Sci fi, fantasy, magical girls, mecha, and idol performances collide in the insane world of Symphogear, which is now entering its fifth blockbuster season. This week, Nick and Steve explode with enthusiasm over what makes this idiosyncratic action series so special.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.
STEVE, IT'S TIME.
I CAN'T BELIEVE, AFTER 10,000 YEARS!
IT'S TIME TO WATCH SYMPHOGEAR
You know, after AXZ fell into licensing limbo, I was upset that we might not be able to cover Symphogear for this column, because it is precisely the kind of awesomely dumb bullshit that perfectly fits the format of two nerds shouting over Discord.
Summer 2017 was indeed a dark time. I was legit heartbroken when we couldn't cover it, because Symphogear is one of those properties that's always felt like it should be a huge hit. But a criminally large number of people have yet to listen to its song, so I guess for the sake of the uninitiated, we should probably specify just what the hell Symphogear is even about.
On paper, Symphogear
is about a team of girls who use magic ancient relics to power up and fight a nonstop parade of bad guys who want to resurrect gods or blow up the moon or sometimes both at once. In practice, it is every bit a successor to the beautiful '80s and '90s action films that thrived on crazy stunts and absurd plots, and it's constantly the best thing ever.
In many ways, Symphogear
is the platonic ideal of action anime. it's ridiculous, constantly over the top, and runs on the logic that whatever the coolest and dumbest thing you could do is the best option. It's also a bizarre production fluke that started mostly to promote Nana Mizuki
's music career nearly a decade ago, and over time somehow morphed into a best-selling multimedia juggernaut with five seasons.
Also, it's pretty damn gay.
I've also seen it described as a magical girl show made in the image of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
, which is pretty accurate.
I mean, it's technically a magical girl show. It's got the transformation sequences, the color-coded character outfits, and everything's solved through the power of friendship. But also all of those magical girl outfits are Super Robot power armor, and did I mention all the characters sing during all their fights? Symphogear is A Lot.
Yeah, you want idol stuff? Symphogear
. You want transformation scenes upping the ante with each successive season? Symphogear
. Well-choreographed action scenes? Symphogear
. A girl who's able to solve almost every problem by just punching through it? Yep, you guessed it: Symphogear
If any of this sounds like your cup of tea, stop reading this column right now and go to Crunchyroll
. I don't understand how Symphogear
exists, but it deserves as much of an audience as it can get.
Frankly, we could fill several TWIA columns with just a Greatest Hits list of all the ridiculously cool stuff that Symphogear
does every week. Like hey, remember that time Kirika and Shirabe made a giant killer yo-yo scythe? And that said yo-yo scythe is an incarnation of the ultimate weapon of a Mesopotamian war god that can cut through souls?
There are endless things I could talk about, but I've long given up either remembering or understanding any of Symphogear
's lore. It's a consequence of watching the show over the course of five years, but when they start throwing down all those proper nouns, my eyes just glaze over.
For me, that's part of the charm. In any other show, this would be tedious worldbuilding, but Symphogear's habit of namedropping real-world theology as part of its magical nonsense is so common that it borders on heretical. Like how it's canonical that main character Hibiki is literally capable of killing gods because people got the Lance of Longinus and the legendary Norse spear Gungnir confused.
Personally, my favorite part is when they find out they can kill God with a skyscraper if they just believe
It's worth noting that these ideas sound a lot weightier than they actually end up being, because, as with most things in Symphogear
's universe, their ultimate purpose is to make things explode.
Yeah, I should clarify. All of Symphogear's namedropping of ancient weapons and myths is there for the same reason there's aliens called Asgardians in Marvel—because the creators think it sounds cool.
Did we also mention that the villains for the past couple seasons have been the Illuminati? Because they're fighting the Illuminati.
But not like, the boring old guy illuminati. No, this Illuminati is made up of robots, vampires, furries, and immortal trans girls who punch with the power of love.
Hell yes. That is the renowned alchemist Cagliostro living her new best life as a girl who fights with Sailor Moon
powers. This is what Symphogear
brings to the table. Crunchyroll
has been releasing episodes of AXZ in tandem with the new season XV, and there's not much plot-wise that you need to get caught up with for XV, but AXZ is incredible on its own merits.
