Tuesday 4 July 2017

First Impressions: Senki Zesshō Symphogear AXZ

Senki Zesshō Symphogear AXZ

It’s that time again as everyone’s favourite group of armour wearing, weapon-wielding singing girls are back again for a fourth season. That’s right – Senki Zesshō Symphogear has returned! With each previous season having continually refined the formula and constantly upped the ante in terms of action and spectacle, Senki Zesshō Symphogear AXZ should hopefully suggest big things and comes on the back of plenty of fan anticipation. The anime and music franchise from Satelight and Encourage Films has built a firm following over the past five years, elevating it from a show that could have very easily been a one-time thing into something to always look forward to.

Homework will have to wait for Hibiki Tachibana as the S.O.N.G. girls are sent off on a new mission! Dispatched to Valverde in South America, they soon face off against a military government using Alca-Noise to maintain order. Supplying them with these creatures are the Pavarian Illuminati, a mysterious organisation that’s had a hand in all of the girls’ previous battles. The battle brings back painful memories for Chris, while Maria, Kirika and Shirabe still come to terms with the loss of their Symphogear powers – with only enough LiNKER left for one last battle.

Symphogear has never been one to beat around the bush when it comes to season premieres, so just its previous sequels AXZ is pretty quick at jumping straight into the action. Moreso than usual in fact, as unlike the previous seasons this one doesn’t even feature a big flashy concert number. However it certainly makes up for it in terms of action, which while visually a little more restrained than GX’s opener has just as much impact. There’s no crashing space shuttles or punching through mountains to be seen here, but there is three girls in impractical armour fighting tanks and machine guns head on. Between Tsubasa doing her usual blade shtick, Hibiki throwing tanks around and Chris’ chewing and spitting out bullets, this episode really isn’t short on spectacle. Fighting the swarms of standard Noise (or Alca-Noise, not that the power up makes much difference any more) has become standard practice by now, so it’s nice to have the extra manpower here to keep the battle interesting before it properly delves into this season’s villains.

The show’s bombastic nature isn’t just limited to the main three characters either, with plenty of over the top moments from the non-suited characters too. Ogawa continues to be the most overpowered character in the entire show in the most laughable way possible, while Maria, Kirika and Shirabe continue to kick all kinds of ass even without their powers. This development is offset a bit by them geared-up by the end of episode, which despite being inevitable could have done with a few more episodes for build up (especially after Hibiki’s pep-talk to Kirika about their usefulness). Characterisation is generally as great as ever, the show might have been off the air for two years but when it comes back it really doesn’t feel like the characters ever went away. Hibiki’s still an airhead with a burning heart of justice, Tsubasa’s still an aloof warrior, Chris is still showing off her stubborn side – fans will have been around the block three times already, so know what to expect. And if you’re new to the series, now’s the perfect time to get stuck into that back-catalogue.

With the focus squarely on the action there wasn’t a whole lot of space for plot this episode, but the writers are still wise enough to get things going quickly and create enough intrigue for the rest of the show. After GX covered both Hibiki and Tsubasa’s lingering father issues, this season is already delving deeper in Chris’ back story as the events of this episode start triggering flashbacks. As well as being a fan favourite Chris is perhaps one of the least straightforward characters in Symphogear, so more opportunity to explore what’s made her like this is always welcome. Similarly we don’t know much about our three new key villains (Saint-Germain, Prelati and Cagliostro), but what little we do see leaves a positive impression. Symphogear has always been quite tight knit with its continuity, so the tease of a shadowy organisation that’s been pulling the strings throughout could lead to some very interesting developments as the season progresses.

So yes, Symphogear is back and its business as usual. This is by no means a bad thing though, because if Senki Zesshō Symphogear AXZ can deliver the same over the top action and thumping beats it usually does then we’re already on course for another win. After the three seasons the cast is already perfectly settled, but it seems there’s still plenty to tell as the girls face off against a brand new threat. Welcome back Symphogear, you’ve been missed.

No comments: