Friday 12 July 2019

First Impressions: Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV

Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV
Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

It's hard to think back and imagine a time without Symphogear. Ever since the first season Senki Zesshō Symphogear launched back in 2012 anime fans have been treated to multiple seasons of incredible action, over the top spectacle, catchy music and some of the best ass-kicking girls you'll find. However sadly all good things eventually come to an end, and it's with a heavy heart I write that its fifth season, Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV is supposedly its last. However judging by the franchise's ability to consistently one up itself, it's certainly likely to go out on a bang. As usual animation duties are handled by Macross -maestros Satelight, with music provided by composer group Elements Garden.

Following information retrieved from the remains of the Bavarian Illuminati Autoscorer Tiki, the six Symphogear users find themselves battling a giant "coffin" in Antarctica when a S.O.N.G. research vessel is put in jeopardy. Held inside the coffin are the remains of a Custodian, the prehistoric rulers responsible for the Curse of Balal.

Though throughout their battles Hibiki, Tsubasa, Chris, Maria, Kirika and Shirabe have continued to grow in strength their powers are put to the limit by this new threat. As the team look forward to returning home to celebrate both Chris and Miku's birthdays, a new enemy watches from a distance.

Let's face it – no one is jumping into this Symphogear XV without having seen the previous four seasons (and if you are what's wrong with you?) so viewers should have a pretty good idea what to expect from a Symphogear premiere by now. Whether its punching a hole through a mountain, an assault on a military base or just a good old fashioned monster beatdown, Symphogear premieres are all about the spectacle. Naturally there are sprinklings of plot points to generate interest and give the story some groundwork, but even if you were to jump in here as a starting point there wouldn't be too much to confuse you. Just ignore the show's penchant for biblical babbling and enjoy what's essentially one big fight scene. And for this particular premiere they really have gone big given the size of the monster they're facing off against.

Perhaps fitting for a final season, Symphogear XV is clearly ready to pull out all the stops right from the get-go. If Hibiki's stunning new transformation sequence wasn't enough to whet appetites, from there the episode launches into a six member barrage of over the top action sequences, potent new abilities and even full team ensemble songs. The latter especially is the kind of thing that's usually reserved for closer to the end of a season, but kicking it off with one just shows how far these characters have come over the years. Quite often there'll be some sort of problem holding one or more member back (e.g. the LiNKER shortage in AXZ) only for them to properly come together later on, but here there's already been a full-team attack almost season-finale worthy.

The inclusion of teamwork by no means takes away from the individual moves either. We see a visibly buffer Hibiki continuing to punch her way to victory complete with underwater turbines, as well as perform a spectacular drill attack with Maria. Tsubasa and Chris are still absolutely wielding more swords and guns than necessary, while Kirika and Shirabe cut out the best kind of teamwork. One of my favourite elements of AXZ was when it paired the six off into less common combinations, so I really hope that continues here.

But though the fist-pumping, synth-beating action is a significant part of Symphogear's charm, it's the combination with the more heartfelt character moments that has given it such sticking power. XV is poised to delve further into the relationship between Hibiki and Miku and there's some nice little character work included here to suggest that, as well as the just genuinely nice notion of the girls looking forward to both hers and Chris' upcoming birthdays. It was a good move to sandwich this character work (as well as the required opening exposition) in the middle of the fight scene via flashback, since it allows the episode to open and close on the bigger notes while providing some downtime in the middle.

Of course it would be remiss to not mention that the episode briefly introduces us to the villains of this season, but "brief" is just about the only way to put it. All we really get is a quick look at them (and in typically Symphogear fashion the character designs are particularly good), as well as some hints towards previous affiliations and their overall plans. There's really not a whole lot to go on here, but with how well fleshed-out AXZ's villain troupe were they're definitely something worth looking forward.

Like its preceding seasons Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV welcomes viewers back into the fold with an episode that shows Symphogear exactly what it does best – balls to the wall action featuring characters that continue to dazzle with just one spectacle after another. Though 'From the Horizon of Mankind's History' sets up what will be the culmination of four seasons' worth of plot lines, this is more of a reminder of just what makes this show so well loved. It's going to be incredibly sad to see it go, because it's never a dull moment when there's a new season of Symphogear to look forward to.

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