In a world where aliens known as "The Noise" threaten the earth, only one thing can protect the human race: the magical armor Symphogear. But in order to save their world, the Symphogear wearers will have to learn from the tragedies of the past.
Noise and Disharmony
Passing in the Night
From the Bottom of Darker
Where Omens Lead
Fate Just Keeps Firing
No Shadows in the Sunlight
What Only Clasped Hands Can Create
Shoot the Moon
Secret Santa Review Sometimes, while consuming a piece of media, it becomes clear that it's an echo of something that came before. Often this is intentional and used used to great effect (such as how Bioshock is a clear spiritual successor to System Shock 2), whereas other times it's simply a case of the creators not removing enough of their influences (such as how James Bond 007: Blood Stone is clearly templated from Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction). Symphogear appears to be one such echo. Produced by Satelight in January 2012, Symphogear was relased a mere 10 months after that sames studio put the final Macross Frontier movie into theaters. On the surface, the Symphogear and Macross franchises share many commonalities, most notably the weaponization of music to do battle with waves of incomprehensible enemies while wearing power armor... but is that just shared window dressing, or does Symphogear fail to become more than a weak echo of a studio's former success? Story - 4Hibiki Tachibana is just your average music-loving girl, until one day the concert she's attending is attacked by the mysterious force known only as "The Noise." After narrowly surviving, she discovers that she now has the ability to destroy these terrifying blob monsters when her singing causes a "symphogear" exoskeleton to form around her body. When Section Two, the secret government program responsible for managing symphogear users, tries to recruit her, she must decide what she is willing to give up to protect people from The Noise. The story shifts over time, with the stakes raising and the immeidate goals moving, but the core always comes back to the question "why fight?" Different characters present different answers, such as protecting those you care about, or as a means of atonement, or as a way to earn acceptance, and not all these answers are presented as equally healthy. Eventually, the series does settle on an answer it presents none too subtly, making sure that by the end, the viewer knows it had at least something to say. Unfortunately, the actual mechanics of the plot are a bit more muddled. I don't mean that the events of the story are confusing or hard to follow; it's more that they were told in a way that lessened their impact sometimes. For example, there's one character with a secret that they've been subtly and not-so-subtly hinting at for several episodes... and then with no fanfare at all, they show the audience alone the answer. This robs the big reveal to the other characters a few episodes later of any tension and impact they had been building up. If they had revealed it to the audience earlier (to give the "will they find out now?" question more time to percolate) or later (to keep the "what's really going on?" question building), I think it would have come off better. The world itself also caused me some frustration. Generally speaking, I'm pretty ok with using hand-waving and technobabble to explain how a fictional world works; the "how" of a plot element is less important than the role it serves. What I take issue with is when something is explained in a way that really makes no sense, either by going against rules previously established by the fiction, or by interpreting real world constructs incorrectly. Symphogear ends up taking various sections of the Bible, from Genesis all the way to Revelation, and mashing them together without regard for what purpose they served in context. I assume they just thought they sounded cool (aka. the Evangelion school of thought). Characters - 4Here's the thing about the characters: they're basically fine, with real personalities and a clear arc throughout the season for the most part... but none of them stuck with me. Aside from the main pair of Hibiki and Tsubasa, I couldn't even remember anyone else's name. Once you get outside the main characters and into the supporting cast list, they start to feel like they're just there filling in a personality slot. Two of the worst offenders this way were Miku and Genjuro. Miku is Hibiki's best friend, and the character the show uses as the anchor for a "normal" life. She's worried about her friend when she starts acting strangely, and basically ends up playing the "supportive wife" type role. They do their best to give her a more active role in the back half of the season, but she never really shakes the feeling of just being an anchor. Genjuro, on the other hand, doesn't even have an arc. He starts out as the absurdly strong leader of Section Two who gives motavational speaches, and that's how he ends things too. He has probably the most screentime of any supporting character, showing up in every episode, but he's just the wise muscle man every time. Now, not every character needs to have an arc, but it would have been nice to see just a little bit more of what's behind the bravado. Credit where it's due though, the main characters are all nicely fleshed out. As you may imagine, Hibiki has the most character development, going from scared concert-goer to symphogear wielder, but the character whose handling impressed me the most was Tsubasa. She's also a symphogear user, and one half of the musical duo Hibiki goes to see at the start. They could easily have just had her be the older character who teaches Hibiki how to fight, or the battle-weary one who learns from Hibiki's energy, but instead they give her struggles of her own to deal with and overcome; things she needs to confront to become a warrior. Visuals - 4.5While certainly not the best-looking series from 2012 (that would be Hyouka, if