Re-rating Senki Zesshou Symphogear
It's taken me a while to finish it, but I can now declare Senki Zesshou Symphogear to be the best show I watched in the Winter 2012 season.
Ever since I started hanging out on Twitter, I've been hearing praise and enthusiasm for Symphogear (and there was also enthusiasm from eg Evirus, who is on Twitter but I read directly). Back in winter 2012 I wound up 'suspending' Symphogear for various reasons, but a couple of weeks ago all of the Symphogear enthusiasm (coupled with a somewhat weak season) talked me into catching up so I could watch the third and current season, Symphogear GX. And the end result is what you see above. Looking back, the original Symphogear beats out even the ultimately somewhat disappointing Moretsu Pirates in terms of my enjoyment.
(I was originally tempted to skip straight to GX, but I'm glad that I didn't. It just wouldn't have been the same to have missed all of the great bits on the way there.)
Looking back, I think that it really helped that I was marathoning Symphogear and that I knew a lot more about what the show was like, including that the show had another two seasons. The first episode of Symphogear is very heavy on the doom and grimness (we open being told that the protagonist is dead, and then a stadium full of people die in a flashback), and the show aired the year after Madoka. Looking back at my notes from the time made it clear that I believed in the doom-laden air it projected and that simply wasn't really attractive. Now, of course, we know better; the show is really all goofy cheese and cheerful endings (even if it does kill a lot of bystanders).
As for how I feel about Symphogear G, it's even better than the first season (partly because the show got rid of pretty much any pretense of doom). It wouldn't rate as high in its season, but that's because it would have had very strong competition. It has an interesting feeling ending that seems like the production team wasn't entirely expecting a third season.
Sidebar: Symphogear and death
Let me try to do a simple take on this: Symphogear is a cheesy show in a decidedly non-cheesy setting. A lot of devastation has happened and does happen over the course of the show and a fair number of bystanders die, often more or less onscreen. Although the show does not show blood all that often, it does show a certain amount of unpleasant deaths that happen to terrified people. I don't think the show particularly dwelled on any of this unpleasantness, but I'm a jaded anime watcher so I'm not sure I'd have noticed short of it being fairly blatant (I have to admit that my standards are not normal).
For some people this will be a strong turnoff to the show and I won't blame them for it.
Looking back at the Spring 2015 anime season
- Sound! Euphonium: This stayed excellent right through the end,
although much of the real emotional climax was in the second last
episode. I said a lot in my midway commentary
and recently wrote some more about Euphonium and sports shows. There's so much to praise here that
it's a bit daunting; the show pleasantly surprised me repeatedly.
(Sound! Euphonium will not be to everyone's tastes because it is a character drama and as such it can be cruel from time to time in the way that real life is. Sometimes good people lose out.)
I wouldn't mind more Euphonium but at the same time I don't think it's necessary. There is more story that could be told but this season has reached a satisfying conclusion on its own in emotional and character terms.
Hard to rate:
- Ghost in the Shell Arise - Alternative Architecture: I think that
you should watch the OVAs instead (in order) and then
watch the last two episodes, but if you don't the TV series version is
a perfectly good way to absorb what is a decent iteration of GitS. I
was less enthused about the two new for TV episodes than I expected but I'm
still mulling over my overall views (and even what they are).
On the whole this is no GitS SAC and the last two episodes are not particularly outstanding or up to the standard of the earlier OVA episodes.
- Blood Blockade Battlefront: I was partly holding this writeup back
in the hopes that BBB's final episode would come out, but not so far.
In the end that delay is a decent metaphor for what's happened with
the whole show; it's pleasant and stylish enough but in the end it has
not delivered anything substantial. Basically everything we've gotten
is a stylish slice of life action show; this is not terrible, really,
but it's unambitious. I suppose there's only so much you can do with an
Yes, I wound up disappointed in BBB. It's okay but not outstanding.
- Knights of Sidonia - The Ninth Planet Crusade: This had a decided
dip in the middle for a long run of harem antics and fanservice where
nothing very much happened, but the start and the end were the great
Sidonia I'm used to. The final episode gave us a solid capstone to
the whole show; they could make more (the manga is ongoing), but if
they don't the show ended on a solidly triumphant note that feels right.
