Tuesday 8 October 2019

Anime REVIEW: Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV

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

All good things eventually come to an end, and sadly in 2019 we say goodbye to a series that’s continue top itself in heart, action and of course excess with each and every season. The fifth and final season of Satelight's beat-thumping sci-fi magical girl series Senki Zesshō Symphogear has arrived, rounding off seven years and 52 episodes worth of story build up in another 13-episode package. This time the season goes by the full name of Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV, with the typically outlandish subtitle of “Create a history, with the light God could not know”. So strap yourselves in and prepare for "All Systems Green", because if there's one thing Symphogear guarantees it's one hell of a ride

The cast of SymphogearMiku and Hibiki

Following the defeat of Adam Weishuapt and the Bavarian Illuminati at the end of the previous season, the Special Disaster Response Team (S.O.N.G.) venture to Antarctica where they discover the corpse of a Custodian – the ancient race of god-like beings Adam was investigating. This encounter also puts them in sights of Noble Red, a trio of Illuminati experiments looking to regain their lost humanity.

As Noble Red do whatever it takes to obtain the bracelet of Shem-Ha and the power of Carol Malus Dienheim's Chateau de Tiffauges, the S.O.N.G. also discovered the trio are being assisted by someone much closer to them. Additionally Miku is also targeted due her compatibility as a potential vessel for Shem-Ha herself, leading Hibiki to have to confront the one person she's never been able to communicate her true feelings to.

Noble RedShem-Ha

Ever since Symphogear G opened with Hibiki literally punching a mountain top clean in half to clear the way for a crashing space shuttle, it's hard to conceive just how Symphogear continues to outdo itself in excess upon each and every return. And while it's somehow managed it for the most part, Symphogear XV takes it to another level yet again. This is the series where all those loose ends and lore details that were so easy to get confused by come into play, suddenly snapping together like puzzle pieces that have actually been perfectly aligned the entire time. It's easy to presume that the season's rapid pace is just a frantic rush to pull off a satisfying conclusion in a mere 13 episodes, but rather it's how XV has chosen to play it – upping the ante with each and every episode and leaving you anxious for more with every cliffhanger. It's the hallmark of a show that's perfected its craft over many years, building up all that potential and building it up into one truly special finale.

Even among all the lingering questions regarding Shem-Ha, the Custodians and the Curse of Balal, there's only one resolution XV desperately needed to tackle head on. Though implied so hard it was practically canon long ago, confirmation the relationship between Hibiki and Miku or at the very least admittance of their feelings for each other has always been something the show has teasingly dangled in front of fans. Finally those unspoken words become the crux of the story, as the pair are once again yanked apart and put at odds. Although there was already a variation on "evil Miku" back in season two the addition of Shem-Ha is enough to feel like XV isn't simply expanding on old ground. It’s ironic that despite communication and understanding being one of the core themes in Symphogear’s conflicts, the pair have never been able to tell each other how they truly feel. Miku has always been the driving force behind Hibiki, and Aoi Yuki does an incredible job in selling the pain in her voice when faced with her as an opponent. Similarly Yuka Iguchi is able to put plenty of depth into Miku's voice - whether its the change from her usual soft-spoken demeanour into a more emotional outburst at Hibiki, or the more emotionless turn she takes later on. Most importantly of all though is that there is indeed closure to all of this – tastefully done in a way that doesn't beat over the heads of the audience, but enough to make a heart-warming and satisfying epilogue.

Amalgam HibikiMaria and Tsubasa

Hibiki isn't the only one having a bad time of things, as its clear from very early on that this season isn't going to easy on Tsubasa either. As well as powerful imagery that harkens back to the scenes that originally set the story of Symphogear in motion, Tsubasa is torn between her familial loyalties and the new family she's found in S.O.N.G. Her ultimate despair is when her role as a 'sword' and protector is brought into question, which is exactly the route this season goes down. Her vulnerabilities aren't just preyed upon by Noble Red but also her own (Grand)father, taking the character to a dark place. Like Hibiki Tsubasa has been with Symphogear since the very beginning so it feels right she get such a gripping story line in its final season, though it's a shame it couldn't incorporate the rest of the cast in a greater fashion. That isn't to say Maria isn't present in her usual big-sister role and Chris, Kirika and Shirabe aren't the massive amount of fun they always are, but XV isn't their story.

