Sun. Oct 24th, 2021

Hello everyone, and welcome the fuck back to Wrong Every Time. You all ready for some SYMPHOGEAR??? It’s been altogether too long since Hibiki last punched somebody, and I think we could all use a little righteous fury right now. Plus, we’ve at last reached one of my favorite supergroup staples: that part where your financial/political backers betray you, and you find yourself a bunch of wanted outlaws.

It’s a pretty handy dramatic conceit, for a variety of reasons. A betrayal like this introduces a great deal of uncertainty into the narrative, making the cast seem far more vulnerable than before, and thus creating a greater sense of challenge for the tasks ahead. Additionally, robbing the cast of their institutional backing forces them to reckon with their own values, as they are forced to choose between personal justice and society’s preferred justice for the first time. That personal struggle will in turn inform this season’s thematic trajectory, as the wielders challenge the nationalist rhetoric of Kazanari. And of course, it’s also just fun watching a team like this cope with less-than-optimal conditions; seeing the wielders deployed as a scrappy guerilla group is a payoff in its own right, demonstrating how their strength has nothing to do with their institutional power.

So yeah, I’m pretty pumped for this turn in the story, and excited to see just how badly Kazanari fucks this up. Symphogear villains have overreached in the past, but with the architects themselves in play, I’m guessing Kazanari’s reenactment of this meme will be the show’s most satisfying to date. Let’s get to it!

Episode 5

“The Hidden Thing in the Bag.” I don’t even know where to start with this episode title. It feels almost deliberately anti-Symphogear, presenting a mystery with no embellishment or literary fanfare whatsoever. A bold choice, but bold is not synonymous with effective – I give it one point five ‘bikis

“We seek the power of the gods, so we can use it to return to our human bodies!” With Kazanari looming overhead, this season’s initial villains started off already halfway along the villain-to-friend pipeline. Their powers are non-threatening, their bonds are adorable, and their motives are sympathetic – sure, they might have engaged in a little mass murder, but who in this series hasn’t?

Elza can’t fly, so Vanessa just carries her under her arm like a sack of potatoes

“Our headquarters was taken over?” “‘Taken over’ is a rude way to put it. Don’t you know how to speak the language?” Well that’s certainly a choice! Through mocking Maria’s way of speaking, this takeover is immediately framed in nationalist terms, as headquarters is “reclaimed” from these foreigners for the glory of Japan. A smart flourish here, revealing the true resentment underlining this action with a single line

They claim this is just an inspection

“We don’t want you treating this like some kind of forceful invasion. The public would be very upset, so we really don’t.” The implication is clear: public support is on the side of the government, and they’re willing to use that as a threat if need be. If S.O.N.G. doesn’t play nice, they’ll be demonized by the government and the press

“The weapon I just saw you use wasn’t in the paperwork we received.” Look, if they had to file a new set of paperwork every time Hibiki unveiled a new power, they’d never get anything done

It is interesting to consider how much work the framing is doing in defining the terms of this disagreement. I’m personally sympathetic to a narrative that treats nationalism as a perverse threat to a global society, and multiculturalism as a general boon for the world. But at the same time, I’m certainly not sympathetic to an unregulated supergroup unilaterally dispensing global justice – that’s basically just benevolent tyranny, the thematic Achilles’ heel of most superhero stories. The wielders are framed as icons of global friendship here, but it only really works through a combination of the specific framing and our personal fondness for the characters involved. It would not be difficult to frame the wielders as villains in this scenario, and in general, I try to be as suspicious of the narratives that are flattering me as I am about the narratives that are disagreeing with me. A weak argument is a weak argument, whoever it may be supporting

“From his tone, he was planning on coming up with something like this from the start.” This line illustrates the issue even more clearly: if you make the guy who’s saying the thing you dislike mean and untrustworthy, of course whatever he says is going to sound bad

“Kiri-chan, they’re talking about complicated things now, so…” Shirabe loves her stupid wife

Interesting how they’re framing all this government interference as their “disaster relief” powers. That clearly has a special resonance in Japan, given the Fukushima meltdown

I can’t believe we’ve shifted from “we’re going to blow up the moon to dispel the curse of Balal” to “Japan’s nationalist faction are using the cover of disaster relief to herald a new era of isolationism”

Vanessa was originally an illuminati scientist, but an explosion while working on the Faust Robes destroyed her body, and she was reconstructed with the Faust Robe itself. Then, of course, the illuminati set to work using her as a test subject instead, along with Milaarc and Elza

They actually escaped the illuminati when it was destroyed, but still needed special blood to survive, and thus became dependent on Kazanari. So they’ve been victims almost from the start

Genichiro calls up his brother, and shares his suspicions regarding Kazanari. Some nice use of shading and soft focus adding a sense of impact to Genichiro’s closeups here

But enough politics, it’s Hibiki and Miku’s bath time!

