Senki Zesshou Symphogear Review

Title: Senki Zesshou Symphogear / Symphogear Season 1
Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Music, action, mahou shoujo
Year of release: 2012

Symphogear is a series that doesn’t show an ounce of restraint. That in itself is a surprise; the show is, by all means, an advertisement for the music writing group, Elements Garden – and one of those composers even wrote the story! But somehow, this project inspired the most out of each of its crew – from voice actors to animators – and shows no restraint whatsoever.

The story is based upon girls that sing to activate ‘relics’, giving them (slightly fanservicey) mahou shoujo transformations and weapons (and armour) to fight the ‘Noise’ with. The mystery of the Noise and the relics themselves comprise a significant portion of storytelling with some surprising (and some well setup and thus not-so-surprising) twists, but it manages to escape cheesiness by sheer determination and its themes, which are so deeply rooted. Connections, and the difficulty to connect, are what strives Symphogear through its story and character arcs, and not only is this aspect consistently embraced, but also heartily, too.

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No aspect of Symphogear is more hearty than its character arcs. With the story that can lean on a surprising darkness, its characters have to move on and cope, as well as rise to the challenge. Hibiki, the blonde-haired spunky protagonist, is more of a genre-artefact than the rest of this series’ colourful, creative cast, but her relationship with childhood friend, Miku, pairs well with her strong sense of justice to create a character that fights for something to protect. She also represents the show’s most lighthearted aspects, for better or worse.

I think some serious credit is due for Tsubasa’s progression throughout the series, as her internal strife is so thoroughly developed. The many facets of her character – self-destruction, self-hatred, struggling to be true to herself – are written in such a way to pair well with the series’ themes. Indeed, connecting with others is impossible if you cannot connect with yourself, and Tsubasa’s long overdue self-reflection paints this picture tragically.

Chris, the minor antagonist of the series, also goes through quite a journey. While her story is laced with perhaps the most extreme segments of Symphogear – where you perhaps wish it showed restraint – the catharsis of her character arc is no less resounding.

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I’ve somehow gotten thus far without really addressing the music. The relic users keep singing after their transformation – and the series goes to surprising detail to lip synch even distance shots. You can be listening to these songs several times across the series, which is why I am so delighted to say this: Elements Garden are geniuses. Any less songwriting oomph and the series might have failed. From the poignant lyrics to the far ranging use of instrumentation – whereby neither steel drums or bagpipes are off the table – they have an unending level of creativity, but they also exhibit exquisite songwriting chops. Strong hooks and exciting choruses dominate the soundscape as the girls do battle. Even the background music, while occasionally lacking inspiration, has some phenomenal pieces, too.

Even the animation department got the memo to go for it with no restraint… but, perhaps, they went too hard. Make no mistake, the action scenes demonstrate high levels of kinetics – constantly moving, and often throughout 3d space, putting pressure on the already overburdened animators. However, some of the more basic scenes suffer, rarely even catastrophically with bobbing 2d models and severely off-model hair. Still, though, the show gets it right where it counts, so I’m inclined to let it off the hook.

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As a sales pitch for Elements Garden, I must say I’m a bit enamoured. The songs instantly found their way into my library. But, as a story, I found myself very surprised – Symphogear not only cranks things up to 11, but it has a heart that few anime do. Yes, Symphogear’s occasional inability to stop means it is rough around the edges, but it’s an exciting ride nonetheless.

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4 thoughts on “Senki Zesshou Symphogear Review

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