Check-in Station: Symphogear eps1-5 (well aren’t you a pleasant surprise?!)
I mentioned in my previous Check-in post about Bodacious Space Pirates that expectations can often be a burden. Well in converse, a lack of expectations can also be a boon. Sometimes when you see something that you think will probably be sh*t, looks like sh*t and sometimes has the budget of sh*t, you can be pleasantly surprised when the product doesn’t stink. I’m not saying Senki Zesshou Symphogear was going to be a bottom-tier “trainwreck” of a show, but I sure as hell didn’t expect to watch more than one or two episodes of it. It’s just a matter of whether I’m pleasantly surprised by how much fun I’m having watching the show, or maybe it has more to do with me enjoying the show because it’s such a strange disaster.
I have to say, even in a genre like mahou shoujo, where uh… unique ideas like Wedding Peach can pop up, Symphogear is a strange beast. If I was going to harshly, callously try to explain the series in the lazy fashion of comparing it to other series, then I would have to say it’s a bit Madoka Magica, Nanoha and a little Macross. But the show doesn’t seem to take itself to seriously. And I have to say thank God for that!
The show revolves around some pretty ridiculous stuff; ancient relics resonating with the sound of a maiden’s voice to create legendary power armor. Wild stuff. And the show is teased initially as one about Zwei Wing, a idol pair who put on kick ass concerts by day, and kick “Designated Aberrant Disaster: Noise” butt by night, or whenever those things pop up. Unfortunately, the battle we get to view takes place in a flashback where one member of the group, Kanade Amou dies attempting to save the civilians who came to their concert, but were ambushed by a horde of Noise (UGH! I’m not liking that name). In particular she dies trying to save Hibiki Tachibana, who turns out to be the series real protagonist. Flip the story’s timeling forward a few years and we have a situation where Hibiki is alive with functioning magical girl powers/power armor of her own, and is attempting to fit in with the remaining member of Zwei Wing, Tsubasa Kazenori and the secret organization that supports her fight against the Noise. It’s not a bad set up. It clearly lines up the conflicts and character motivations, and that initial episode kicked ass. Though it did leave me a bit confused at first.
My favorite thing about this show so far is the action. Of the few mahou shoujo that I’ve watched over the years, I have noticed a trend as of late to play with the genre and what it does in a more shounen battle manga/anime style. This show is clearly continuing that trend. The powered up mahou shoujo don their symphogear and begin singing whatever song of choice it is that resonates with that armor/relic. That was the part I initially had trouble adjusting to. I honestly don’t know if I’ve properly adjusted to it five episodes in to the series’ run. The mouth movements clearly aren’t synced very well with what the voice actress is singing, so it looks off. And it still feels like a silly thing to me. And this is coming from someone who has seen Macross. There’s an adjustment period to seeing a show revolve around music for me that isn’t in the style of Cowboy Bebop.
Aside from that weird condition, the battles are pretty entertaining, especially when they involve two elements, berserker Hibiki (which has yet to be fully explained) and when Tsubasa start wrecking those ridiculous Noise. In Tsubasa’s case especially, the battles are flashy slaughters that could easily allow Koei to turn this series into another one of its Dynasty Warriors off-shoot games. Special moves are briefly frozen in time and labeled in a grand fashion. Blood flows surprisingly frequently in this show. And though the series will never be mistaken for something GRIMDARK, it does an admirable job of making the viewer go, “Oh no! Not her! Why?!” There’s a strong level of GAR in this show, and much talk of a warrior’s spirit. It makes me want to say that despite the way is presented, it will still appeal to guys who want some action in their anime. I swear, the first episode goes all out not to tease, but to put all its cards on the table so that you know exactly what it’s about and trying to do. It’s still my favorite part of the show.
The character in this show so far are none too bad, they’re not spectacular either. I suppose Tsubasa is strong enough to carry the lead role on her own, though this isn’t her story (not to carry alone anyway). The loss of her partner has made her cold, robotic and pretty emotionally distant. The few times that she does show emotion, it’s usually disgust and rage. It’s a far cry from the talented, caring, but less than confident person she seemed to be before. She does make up for being a bit of a b*tch by being the best fighter in the show though. She take that “living weapon” moniker of her’s seriously. And I have to say, if you’re gonna be good at anything, be good at your job. She kills Noise like Stallone kills small Vietnamese soldiers in a Rambo movie (no offense).
Her partner, and the main focus of this series is Hibiki, and she will either make or break this series. She appears to be taking the same road as Tsubasa (attempting to turn herself into a living weapon0, but she doesn’t seem to have the same hatred and emotional baggage as her. Well, with the exception of the fact that somehow through gaining her powers, she’s become a berserker in tights and panties. Yup! Somehow when she gets really frustrated or angry in her symphogear, she goes berserk and gets stupid strong. I don’t understand how or why it’s happening, but when it does it is pretty cool (it’s vaguely similar to Naruto when the Kyuubi within him gets loose). She’s an admirable, though not lovable, character. And how much she can draw the audience in and make them care about her, is how much the show will succeed on an emotional level. This is because the show is betting on it itself. We get no shortage of reminders that her life is confusing and hard, and that she has to keep above it all with a positive attitude and guts. It’s just like we get no shortage of reminders that Tsubasa has been traumatized by the loss of Kanade, and that she needs to open her heart to other to learn to overcome the trauma.
The rest of the cast is alright, though probably forgettable at the moment. The leader of the organization that looks over the relics and the symphogears seems like a pretty cool guy with special powers, but he doesn’t have enough behind him yet for me to judge. The scientist, Ms. Ryouko is definitely playing a game that nobody knows about, and she very well could end up being a good villain, but again we have another character who is too well hidden by the show’s mysteries to get a full grasp on yet. Oh yeah, and Hibiki has a classmate and roomate who fuels no shortage of lesbian speculation from those that watch the show. If something like that happens, then great. I’m a big fan of yuri as it is. But I’m not holding my breath for anime to so casually toss a gay character into the mix like that.
As far as complaints go, I don’t have anything major for the series as of yet. As I stated before, the singing while fighting thing is an idea I don’t like, and one that isn’t executed well. The Noise, as far as villains go, are a trainwreck. A multi colored menagerie of ugly designs, horrible colors and annoying behavior. Are they fast? Are they slow? When they turn people into charcoal it’s not the most horrible thing I’ve seen in the way of deaths. At times, it comes across as pretty hilarious. I suppose for some strange reason that my main gripe is that the show isn’t spectacular enough for me (what?!). Despite all the awesome stuff it does, and attempts to do, it hasn’t grabbed me emotionally (and very well may never do so), and it hasn’t stood out among the slew of fun, creative and spectacular anime I’m watching this season. It’s like Bodacious Space Pirates; I see the potential, but I’m not hooked yet. So I’ll keep watching this show in hopes that it can impress me before it disappoints. And if only for its unique concept and the surprisinging amounts of violence and GAR, I’d recommend it to others. At the very least it’s a decent conversation starter among other anime fans. But God help me if I have to explain all these concepts and tropes to a newbie.
- You can find all my posts on Symphogear here, on Mobypicture. Feel free to leave comments, retweets and +1’s are most appreciated.
- Symphogear Consensual Female Domination
- Senki Zessho Symphogear – First Thoughts, courtesy of AnimeVision
- Spiritual Experience in Symphogear’s Harmonic Transformation
- The Cart Driver’s First Impression of Symphogear