Ahaha, I love this shot of all the wielders sitting at a table, with Carol standing evenly beside them. Carol is indeed small

Kirika rightly asserts that this inspection is the perfect opportunity for a mid-season hot springs episode or something

Lots of expressive and highly detailed Hibikis this episode. I really like the angled linework and curves of her eye and hair shapes as we cut to the ad break

In general, Symphogear favors more sharply angled lines than you’d expect from a magical girl show, drawing also from influences like Go Nagai’s giant robot shows

Ahaha, I love that Elfnein shares Tsubasa’s melodramatic taste in karaoke. Elfnein was an extremely good final team addition, and handles the requisite “team little sister” role with distinction

“My heart keeps telling me I shouldn’t be enjoying songs, but practicing my skills as a protector.” Tell me about it, Tsubasa

This episode’s layouts have been very good on the whole. A lot of evocative partial character closeups with great shading and character art, and then more traditionally dramatic storyboards, like this shot from above capturing the disco ball in the frame

“Hibiki, you’re too selfish!” Miku actually explodes at Hibiki for hiding Tsubasa’s mental state from her. Of course, this isn’t necessarily about Tsubasa – Miku’s clearly been feeling a degree of separation from Hibiki, and hiding her own feelings

“I’ve always regretted how the person I care about has been in danger, ever since I invited them to that concert.” Aw jeez. So she feels responsible for all of Hibiki’s misfortune, and thus can’t relax or feel she currently deserves happiness

Poor Elfnein. She just wanted to sing, she didn’t need all this emotional baggage

The Noise attack, and Hibiki sends Miku off with a hesitant “we’ll talk later”

Their personal conflicts have evolved so much over time. When the issue of “do we love each other” is settled in the first season or two, you can actually engage with the complex negotiation of needs that is an active relationship. Symphogear’s subtextually married characters actually allow it to embrace a significantly wider range of relationship conflicts than anime’s usual “how do we romance”

“My clouded blade shall shine brightly upon the battlefield!” That’s… that’s good, Tsubasa

Tsubasa’s transformation sequence is framed as a series of practice sword stances, which might come across as a little underwhelming if the sequence weren’t also brimming with gorgeous flame animations

I like how they use a flowering spread of blades for all the mechanical shifts

Her solo song’s instrumentation is reserved, with little distinction between verse and chorus – it’s a showcase for Nana Mizuki’s rich voice, and she absolutely dominates it

Genichiro regains control of HQ mid-fight

Tsubasa is officially losing it, and now sees every Noise as Milaarc. Some ambitious camera shifts as she sets her sights on the flying Noise. This cut panning with her as she runs down a highway is great – camera movement like this naturally creates a strong sense of momentum, and it’s further amplified by her jumping forward further into the frame, with the lamp posts helpfully creating a sense of depth in the composition for her to move through

Tsubasa’s flames melt all of the local snowmen, a gentle metaphor for her reckless collateral damage

From the command station, Tsubasa’s girlfriend looks on in horror. You’ve got some work to do, Maria

And Milaarc was actually hunting Elfnein! We fade on an ominous “did Miku just DIE!?!” cut, but no, she did not just die

And Done

The hits keep coming! Frankly, the hits are coming so fast that I’m not even getting time to register them all – we spent about three quarters of an episode with the Symphogears doing undercover ops, but it seems Genichiro has already reclaimed headquarters. That aside, this was a distinctively well-boarded episode of Symphogear, trading the show’s usual focus on fluid action animation for lots of dynamic layouts, which felt appropriate for such a somber, slow-burning episode. This season’s politics remain intriguingly grounded in real-world specifics, and the character drama is now in full swing. Just as last season primarily challenged Chris, Kirika, and Shirabe, so it looks like this season will be testing the feelings of Hibiki, Tsubasa, and Maria. I’m looking forward to the fireworks!

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By admin