What many people don’t know is that I tend to be harsher on shows that I know aren’t up to snuff, but desperately want to succeed. I bitched about Kamisama Dolls and Dantalian no Shoka week after week because the first episodes gave some definite promise that I wanted those series to live up to. Yeah, they ended up being colossal disappointments that made me almost embarrassed to put in the effort to write about them, but I still desperately wanted them to succeed. Not Blood-C though, because fuck Blood-C. The next in this short, not-so-prestigious line of shows for me to blog about is Senki Zesshou Symphogear, which is much goofier than it should be.
Basically, it’s a magical girl show where monsters known as Noise let their rage be known against humanity for… some reason. It’s not cartoonish enough to make it a more concrete, if contrived reason, it just gives these things a reason to rampage about without any sort of buffer shy of magical girls who defeat them using the power of Symphogear, which isn’t anywhere near as inexplicable. Before I get too far into the negatives, I’d like to stress that Symphogear is by no means a terrible show. I never said it’s good, but if it took the time to explain itself, it would be one of the most entertaining shows of the season if it played its cards right.
However, it cripples itself right out of the starting gate by giving us a standard “World in danger” plot that doesn’t shine any more light on the world that the audience has been dropped into. All we know is it’s a futuristic society where civilization is threatened by some kind of alien menace, surprise surprise. Much like Rinne no Lagrange takes many cues from Evangelion, Symphogear in turn rips off several aspects of Macross Frontier and still doesn’t know how to make them work successfully. I’d do another comparison, this time between Symphogear and MF, but I don’t want that to become a regular thing. So instead, I’ll say what Macross Frontier did well, and what Symphogear stole from it without bothering to make it work in its own context.
What Macross Frontier was so good at doing, aside from looking magnificent, was giving each important character their own personal struggle as they dealt with the Vajra menace. It was a simple, effective formula that gave the audience some connection with Alto, Ranka, and the rest of our crew. We got a good feel for Ranka before the first confrontation with the Vajra began, which made it all the more suspenseful when she was perceived to be coming to harm. Hell, this happens in magical girl shows as well, though not to such an extent.
Even in a series as devoid of characterization as Madoka Magica, we understood how each of these girls gained their powers and what they really wanted in life. This made it all the more heartbreaking when their respective tragedies befell them, and we absolutely ate that shit up because it made us care for them to some degree.
In contrast, it seems that Symphogear gave us the good (Well, slightly above average) looks and the life threatening situations, but no reason for us to care what happens. In actuality, it’s kind of funny when one of the characters kills herself through singing an aria that comes across as half-slurred Engrish. It was a moment where I should have been sobbing my eyes out, or at the very least not cackling like a hyena at how awkward the lyrics were. Something went very wrong along the way, and it was plain for all to see.
Even with our main character Hibiki, there’s hardly any attachment formed, mainly because we don’t know anything about her, beyond that she almost died two years before our main story and she really adores a blue-haired pop star. Oh, and she likes helping people, which she feels the need to say is one of her hobbies for some reason.
And, since I don’t think anybody will hate me if I spoil this, when she inexplicably gains mechanical growths after singing the Noise away, it’s nothing but that; inexplicable. There’s no lead-up, there are no hints, there’s nobody that even says “Hey, your singing’s pretty nice! I’m sure you can do something with that one day.” Fuck, her singing’s not even brought into the equation. She just presents some hereto unknown talent with song, and then she’s suddenly half robot, just like that.
By the end of the first episode, I must conclude that Senki Zesshou Symphogear is a series that attempts to marry science fiction, idols, and magical girls into one cohesive mixture, and messes up by leaving out that most important element of characterization. Without that, no matter how flawlessly executed your fight scenes or drama, the audience just won’t give a shit. And if Symphogear is going to be any good, it’d best learn that before it uses those awkward lyrics again.