The subject of redemption has always been an integral part to the show's depiction of its villain characters, and few have walked that line of villainy quite like Noble Red do. Though they may have been robbed of their humanity and left with inhuman bodies that require blood to survive, the sympathy they garner from the audience is often counteracted by the methods they'll resort in order to achieve their goal – such as the vampiric Millaarc gleefully slaughtering a crowd of innocents with Alca-Noise just to get to Tsubasa. Such atrocities should surely make them irredeemable, but the familial bond they share makes their situation all the more tragic. The bestial "little sister" Elsa's breakdown toward the end of the series particularly tugs at the heartstrings, mirrored by her motherly figure Vanessa's resolve breaking down as she regrettably embraces the robotic monster she's become. Though perhaps not as rich or nuanced as Saint-Germain or the other Illuminati members in AZX, Noble Red remain an interesting point of contention in the series – constantly shifting in the audience's emotions whilst pushing one of the show's core values.

New villains aren't the only ones on the bill though, and it would be wrong for Symphogear to fade away without first bringing back some old favourites. The ever-loveable Elfnein may have settled comfortably into a S.O.N.G. support role in AZX, but XV brings her into the action properly along with the alchemist who gave life to her. Carol and with her Autoscorer ensemble were easily the most memorable element of third season Symphogear GX, and their return here is one of XV's most pleasant surprises. Carol overcomes some of the shortcomings of her earlier appearance to more than earn her place as one of Symphogear's most powerful and potent antagonist, her story rounding off in a way that absolutely does justice to the character.

Kirika's TransformationCarol Malus Dienheim

Although the story and characters are undoubtedly the beating heart of Symphogear, the franchise has equally built its reputation on its stunning visuals and explosive action sequences – both of which are more present than ever in this season. Those constantly evolving transformation sequences truly hit their apex, dazzling viewers in a fanservice-laden display of dazzling choreography and fluid animation. The show is also wise to limit it to roughly one character transformation per episode as it not only prevents said episode from being overloaded with stock footage, but also allows each sequence to be showcased with ample time and dedication. The same can be said of the fight sequences, which are arranged so each and every character is the focus of the action at some point even when the story is homing in on only a few cast members. The new Amalgam and X-Drive forms revel in the show's typical sense of showmanship, ensuring that every fight is a memorable one. Even if Symphogear lacked the powerful story it's built up over the years, its legacy could easily be secured by spectacle alone.

But of course Symphogear as a whole is a sensory experience that's just as audible as it is visual, and XV brings along another swathe of fist-pumping songs with often hilariously aggressive lyrics. Every single member of the (singing) cast brings their A-game for the show's swan song – Nana Mizuki especially giving her typically powerful performance on opening track 'Metanoia'. Without giving details away the show's final insert is a proper celebration of the series – bringing everyone and everything together in a sequence that warms the heart in readiness of the crushing inevitability of the show's end.


Capping off seven years of storylines with its biggest season yet, Senki Zesshō Symphogear XV is true reward for fans – whether they've followed the franchise since its more humble beginnings or been swept up by its force along the way. Tying up loose ends, bringing back characters long thought gone and most importantly giving closure to Hibiki and Miku's relationship, it's the kind of finale that every long-running show should aspire to but only few could pull off the way Symphogear does. It's the little show that's gone from strength to strength, and though its release in the West has been somewhat tumultuous its fan base will only continue to grow even when it's gone. Farwell Symphogear, it's been an honour and a pleasure.

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