I absolutely LOVE the Symphogear series, and even though this one seemed much more flawed than the rest, I still had a blast with it. But in order to get into why this season was so good and so bad, I’m going to be delving into MAJOR SPOILERS for this review. It’s also going to be GIF HEAVY.
The music across the series is phenomenal. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m going to be making a separate article for it. It’s going to cover every song in the entire series and how each one ties into the plot. I hope to have it done by the end of the year. For now, just know that the music in the show is AMAZING, and due to the ever-increasing budget of the series, there is at least 1 new song EVERY SINGLE EPISODE this season.
How do you make a (non-recruitable) mook squad memorable in a show about singing fighters? I am kind of surprised nobody has thought up PSYCHOTIC MUSIC BOX ROBOTS before, because they work wonderfully here. The Autoscorers are an excellent set of villains, each with a themed but distinct character design that hints at all sorts of preferences they don’t actually come right out and say. They are obviously inhuman, doll-like beings, and every time they move around, their joints make these awesome little music box noises. I can’t really describe it to you in a way that would do it justice, you HAVE to see and hear them in action.
(It’s a good thing the supporting antagonists are so much fun, because the main villain is SHIT. More on that later.)
New Powers, New Forms
In season 2, Hibiki briefly went apeshit while fighting Dr. Ver and his Nephilim power. This season starts off with everyone’s Symphogears being broken by a new form of Noise. At the same time, Chris rescues a mysterious/suspicious refugee from the enemy camp named Elfnein, who helps them repair and enhance the Gears with the power of the Dainsleif relic. The new power, known as the Ignite Module, utilizes that berserk form as a feature in much the same way as DBGT used SS4: if they can fight their inner demons and stay standing, they can harness a powerful new black-armored form for their relic. (This is also a trap. More on that later, too.) Also, with Gungnir returned to Hibiki, Maria is left out in the cold for a bit (though she does briefly hijack Gungnir when Hibiki finds herself voiceless). It doesn’t take them long, however, to realize she can use Airgetlahm, her deceased sister’s relic, which manifests as a silver whip-sword with white-and-silver armor, a far cry from her Black Gungnir outfit.
Chris continues to be both the best character overall and the most versatile attacker of the team. Over the course of the season she transforms her basic dual energy crossbows into dual SMGs, quad gatling guns, micro missile launchers, macro missile launchers, sweeping laser arrays, a longbow that fires rocket arrows, and a sniper rifle that she uses to club one of the Autoscorers as a surprise attack. Chris status: still fuckin’ rocks.
Much later in the show, during the final battle in fact, everyone actually gets a SECOND new form, during...
The Final Battle
The final fight, starting in episode 11 and lasting till halfway through the final episode, brings one more huge powerup to the team. The new armors seem angelic in nature as opposed to the Dainsleif’s demonic influence. It’s unclear whether it’s a result of conquering their inner darkness (unlikely), absorbing power from Carol’s ridiculous attack, or some other bullshit cause. Either way, they look fantastic, and it grants ALL of them flight capabilities... among other things.
The final battle takes refuge in massive absurdity. There’s some intensely stupid plot dumps scattered into it, as well as a DBZ-style powerlevel-waving moment, but there’s also some utterly ridiculous new powers and attacks being thrown around. I was mood-whiplashing back and forth between “this is fucking stupid” and “THIS IS FUCKING AWESOME” the entire battle, and the latter won.
Chris does her usual laser ridiculosity, Maria’s whipsword separates the sword bits from the whip, turning them into independent floating swords that fire lasers, Gradius-style. Kirika and Shirabe have a hilarious combo tech that turns them into a GIANT BUZZSAW TANK WITH MANTIS PINCER SCYTHES, holy fucking shit.
But by far the most hilarious thing is Hibiki’s fappi- I mean FIGHTING arm, where she basically turns her Gungnir gauntlet into a person-sized fist and then into a GODDAMNED GUNDAM FIST in a completely absurd attack called Glorious Break. It is utterly ridiculous and I love it.
