Symphogear AXZ – Episode 5

Buckle up folks, it’s time for SYMMMMPHOOOOGEAAAAR! When last we left off, the Bavarian Illuminati had just unveiled their much-hyped Faust Robes, leading to a total defeat for our main wielders. Shortly after that, Adam himself finally arrived, and ended up destroying the entire battlefield through alchemical fusion. Things are looking pretty grim for the team at the moment!

Of course, none of those narrative facts really mean all that much in a dramatic sense. “We gained our Faust Robes” might as well be “we achieved a new level of Super Saiyan” for all it means in terms of storytelling, and if you’re surprised by giant explosions, you must be new to Symphogear. Personally, the thing I found most interesting about AXZ’s fourth episode was its direct acknowledgment of Japan’s role in World War II, which, when coupled with the team overseer’s call to “drive these barbarians from the shores of Japan,” seemed to imply this season might be moving towards some genuine political commentary. Whether this episode furthers those ideas or just exults in glorious spectacle, I’m eager to continue this riotous journey. Let’s get to it!

Episode 5

“Risking Your Life in a Fictional Warzone” clocks in pretty highly among Symphogear episode names, hitting that precise mix of bombastic, evocative, and largely meaningless

Yep, Adam sure did make a big hole

I snarked about it in the intro, but it really is kinda tricky for Symphogear to, at this point in its running time, evoke a sensation of “unimaginable” or “unbeatable” power. Part of the fun of the show is that it is perpetually one-upping itself, introducing powers that seem largely guided by the Gurren Lagann school of “if it sounds cool, do it.” But three and a half seasons in, we’ve seen the moon almost explode, mountains get cut in half, and the world nearly be destroyed several times over. It’s hard to impress any audience with the scale of your devastation after that – which I suppose makes it very fortunate that Symphogear is so creative in terms of its attack designs, and so beautiful in terms of its art design and animation. We can’t really feel the “weight” of battle anymore, since everything has scaled up so much as to make such a concept meaningless, but we can still revel in the beauty and energy of well-executed spectacle

Oh jeez, he destroyed the whole Kazanari Organization HQ

Maria is looking pretty worn out, and probably needs an injection of six or seven Tsubasa kisses

The Faust Robes were apparently created by the Philosopher’s Stone. Alright, cool, cool

I dunno, is it me? I feel like my understanding that all lore is invented, and essentially only serves the purpose of adding flavor to a story’s world, makes it difficult to pay full attention when characters start talking about stuff like this. I’ll certainly appreciate inventive or evocative worldbuilding, and of course I love worldbuilding that actually reflects the themes of the narrative in some way, but “explanations” like this feel to me like reading fake Wikipedia articles

“So essentially, it’s the Ignite Module’s natural enemy.” I suppose it’s less a categorical distinction than a craft one. Symphogear makes very little effort to disguise its haphazard plotting – I knew from the moment Elfnein started talking that her speech was simply “here are science reasons justifying the enemy now having a power suit that counters your power suit.” Sharper writing might mitigate the artificiality of a conceit like this, but Symphogear isn’t really about coherent worldbuilding, anyway. I’m not actually sure what the solution is – Symphogear intentionally embraces B-movie style plotting, and speeches like this are both useful narrative glue, and also a classic B-movie scifi trope. Some things are just always going to be silly, and that’s okay

Another perspective might be that generally, explanations like this assume the audience is genuinely invested in the mechanics of this world, one form of “suspension of disbelief” – but in Symphogear, it’s been clear for multiple seasons that the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. So our ability to go along with such explanations might come down less to the explanations themselves, than to our existing relationship with the property at the moment they are offered

Alright, I think that’s enough musing on the nature of exposition. We’re only four minutes in!