(As far as the harem antics, well, I have to accept that the show is what it is and live with it.)
Sidonia once again took home the prize for what was clearly the best OP of the season.
- Punchline: In the end this ended well and I'm happier with it than I was midway and I expected to be. It wisely didn't try to fully explain things and it never hit the crazed heights of the first few episodes, but the whole thing was pretty fun and managed to be reasonably touching by the end.
I finished it:
- Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works: Sometimes this show could be quite good. But too much of the time this season it was terrible, including a long run of episodes just before the climax where too many people spent too much time spouting stupid philosophy at each other. The movie is unquestionably better just because the scriptwriters had to have the characters shut up; watch it instead.
Overall I think of this as a good season, but that's pulled up by the outstanding performance of Sound! Euphonium. Outside of that there's nothing I feel deeply inspired by on a consistent basis, since I've already seen the GitS Arise OVAs. The other shows I watched were either uneven (Sidonia veered between great and making me sigh) or merely decent.
(And then there was Unlimited Blade Works. Let's not go there.)
Sound! Euphonium and sports shows
When I mentioned that Euphonium was essentially a sports show with girls, a few folks were sceptical, but that classification seems even more apt now.
My view is that while Euphonium certainly has elements that also appear in sports shows, it is not one itself. A sports show like Ping Pong, Haikyuu!!, Yowamushi Pedal, or even Girls und Panzer strongly features the actual sport. Good characters and their stories are important, but in a normal sports show the overall story is in large part driven by the conflict inherent in the sports competition and actual 'games' feature prominently.
Sound! Euphonium's story is not structured like this. The actual band competition barely appears and there are none of the normal tropes of sports shows, like actual rival bands and rival performers in them; in fact we don't even see a competition performance from another band (we see one preparing to go on in the last episode, but that's quite different). This would be like a baseball sports show that entirely featured training, practice, and team selection and then didn't actually bother showing any baseball games. You could certainly do such a show but to me it wouldn't really feel like a sports show either.
(And in another example, although Cross Game was more about the people than sports, it featured plenty of baseball games and the climax saw a game actually being played out. See also Evirus on Cross Game, which features plenty of images of people actually playing baseball.)
So to me Sound! Euphonium is not a sports show but a show that is using competition as a setting to drive a character study and a meditation on the real costs of taking competition seriously. An actual sports show version of Sound! Euphonium would be structured quite differently (and likely would be less interesting).
Sidebar: Sports shows and nastiness
Author also wrote:
But I have a feeling, Euphonium would not be very welcome in any case. It’s almost a Yamakan or Shinbo show, stylistically and story-wise. Too nasty. I know a lot of people fall for it (see [me] above). They feel that it’s more real that way. [...]
One thing that distinguishes a classical sports show is that, to put it one way, the protagonists almost always win in the end (although they may have stumbles and setbacks on the way). In this sports shows are shows about just rewards; if you're a good, talented person and you work hard, you will get rewarded for it. Good people do not get cut from the team and they and the team do not in the end go down in defeat.
(This is complicated by noble, deserving opponents and rivals, but I wave my hands and restrict my focus to people around the protagonists.)
Real life does not work that way, of course. Real life is not that nice. But our stories do not have to be un-nice in that way and not all of them are. Really, it would be kind of a downer if a sports story did not feature people winning in the end.
In this sense, Euphonium is indeed 'nasty'. Deserving, hard working people do not necessarily get rewarded. Effort is no guarantee of success. Life can be unfair to you and snatch your dreams away (or force you to make harsh choices between a selfish dream and a selfless one). This is perfectly okay with me because I think of Euphonium as a character piece, not a sports show, and I am willing to see people fail in sympathetic ways in character pieces. But other people may not necessarily like that; they may want more strongly upbeat stories.
(That a number of people in Ping Pong do not get rewarded this way is one of the things that makes it an unusual and interesting sports show to me. Ping Pong is harsh in that; desire, work, and even some talent is not necessarily good enough to guarantee success. Note that Ping Pong explicitly admits that this is unfair.)