Symphogear – Review

To the surprise of no one, it turns out I wrote up a review for good ol’ Symphogear. This show was a trip and a half, and I hope I was able to convey some of that in my text. It’s a little weird “evaluating” a show like Symphogear – I mean, metric-based evaluation is always weird, because art doesn’t really work that way, but with a show like Symphogear it’s even more difficult than usual. Normally, I can sort of fudge the reality that the intersection of narrative storytelling and aesthetic execution can only really be discussed in, well, discussion-oriented terms, and vaguely declare that one show is “better at what it’s trying to do” (relative to my valuation of the merit of its inherent goals etc etc) than another. But Symphogear is good because its story is a mess, so it’s a bit tougher to judge.

Anyway. Did my best. You can check out my full review over at ANN, or my episodic notes below!


Episode 1

First episode is glorious madness. A big concert, an attack by “Noise,” a crazy fight, a song-sacrifice

The style of the fights is pretty great – this episode at least has very good animation, the enemies have distinctive designs, and the freeze-frame shots of attack names are a wonderful touch


The music may be idol stuff, but the tone is ridiculously metal

Hibiki loves to help people, of course

Tsubasa gets her attack names flown in on badass scrolls with blooming flowers, fitting her samurai aesthetic

The characters have a solid rapport. The dialogue feels more natural than a lot of shows

Energetic direction, and ridiculously energetic music. Both the idol songs and a lot of operatic stuff

This first episode has two major fight scenes, a concert, and a chase from aliens that turn people to ashes

Hibiki’s powers activate!


Wow jeez, Hibiki’s transformation is some awful body-horror shit. And then she becomes a beast. Quite a first episode!

Episode 2

This glorious melodrama

Symphogear is basically an epic hair-metal ballad. It’s November Rain


She also can’t really sing, lol

Tsubasa flies in on a motorcycle which she crashes into a monster, then backflips off of it while singing in vague Latin-German

Okay, now we’re getting stills for the fights

Super dramatic sound design and shots for even Hibiki dropping a cup

Imprisoned by the secret agents!

Basically an Eva command center, completely with nonsense Eva battle-lingo



They… threw a party for her?

Genjuurou Kazanari is the leader dude

“NAAAANDEEEE????!?!?!” This show really has a tone… issue. It’s super hyperactive

Of course the secret monster-fighter is also a top record-selling idol

Miku is Hibiki’s friend

Miku is her rock


Every dramatic beat is obvious and played out in a cliche way, but the show isn’t taking itself seriously at all

The Relics are products of heretical technology, found in ruins, which give idols superpowers

And of course singing creates the wave that unlocks the relics

“When it happened, I could feel a song in my heart”

A lot of the joke moments don’t really work at all. Simplistic pratfalls and “waa waa” moments


She can’t even tell Miku?!?


Hibiki just wants to save the fuck out of people

Chief dude pondering Hibiki’s choices

This show combines lots of little genre bits – transformation scenes, school stuff, idol stuff, battles, scifi melodrama

Fight scenes are 100% rule of cool flashy nonsense

Episode 3

“I cannot accept your existence!”

And Tsubasa tries to kick a sword into Hibiki

The boss is Tsubasa’s uncle

This show has some really solid, colorful backgrounds


Tsubasa blames herself, of course

Nice piano track for this flashback, too. A very diverse soundtrack

Sacrist D Durandal – basically this show’s Terminal Dogma. The Evangelion references come thick and heavy

It’s some crazy powerful Relic

Ryoko Sakurai is the scientist lady

holy shit that was some bad walking animation

“Come on, stop being stupid”

The disconnect between the wacky school stuff and Eva stuff is pretty interesting. Two different ridiculous shows

Oh no, Hibiki’s drawn away from Miku. The disconnect between her two lives is so tragic!

The backgrounds are all pretty gorgeous

Everyone gets their transformation scene

ono, a giant grape monster

Hibiki’s PISSED


“I have something I want to protect, too!”

Episode 4

“Give me the power to kill the Noise!” “Even if it means you end up going to hell?” There’s just something about Good Shows

“She gained her Symphogear by singing through blood and vomit.” What a touching story

Episode Four: Falling Tears

“The armor of Nehushtan”

This fight’s fun. Dynamic camera angles, reasonable animation, good colors

Oh my god, this crotch camera angle

“If I can take back Nehushtan, I can restore my honor!”


The “Ultimate Song” goes beyond their body’s limits, normally blowing them up in the process

Hibiki learning Tsubasa’s story

The drama isn’t particularly effective in a human sense, but it’s still entertaining

“Always stay who you are, Hibiki”

Actually a really nice scene between Hibiki and Miku

Madoka’s VA was the perfect choice for Hibiki. Good mix of kinda rueful derpiness and resolve

Episode 5

“Strike like you’ve been eating thunder and crushing lightning!”

