Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Senki Zesshou Symphogear – 13 (End) and Series Review

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I think Symphogear may take the term “suspension of disbelief” to an all-time record level.  In a good way.

What do you get when you mix Gundam, Madoka Magica and TTGL and tell someone to make an anime out of it for $22.50 and a bag of chips?  Probably something a lot like Senshogear.  Damn, this thing is silly – it’s kind of a mess altogether, full of unexplained plot crevasses and shocking lapses in animation.  Yet somehow for me, it mostly works – like a big overeager puppy dog that slobbers all over you, it’s hard to stay mad at it.  This show’s heart really is in the right place – and it’s the heart of young anime fans who love all the trappings that come with the art form.

I’d be lying if I said the finale totally did it for me, or even that it surprised me.  I figured we were in for some sort of fake-out with the prologue and indeed we were, as Hibiki and her sidekicks were just fine.  But while I’m used to unexplained occurrences with Symphogear, I would have liked at least some sort of rationale for how Hibiki, Tsubasa and Kurisu were able to enter the airless void of space and destroy what looked like about 25% of the moon’s mass as it hurtled towards Earth, not only using their supposedly fatal swan songs – but amplified versions of them at that.  Why is Kanade dead while these three live?  Not that I’m complaining as I like the characters, but this approach of not even trying to explain the asspull does make me shake my head a little.  But I’m smiling as I do it, which I guess is the magic of Symphogear.

It’s the power of love, I guess.  The power that allowed Kurisu to survive when she was already supposed to have perished from using her swan song.  At least that theme is consistent, with Miku supporting her friend through anything and everything, and Hibiki extending her compassion even to Fine, even after all the evil that she’d done – including pulling an old Gundam Char trick and lassoing the piece of the moon she’d dislodged, yanking it towards Earth for some destructive revenge.   As Hibiki says, even her friends think she’s crazy sometimes – but that’s our ‘Bikkie, and she was true to herself right to the end.  She even seemed to touch whatever piece of Ryoko was still inside Fine’s body, right before the priestess disintegrated in a cloud of smoke.

I’m not even going to try and make sense of the nonsense plot points with the Noise, and human unity, and the Treasury of Babylon – it’s all quite silly and indecipherable and pretty much an excuse to see pretty schoolgirls in sexy costumes sing and act GAR.  Sophisticated it’s not, and that’s both the charm of Senshogear and a major weakness, as that clumsy writing does limit the impact the series can possibly achieve.  I suppose Fine ends up with the last laugh, because she will, as she says, be reincarnated over and over long after all the rest of the cast is dead.  And I was pleased that number didn’t include Genjuro yet, proving my prediction wrong – he had plenty of death flags including being in love with the top boss archenemy, but he survived the series intact. 

I’ll be very interested in seeing what happens with the mostly unknown staff behind this series.  Little Encourage Films was obviously working with extremely limited resources in terms of both time and money here, and it showed – but that they were still able to produce a very enjoyable series speaks for their scrappiness and talent.  Director Itou Tatsufumi has some experience, both with Satelight (who took a big brother role with this project) and elsewhere, and I think he did a very good job of constructing something semi-coherent out of the chaos.  Most interesting perhaps is writer Kaneko Akifumi, who as far as I can tell has done nothing in anime or manga prior to Symphogear.  The show feels like it was written by a very talented college student, and I don’t mean that as an insult. While the aforementioned lack of sophistication is obvious, the writing does contain something far more polished works often do not – sincerity.  It’s a heartfelt work (I have no idea how it got made in the first place) and I’ll be interested to see whether Kaneko-san gets more opportunities, and if so whether the polish that comes with experience will diminish that sincerity or result in a really notable artist.

A lot of the answer to that depends on whether the series does anything financially, of course.  I think the widespread expectation is that it won’t sell many BDs, though there’s also serious potential for audio CD sales here (perhaps the announcement of a live event at the close of the finale is a good sign).  Of the schoolgirl sci-fi series that premièred this Winter, Symphogear was my favorite despite being the least sophisticated.  Mouretsu Pirates – which figures to be the big seller of the group - looks great and has class  but hasn’t once connected with me emotionally, and Rinne no Lagrange is slick and clever dramatically but feels a little too self-aware and calculated for my tastes.  For all it’s rush-job animation and unexplained plot twists, I think Symphogear has a more genuine emotional core than both those series put together.

