's armour, which since then has started merging with her body and giving her Symphogear powers. She's about to become a magical girl warrior! This is a bit weird, since Hibiki's a bit of a doofus who's bad at her schoolwork and about as aggressive as a row of lettuces, but it's true. She's also going to acquire an occasional tendency to turn into a red-eyed demon who only exists as a black-silhouette hole in the air and is scarier than the villains.
Her close friend is Miku. How close, I hear you ask? Well, they have emotionally intimate conversations while in bed together. Ep.2 effectively has Hibiki declaring her love for Miku. Their voice actresses play them as in love with each other and in interviews will call Miku "Hibiki's wife". This is sweet (and by no means the only gay romance in this strongly lesbian show), but unfortunately it's also at the heart of the show's plausibility problem. You see, the Japanese government regards Symphogears as a state secret. If you see one, they'll ban you from talking to people about it and make you sign a consent form. Thus, on actually becoming a Symphogear, Hibiki is told that she can't tell her friends and family about it. "Why not?" asks Hibiki. Answer: "it'll put their lives at risk."
This is bollocks to the power of four.
1. Trying to keep this impossible secret hurts Hibiki's relationship with Miku. She's liable to get called off at any time to fight Noise in her magical girl costume, flying through the air and using superpowers. This makes her cancel dates and break promises, which understandably makes Miku hurt, unhappy and more liable to investigate and put herself at risk.
2. Telling information to your dearest, most trusted friend is only dangerous if you live in a police state. Hibiki doesn't ask why saying anything would endanger Miku. She just looks shocked and serious. Okay, she's not always the sharpest tool in the box, but even so...
3. When Miku does eventually learn the truth (after much drama), no one really bats an eyelid and indeed she gets invited to work as support staff. No one even suggests that she might be at risk.
4. Later, they do it again. They pointlessly kept secrets from Miku. She found out and learned everything. So, later, when faced with something even more personal and hurtful, obviously they pointlessly keep that secret too.
You can see why the writers did it. They want "keeping secrets from your loved ones" drama. From that point of view, it works. However it's happening on the writers' say-so and needs the characters to be idiots. While I'm grumbling, incidentally, there's quite a lot of Engrish dialogue and it's the most painful I've heard in quite a while. The show's attitude towards America is negative enough to approach America-bashing, but this goes nowhere and serves no purpose. I don't know what they're doing there. Maybe it's explained in Season Two? I also hated the schoolgirl who kept saying "if this were an anime".
There's also some fanservice. This isn't a nipple show, but the girls tend to be buxom and the villains' outfits are particularly revealing. At home, Fine tends to wear only stockings, gloves and a splendid hairstyle.
Moving on to more positive matters, I quite liked the cast. They're not funny, which is slightly regrettable. It's not a problem or anything, but I like humour. Ryoko Sakurai's the only one character you'd call eccentric and she's not a front-line hero. However they're impressively messed up, with Tsubasa Kazanari suffering from despair, bereavement and survivor guilt, while Chris is a self-hating villain's stooge who loathes idealists, adults and I suppose basically the world. "I hate songs, especially my song. All it does is break things." The show takes these people seriously. It's not just a cheap bit of angst for a few minutes, but more deep-rooted and damaging. The girls' ultimate weapon is a suicide attack.
It can also be moving. Dead characters can have as strong a presence in the show as those who are still alive.
The show's good, but not great. It's a bit too messy for that. The story whiplashes about a bit (e.g. the Americans, the political angle) and it's set in a near-future history that makes you wonder about things the show's uninterested in exploring. (Japan bought lots of defaulted bonds when the European economy collapsed, for instance.) I also had a problem with the secret-keeping, as previously discussed. However there's a lot here I respect and I think the show's strengths are strong enough to carry it. Besides, it's doing tortured character drama alongside wildly flamboyant semi-magical fight scenes, some stupidly big weapons in ep.13 and a schoolgirl jumping out of a helicopter. I'll be continuing with Season 2.
"Pain is the only thing that can bind human hearts together."