Oh my god, Hibiki’s doing classic boxing training

This Engrishhh

Soooo baaaad


Chris being tortured by her master

“This is the truth of the world: only pain can connect people’s hearts”

And her master is naked, for some reason

“Noise are considered top-tier secret information.” But everyone knows about them?

Hibiki’s group is called the Disaster Squad

Foreign countries want to get their hands on the Symphogear, of course

Tsubasa finds the will to fight again

I like the architecture of this world


Sacrist D Durandel, kept in the lowest level, “The Abyss.” Yeah, Eva much

So Hibiki’s organization won’t even explain things to their school? Brilliant work

They’re trying to get Durandel to some ruins

Nice sketchy shots for Durandel’s activation. And Hibiki going berserker again

So scientist lady is probably evil

Episode 6

Tsubasa and Hibiki becoming friends

Miku takes out a book called “Being Honest with Yourself,” sees Hibiki with Tsubasa, and then puts it back on the shelf. Amazing

Tsubasa says her reason for fighting is positive, but also a kind of survivor’s guilt

In order to protect her everyday life, Hibiki must step further and further away from it

Tsubasa teaching her to unleash her Armed Gear

Getting some Miku moments

Chris comes to fight Hibiki! And Miku is there!

Okay finally, Miku sees Hibiki kicking ass. Good, I was getting tired of this

Oh my god, Hibiki’s speech to Chris is amazing. “I’ll tell you my weight when we’re better friends!”

Chris hates the friendship talk

“If I can’t stabilize the energy with my Armed Gear, I’ll just hit her with it!”

And then she punches her in the gut. Awesome

Episode 7

This show is the opposite of subtle, and it actually works. Every plot beat is thunderous, every emotion is outlined and highlighted. But it’s not a “so bad it’s good” situation – it’s just very silly, and totally okay with that, and having so much fun along the way that it doesn’t matter. Its idea of symbolism is that Miku scene, which doesn’t work according to any traditional metric, but is so brazen and ridiculous that it’s totally endearing anyway. It also helps that these scenes of dramatic absurdity are basically just garnish for the consistent fight scenes, and not expected to carry the weight of the production. It’s not “traditionally good,” but it is Very Good

More body horror stuff with Chris’s armor

More butt shots

“I’ll show you the power of Ichii-Bal!”

And of course the chief shouts it dramatically afterwards, and then it flashes on the monitors

“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s singing!”

Oh my god, Chris’s song is amazing. And now she attacks with friggin’ gattling guns and rockets. Fantastic

Chris’s lyrics are the best. They make her way more endearing. A huge oversight, not translating them

Tsubasa’s back, and she’s leveled up! Admitting she needs Hibiki’s help, etc

“Fine? A woman called ‘end?!?’”

Miku’s mad Hibiki was keeping secrets

And now Chris is helping two kids find their dad. They have synthesized the most adorable possible villain. Anime is too powerful

Chris humming in spite of herself. “I hate singing. Especially my own song, since it does nothing but destroy”

Mad science monologue about Hibiki fusing with her artifact

“I don’t think I can be your friend anymore!” loool

Episode 8

More crazy electro-guitar music

Miku runs into Chris, of course

Chris in a blanket-lump. Shameless pandering

The Miku drama’s pretty lousy, and drags the show down a bit. The characters are also pretty frequently off-model

Chris advising Miku to beat the shit out of Hibiki

Oh no, a Noise activated by loud noises! How will Hibiki save Miku THIS time?!?!

The transformation scenes give the show some stock footage

The finale of this fight with the octopus and whatnot is fuckin’ great. ANIME YEAH

These backgrounds are also great

Episode 9

Miku joins the team

Wow, this comedy scene sure isn’t funny

The Commander finds Chris

Chris has a lot of anger inside her, but it’s very understandable anger. Her story is the best in this season

Date montage with the three girls

Hibiki sure does have a burning heart

And of course Tsubasa picks an old-timey samurai ballad at karaoke

Tony Glazer wants to bring Tsubasa to the international music stage! Oh no!

Crazy-ass finale sequence cutting between Chris and Hibiki fighting and Tsubasa performing

Wait, they’re actually going to make Tsubasa’s career a conflict? Ugh

Episode 10

This show has the absolute worst Engrish

“I neutralized the explosion using a martial arts technique”

This adult versus kid thing with Chris and the Commander seems to be a big point


An actually effective emotional moment between Chris and the Commander!

“Kadingir…” “I tried looking for it on the internet, but all I got were game walkthroughs.” Brilliant

Big fight at Tokyo Tower

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I wanted to help you or anything.”


Great new guitar track for their first fight together

And this is Chris’s new song! Great stuff, great finale

MEGA DEATH QUARTET god her attack names are amazing

Episode 11

The school’s under attack!

Welp, apparently their base’s own elevator shaft is the “Kadingir”

The villain outfit is ten kinds of ridiculous

The Commander knew all along!


