Minami TakayamaSuzuko MimoriHidekatsu ShibataHideo Ishikawa
Senki Zesshou Symphogear G
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2013
Director: Katsumi Ono
Writer: Akifumi Kaneko
Original creator: Akifumi Kaneko, Noriyasu Agematsu
Actor: Ai Kayano, Akari Harashima, Akifumi Kaneko, Aoi Yuki, Asami Seto, Aya Suzaki, Ayahi Takagaki, Chinatsu Akasaki, Ereki Maruyama, Harumi Sakurai, Harumi Ueda, Haruo Yamagishi, Hidekatsu Shibata, Hidemitsu Shimizu, Hideo Ishikawa, Itaru Yamamoto, Katsunori Okai, Kenji Akabane, Kikuko Inoue, Kiyoko Miyazawa, Kumiko Nakane, Madoka Shiga, Mana Shimizu, Mikako Komatsu, Minami Takahashi, Minami Takayama, Miyuki Sawashiro, Nana Mizuki, Nao Toyama, Noriyasu Agematsu, Rina Dendo, Saori Onishi, Souichiro Hoshi, Suzuko Mimori, Tomokazu Sugita, Yoko Hikasa, Yoshino Nanjo, Yui Horie, Yuka Iguchi
Keywords: Senki Zesshou Symphogear, magical girl, anime, SF
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: Season Two: 13 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=15228
Website category: Anime early 10s
Review date: 2 March 2017
sympho gear
The plot's a flimsy excuse for making characters fight each other and change sides for maximum dramatic impact and minimum coherence. It also takes the first season's "let's lie to our friends" idiocy to an even more risible height. It's a bit mental, but it's okay.
I'm reminded quite a lot of Lyrical Nanoha, although two huge differences are that I quite like Symphogear's protagonist and that I find the show itself watchable. With the caveat that I'm talking specifically about this season of Symphogear and about whatever handwaved version of Nanoha happens to suit my argument, both series:
1. ...are magical girl warrior shows that have dialled back hard on the magic, instead doing it all with amazing high tech, spaceships and costumes that look a bit like Gundams. The magical girls will become authority figures in a big, highly organised super-agency.
2. ...give all the character development to the villains, largely neglecting the protagonist's allies. (You'll get a partial exception to this if you're a hero who'd previously been a villain, which is a major thing in both shows.)
3. ...have a big-hearted young heroine who keeps trying to talk her enemies out of fighting, before giving up and beating them to a pulp. She loves her schoolfriends, but also spent a lot of time implausibly lying to them and trying to hide her magical girl identity. (Mind you, Hibiki's excuse is flimsy, but at least she had one. She was doing what she was told and she's gullible and stupid. Besides, her secret was out halfway through Season 1 and this year will see her doing her "censored glowing silhouette but still nude" transformation sequence on worldwide television.) Both heroines are also in a very very firmly committed lesbian relationship.
I like Hibiki. She's nice. Her idealism feels real, but she's also a scatterbrained goofball. "I'll return alive, even if it kills me!"
4. ...are going all-out for overkill. Is that a nuclear holocaust or a magical girl in action? Is there a difference?
Season 1 was silly, but underneath was playing for keeps with its character drama. Season 2, though, is ridiculous. I still don't know what the baddies' plan was, for instance. I know that it was something to do with stopping the moon from falling, but I don't see how their chosen methods had been meant to achieve that. Fortunately this stops mattering after a while because Dr Ver is mad, mad, mad and his plan degenerates into "be really evil and laugh manically", but getting a grip on what's supposed to be happening in the season's first half is like trying to wrestle smoke.
We also have yet more mind-melting lies. That seems to be a core belief of this show (and of the first two seasons of Lyrical Nanoha). If you can keep something secret, do so! Your friends mustn't learn the truth! Why? Because it's the truth! What's more, amazingly, the show's managed to find something even dumber than Hibiki lying to Miku in Season 1. You see, Hibiki's Gungnir fragments are killing her. They're infecting her body. It's like cancer. Every time she fights, the fragments swell even bigger and charge up with even more power. This makes Hibiki incredibly powerful, at the cost of a life expectancy that can be measured in days. The real world equivalent of this would be a hyper-aggressive terminal disease that's being worsened by something perfectly avoidable that the victim does regularly. Imagine this was your friend. Would you:
(a) get a doctor to break the bad news and make sure she understood the consequences of using her magical transformation? She might still decide to fight, of course, but at least you've told her everything and she's making an informed decision.
(b) announce that you don't have time for weaklings like her (even though she's stronger than you) and walk away. (Hibiki does eventually learn the truth, as it happens, but not for a few episodes.)
Oh, and the authorities are keeping the moon's condition top secret. It's on a slow collision course with the Earth. This decision is more open to debate than the Hibiki one, but it's still a pretty extreme decision.
This show's plot is very serious on one level, though. It's about allegiances, friendship and betrayal. It's about people deciding which side they want to be on. This is more dynamic than in most shows. I admire that, although I also think the show goes a bit punch-drunk on all its plot twists. We haven't always had enough character establishment to justify a betrayal, while one such unexpected enemy even has an epiphany where she realises that what she's doing makes no sense. "This isn't what I want!" (Yes, dear, we know. We're way ahead of you.)
Thinking about it, this could be argued to provide thematic justification for the America-bashing. In this show, America is evil. They'll shoot people who are in the middle of doing deals with them. That's how evil they are. They're part of the self-serving greedy global elite who'd cut off their own noses if they thought that would make them more evil. However that sort of fits in the context of a flexible definition of allies and enemies, given that America is in fact Japan's most important international ally and (theoretically) defender of the world order. (Naturally the show kills Americans and annihilates their patrol vessels for laughs.)
On a character level, the show's trying hard. Dr Ver, for instance, might be mad and evil to a cackling pantomime level, but he also murders three children. Nonetheless this show is magnificently silly. It's unashamed of this. It's proud. It has dialogue like:
"...carefully concealed by the U.S., the Security Council and the Bavarian Illuminati."
"Don't say you love me! I love you more!" (This is during a fight.)
"Save the world with your songs!"
They're taking the song-powered Symphogears more seriously than in Season 1, which means that every fight is also a musical number. There's a Rocky training montage. It has an incurable condition being cured by the Power of Love. (I can't remember if they try to handwave this with technobabble, but that's what it boils down to.) The show has two unintentionally amusing nudity attacks in ep.12, the first of which kills monsters and the second of which is broadcast worldwide. (This season has infinitely less fanservice than Season 1, but those two bits of gratuitousness made me laugh.) An ordinary schoolgirl in ep.13 throws something very heavy into orbit, by hand.
The lesbian romance has, if anything, intensified. There's more of it, anyway.
It's a weird show. The storytelling's so focused on the characters, their relationships and their shifting allegiances that everything else is a bit colourless and elusive. What are the baddies trying to do? What's going on with America? What happened to the stuff from Season 1 about the assassination of a politician and the discussion over the political allegiances of his replacement? No idea. At its worst, this can make the show hard to focus on. At one stage I was getting a bit tired of the fights too, no matter how lovingly animated. However it's certainly a passionate show, with lots of overkill and absolutely no interest in stopping halfway. Do you want to see a schoolgirl jump off a skyscraper and hit the ground as if she's trying to wipe out the dinosaurs? (She lands on her feet and walks away. She's in better shape than all the concrete within several metres.) I wouldn't really call this a good show, but it's kind of awesome at what it's trying to do.