It's the weakest Symphogear season to date, alas. It has its moments, but it's boring. It's falling into the trap of more fights! Longer fights! Endless repetitive fights! If you've ever found fight scenes to be the boring stuff in between the real story, stay the hell away from this third season of Symphogear.
The baddies this time are an alchemist called Carol Malus Dienheim and her dolls, called Autoscorers. They look like girls, but they have fanged mouths, rictus grins and creepy doll-like body language. As for Carol, she's a little girl and has been for a long time. That's not bad. They're a decent set of villains. I don't find them as interesting as I should, but that's mostly due to the underwhelming story and I think they're quite well designed, conceptually and visually.
As for the heroines, three seasons down the line, you might expect the show to be struggling a little to find things to do with them. Oddly, this isn't true. There's still quite a bit here I like. The most important is a theme of problem fathers, with Hibiki, Tsubasa and Carol all having daddy issues that they all face differently. Hibiki's father is by turns a pretty terrible person and genuinely well-meaning. Tsubasa's father at first looks like a callous block of ice, but then you learn a certain nugget of backstory and... well, that's something that'll never get into an English-language remake. It's reassuring to know that Japan can still challenge our boundaries of taste. (I approve, but the show seems surprisingly uninterested in the most alarming part of this bombshell.) Meanwhile Carol's being an idiot, but at least we learn late in the day that she's aware of that.
There's more, though. Using Carol's powers will do disturbing things to your memories. Yes, that means Carol's doing those to herself. Meanwhile her dolls all seem to be trying to commit suicide, starting fights with superpowered magical girls and then repeatedly walking away after pulverising them. The heroine will recover, then win the rematch. Result: one dead doll, who'd have been grinning and laughing as she got destroyed. (If the heroine wouldn't or couldn't fight, on the other hand, the doll will have flounced off in a huff.) Bearing in mind the fact that our heroines' new power-up attack involves stabbing yourself, there's a significant and rather effective horror element in this magical girl show.
Then we have Hibiki becoming afraid to sing because she might hurt someone. Shirabe and Kirika worry about being a burden to the others. Chris gets something not dissimilar, although unfortunately hers makes her look like an idiot. "I have to do it myself, or I can't call myself their senpai!"
There's some good stuff in there, but unfortunately it's not driving the storytelling. Almost no-one except Hibiki gets anything meaningful to do, unless they've been given a one-off focus episode. At the end of the day, it's about fights. Carol's dolls fight. The girls fight. There's a big fight. Look, some more fighting. I started itching for the fast-forward. The dolls' suicide tactics are increasingly disturbing, but even so the fights don't mean anything except "I want a fight!" and I wanted less of them.
There's also some silly stuff. It wouldn't be Symphogear without that.
1. This year's tagline is "believe in justice and hold a determination to fist". It's in the title sequence and everything. Obviously "fist" as a verb doesn't mean what someone must have been assuming, which is almost as funny as KanColle's "wanker".
2. In a show that's had stripping attacks and nude magical girl transformations since the beginning, for the first time in ep.6 someone tells the male cast members not to look when two of the girls happen to be naked. A bit late now, surely?
3. This year makes no use of government, politicians or Americans. They've completely forgotten all that X-Files stuff they were doing in Season 1, haven't they? That said, though, there's a moment of throwaway geopolitics in dialogue at the end of ep.13. "Since the U.S. fell from power, trouble's been brewing in Europe."
On the upside, though, there are no forehead-poundingly stupid lies. That's a first in Symphogear.
I wouldn't go so far as to call Seasons 1-2 good. I don't think this show's ever come together properly, but until now I'd usually found it entertaining. This season, though, was for me actively off-putting. It contains some good stuff, but it's basically a dull thud of fighting, fighting, fighting. I liked the very end. Ep.13 is good and even emotional, once the battle's over. There's also more than enough in these ingredients for a strong season of anime, if you curtailed the fisticuffs and focused more on the characters. However as stands, it doesn't work. It's a stiff. I say that even though it's still the kind of gleefully over-the-top show that will have a scene where a giant bandage-wrapped girl karate-chops a submarine in two.