Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Senki Zesshō Symphogear Episodes 1-13 Streaming
Hibiki Tachibana is just a normal teenage girl until one day, while at the concert of the legendary Zwei Wing, she finds herself in the middle of a bizarre monster attack. Though she survives the attack, she ends up badly injured, only surviving because the singer Kanade protects her with a mysterious power. Two years later, Hibiki once again finds herself in the midst of an attack - and with no one to save her this time, Hibiki will be forced to unlock her own strange potential, fighting back against evil with the power of Symphogear.
Symphogear isn't a “traditionally good” show. Its dialogue is ridiculous, storytelling somehow simultaneously cliche and incoherent, and drama laid out with the subtlety of a writer who has literal hams for hands. It is a very silly show based on a very silly idea, and yet, in spite of its absurdity, I didn't dislike watching it. In fact, I kind of loved watching it, and not just in a “so bad it's good” mocking way. Symphogear isn't a traditionally good show, but it is definitely, if this word still has any meaning, an awesome show. Both in that it's a show that exemplifies the kind of ludicrous, riding-an-exploding-shark-over-an-erupting-volcano aesthetic that that term has come to imply, and that nearly every episode will evoke a sometimes reluctant, sometimes embarrassed, and sometimes fist-pumpingly sincere “did this show really do that?!”
The premise of Symphogear is laid out in its first manic, bewildering episode. While attending a concert of Zwei Wing, a famous pair of idols, our hero Hibiki Tachibana finds herself caught up in an attack by the mysterious Noise, technicolor monsters that turn people to ash. Fortunately, Zwei Wing just so happen to be the primary warriors of the government's anti-Noise division, who fight the monsters by singing to activate their “Symphogear” powers. The two idols Tsubasa and Kanade defeat the Noise, but Kanade is forced to sacrifice herself to save Hibiki. Cut forward two years, and the Noise are still making all sorts of trouble, with Hibiki once again finding herself on the run. Cornered by the monsters, Hibiki ends up activating her own Symphogear powers, stepping forward on a journey that will lead to great friendships, terrible tragedy, and a whole lot of punching monsters in the face.
Basically, Symphogear is a sort of bizarre amalgamation of a battle-oriented magical girl show, an idol show, and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. As the story progresses, Hibiki learns to harness her songs and fists to fight for the people she cares about, eventually making friends with the cool warrior Tsubasa and clashing with the angry, violent Chris. There's some drama about protecting her idyllic school life while moving further away from it, there's dramatic betrayals and unexpected alliances, and there's ultimately an ancient villain determined to rule the world by blowing up the moon. The story is silly, but it's silly in a very entertaining way, which generally comes down to both the degree to which the show leans into its silliness and the speed with which the show moves from beat to beat.
When a character is forced to sacrifice themselves in Symphogear, they don't just get injured - they have blood pour from their eyes as they collapse to the ground. When Hibiki wants to make friends with an enemy Symphogear user, she doesn't just talk to them, she shouts “I have to make sure my feelings reach her!” before punching her in the gut. Symphogear's character's journeys are fairly simple, and the show can drag when it leans entirely on its shaky character writing, but generally the next JoJo-esque moment of lunacy will arrive in time to keep the show from ever feeling boring. Between the general dialogue (“Give me the power to kill the Noise!" "Even if it means you end up going to hell?!”), larger-than-life characters (“there's no need for smiles where we're going” intones Tsubasa, making clear she's a Very Serious Angsty Person), and constant battle-diversions, there's little time to feel annoyed by the fact that the story is constructed of hackneyed genre beats and stray JRPG pieces.
Symphogear is also elevated by the fact that its battle scenes are a whole lot of fun. “Singing J-pop to unlock your battlin' potential” is a very silly concept, but in practice, it really just means the characters are singing their hearts out while battering enemies with more conventional giant swords and mega-piledrivers. Though the Noise are a kind of lame and formless opponent, the fights are made consistently engaging through the diverse and stylish weapons of the Symphogear users. Hibiki, always the straight shooter, uses her fists to punch her way to justice. Tsubasa is basically samurai-themed, meaning her attacks take the form of a wide array of flying swords. And Chris just wants to blow stuff up, so she fights with miniguns and giant rockets. Fists and weapons careen off each other in gloriously over-the-top displays, with each fight proceeding according to both emotional logic (“I'll never accept your way of thinking!” -cue power up-) and a general rule of cool. The show mixes up the stakes and variables of fights to keep things interesting (fighting during a car chase! saving a friend from a giant octopus!), and aesthetic tricks like the show's tendency to highlight special attacks with sepia freeze-frames and giant title banners help give Symphogear an engaging visual personality.
The animation overall isn't quite as consistent outside of the fight scenes, and the characters can get off-model somewhat frequently, but Symphogear's visuals are largely a point in its favor. Aside from the attack banners and explosions, the show also features a diverse array of beautiful backgrounds, which combine rich color work with unique futurist architecture to create an engaging sense of place. Symphogear's music is less strong than its visuals, but it gets the job done. There's a diverse array of jpop, guitar tunes, and electronic to set the various non-Symphogear scenes, and though none of the songs are all that catchy or iconic, they at least set appropriate tones for the show. The actual character songs are a bit of a mixed bag, largely because Aoi Yuuki just isn't a very good singer. On the other hand, Yukine Chris's “I want to destroy everything” ballad is a strange kind of wonderful, making it fairly disappointing that Funimation didn't choose to translate all of the main songs' highly character-relevant lyrics.
Overall, if you're looking for a coherent story with poignant themes and deeply felt emotions, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you're looking to have a rollicking good time, and think the idea of combining JoJo's Bizarre Adventure with singing teenagers and rocket explosions is a pretty brilliant one, Symphogear offers silly entertainment like little else out there. Motorcycles are driven into explosions, swords are ridden into laser cannons, and monsters are punched so hard they explode into vapor and then explosions and then vapor again. With this show, the more you shake your head at where the story's going, the more it's actually working. Symphogear has got it where it counts, and by “where it counts” I mean in the fist that is now swinging a laser sword to blow up the moon.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Action scenes are diverse and engaging, show never stops one-upping itself with absurd melodramatic plot beats.
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