The Good Bad Doctor
Pop quiz time! Dr. Ver, the main villain of season 2, should be:
- Dead by overuse of Nephilim;
- Burned beyond all hope of survival in a million-degree stellar flare
- Exiled to a nightmarish hellscape only populated by Noise, with the key thrown in behind him where it is useless to him from that side
- None of the above
- All of the above
The correct answer is all of the above, including none of the above. The first three happened to him at the end of season 2, and yet he shows up out of nowhere in the middle of an oceanfloor maximum-security relic depot. That being said...
Dr. Ver is the absolute funniest thing I’ve seen this season (and I was watching Working!!! and Ore Monogatari). His first appearance on the scene, sort-of pictured in the header, made me laugh my ass off for 2 hours straight, I could hardly breathe. He then proceeded to ally with the badguys, betray the badguys, help the goodguys, help the badguys, betray the badguys again, and save the goodguys one last time before Dying Totally For Real This Time, We Swear. He totally steals every scene he’s in with his delusions of grandeur and complete lack of loyalty.
Every single episode ends on some kind of cliffhanger. Several ‘resolutions’ of the previous episode’s cliffhanger are really dumb, and knowing every last episode will have one takes a bt out of the fun out of it. That’s not a spoiler; every episode in the ENTIRE SERIES has ended on a cliffhanger, and for one very good reason: you know whatever just happened won’t get resolved because of a ten- to thirty-second fade-in of the season’s ending theme, all of which are great. (One episode each season ended with someone’s brand-new power song instead. It’s still a cliffhanger, but for the bad guys.)
Personal Problems / Daddy Issues
This season, they tried to spend more time focusing on the human weaknesses of the heroines, much like Superman, and were at least as hit-and-miss as Superman’s issues have been. They don’t address many of these issues well and several of them backpedal or re-stagnate on issues covered earlier this season, let alone last season.
Maria deals with her dark past as a false idol as well as the death of her sister, which she still hasn’t gotten over, and the much more recent death of her mother (during last season’s finale). She’s also angry at her own weakness, which seems awfully petty with Kirika and Shirabe nearby.
Kirika and Shirabe can’t accept that everyone else is treating them as children that require protection, even while they realize they are by far the weakest of the team. They’re not nearly as compatible with their Relics as the rest of the team and are dependent on a drug called LiNKER to boost their performance in battle. However, the man who invented LiNKER didn’t spread the recipe (cause it’s hella illegal and massively harmful) so they have a limited supply. Once it runs out, they’ve sacrificed what little health they had for nothing because (they believe) they will become permanently worthless to the team at that point.
Chris is trying to fix her loner nature, and is simultaneously trying to be a good ‘senpai’ to K&S even as she ignores their pleas to see them as partners too. Even as she gives Hibiki shit for rushing headlong into danger, she launches herself into fights just as recklessly; in fact, both of them cause massive collateral damage and nearly injure Kirika and/or Shirabe, in separate incidents during the season. These were actually done well, for the most part, but they spent a lot of time retreading the same ideas before they finally let it be considered ‘fixed’ (and thus unlocked new powers).
But here’s the elephant in the room: three and a half separate characters have Daddy Issues here. The main villain confronts Hibiki about it (mostly by accident) right off the bat and you can already tell it’s going to be hamfisted. Tsubasa’s are handled much more gracefully, and Chris only briefly mentions her parents in passing while simultaneously coming to terms with other issues. All in all, the Daddy Issues specifically can be categorized into Good, Bad, and Mehhhh.
The positive entry: Tsubasa’s family has a sordid and rather disgusting history, but behind it there’s two awkward people who still really want to make things right by each other. They do sort things out and it doesn’t feel nearly as stupid as the rest; both have damn good motivations not just for acting as they have, but also for not reaching out to each other without outside intervention.
Carol, the main villain, has the neutral one. Her dad’s long gone and she took his message completely wrong, but honestly she’s such a shitty character that I could not bring myself to give a damn.
Dad Issues 2: Dad Harder
The worst of the lot is easily Hibiki. Her dad ran out on them after the concert at the very beginning of the series – when she was being bullied out of grief that she was the only survivor – leaving her mother and grandmother without so much as a word. When Hibiki finally meets him – completely by accident – he is AN UTTERLY WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT. (Bonus points: He’s there earlier in the episode, being just as worthless, before his identity is pointed out. I only noticed it was the same douchebag when combing for review screenshots.)