In the end, I’m reminded of Chiaki’s admonition to “Please not expect too much” than began the Minami-ke anime.  This show is really nothing more than an honest, heartfelt love letter from the creators to all the anime that made them fans of the medium.  It’s not going to win any prizes for production values or narrative sophistication (or anything else, probably) but it touched my heart more than once, probably because I loved many of the same anime Kaneko-san did, and because I really identified with Hibiki’s relentless cheerfulness and decency (and Aoi Yuuki’s winning performance didn’t hurt).  The show never totally matched the emotional highs surrounding the alienation Hibiki was feeling in her daily life as a result of her new job, but the final arc had a nice GAR-driven intensity to it, peaking in the penultimate ep (as is so often the case).  It’s not that often we see anime so simple and raw, and perhaps that rarity isn’t a good thing – I’ll take emotional honesty over polish any day of the week.

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12 comments:

  1. Why is Kanade dead while these three live?

    This is one of those "you need to read the supplementary materials" things.

    Basically, Kanade had almost zero compatibility with the Relics. She was able to use Gungnir through a combination of experimental drugs and sheer bloody-mindedness. So when she sang her Zesshou, it killed her.

    Tsubasa on the other hand was much more compatible, and had been training for this for a decade. When she sang her Zesshou, it merely injured her badly.

    Kurisu was pretty much perfectly compatible, even more so than Tsubasa, so her Zesshou barely hurt her at all. She took more damage from Ka Dingle's blast than her Zesshou.

    And then there is Hibiki, who unlike the others, physicaly merged with the relic, which as Ryouko/Fine pointed out, made her unique.

    So that is why Kanade died and the others didn't.

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  2. Mahou Shoujo Senshi Naruto Macross Xenogear Witches ended pretty well. It was a solid few episodes to end on, and I really liked Hibiki telling Fine what to tell the next incarnation of Hibiki. That was pretty good.

    The rest of the series is like a puppy. It's cute but it really can't do anything terribly effectively. But it's cute and it sings! (Or something)

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  3. Mirrors my thoughts exactly; couldn't have said it better myself. Felt like I was reading Eragon all over again...endearing and sincere, but ultimately quite shallow and full of naïveté...

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  4. Symphogear was a series with a 25 episode schedule that was cut down to 13 episode, and it really feels that way in many ways.

    It may have done better in another season since this one was quite heavy in the scifi/lesbian section and beside other animes that already have popular light novels.

    But, I think that will all that was mentioned above, I am sure Symphogear will be able to steal some of the money of the other series, and if it was in my power, I will get all the staff to start working in a Macross. =D

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  5. I dropped this at episode 2, but unlike GC I don't really get why I did. It just felt a bit too haphazard and the feeling that it was milking the cash cow of a genre that Madoka had blazed and BRS had followed. I've never really liked fanservice in what should be serious shows (TTGL is exempted as it maintained epicness throughout) so that probably counted against me from picking it back up again. Would you recommed it GE?

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    Replies
    1. Well, I certainly liked it quite a bit. And I don't think the service was especially gratuitous or in bad taste.

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    2. I know I followed in here a bit. The thing about the service is that it just undermines the a serious plot for me. Ecchi goes well with comedy for me not with drama or action. I just can't take the whole "We are the last line of defense and oh it's a bath scene." I did enjoy Sky girls for some reason, but I think that's because it's like Railgun not Madoka. Also singing songs in the middle of fights felt weird, never been a Macross Fan. If it's still worth watching despite the cop out, I will.

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    3. Hey, there's hot springs ep or anything like that - it's all pretty mild stuff. Mostly it's just butt shots in tights. There is quite a bit of nudity with the adult female in the cast, but then, she's pretty much in character there (watch it and you'll see what I mean) so it never really seemed excessive.

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  6. Alas tis has parted.
    Hibiki not dying kind of pissed me off. But i suppose it is for the best. As to why she can survive in space. Look at superman or dragon ball.
    They have super lungs that let them shout out names of super attacks and still won't die. Suffocation is actually less of an issue since they did not actually leave the atmosphere.

    Meteors only become burning hot and red when they enter the atmosphere so the trio had to still be within it.

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  7. Symphogear's finale was just horrible, not Blood-C bad but close enough. I have mixed feelings towards the show, it has interesting characters, great songs and can be pretty interesting when it wants to be. But somehow it never seems to be able to find its footing since episode 1 and as you said, the writing is as clumsy as you can get which is very unfortunate :(

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  8. Not really into animals (have allergies), so the over-eager puppy metaphor doesn't work for me much.

    I will grant that I enjoyed the finale to Symphogear (granted I'm not too picky with the shows I watch), but in much the same way I enjoy a bag of potato chips; sure, it might be filling now, but it's mostly empty calories that'll won't do my body any favors the day after.

    It's just so... haphazard, I suppose. I know I'm not one to talk, given my own screenwriting deficiencies, but even I felt that the screenplay was thrown together over the course of two days, and stuck together with gum and duct tape, with liner notes and annotations stuck unto it via post-its over its three-month run. Earnestness? More like a bull-headed need to see things through to the very end.

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