“Face-clawing anger and disappointment at the ending” is the first thing that come straight to my mind after I finished watching the whole show. But, it’s not as bad as I made it to be. If it was, I won’t have stuck with it until the end. But then again, I can’t say that if I didn’t stick with it to the end. Hmm. I won’t try to be analytical or very discerning or anything, just voice out my thoughts in a semi-coherent manner.
Before I proceed, lets describe a little bit what Symphogear is as a whole. It is a music-themed power-armoured magical girl warriors fighting otherworldly monsters and meanies by singing their hearts out. For one thing, I’m not too keen on magical girl genres, the most recent one I saw was Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and the last one I can remember prior to that is Mai-Otome, both of which I like, and one of them tremendously. The initial reason why I decided to watch Symphogear in the first place is the resemblance to Mai-Otome.
I followed the show half way through during its original airing, but stopped because of various real life reasons. By that time, I’ve looked into the voice actors as they sound vaguely familiar. I admit, I’m not that passionate of the who’s who and what’s what of anime-dom. So colour me surprised and elated that the main character’s, Hibiki in this case, VA voiced another main magical girl character before: Madoka from the hit-and-hyped Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
That and the downer beginning showing Hibiki will die at the end of the series. Someone important dies at the end of the series? Hell yeah!! My hope for it was to be another grim and dark magical girl show, now with more singing! Alas, the potential was there, it did not live through it in my opinion.
Story-wise, it’s rocky. Started quite grim, but it slowly yet surely gravitated towards a show using power of love and friendship and all the sweet things to win against the bad meanie. It started off quite nicely to my taste, showing a little bit of grim reality being magical girls, but still balancing the show in Hibiki’s normal life in school with her friends, and consequently reluctantly forced to join in The Organization to fighting the monsters as a magical girl herself, in secret. I was slightly annoyed by the slice-of-life part, but that’s because how I dislike slice-of-life.
Despite that, I quite like how in the show it portrays the straining (yuri :3 ) relationship between Hibiki and her best friend Miku; and the hardship between Tsubasa, a senior magical girl, who had her partner die in front of her eyes, and Hibiki have at working together as her new partner as magical girls now.
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There’s even the part of the experimentation of developing said power armour using body-harming drugs and serums. Another point in the “grim part” of the show is when Hibiki lost her mind to her magical powers and went berserk for a bit. And then another magical girl appears, and she is rogue! And said rogue magical girl, later revealed as Chris, has a painful and dark childhood too. By this point though, the creeping feeling of friendship and love started to pervade the whole show.
Tsubasa uses a forbidden technique, landing her into a Heroic BSOD, Chris was given a flashback of her life and shown how her current life is very painful and betrayal landed on her yet again, making it perfect target for a save-her-by-friendship-and-love move. The show took a nose dive towards full love and friendship power territory by the end of the show, having the magical girls beat the main bad guy by sacrificing themselves, and brought back to life, for no apparent reason and how! One of the worst things I hate in any show is friendship and love deus ex machina, and by that time, I have been clawing my face in frustration every time it happens.
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It can be said, accurately I would assume, that I dislike the speed of transition from dark-and-gritty to full on love-and-peace throughout the series.
There’s also quite a lot of in-universe technical terms and pseudo-scientific aspect of the show that’s badly explained and incoherent plot points and connections. The first 4 or 5 episode of the show done it fairly well at filling in the audience, but somewhere after that, it seems like they rushed it and crammed plot points that needed a little bit more time to expand to make it shorter. The last 3 episode is quite guilty on this end IMO.
Animation wise, I thought that they executed it fairly good. No weird off model or derp drawings. The parts I arched an eyebrow in disagreement was in any scene involving dodgy CGI. Action sequence were rendered very smoothly and explosively, with each impact sounding meaty and powerful. I’m not hopelessly lost exclaiming “What’s happening?!” in fast fight scenes.
Some of the magical girls signature moves are coupled with stylistic freeze frames showing the names of said moves. At first I thought that it’s quite cheesy and unnecessary, but it grew on me. IMO, I’d take that any day than exclaimed top-of-your-voice moves for the whole world to hear. It’s more authentic, in that in a fight, you wouldn’t have time to exclaim your moves. Of course, anime being anime that it has it’s own science and logic, but still, it conveys the fight scene better this way IMO. And they would make great desktop wallpaper, and if they would release it, physical posters. Hmm, I have to check on that. Didn’t notice too much of the scenery, but it is a slightly more advanced view of our world but not at all too futuristic.
Character design is … fitting for this kind of genre. It’s the usual body tight armoured power suit that conforms around the curves of young teenage girls and colour coded for convenience according to their characteristics, and for the bad guys, a more revealing and sexy portrayal. Because why not, evil are hotter and sexier. Hibiki is the usual genki girl with the optimistic view, Tsubasa is the stoic senior broken bird, Miku is Hibiki’s yuri best friend and is trusting and calm, Chris is the tsundere with a dark and troubled past and plagued with hardship and very lonely. There’s also the hot sexy scientist, Ryoko, and the tough, cool real-men-wears-pink commander of The Organization called Genjurou.
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But there’s always that one annoying character that grates my being. A classmate and friend of Hibiki, who always jokes that Hibiki is like an anime character and always compares their life to anime, and how it’s not anime. And during a crucial tense moment of life and death and trustworthyness, she’s the one who broke down first and tried to redeem herself by being the first one to solve problems after that, and still compares whatever’s happening to anime! Good god!
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The high point of the whole series, and the low point at the same time, for me was the sound department. Okay, admittedly I can’t give my opinion on the Japanese and the moonspeak that followed every transformation sequences and some of the magical moves, but what I can is the English in there is beyond horrible! As a non-native English user, it took me considerate effort not to pierce my ears when the big meanie uses god-awful broken Engrish to converse with a surprisingly good English speaker.
What grew on me throughout the whole show was the music and and soundtrack. At first I find it quite annoying that they’re singing in fight scenes, but after a while, the catchy way most J-pop have in them and the pure emotion poured into them by the ever versatile VAs/singers just lodged into my heart and seized it. In fact, there’s one fight-song that have had me laughing at the translated lyrics, and making me love it even more.
On the whole, I felt like the show is rushed into a 13 episode series, quite incoherent and sadly, for me, it changed into a cheesy love-and-friendship show from a darker and grimmer with a slight dash of hope kind of show, and in my opinion would be better as a whole if it were longer to slow the transition. The animation is good, music is great, Engrish freakishly the worst I’ve heard in recent memory, and it’s a shame that the potential as a great non-generic magical girl show is slightly lost.
EDIT Jul 16, 2013: so it has been 1 year since this review and my word have my opinion changed drastically into one fit only for a fanboy. Yes, maybe-non-existent readers, I may have passed my grimdark mahou shoujo phase from back then thanks to some Urobuchi’s work.