Senki Zesshou Symphpgear – 04

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All right all you whiners who wanted to hear Takayama Minami sing again – you happy now?

You know this episode of Senshogear was a “very special” one, because there was no OP – and indeed it was, a little bit of everything and an emotional rollercoaster.  In the process it showed me why despite it’s clumsiness and occasional misfires, it’s my favorite of the four Winter series that occupy this sub-genre – because it has more emotional power than the other three put together, for me.  And while the animation lapses last week were harrowing, the overall look of the show is very distinctive.  It may officially be Encourage Films, with most of the staff from Satelight, but more than anything when I watch this show I think of Gainax, and never more than this week.  If there’s any Gainax in the staff pedigree I can’t find it, but I’m guessing there are some major Gainax fanboys among that group.

Senshogear has always had a mish-mash of styles and emotional tones fighting for supremacy, and it hasn’t always worked.  Though this week’s ep was arguably the most jarringly discordant yet, it did work for me.  It was probably necessary to give Kanade a little more backstory, not just because of the fans who felt cheated by her premature death but because she looms over the story as such a defining presence.  That backstory highlighted some of the dark nature of the task the girls in this show have taken on, as we see her arriving at the Second Branch five years past, after the death of her family.  Revenge is her only goal, and she undergoes some Wolverine-style torture to help her body become compatible with the relic we know is called Gungnir.  It was only her partnership – and soon friendship – with Tsubasa that turned Kanade into the more empathetic figure we saw in the first episode.

Much was revealed this week – in addition to Kanade’s roots, much more light was shed on Tsubasa’s shame at her “failure” two years earlier that resulted in the loss of the Nehushtan Armor and many lives.  We also learned more about the way Kanade died – by unleashing her “swan song”, a melodic weapon so powerful that it can destroy the body of the singer.  Given that, it should be no surprise that Tsubasa would see it as her poetic destiny to die the same way as Kanade – and she’s given the opportunity with the arrival of Chris (Takagaki Ayahi) who apparently took that armor two years earlier and now has somehow acquired, via that relic, the ability to summon Noise herself.

What follows is a classic Gainax battle sequence full of signature moves and fanservice, but also shot through with Tsubasa’s self-loathing and Chris’ arrogant disdain for it, as Hibiki stands by helpless and impotent.  There’s even a douin-ready moment when one of the Noise shoots strands of sticky goo at Hibiki, imprisoning her.  Tsubasa uses this opportunity to unleash her own swan song, trying (unsuccessfully) to take down Chris, and to catch up to Kanade in her own mind (again, unsuccessfully – she survives thanks to Second Branch’s doctors).  Just who Chris is and why her symphogear ability summons Noise instead of destroying them is unclear, but the encounter ends with Tsubasa near death and the Nehushtan Armor apparently badly damaged.

It’s only natural that Hibiki would blame herself for all that, extending the chain of self-blame another link.  Kanade died for her, and Tsubasa tried to – in Hibiki’s own mind anyway.  I don’t think she’s right in either case, but it’s understandable especially given Tsubasa’s disdain for her.  It’s sad to see how much pain those two cause each other, but of course the difference is that in Hibiki’s case it was thoughtlessness that led her to continually talk of “replacing” Kanade, not malice.  Her only solace in the world is Miku, who by now obviously knows something very wrong is happening with Hibiki but – for now – is letting it stay a secret.  I love their scenes together and again they’re wonderful here, with Yuuki Aoi doing another wonderful job bringing Hibiki’s pain to life as Miku shows her the (blank) cellphone video of the meteor shower.  I have a sneaking suspicion that Miku knows more than she’s letting on, and perhaps much more – but the very thought that she could be betraying Hibiki is almost too cruel to bear, as that would bring unimaginable pain to her.

The episode caps, interestingly enough, with a very funny ED sequence that’s a take-off on the Karate Kid genre, with Hibiki going to Genjurou for martial arts training, to which his first reply is “Do you like action movies?”  This is a bit surreal and feels at odds with the dark tone of the rest of the episode, but the training montage (set to Aoi’s humble yet charming singing) totally worked for me.  And it may even serve to prove a point, as we’ve kind of reached an “always darkest before the dawn” moment – there’s no one left to do Hibiki’s fighting for her, so she can either give up or do whatever she can to protect the people she cares for, no matter how badly the odds are stacked against her.

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[Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_07.23_[2012.01.27_20.47.46] [Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_09.48_[2012.01.27_20.50.12] [Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_11.37_[2012.01.27_20.52.00]
[Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_11.43_[2012.01.27_20.52.06] [Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_11.46_[2012.01.27_20.52.09] [Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_11.52_[2012.01.27_20.52.16]
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[Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_20.38_[2012.01.27_21.03.22] [Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_20.54_[2012.01.27_21.03.38] [Commie] Senki Zesshou Symphogear - 04 [0EBAA899].mkv_snapshot_23.23_[2012.01.27_21.50.24]

ED2 Sequence:

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  1. F

    This was a hell of an episode.