Every new Symphoseason seems determined to one-up itself, and that kind of constant escalation could cause problems in a lesser show. Like remember that bit about our main heroine being able to kill gods? In any other show that would be the final power up, but why stop at punching god when you can quadruple-punch
DOUBLE THE FISTS. That's the Hibiki spirit! One of the major leftovers from AXZ is that everyone's Gears have merged with the Illuminati's Faust Robes—in other words, they can go Super Sonic and punch and shoot and stab and blow up things better.
And for basically the whole season, the show's managed to deliver on that. This is hands down the most consistently well-animated and choreographed season of Symphogear
, with at least a couple of standout action cuts every week. I'm still in awe of the concert in episode two.
It's incredible to see how much Symphogear has advanced as a production over the years. It's not even strictly an idol show, but it shows up a lot of other idol anime with this episode.
I mean it's not not
an idol show either. One of Symphogear
's most inspired choices was to have all the fighters sing in-character during battles, essentially making a unique, character-specific insert song
for every encounter, and the result is always a blast.
Oh yeah, that may be Symphogear's most distinguishing characteristic. In-universe, the explanation is that their magic Babylonian armor is fueled by song. In reality, it's because there's freaking nothing better than seeing an anime girl punch monsters while she sings about punching monsters.
Chris traditionally has the cheesiest (i.e. best) lyrics, and XV has been no exception.
Steve, put your hand down.
Look, I'm just proud that Chris is getting into a
NGL, I know Chris is the standout favorite among fans, but I've never been all that into her. But it's been cute seeing her grow from her arc in AXZ and becoming the confident, secure person she's been trying to be since her original face-turn.
She's an angry ball of fluff and bullet casings, and she's come so far. She's also legit the smartest Symphogear
, even though that really
isn't saying much.
Between the six symphogears, there's maybe five braincells, and one is just constantly bouncing between Kirika and Shirabe like a game of Pong.
One too many ballistic entries...
Thankfully they compensate by having some of the best uh, teamwork.
They're a lot of fun! Unfortunately, it'd be illegal for me to post 95% of Kirika's new transformation sequence, but her XIII pose and scythe surfing should be safe.
Meanwhile, Shirabe's transformation is the real
Yuri on Ice.
Speaking of yuri, it is funny how all of the Symphogears (aside from Chris) have a blatantly canonical pairing. Kirika and Shirabe. Hibiki and Miku
. And, of course:
I know that part's there because Maria was a last-second addition to the concert, but personally I take it as a sign Tsubasa tops from the bottom.
Oh yeah, Tsubasa is a power bottom for sure. And who wouldn't want to wife this?
On the topic of Tsubasa ...(heavy sigh) I gotta vent for a minute.
Let it out, man. It's been a rough season for her.
Let me preface: Tsubasa Kazanari is my favorite Symphogear
for one important reason. Her most outstanding trait, besides being voiced by Nana Mizuki
, is just Doing Cool Shit. Her gear power is making infinite blue flaming swords, turning those into even bigger swords, then rocket kicking those swords into her enemies. She rides a motorcycle that also turns
I also just want to casually use this moment to post Nana Mizuki
's biceps, because hot damn.
So it's just baffling to me that XV decided that her first major character arc in four seasons should be about her being actively prevented from doing cool shit, by virtue of the worst plot device ever introduced to fiction:
The conceit of her arc in XV is that Tsubasa's evil Granddad - the villain of the season - uses one of the Illuminati to brainwash her into helping him harness the power of God to use as a weapon, allowing him to "protect" Japan for all eternity.
And this sucks wet eggs because it effectively turns Tsubasa's entire character into a plot device. She's not convinced to join him by emotional manipulation or anything under her control. She just ends up following his orders without knowing why, before she's eventually snapped out of it by her wife, which causes her to have a breakdown just in time for her dad to die and cause another breakdown.
And then in the end, when she's about to take down Granddaddy Nationalism, she's stopped because if she kills him, she'll be just as bad as him, apparently.
Yeah, a lot of shit went down this week. It seems like XV is trying to resolve things that were brought up in GX, aka the Bad Dad Season. And Fudou is just the worst for myriad reasons. However, XV tries to have it both ways by making Tsubasa complicit in his plans, but also giving her the "out" of being under vampire hypnosis the whole time, which just neuters the impact. It's definitely frustrating.
