With Senki Zesshō Symphogear AXZ currently airing, I felt it was well time for me to dive into Symphogear. While season one was a fun romp, the sequel Symphogear G, surprised me with the plenty of ideas it tackled. Most importantly the second season, which tackles the idea of the self.
[Note: Spoilers for seasons one and two of Symphogear]
Symphogear G and staying yourself
Hibiki Tachibana, the protagonist of Symphogear, has fragments of the Gungnir, her symphogear, embedded in her body, which allows her to have special power. Part of the cost of that power is that she sometimes loses control, becoming a monster. As Symphogear G progresses, her condition worsens, to the point that if she continues fighting she’ll cease to be who she is. At the same time, Hibiki is a person who is defined by her desire to help people, and her symphogear is her tool to do the things which define her as a person. Either way, Hibiki could cease to be who she truly is because of symphogear.
On the villain’s side, the soul of Fine, a plot concept from the show’s first season that is dealt with heavily in it’s second. Fine’s soul can awaken in certain people, taking them over, which makes Fine immortal. The three villain Symphogear users in the second season are all potential candidates to be Fine. Initially, the main user, Maria is thought to be Fine, but she wasn’t Fine. After that Kirika, another user believes she’s Fine, and thus will cease to be herself as she keeps using her power. As Kirika has been defined by their group’s actions in fighting to “save the world”, the loss of her own identity is seen as inevitable through her eyes. How characters define themselves is challenged, and it’s quite an exciting thing to see in between action spectacles, however.
Unfortunately, the second season of Symphogear suffered in its conclusion, in giving potential answers to these ideas. Both dangers are dealt with in fairly Symphogear fashion, which doesn’t ruin anything per say, I wouldn’t still be watching Symphogear if pulling stuff out of its ass pissed me off. It does bring up an important question though, how important is the answer, or lack thereof, in a piece of media presenting a question to an audience? Should I even be getting involved with the themes of Symphogear, a show whose main appeal is girls in awesome fights? Yes, and that makes it better.
The fact that Symphogear solves the problems without addressing the deeper existential conflicts makes things complicated. Do questions need to be solved for their inclusion to be meaningful? Does bringing up the idea that fighting to protect might be hypocrisy and not digging deep make it a waste? Themes are a strange thing. They are a very important part of a story, but in some ways can be disconnected from a story to try to find meaning. However, as part of the overall series, one must take into account how the show deals with the inclusion of said idea.
It should also be noted that both of the ways they solve the issue of losing ones identity do tie into another theme of the show. People protecting each other. Miku, Hibiki’s friend desires to be able to protect Hibiki, as she worries about Hibiki risking everything to protect people. Miku is mind controlled by her desires to fight Hibiki. As the mind controlled Miku fights Hibiki to try and protect her from the dangers of using her symphogear, that forces Hibiki to use her symphogear. Miku’s symphogear can negate the power of other symphogears, so in the explosion that ends their battle, her power cures Hibiki. Thematically this is nice as it means that they are saving each other and serves as a fitting conclusion to Miku’s character arc of the season. Where does that leave Hibiki though?
As the season goes on and the narrative picks up, the themes start playing second fiddle and are harmed by the lack of them. The nature of losing oneself takes a backseat when Symphogear G is more interested in the cathartic intensity of close friends fighting. This is fine, that’s a perfectly valid concept to focus on, and Symphogear’s characters are defined in a fashion which makes this satisfying. The fact that Symphogear has so many things going on is good, as it pulls them off mostly well. The lack of ending some pretty big ideas like it does though is just a tough pill to swallow.
What was Symphogear G?
Symphogear G is still a great show, I loved my time watching it. It’s frustrating to see things that battle anime don’t tackle head on all that often just be hand-waved away. At the end of the day though, that’s not what Symphogear is really trying to accomplish. Symphogear doesn’t need to be a thematically complex show to be great, but following through on these ideas better could’ve (at least to me) brought it to a whole other level of greatness.