Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Anime REVIEW: Senki Zesshō Symphogear

Senki Zesshō Symphogear (translated as "Swan Song of the Valkyries: Symphogear), or just Symphogear for short, was a 13 episode anime series that aired between January and March of 2012. It was produced by Encourage Films, with production assistance from the anime studio Satelight.

Two years ago, a pair of superstar idols named ZweiWing fought against an alien race known as the Noise, using the power of ancient relics to control song-powered battle armour known as the Symphogear. During an attack on one of their concerts, one member of ZweiWing - Kanade sacrifices herself to save a young girl, Hibiki Tachibana. Move to present day, and ZweiWing's remaining member Tsubasa has been defending the world against the Noise all alone. When attempting to save a girl from being killed by the Noise, Hibiki discovers she too can tap into the Symphogear powers, and subsequently joins the 2nd Division Mobile Disaster Response Corps - an organisation dedicated to defence against the Noise.

The Symphogear cast: United by FRIENDSHIP AND MUSIC

Symphogear's first episode is somewhat deceptive, in that it displays a far darker tone than what follows in the next twelve. The story opens with Hibiki's best friend Miku visiting Hibiki's grave (suggesting that she won't survive the course of the show), followed by a flashback of ZweiWing's impressively animated 'final' concert and Kanade's death. The following episodes continue with Hibiki taking up Kanade's place as a Symphogear wielder, Tsubasa initially not accepting her as a partner. The plot moves very slowly during its mid-episodes, focusing mainly on Hibiki's struggle to keep her new life a secret from Miku while at the same time other cast members undergo some speedy personality changes when the plot calls upon it. The show's plot twist in terms of its main antagonist is highly predictable, but her reveal moves the story forward into a three episode-long final battle which recaptures the show's impressive opening.

Finé: Symphogear's big bad

Much like the plot, the animation also takes a dive after the few episodes. Episode three contains a sequence of Tsubasa walking down a corridor, however the animation is so bad it looks like the character has simply been pasted onto a static background. While this is the most notable instance of bad animation in Symphogear, throughout the show it both looks and feels clear that most of if not all of the animation budget went toward the fight scenes. These are undoubtedly the highlight of the show, featuring flashy visuals and the songs adding an extra layer that you wouldn't find in most other shows. The transformation and attacks feel very rooted in comic book fantasy, with freeze-frame panels displaying attack names in bold text.

Hibiki's transformation sequence

As for the music itself, the songs are enjoyable but not wholly memorable. Even if the viewer has no understanding of Japanese, the songs found in series such as Macross or K-On! have a far more infectious quality in that they can get you singing along even if you have no idea what you're singing. While arguably Symphogear's soundtrack seems far more ambitious than those, the lyrics themselves are often drowned out by the thumping bass. As stated earlier, they add an nice extra dimension to the action, but never really feel completely implemented (they're supposed to be singing while they fight, but a lot of the time the songs will be playing while they're talking/have their mouths shut). Given that the fight scenes are also the visual highlight of Symphogear, its also difficult to fully appreciate the music within the context of the shows when your eyes are so fixated on what's driving the show in the first place.

The Noise come in all different shapes and sizes

Symphogear burst onto the anime scene with a very promising first couple of episodes, but sadly fell into mediocrity quickly. It wasn't until the final few episodes that the series managed to recapture what made it interesting in the first place. While the first season was average at best, I believe there could be hope for Symphogear if it were to ever return for a second.

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