you were wondering), Symphogear does still manage to convey its own charm through visual presentation, mostly in the form of bursts of fluid animation and some rather striking art direction. The two concert scenes in particular, the staff clearly went all-out, complete with dynamic, swooping camera motions, and fairly fluid motion of the singers on stage. It's not as impressive as something like The [email protected] was in 2011, but very few productions can measure up to that one, and they get bonus points for not resorting to half-baked 3d models for the singers during the performances. The battle scenes should also get a special mention. When you're dealing with something as absurd as a teenager swinging around a 25 foot sword, it can be easy to make the battles lose their impact in a sea of weightless swings and counters. Fortunately, the animators are up to the task, making sure that every attack feels solid, no matter how crazy it gets. And trust me, it gets crazy. It also helps that every fighter is not only colour-coded, but their attacks are also themed. For instance, Tsubasa, the refined/elegant one of the bunch, has all of her attack names show up on screen in a flowing script presented on a traditional scroll. On the other hand, a more violent character has all of her attack names show up in English, but also in a heavy, boxy, Germanic style font, which helps convey the extra weight and anger of her strikes. The rest of the art direction is similarly good. Things that stood out to me in particular were the amorphous and chaotic shapes and colouring of The Noise, the kalidoscopic almost stained-glass desgin of the Section Two elevator, and the pure black fill to signify posession by evil. For that last one, it's not uncommon to see a character change colour to be black when an evil spirit takes them over or whatever, but usually they still retain some amount of shading so we can see where their arms connect to their bodies and other interior details (i.e. Asta from Black Clover). In this case, it was so striking because it was basically just a pure black sillouete moving around on screen, creating this fantastic sense of dissonence from the other characters. On the more negative side of things, though, the whole show does look a little... flat most of the time. Like it could have used just a little bit extra polish or shine. When they do use 3d (mostly for crowds), it does stand out a fair amount, to the point of being kind of distracting once you notice. And I guess it's a good thing that the "putting on the symphogear" sequnence is only 10 seconds or so long, becuase there's at least one in every single episode. It's not as egregious as Digimon Adventure Tri, but when you're watching these episodes all back-to-back, it gets old fast. Sound - 4.5I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that Symphogear was designed as a vehicle just to sell albums... but on the other hand, King Records is on the production committee (as Starchild Records). Music is definitely a major part of this show, and not just any music. It's specifically catchy pop music that works as image songs for each of the characters. In fact, the plot is designed such that any time a character wants to go into battle, they have to start singing first. Every character has their own personal song, and then there are also a handful of songs that are sung as a group. There's roughly one song per episode, and I'm sure they break them out at all the live events for the franchise. While they can be a tad on the nose, the image songs are all pretty good representations of the characters that sing them. One sings about being bound to fight by duty, one is full of rage and the desire to destroy everything because of how unfair the world is, one is about the desire to save and protect at all costs... You get the idea. And the best part is that Crunchyroll did actually subtitle the lyrics that appear in insert songs. Too often songs are left untranslated and I feel like I'm missing part of the experience, but the music is so essential here that I guess they decided it was worth it. Aside from the vocal tracks, the OST itself is pretty solid. It knows when to pipe up and when to tone it down to best compliment the mood of the scene. Plus, they made some pretty fun choices with instruments and arrangements, by which I mean they used bagpipes. Love me some bagpipes. And the occaisional vocal chant in the background reminded me of the Nier: Automata soundtrack in the best possible way. The vocal performances on point, if not particularly remarkable. Nana Mizuki gave probably the best performance of the cast as Tsubasa, really nailing the emotions as she went through her turbulant arc. I should give a special mention to how awful the English was whenever it came up. There were a handful of scenes where characters were supposed to be talking to Americans in English, but it was so bad I'm pretty sure it would have been unintelligable without subtitles. Content (TV-14) - 4ViolenceThere are multiple scenes of crowds being attacked by The Noise, complete with bodies disintegrating and copious amounts of blood as people are mowed down. We watch close-up as a character dies in someone's arms. Humans kill other humans with guns, with plenty of blood shown. Multiple battles between symphogear users take place, with a lot of collatoral damage. A charcter bleeds from every part of their face after being injected. A character is stabbed and bleeds a lot. A character is tortured with electricity. A character is covered in bruises from being abused. The ending animation contains multiple severed body parts presented in a fairly grotesque way.