Pictured: Hibiki’s father reacting to a globally destructive event, WHILE HIS ARMORED-UP DAUGHTER TRIES TO EVACUATE CIVILIANS.
He continues to be a spineless shitpile through several attempts by Hibiki to get through to him, and then finally Carol attacks him upon seeing them together. He spends a good while being physically useless as well as emotionally, running away like a terrified rat and occasionally flinging rocks out of pure panic, before finally throwing Hibiki’s Relic to her which he could have done like three minutes ago and saved everyone a lot of heartburn. For whatever godawful Stockholm Syndrom-like reason, she realizes her stupid, optimistic outlook and especially catchphrase (which has ALWAYS been her lying to herself and she KNOWS IT) are the only things he ever gave her. And somehow that’s a positive thing to her. I could not believe how stupid both of them were acting about it.
He doesn’t really shape up, either, she just stops allowing him to wuss out of being part of the goddamned family. The ending is still treated as a happy one when he is reunited with Hibiki’s mother by force. For the record, her mom and grandma are also VERY CLEARLY NOT OKAY with having him back around, but Hibiki pushes it on them anyway. For all the whining she did this season about not pushing her views onto others and being unable to solve problems except through brute force, she sure did a great job of forcing her mom and dad to attempt to reconcile at fistpoint. Ugh.
This had no reason to exist other than as cheesecake. Even most of the charaters are nonplussed, except Hibiki, who as discussed earlier is a fucking idiot. Honestly if it was just Chris and maybe Maria and Tsubasa, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it, but they also put Kirika, Shirabe, and Elfnein (the one who has to crane her neck to be in the frame) in swimsuits. WHY?
So here’s half of the problem with this series: The main villain SUCKS. Carol is an uninteresting, childish idiot-savant. She’s overpowered as hell for plot-bullshit reasons: her powers are ‘fueled’ by burning her memories... except she never fucking forgets anything whatsoever until the very end, when she completely burns her memories out all at once at the end of the final battle. (She claims to have forgotten shit early on, but then monolgues exactly what she had claimed to have forgotten during later plot dumps. Carol is full of shit.)
Elfnein is almost as bad. They’re both clones/homunculi based off the same body, and Elfnein has cherrypicked memories from Carol. She’s also an unknowing mole, which is foreshadowed with all the subtlety of, well, Hibiki to be honest. They spend a good three minutes on the reveal, with dramatic music playing as Elfnein cries about being used and begs to be killed or at least set in solitary confinement... and the entire crew in the bridge gives a resounding MEH. Anyone atching the series also knew nobody fucking cared. Over half their team is former villains, so this is dreary, everyday shit to the entire base, and all the buildup was a waste of everyone’s time.
Her slice of the ending was a similarly dumb and obvious copout; Elfnein is dying but has most of her memory while Carol is healthy but a complete amnesiac, so they fuse into one being with Elfnein being the dominant personality. Again, a thing that should by all rights have taken ten seconds took about four minutes of melodrama. And no fucks were ever given.
Hooooooooly shit was the writing bad this season. Shitty villain, shittier motivation. Plotholes out the wazoo. Pretty much the entire ending of season 2 invalidated, the meaning and worth sucked out of it. Empty victories, the villains playing the heroes like a fiddle (or a harp, this being Carol’s instrument of choice), losing battle after battle after battle even with ever-increasing ranks of new powers. The powerups themselves being part of the villain’s plan for global destruction. Hibiki’s whining, idealism, and godawful piece of shit father. Ugggggggh.
Let’s be honest, Chris and Dr. Ver saved this show. I would have listened to the music anyway even if I dropped the show. I was seriously thinking I might have to give this show an Avoid rating on the card, for a little while, but it managed to pull itself out of the fire in the end. It still requires a bit of patience and a looooot of tolerance for stupidity,both character and plot, but overall it’s worth watching (if this type of show is your thing at all). I can’t in good conscience give it a Go For It, much as I’d like to, just because of the massive issues plaguing this entry. I would still, however, recommend the series as a whole.
Header gif by Tim C.