    I agree that the visual style is closer to Gainax than anything else (wait a minute…!), though I'm positive that the shot of Tsubasa with the blood running down her face is a deliberate homage to Sayaka's "I'm such a fool" moment.

    Anyway, Tsubasa's clearly had a death wish ever since Kanade died, and her dream of Kanade turning away from her, not even giving her a smile shows what Kanade thinks of that idea.

  2. Dammit, we're agreeing too much… Wait – are you actually admitting a similarity between Senshogear and Madoka Magica?

  3. F

    I said that that that scene was very evocative of a very famous scene involving Sayaka.

    I never said there weren't any connections, just that on the list of shows I would list that "Symphogear reminds me of visually and thematically" Madoka Magica would be pretty far down the list.

  4. I believe " I cannot for the life of me see any connection. " was the exact quote.

    Though to be fair, you did pick up on the Gainax vibe before I did.

  5. d

    1. you got your enemy frozen on the spot. you have a sword. so instead of stabbing your enemy you use a energy blast that injures her and cause you to go comatose.
    2. you are injured. your enemy is comatose. your target is in a daze. you decide a doctor and a martial artist can run you over with a car so you run away.

  6. M

    I think the correct words are the following:

    1) You got your enemy (with very little intel about it) trapped and almost paralized, which makes it twice dangerous. You have a sword that hasn`t scratch the enemy`s armor. Your mission is to kill the enemy and recover the artifact, and you don`t care about the cost. So you go with the only weapon you have that in theory should get the job done.

    2) You are severely injured. Your armor is going crazy, and battle capacity is highly reduced or functionality unknown. Your enemy IS STILL STANDING, and not turning into ashes as it should. On top of that, enemy reinforcement are comming. With enough intel to know that the enemy`s best weapon is out of the game and priority is not to get capture, it was wiser to retreat.

    But that is just my personal opinion.

    BTW Enzo, what do think was the main target of Nehustan? My momey goes that they don`t care for Gungnir, but want Hibiki alive. Most likely they are surprised about why a girl with barely some scraps of the original relic can easily use/sync with the symphogear with a Berseck mode included.


  7. I'm not confident on that answer yet, Maverick. I suspect they think Hibiki has a power that hasn't been tapped yet, and perhaps that Second Branch doesn't know about. Maybe Chris is even working for the nasty Americans, who knows?

  8. H

    I also at first thought it was a bit silly to use the suicide attack rather than the much more sure kill and less self-immolating method of running her through with the sword.

    But I quickly realized it wasn't about logic. It was about Tsubasa's emotional state and that she found an excuse to die just like Kanade had.

    As for Nehush-tan running away, there are several things to keep in mind. She was in really bad shape herself, Hibiki had been freed and was combat capable and Nehush-tan may have known that Tsubasa's suicide attack wasn't entirely successful but not have known exactly what state Tsubasa was in.

    Also, remember Genjuurou blocking Tsubasa's attack in the previous episode? He probably could have dealt with Nehush-tan. Though we don't know if Nehush-tan knew that.

    But between her own injuries and knowing that Hibiki was still there and almost definitely still in pretty good shape, Nehush-tan had pretty good reason to get the hell out of there.

  9. S

    The show does have a very Gainax feel to it and YAY for the return of Kanade-san 🙂
    As much as I like Yuuki Aoi, she's not exactly a good singer and I can't help but feel they should have gotten someone else to do the songs for Hibiki (similar to Mayn's role in Macross Frontier). I know it's not fair to compare Aoi-san's performance to Mizuki Nana and Takayama Minami who are established singers in their own rights, but the contrast is just soooo apparent and not in a good way.

  10. I really think Aoi's singing is meant to be a contrast to the much more polished performances of Mizuki and Takayama – I believe it's intentional and it sort of works for me. But yes, it is a jarring contrast.

  11. A

    any bets this will be madoka of this year?

  12. In terms of popularity? No – in fact, I expect it and Rinne to bomb and Aquarion and MP to do well. It does have some of the same raw, emotional power that Madoka did – the deep sense of sadness that pervades everything that happens. But Madoka had a supremely gifted writer behind it, and he brought a sense of subtlety and complexity I haven't seen from Senshogear.

    But I don't want to only hold it up as a comparison to Madoka – the influence is clearly there, but it's its own show and I'm enjoying it a lot on its own merits.

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