(-0.5) Sexual ContentWhenever a character equips their symphogear, bands of light appear to wrap around their chest/waist while they go fully nude. Once equipped, the characters' outfits are rather revealing. The camera is somewhat fond of shots from between the girls' legs, giving an eyeful of crotch/butt. It also gives a POV shot directly down a girl's chest. We see characters naked in the shower/bath (from the side), as well as when changing. A character walks around completely naked multiple times, obscured only by strategic objects. One adult female makes repeated sexual advances on younger girls, despite them clearly objecting. There's clearly some sexual tension presented between several of the girls. A character is tied up fairly exposed as a form of humiliation. The opening animation contains multiple instances of blank nudity. The ending animation contains fairly detailed nudity drawn on severed torsos.(-0.5) Drug UsageA character is injected with some sort of mystery cocktail in order to gain power. A character consumes wine. Coarse LanguageNothing more severe than a few uses of d**n. OtherOne character is clearly being mentally abused, being told that they're worthless (etc). A character struggles with survivor's guilt. We see children forced into slavery. The government is running a massive cover-up to hide the existence of Section Two, complete with forcing victems who are in shock to sign NDAs. The symphogear are apparently a form of "heretical technologoy." A character ignores curfew. Bits and pieces of the Bible are mashed together to try and justify the lore, but it doesn't really make sense. There is apparently a god who has withdrawn frome the world. There is also reincarnation. Conclusion - 68"Symphogear is an echo of Macross." That was the thought that kept running through my head as I started this series. The focus on music was similar, and even the songs themselves sounded alike... but as I watched more, I realized that it was more than just a simple reskin. It has its own themes and messages to convey. Unfortunately, the way it tries to do this falls a little short with its tension-sucking plot beats, flat supporting characters, and somewhat distressing levels of violence (even while sexualizing the characters). The core is nice, but the packaging is rough. I really did want to like Symphogear more than I did. I've often heard it mentioned as similar to Girls und Panzer or The [email protected], two of my favourite anime ever, but I don't think that's fair. To me, those shows are marked by how you can feel the passion of the staff making them bleeding through into every aspect of the production, elevating the material in the process. They exhude joy. Symphogear did not. To me, it just felt like a formula they came up with and banged out in order to get the most marketable product. And it must have worked, too, because the 5th season is just a few months away. I'm probably give the 2nd season a try someday, but for now, it's nowhere near a priority. Reserved Recommendation (excessive violence and sexulization) I watched the version streaming on Crunchyroll. It has never been licenesed for home video relase in English. Quality/Content Review Explanation
During my time on Earth, I have seen the evolution of the magical girl genre. It started with Magical Witch Sally, where she was just a normal magic-using girl, using her powers to help everyday people with everyday things. Sailor Moon changed the formula, by adding power-up sequences and flashy attacks. Also action and a storyline that progressed, instead of being stand alone episodes. And then came Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which upped the bar even further, by showcasing super-massive attacks, flying around in the sky dogfighting, and very shonen-esque battles. Each series has changed the way a magical girl show can work, turning it closer and closer into a shonen affair. I can't say whether this is good or bad (it depends on what you want out of the genre), but overall I like this trend, as I like to see girls kicking as much ass as the boys, and having the powers to back it up. It was with this mindset that I checked out Symphogear. It was recommended to me by a friend, who told me that the girls are are super-powered and kick a lot of butt. And, on one level, the action and powers are fairly good. The first two episodes really draw you in.. and then it all goes to shit. This is difficult to explain without spoilers, so this review will have some spoilers. Not that there isn't much to spoil here, since it is cliche and trope ridden to an incredible degree. With that said, let's jump in. Story: 2/10 Hibiki is attending a concert of two pop idols, when the "Noise" attack. Essentially, seemingly mindless creatures that kill humans just via touch. The two pop idols promptly sing songs that transform them into the super heroes they are. This initial sequence brings up the first two of what are many plot holes. How long have the Noise been attacking humans? Only two girls have the power to stop them? And no one knows that two pop idols are really super-powered? What does the rest of the world do when the Noise attacks? You'd think a better cover for being a super hero, would NOT be a super popular pop idol. And one of the girls, Kanade, decides that.. after slaughtering tons of Noise easily and effortlessly (while the noise are busily slaughtering tons of people), decides to sing her ultimate song to kill all the noise... to save just one person, Hibiki. Why? Sure, saving a life is important, but what about everyone else that was slaughtered? Shouldn't you have sung this song before? Or I guess everyone else is out of luck, then? You were killing the Noise easily before; surely you didn't even need to do this song to save Hibiki. Indeed, as the series goes on, you see that Symphogear-users can mow down Noise with barely a sweat, which dramatically cheapens Kanade's sacrifice. The entire series is like this; introducing plot points and then forgetting them, which ends up causing incongruities, inconsistencies, and plot holes aplenty. It's as if there was no real planning on this, except for people going, "I think it would be cool if we do this..." Like 9-year-old boys writing a story. Even the overall direction and tone vacillates