This December, I took part in Jon Spencer‘s Anime X-Change event, where I recommended one anime to someone and received a recommendation from them in return. My partner, William Dunn, recommended the first season of Symphogear to me!
It was quite a ride – I can’t say I loved the show, but it has its entertaining moments and unique energy. Since we definitely can’t ignore the musical component of Symphogear, I figured the best way to write this review is to showcase some of my favourite songs from the anime. The following 6 are my favourite songs from each character solo, duo, or trio, in no definitive order.
*There will be some spoilers! If you don’t like those, feel free to skip my comments on the songs and skip to the end.
1. Gyakkou no Flügel (Kanade & Tsubasa)
“Yes, just believe; we’ll make history with a light even God doesn’t know of”Gyakkou no Flügel (逆光のフリューゲル)
As the first song in the anime, “Gyakkou no Flügel” hyped up the series for me! The choreography is nice, and in terms of sound, Tsubasa’s power and Kanade’s depth complement each other well. This song establishes that Zwei Wing has a legacy that isn’t for just anyone to live up to.
A cool thing about the series is that nobody really tries to get Hibiki to fill Kanade’s shoes after Episode 1. I kind of expected “am I good enough to be Kanade?” to be a big character obstacle throughout the series, but Symphogear subverts this. By not having Hibiki replace Kanade on the stage – at least not in the first season – the show gives Tsubasa more time to properly heal, allows her to explore friendship in other (less exclusive) forms, and enables her to find the strength in herself.
On a side note, so many things about Kanade remind me of Padparadscha from Land of the Lustrous. And perhaps because she died while she was still the cool kid, Kanade is best girl for me in the series!
2. Zettou Ame no Habakiri (Tsubasa)
“Ya-heiya-heiya-heiya-ei, strength won’t come back
Ya-heiya-heiya-heiya-ei, Ame no Habakiri, yae”Zettou Ame no Habakiri (絶刀・天羽々斬)
This song is sooooo cool! It’s edgier than the character songs of the other girls, and the chant in the beginning gives off an otherworldly feel while incorporating elements of Japanese enka. A bit of trivia: Tsubasa’s voice actress Nana Mizuki is actually trained in classical enka singing!
Without a doubt, Tsubasa’s voice is my favourite in the first season of Symphogear. I also enjoy the opening “Synchrogazer,” particularly as a battle insert song. As for Tsubasa as a character, I feel neutral about her, which probably isn’t a great sign, considering that I also think she has the most character development out of the main cast. Emotionally scarred kuudere learns to appreciate others and herself – always nice to see, but not particularly new as far as anime goes.
3. Watashi to Iu Oto Hibiki Sono Saki ni (Hibiki)
“Our smiles sing out with us
Sing your kindness, sing out with us”Watashi to Iu Oto Hibiki Sono Saki ni (私ト云ウ 音響キ ソノ先ニ)
Let’s get this out of the way – I just don’t like Hibiki’s songs very much. I have great appreciation for Aoi Yuuki’s work, but as Hibiki, she sings in this deliberately shrill way that hurts the music and probably also her voice.
What I do think is neat about this song is how it parallels Kanade’s battle song in Episode 1. While Kanade’s song translates to “Your Sound Plays Until it Burns Out,” this one translates to “Beyond the Resonance of My Sound.” While Kanade’s song is about suffering and sacrifice, Hibiki’s is about growth and kindness. I like the optimism of it, and I think the concept of Hibiki literally having Kanade’s songs embedded in her heart is simple but awesome.
As a character though, Hibiki feels like one of those mass-produced anime protagonists. She has accidental superpowers that are hard to control, and her personality is altruism with a splash of self-doubt as an excuse for complexity. Maybe it’s because of her voice actress and the inevitable similarities between the series, but I can’t help but see Hibiki as a watered down version of Madoka from Madoka Magica. And maybe this is a bit harsh…but her hair looks funny and I don’t like it very much.
