First Impressions – Senki Zesshou Symphogear

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Dammit, I was really thinking this might be an easy season for me as long as something that wasn’t on my watch list didn’t crack the rotation.  Well…

Honestly, I went into this one pretty much cold turkey.  I knew Divine from RC liked it a lot, but SenZeSym (copyright pending) wasn’t a series I’d planned to watch.  To be blunt I have absolutely no interest in idol groups, the men who love them or anime about them – as a rule.  But there was some buzz, and I do try and watch at least one episode of every new show that isn’t likely to be historically bad, so I watched it with really no background other than the synopsis.  And in this particular instance, I’m pretty glad I did.

I haven’t read any reaction to this series at all, but I can’t be the only person who was reminded of Madoka Magica here.  The cute but slightly pancake-faced character designs are quite reminiscent of Aoki Ume, for starters.  The look of “The Noise”, the alien invaders at the heart of the story, could easily have come from Shinbou’s series.  Even more, there’s the same juxtaposition of schoolgirl innocence and graphic violence we saw from that show.  I get the sense that this could be a show that follows a dark and ruthless path.  A quick glance at the credits reveals very little in terms of prominent names, apart from the cast – the director and writer are pretty well unknown, and studio Encourage has never been the lead on a series before.  But Satelight is credited with “Production Assistance”, and their aura surrounds the show.  One of the Art Directors is Satelight stalwart, Frenchman Thomas Romain.

If I had to sum up the appeal of the show in one word, it would be “style”.  From the cold open featuring young Miku (Iguchi Yuka) apparently crying over the death of the main character, Hibiki (Yuki Aoi) nothing is quite predictable, and everything is executed with a good deal of flair.  I’m still not crazy about the premise – alien race fighting against idol girls using the power of song as their weapon of choice – but as presented here, it’s quite entertaining.  The episode is breathlessly exciting from start to finish, and the battle sequences set to the music of idol group “Zwei Wing” and beautifully choreographed.  Most of the action is set in a flashback to two years before present events, where Hibiki is attending a Zwei Wing concert when The Noise attack.  One of the members of Zwei, Amou Kanada (Takayama Minami) ends up saving a grievously Hibiki, at the cost of her life.  As a result Hibiki becomes a huge Zwei Wing otaku, even attending the same school as Kanade’s partner Kazanari Tsubasa (Mizuki Nana, a natural for the idol role).  When The Noise attack again in the present, Hibiki saves a little girl – and somehow in the process acquires Zwei Wing powers of her own.

As excellent as the premiere was, my expectations for SenZeSym are still modest.  If the premise can hold my interest for a cour, wonderful, but if not the show is going to have to maintain the razor-sharp execution of the first episode for it to remain compelling.  For fans of the idol genre, though, this looks like a slam-dunk.  My hope is that the similarities to Madoka Magica prove to be more than just skin-deep, and the series continues to flirt with darkness and tragedy – perhaps it can be for the idol series was “Madoka” was to the mahou shoujo.  I’m certainly curious to see where it goes from here.

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  1. L

    I see the similarities to Madoka… but for better or worse, we don't have the same trolling episodes like Madoka had in the beginning. Since we're already expecting tragedy, it wouldn't have the same impact.

  2. d

    I am not sure where but i get star driver vibes. maybe the flashiness?

  3. F

    Who are you and what did you do to Guardian Enzo!?

    Wow. Was not expecting you to have this reaction to the show!

    I of course thought it was fantastic

    One thing I do want to comment on here is that I think the comparisons to Madoka are highly misplaced, this show is very much in the same vein as 90s sci-fi OVAs. The Iczer series especially leaps to mind. They had a heavy focus on girls in combat and surprisingly graphic violence.

  4. S

    It's certainly a slam dunk for me. Mizuki Nana's "Synchrogazer" has been on endless repeat in my playlist for two days already :)

  5. S

    SenZeSym doesn't quite flow and sounds pretty awkward :/
    Symphogear should work well enough as it is. No?

  6. Too plain, Seishun! Senshogear?

    I see some 90'ish elements too, but to my mind there's a definite Madoka vibe in both look and tone. Other than the idol stuff (sigh) there's not much reason to be surprised I'd like it – Madoka made my top 10 after all. I like sci-fi and mecha shows, as long as they're good.

  7. F

    In terms of look, if you asked me what studio did this show, I would have said GAINAX, not Shaft.

