What do you get when you mix Gundam, Madoka Magica and TTGL and tell someone to make an anime out of it for $22.50 and a bag of chips? Probably something a lot like Senshogear. Damn, this thing is silly – it’s kind of a mess altogether, full of unexplained plot crevasses and shocking lapses in animation. Yet somehow for me, it mostly works – like a big overeager puppy dog that slobbers all over you, it’s hard to stay mad at it. This show’s heart really is in the right place – and it’s the heart of young anime fans who love all the trappings that come with the art form.
I’d be lying if I said the finale totally did it for me, or even that it surprised me. I figured we were in for some sort of fake-out with the prologue and indeed we were, as Hibiki and her sidekicks were just fine. But while I’m used to unexplained occurrences with Symphogear, I would have liked at least some sort of rationale for how Hibiki, Tsubasa and Kurisu were able to enter the airless void of space and destroy what looked like about 25% of the moon’s mass as it hurtled towards Earth, not only using their supposedly fatal swan songs – but amplified versions of them at that. Why is Kanade dead while these three live? Not that I’m complaining as I like the characters, but this approach of not even trying to explain the asspull does make me shake my head a little. But I’m smiling as I do it, which I guess is the magic of Symphogear.
It’s the power of love, I guess. The power that allowed Kurisu to survive when she was already supposed to have perished from using her swan song. At least that theme is consistent, with Miku supporting her friend through anything and everything, and Hibiki extending her compassion even to Fine, even after all the evil that she’d done – including pulling an old Gundam Char trick and lassoing the piece of the moon she’d dislodged, yanking it towards Earth for some destructive revenge. As Hibiki says, even her friends think she’s crazy sometimes – but that’s our ‘Bikkie, and she was true to herself right to the end. She even seemed to touch whatever piece of Ryoko was still inside Fine’s body, right before the priestess disintegrated in a cloud of smoke.
I’m not even going to try and make sense of the nonsense plot points with the Noise, and human unity, and the Treasury of Babylon – it’s all quite silly and indecipherable and pretty much an excuse to see pretty schoolgirls in sexy costumes sing and act GAR. Sophisticated it’s not, and that’s both the charm of Senshogear and a major weakness, as that clumsy writing does limit the impact the series can possibly achieve. I suppose Fine ends up with the last laugh, because she will, as she says, be reincarnated over and over long after all the rest of the cast is dead. And I was pleased that number didn’t include Genjuro yet, proving my prediction wrong – he had plenty of death flags including being in love with the top boss archenemy, but he survived the series intact.
I’ll be very interested in seeing what happens with the mostly unknown staff behind this series. Little Encourage Films was obviously working with extremely limited resources in terms of both time and money here, and it showed – but that they were still able to produce a very enjoyable series speaks for their scrappiness and talent. Director Itou Tatsufumi has some experience, both with Satelight (who took a big brother role with this project) and elsewhere, and I think he did a very good job of constructing something semi-coherent out of the chaos. Most interesting perhaps is writer Kaneko Akifumi, who as far as I can tell has done nothing in anime or manga prior to Symphogear. The show feels like it was written by a very talented college student, and I don’t mean that as an insult. While the aforementioned lack of sophistication is obvious, the writing does contain something far more polished works often do not – sincerity. It’s a heartfelt work (I have no idea how it got made in the first place) and I’ll be interested to see whether Kaneko-san gets more opportunities, and if so whether the polish that comes with experience will diminish that sincerity or result in a really notable artist.
A lot of the answer to that depends on whether the series does anything financially, of course. I think the widespread expectation is that it won’t sell many BDs, though there’s also serious potential for audio CD sales here (perhaps the announcement of a live event at the close of the finale is a good sign). Of the schoolgirl sci-fi series that premièred this Winter, Symphogear was my favorite despite being the least sophisticated. Mouretsu Pirates – which figures to be the big seller of the group – looks great and has class but hasn’t once connected with me emotionally, and Rinne no Lagrange is slick and clever dramatically but feels a little too self-aware and calculated for my tastes. For all it’s rush-job animation and unexplained plot twists, I think Symphogear has a more genuine emotional core than both those series put together.
In the end, I’m reminded of Chiaki’s admonition to “Please not expect too much” than began the Minami-ke anime. This show is really nothing more than an honest, heartfelt love letter from the creators to all the anime that made them fans of the medium. It’s not going to win any prizes for production values or narrative sophistication (or anything else, probably) but it touched my heart more than once, probably because I loved many of the same anime Kaneko-san did, and because I really identified with Hibiki’s relentless cheerfulness and decency (and Aoi Yuuki’s winning performance didn’t hurt). The show never totally matched the emotional highs surrounding the alienation Hibiki was feeling in her daily life as a result of her new job, but the final arc had a nice GAR-driven intensity to it, peaking in the penultimate ep (as is so often the case). It’s not that often we see anime so simple and raw, and perhaps that rarity isn’t a good thing – I’ll take emotional honesty over polish any day of the week.