4. Meteor Light (Chris)
“Escape from here! It’s like a nightmare, chasing after me
My dreams, my ideals, my passion will be erased once again”Meteor Light
This song is the ED of the series, as well as the OP that plays through a fight scene in Episode 12. I couldn’t find a video of the ED, but it’s really quite striking, with its surprisingly cynical lyrics and skeletal remains of marionette-statues littered everywhere. Yet another Madoka Magica comparison, but the visuals evoke and in ways transcend Madoka‘s ED “Magia” (and for those who don’t know me, if I compare anything to a Kalafina song…that means I really like it).
And of course, this song is associated with the fabulous moon fight. I sat through the entire fight and villain exposition going “what the heck!?” in my mind, because the moon destruction master plan is just so random and uncalled for, and on top of the cliched emotional moments, Chris’s sacrifice is greatly undermined by her, um…coming back to life after an intermission? But still, you gotta give the moon fight credit for being as bizarre as it is. Now that I’ve finished the series, I will always remember Symphogear for the highly aesthetic cannon tower and the spectacularly vandalized moon.
Chris is a fun character, and her silly armor adds to that. Her change of heart mid-series and evolution int a major character are pleasant surprises. Her backstory may have been too non-existent for the big moments to hit home, but I do appreciate her energy in the series. (And happy birthday, Chris! Apparently it’s today.)
5. Shiritsu Lydian Ongakuin Kouka (Miku & Others)
“In the future and beyond, you might find yourself in tears
But, girls, always be proud, and sing of the dreams you believe in”Shiritsu Lydian Ongakuin Kouka (私立リディアン音楽院校歌)
The part where this song plays through the somehow intact speakers in the battlefield was one of my favourite moments in the series. The one-stanza song is short and simple, but effectively moving. Great sound, great imagery.
Hooray for the school friends who get to play a role from the sidelines! Having an anime girl comment constantly about how she’s “not in an anime” is rather uninspired though.
While I appreciate the durability of Hibiki and Miku’s relationship and the level of mutual trust that they reach, I’m not too invested in their daily lives, and think it drag down the series’ pace. I know the anime is trying to balance/contrast the battles and international politics with slices of high school life and yuri bait, but I don’t think there’s enough there for it to be compelling.
6. FIRST LOVE SONG (Hibiki & Tsubasa & Chris)
Hibiki: The peaceful sky is so wondrous
Tsubasa: Was I able to become a real sword?
Chris: I didn’t have that bad a timeFIRST LOVE SONG
Nice song, and a decent summary of all the girls’ experiences. Tsubasa singing the line “was I able to become a real sword?” was probably the first and only time I genuinely felt something for her. It’s also neat that the song was able to tie in motifs from each of the three girls’ theme songs!
Otherwise, this scene is the usual world-saving, power-of-friendship stuff that happens in a magical girls finale. I thought they were going to fix the moon, but they weren’t…and good for them! I love the moon that way. Now Symphogear‘s moon has a chance of being my second-favourite anime moon after Soul Eater‘s.
Bonus: Koi no Okehazama (Tsubasa)
“What have you done to my lips?
You’ve taught it the taste of sin, you evil person”Koi no Okehazama (恋の桶狭間)
Poggers! Tsubasa’s karaoke scene completely blew me away, and is one of the series’ high points to me. Like…just listen to her!! It’s such a fun tidbit, and has me convinced that Nana Mizuki can play a decent yandere in another type of show.
Sometimes you sit through a mediocre show in order to have fun reviewing it. That’s not something I’ve done very much before this year (I do DNF shows), but you know what, I’m growing to appreciate it. And the watch experience for Symphogear had been lots of fun, especially since I got to trade baffled commentary with K at the Movies, who joined me on the binge.
As K commented, Symphogear‘s got a bit of everything – magical girls, singing, mecha (?), inner beasts, fan-service, yuri bait, shounen power-ups… It has the opportunity to lean further into any of these categories, but it refuses to define itself with any of them. I have to resist the temptation to call it “Madoka but not quite”, which I’m sure Symphogear fans are quite tired of hearing, but even without the comparison, I think the series falls short of a certain level of greatness. It brings in so many concepts about music, humanity, and redemption, but doesn’t push them beyond a fairly superficial level.
Regardless of the problems I have with it, I admire it for being a fun show, and am greatly thankful for this opportunity to check out such an iconic franchise.
Have you seen Symphogear? Liked any of the songs on the list, or got any that you’d like to add? I always love a good chat in the comments!