dramatically. It starts out fairly dramatic and impressive (visually), with well-done animation and a dramatic death. But then the series quickly turns into almost a parody of itself, with ridiculous ideas and notions thrown all over the place, as if they were deliberately trying to include every cliche they could. It almost feels like they were going for a Gurren Lagann kind of "ridiculousness leads to POWAH!" but it fails miserably. Gurren Lagann's whole shtick was based around that and tied into the plot; in Symphogear, it just serves to remove any dramatic tension the series has. The best example to showcase this, is to spoil one of the show's biggest things. In the very first scenes, we see a girl (Miku) go to a graveyard in the rain, to cry over the death of her friend, Hibiki. Then it is revealed that takes place in the future, so we are essentially told that Hibiki is going to die. The whole sequence where Miku gets on a bus and breaks down crying in the grave is very moving. At the end of the series, it appears as if Hibiki is dead, as the organization can't find them... but immediately after that grave scene, Hibiki shows up just fine and it turns out she was just in secret meetings, so couldn't tell anyone. The problem is that Miku knows about the organization, and has already proven that she can sign an NDA and keep her mouth shut about them. So why did she need to be told that Hibiki was dead? What point did it serve? It doesn't serve any point... except to make the viewer think the show was going to be way more dramatic than it ended up being. As I said, it really feels like the whole show was made by kids going "Wouldn't it be cool if we opened by showing that the main character was going to die?" And then later, "Wouldn't it be cool if the main character actually survived because she's awesome?" They forget what came before, or how anyone else watching it would feel. It only makes sense in their own minds. Animation: 8/10 The best thing about Symphogear is the animation. The designs look pretty good, and the fights are decent. The biggest drawback, is that everytime someone uses a special attack, the screen freezes to show you the attack name. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. This breaks the pace of a fight and really takes you out of it. Think of it like you are sitting there, watching Bruce Lee fight a bad guy. And your friend keeps pausing the action at the good parts. Gets annoying, eh? Sound: 5/10 Standard fare, mostly, but what sets this anime apart is that each of the girl's has their own character song... that they sing while fighting. Since this whole anime is song-based, it makes sense in the story at large that they better they sing, the more "in-tune" they are with their Symphogear. And for the most part, the songs are decent, but they repeated over and over and over and over. If they were really good, it might not be too bad, but I didn't like any of them, and I tend to like J-pop. When you realize that this anime was made by a composer, then you understand it was made to sell songs. So they will jam them at you over and over and hope they catch on. If you like them, good. If not, it is another thing that will annoy you during the otherwise decent fights. Characters: 3/10 The other weak link in this, as they do the stupidiest things. I mentioned Kanade before, who decides to sacrifice herself for no explainable reason, just to save one person. Screw the dozens that were dying around her, or the fact that she's strong enough to kill the Noise without sacrificing herself. Later on, characters like the Commander, showcases just how ridiculous things are, since he is shown to be a master of martial arts power like you'd find in DBZ (breaking large boulders with his hand and cratering the ground with a punch). He is shown to be able to overpower and outfight Symphogear users easily (this leads into a stupid point in the second season, where he bemoans that they don't have anyone else to send into a fight, while he sits in his comfy chair). The characters also get dramatic for no real reason, which then segues into more ridiculous over-the-top concepts. As I said above, the series tends to try and be dramatic... only to change into silly ridiculous territory a moment later. This robs the characters of any sort of dramatic feeling, especially when they follow all the cliches so closely, you know how things are going to end up. Overall: 4.8/10 I suppose that, overall, your enjoyment of this series will depend on what you can tolerate in an anime. If you like fights and accept that the plot and characters are ridiculous and over-the-top, then you might like this. If like all the old cliches wrapped into one, then you might like this. If you like generic j-pop songs repeated over and over, then you might like this. But, if you like your shows to have a coherent plot with reasonably intelligent characters and as few cliches as possible, then don't watch, because you won't like this. It's passable, it's mediocre, it's probably average for anime, which is why I am giving it a little less than 5. Had they kept up the drama and tone from the first episode, and kept the plot reasonable and real, this series could have been so much more. But in the end, it's bumbling, stumbling nature causes more harm then good.
I wanted to like this show. Really I did. The visuals are suitably pretty, well animated, and all in all I thoroughly enjoyed the sountrack. (For an anime where your armor is powered by music, it better be good!) On the surface the premise is interesting. You have this strange unknown enemy which can only be killed by these people wearing music powered super suits. Okay, neat idea, you've gotten me interested. And for the first half of the series, it remains generally interesting with several potentially intriguing plot points thrown out there. And then it just...falls apart, with an ending that seems to come from left field.
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