It's a choice that completely removes any agency she should have in her own story, turning it into a misery parade. It actively made me hate seeing my favorite character on screen, which is a pretty huge black mark on what's otherwise been easily the best season of Symphogear yet.
It's not great, but it helps that the episode brightens, as all Symphogear
episodes do, when Genjuro
enters the fray.
I've never wanted an old man to fall down a flight of stairs more than Fudou.
He sucks so bad that he even makes me hate the other more sympathetic villains of this season just for working with him. In theory, I should be upset over Melaarc and company seeing the face of God and blinking, but them being the impetus for all of Tsubasa's brain problems just makes me glad they're not going to be around to do it again.
On the villain front, I haven't found Noble Red quite as enjoyable as the alchemists from last season, but they've certainly had their moments.
Frankly, I feel like I should enjoy these characters more than I do. They've got as tragic a backstory as any other Symphogear
villain not named Dr. John Wayne Vercingatorix, but something about how gleefully they partake in murdering people (AND TORTURING TSUBASA) just puts me off, which is why I was clapping like a seal when they got clowned on by the real MVPs (Most Villainous Puppets).
GARIE'S BACK (for like five minutes, but still)!
It's a beautiful five minutes. Much as I like St. Germain and Cagliostro, there's no denying that Carol and the Autoscorers from GX were the best villain group Symphogear
ever came up with, and seeing them back to help our pint-sized scientist homunculus
Seriously, this was something fans (and me especially) were waiting for since the end of GX, and we got ALL the Autoscorers showing up AND Carolnein being canon. It's the gloriously dumb and satisfying kind of fanservice
can deliver. (Also maybe I cried a little bit over Garie. Like how dare they.)
Words cannot describe how happy I was to hear this
Carol's return is also great because we witness perhaps the first instance of Self-Tsundere.
She's so small and so good.
And they're gonna need all that phonic gain to take on this season's True Final Villain! You'd think that Hibiki literally being nicknamed "God-killer Fist" would mean that nothing could stand up to her, but in the ultimate twist, it turns out God is the one person Hibiki could never fist: her wife.
I mean, she's not wrong for asking this. Weirdly, this is the second time Miku's body has been hijacked by an ancient power, though last time it was only for like an episode, and ended with Hibiki saving her. Oh, and also it accidentally purged both of them of the concept of Original Sin, which allows either of their bodies to become the vessel for God. Whoops.
It happens. Also I should specify, when we call Miku
Hibiki's wife, it's not some term of endearment. They're married. Aoi Yuuki has called Miku
her wife in live concerts. They bathe together. They share a bunk bed, by which I mean they share the same top bunk of a bunk bed. They're wives.
And frankly, without five seasons of establishing their relationship, this particular line wouldn't land with the gut punch that it does. Behind all the explosions and magical girl missiles and songs, the bleeding heart of Symphogear
is that Hibiki Tachibana loves Miku
more than anything in the world.
They're so good and warm together. Symphogear
doesn't always hit the mark with its themes and narratives, but Hibiki's pure punch-fueled devotion to protecting her loved ones is the constant that keeps Symphogear
grounded. Just look at her reaction when they learn that Miku
was only kidnapped, not killed.
If the conflict were just that Miku
got body-jacked by a God, I wouldn't be all that invested. But the key is that right before this, Hibiki and Miku
had a fight, so all this God bullshit is just getting in the way of them making up. It says something that the concept of literal deicide pales in comparison to the thought of these two not being able to apologize and see each other again.
They have to make up! I won't be able to function otherwise.
With four episodes left, we're officially at the endgame, and by all appearances this may be the final season of Symphogear
. I'm so excited to see them destroy that bastard Moon for a third time.
Perhaps, but I'd honestly be fine with them continuing for five more seasons. They've concocted a special formula here, and Symphogear
has become the ruler by which I judge almost all other action anime. That heart-on-its-sleeve spirit of punching a straight line through the worst villainy is as fist-pumping as it is inspiring. Plus, with Grenadier
long gone, where else am I gonna see someone reload a revolver using their cleavage?