“The light of the Lapis overwhelmed the darkness of Ignite”

Holy shit, the Illuminati have a magical surveillance frog

Tiki advises her allies to be shiny rather than grumpy

We’re getting some clear fault lines among the alchemists. Adam is both more cavalier and more self-absorbed than St. Germaine, who seems to have a genuine philosophical drive

AW SHIT THE BANANOISE ARE ATTACKING, THAT’S NOT VERY BANANICE OF THEM

Kirika’s signature song is driven by aggressively squealing guitars, which seems pretty appropriate for her chuuni persona. Heavy metal is basically the musical equivalent of chuunibyou

“A melody of love that’s just for the two of us.” The duets tend to dispense with the idea of “subtext” entirely

Ooh, I like Kirika’s new guillotine attack. This is the benefit of having such loosely defined powers – the staff are free to run with whatever cool visual ideas they come up with

Elfnein can’t feel great about the younger girls practicing to the brink of death to make up for her inability to reconstruct the LiNKER formula

I like this a lot! Shirabe and Kirika actually lash out at the others a bit, since they’re feeling so useless. An excellent source of emotional conflict for these two, based in the long-established mechanics of their powers

Maria is a good mediator for this group. She agrees to chaperone the younger girls, while also subtly acknowledging Elfnein’s efforts. She’s a good leader!

Every time Elfnein speaks, I am reminded again how adorable her voice is. Such incredible power

Oh dang, this is great! The writers have discovered an excellent way to turn Elfnein’s binary “will they solve the puzzle or won’t they” conflict into genuinely exciting drama – by placing the last piece of the puzzle in Maria’s brain, and creating an apparatus through which they’ll transport into her mind to look for it. It’s important to construct your conflicts such that the audience can actually engage with the struggles of overcoming them!

Tsubasa waits outside while the team leaders report to their superior

“You understand what this means, right?” “I will ensure that the law pertaining to national defense is swiftly passed.” Hot damn! Their superior seems to represents the archetypal advocate of Japanese remilitarization: still enamored with fantasies of an “invincible Japan” pushing away all aggressors, and hungry to dismantle the pacifist safeguards installed within Japan’s post-WWII constitution. He embodies a popular and dangerous attitude within Japan, one that we’ve occasionally seen directly venerated through shows like GATE – but these attitudes generally bleed through from their creators subconsciously, rather than being directly illustrated in-narrative as a worldview to be considered and critiqued. I continue to be surprised and excited by Symphogear’s new willingness to grapple with real-world political conflicts, particularly since it seems like it might be critiquing precisely the sort of paternalist, simplistic view of global unrest that might inspire a group like SONG

He even offers some condescending bullshit about “bloodlines” to Tsubasa, further solidifying the racial element of his perspective. The Symphogears’ multinational unity wasn’t really a narrative factor before, but it might be now

Meanwhile, Chris is babysitting the babies while Hibiki and Miku have a date

“Thank you, Miku. You really are my sunshine.” These two are incorrigible

Amused by this news report on Stephan specifically, who’s getting a prosthetic leg so he can play soccer again. Apparently the entire world is pretty invested in Stephan’s story

“The fact that you agonized over a choice doesn’t mean it was the right one. In fact, sometimes there is no correct choice at all.” Chris gets some pretty badass lines

Elfnein’s journey into Maria’s mind offers an excellent excuse for some psychedelic colors and new backgrounds

Elfnein falls on her face while being chased by Noise, which should presumably be anxiety-provoking, but is actually just adorable because of the “gweh” noise she makes

“What’s wrong with me kicking butt inside myself?” Maria is great

Meanwhile, a big Noise hydra is approaching the shoreline. Noise are also pretty dramatically malleable; there are no strict rules to their size, shape, or power, so you can always design a new Noise monster to give some action scene a unique personality

“The three of us will be together forever.” As usual, this season’s villains are very charming in their own right

Aaand then we end on a tearful declaration of love between Miku and Hibiki. THESE TWO

And Done

The saga continues! This episode was actually unusually light on outright fight scenes, but it more than made up for that in terms of how it advanced this season’s narrative. In terms of its major plot beats, the introduction of Elfnein’s mind-entering apparatus seemed like an ideal way to translate her research-centered conflict into tangible, satisfying visual drama, while also offering some insights into Maria’s childhood. But personally, I was most excited by how this episode doubled down on this season’s timely political commentary, and solidified the Symphogears’ parent organization as a realistic and proudly nationalist group, instead of just “the good guys.” I’m eager to see where Symphogear is taking these politically charged new ideas!

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