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When first approaching the anime Senki Zesshou Symphogear, my view of the show was colored by one experience in particular. A few years ago, I was on the Veef Show to discuss AKB0048, another show from Studio Satelight that also involved singing, battling idols in a science fiction setting (no surprise coming from the studio founded by the creator of Macross). There, Veef informed me that Symphogear was essentially a show made by a relatively inexperienced staff, and it showed. So, I went in with the impression that it’d probably look nice but be fairly discombobulated, lacking the veteran knowledge of Kawamori Shouji or others. While after watching four episodes I certainly can’t say how the series concludes or holds together, what I can say is that Symphogear is very good at conveying passion.
I’m aware that this kind of sounds like a cop-out response. How can any anime, created by teams of people, and often tied in along with a desire to sell and succeed, be any more or less passionate than others? For that matter, how can a series that combines mild yuri, skintight space battle uniforms, idols, mecha, and general fanservice be anything more than a cynical marketing ploy? However, when watching Symphogear, I can’t help but feel that all of those elements are less calculated ploys and more actually the things that the creators themselves wanted to see. I haven’t read any interviews, and I haven’t researched this show heavily, so none of what I say is backed up by hard facts. It’s mainly my impression, and that feeling says to me that there’s something beyond appealing to the lowest common denominator as an external factor in Symphogear.
Being calculated doesn’t make a bad series, and neither does being true to one’s passions result in a good series. I think Love Live! School Idol Project, for example, is a fantastic series, entertaining through and through, with lots of great characters with well-rendered personalities, but it feels on a very basic level to be a product of marketing knowledge. All of the characters, even my favorites such as Hanayo and Nico, are carefully crafted to have just the right balance of traits. It’s just that this has worked out in its favor, and the series is genuinely well-written. Conversely, a series that is genuinely the product of its creator’s vision and interests but might carry an unfortunate message or soapbox situation can also be an issue. Symphogear seems as if it on some level has to go cheesy and get overloaded with all of those otaku interests, because that’s just what the creators think would be enjoyable.
I think the best example might just come from the main character Hibiki herself. Within the first four episodes, she’s shown to be this quiet girl with large, gentle eyes and a petite yet shapely figure who gains a mysterious power almost equivalent to that of a berserker. She’s shown to have a strong sense of justice, a willingness to get her hands dirty fighting, and a childhood friend who seems to be on a Daidouji Tomoyo level of “friendship.”At a distance, she can come across as this amalgam of desirable traits, and even upon looking more closely they still maintain that impression, but through the efforts of the animators and artists, the writers, and her voice actress Yuuki Aoi, her sense of being shines through. All of the elements that might be viewed as schlock when viewed with a cold, critical eye gain an air of warmth, and it feels possible to connect with Symphogear on a deeper level as a result. Perhaps it’s because Symphogear, more than even Kawamori’s own series, is the pinnacle of combining singing idols with space fighting faction, because the girls’ suits are literally powered by their voices.
With three seasons of Symphogear now in existence, I might assume that the series gets better as it goes along, but of course that’s never a guarantee. One thing I’ll be looking out for is, simply, what this inexperienced team ends up doing with the experiences they gather.