Commander’s just beating the crap out of her bare-handed

So now we’re learning Ryoko actually had Fine’s ancient priestess genes sealed inside her, a much dumber explanation than just “Ryoko was evil”

So now she wants to blow up the moon. Sure, fine

Big fight, Chris does her final song

Episode 12

Hibiki’s going beast mode now that Chris sacrificed herself

Some pretty solid animation here. The show has fine animation overall, just a couple loose spots

This synth track kinda sucks, though

Fine even does the Dio two halves unsplitting thing

Awesome, totally fantastic sequence for Tsubasa. Badass stuff

Tsubasa blew up the space laser!

Hibiki’s in despair with both of her friends dead

“What’s wrong with using anime as an example?!” I love it. It’s like a protest for this whole series

I love how they just have to form a pyramid and hit one giant switch

haha, of course they sing the graduation song


Episode 13

Awesome fight sequence with all three of them singing together

Fine’s basically become a giant JRPG boss

This battle’s great. Going through ridiculous stages, working together, solid animation

Everyone actually shouting support to Hibiki as she fights The Beast. We must include EVERY cliche beat!

Hibiki has a last talk with Fine before she crumbles to dust. Of course

Hibiki really doesn’t have much of a singing voice

Everyone monologuing their character arcs before punching the moon

And of course they’re alive again, somehow

8 thoughts on “Symphogear – Review

  1. Can you pinpoint the difference between the effects of Jojo or Symphogear’s over-dramatic fun to Attack on Titan’s over-dramatic mess? (And sure, maybe how the AoT director avoided, or didn’t, those same lines in Code Geass/Death Note?)

    • Or what made you pay more attention to KLK’s story, souring the experience, vs. not here? Was it just a matter of expectation, Symphogear having a shitter start helping its case? (And maybe then the second season will be evaluated as worse, as it might begin to repeat its arcs the way KLK did)

      • It’s more than one specific thing, but I can at least point out a couple differences here. First, with Attack on Titan, the show both had a clash in tone (attempting to evoke real drama, constantly fumbling it) that Symphogear generally avoids by being either being self-consciously silly or not laboring its drama, and also serious pacing problems that Symphogear lacks. Attack on Titan hung its tension on “will they make it” drama that both required a real investment in the characters and got dragged out over many episodes – Symphogear never wastes time or demands investment in that way.

        With Kill la Kill, the issue was more with structure and repetition. I enjoyed KLK’s first half, but both its storytelling and its fight scenes began to get pretty repetitive in the second – Symphogear doesn’t have that problem, and its character work is actually a bit more coherent than KLK’s.

        I think the common thread here is that both those shows stretched their content too far and attempted to fudge the problem through unearned character investment. Symphogear doesn’t waste time or attempt to be anything it’s not good at.

  2. Some highlights for me from your notes:

    “TSUBASA WON’T ACCEPT HER. THE PAIN IN HER HEART IS TOO GREAT” – Seeing such overwrought melodrama in all caps in the middle of your notes was too much. I laughed more than I should have.

    “- Oh no, a Noise activated by loud noises! How will Hibiki save Miku THIS time?!?!
    – The transformation scenes give the show some stock footage
    – The finale of this fight with the octopus and whatnot is fuckin’ great. ANIME YEAH” – What!? What octopus!? What happened? Not only do things seem to have escalated quickly I am definitely missing something in reading the notes alone.

    “I neutralized the explosion using a martial arts technique” – This line.

    “So now she wants to blow up the moon. Sure, fine” – I love how this comes across as a mix of defeated and nonplussed. I can almost see the look on your face.

    Highly amusing notes but now I have to watch this.

  3. “the show can drag when it leans entirely on its shaky character writing”
    Heh. Wait till you get to the second and third seasons. It feels like they overdecorated the cake that is Symphogear instead of making new cakes.

  4. I think these might be the best notes you’ve ever posted. Symphogear is a truly wondrous treasure.

    I can’t wait until CR puts up S2 for you.

  5. Has anybody seen Macross Frontier? If not, you should at least check out the first episode, it is pretty spectacular. There are a lot of similarities in style and content to Symphogear, though honestly I think Macross Frontier does a better (much better, in fact) job of weaving together stellar music and gorgeous visuals for the fight scenes. The animation and audio production levels are both way higher, and the sound is better balanced between the music and the sounds of the fights. The only (and admittedly pretty big) downside is that Macross Frontier, despite all the gorgeous space battles, giant robots, and crazy aliens it has to play with, basically focuses its dramatic narrative on a shallow romantic love triangle. Bummer 🙁

    • “-despite all the gorgeous space battles, giant robots, and crazy aliens it has to play with, basically focuses its dramatic narrative on a shallow romantic love triangle. Bummer”

      I hate to say it but isn’t that kind of a tradition for just about anything Macross related? I mean it usually ends up that way in just about every incarnation.

      Still, I need to check out Frontier. Sounds pretty good nonetheless.

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