    Note the attack names and the animation when Hibiki transforms at the end, which was very FLCL.

    Also, Symphogear isn't a magical girl show.

  8. I know, but Madoka Magica was. That was my point.

    I don't see Gainax here at all, never crossed my mind. But while this reminded me of Madoka, Madoka is one of the least "Shaft-y" of all Shaft shows, so I wouldn't say this had a classic Shaft look.

  9. F

    And I still say the look and tone were nothing at all like Madoka. Madoka, especially in the first episode, was suffused with…lets call it "anticipation". We knew that something was not quite right, that the fairly standard setup was hiding something.

    Here? Not in the least. The show is in many ways far more violent, with far more death and destruction. This episode was a virtual non-stop ride, with barely a breather for a few minutes after the skip-forward, but there may have been only 3 or 4 minutes the entire episode where there wasn't some sort of singing, fighting or general mayhem going on. Nothing at all like Madoka's deliberate, measured pacing leading up to Madoka and Sayaka's encounter with Homura, Kyuubei, and the first appearance of a Witch's World at the very end.

    The visual look is really very different from the Shaft/Inu Curry style Madoka had. I don't know if GAINAX is the best comparison, but its certainly the first one to come to mind. It was nothing at all like SHAFT/Shinbo or the work of his "disciples" (such as Oonuma Shu).

    Now, I love Madoka, its my current all time favorite show. And right now Symphogear is the best-show-of-the-season-that-isn't-named-Nisemonogatari, but I just feel the comparisons between the two are completely unfounded, and in general represent an inability to look past the most recent hot property. Symphogear is certainly not "original" in any particular way, but it draws from elements that are somewhat less common in modern TV Anime, stuff that was last seen commonly in the 90s, especially in OVAs.

    I cannot for the life of me see any connection. The only thing they do have in common is Ao-chan as the lead character.

  10. And I would say your love for Madoka is making you blind to the possibility that another show might bear some similarity to its sacred self. Difference of opinion, that's all.

  11. F

    Huh? No. Thats not it at all.

    Of course there will be shows like Madoka (hell, Chiaki in Mouretsu is seriously channeling HomuHomu, and its setup actually bears at least a vague resemblance to Madoka. Moreso than anything in Symphogear at least), but Symphogear is not one of them! It blows my mind that people associate it with Madoka.

    Hell, if I had to choose a show that aired in Winter 2010 that Symphogear reminds me of, it wouldn't be Madoka, it'd be Freezing!

  12. Um. Freezing?

    No comment there. These roads are obviously never going to intersect.

  13. F

    While I enjoyed Freezing, its relative merits aren't really the point at hand. The point is that its actually closer to the same genre as Symphogear (Freezing is Superpowered Girls + Harem, Symphogear is Syperpowered Girls + Singing).

    Also these roads could intersect if you'd actually engage my points.

  14. I think I made it very clear in my post why I feel there are tonal and visual nods to "Madoka" here – the fact is, you simply don't want to acknowledge that someone could have a differing opinion than yours, or at least that it could be valid (and I'm certainly far from the only observer to note these similarities, I've since noticed, though that's not really the point).

  15. F

    But no one has actually pointed out what they are!

    I've asked a bunch of people, and no one can give me a straight answer. I can and have written quite a bit about why this reminds me more of GAINAX shows (specifically FLCL in a few spots) and 90s style OVAs, but no one has given a good example for the Madoka comparison!

    I want to know where you are seeing it, because I simply don't. I mean, if you'd said that say, C3 reminded you a bit visually of Madoka, I'd have agreed right off, because Oonuma Shu most certainly learned his craft from Shinbo, and it shows. But I just do not see it here, and I want to know where I should be looking.

  16. d
  17. t

    I've enjoyed shows like Bodacius space spirates,rinne no lagrange, Imu X Boku SS much more than this.
    Now Symphogear is probably more ambitious than all those shows combined,I just felt it didn't execute anything that well and in the end that's all that matters to me.
    It's full of nice ideas but I don't feel they all come together really well,the show is just throwing them all at us so fast that I didn't have time to digest them.Kanade's death notably came off as totaly anti climatic to me.
    In the end I agree with flower when he calls it a " big jumbled mess"

    What I did like however were the visuals,I even went to Thomas Romain's profile on animesuki and complimented him on it.

  18. A

    This was a lot more like Mai-Otome than Madoka Magica.

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