Two years ago, a pair of idols, Tsubasa Kazanari and Kanade Amō, collectively known as ZweiWing, fought against an alien race known as Noise using armour known as Symphogear. To protect a girl named Hibiki Tachibana, who was severely wounded by the Noise, Kanade sacrificed herself much to Tsubasa’s distress, but a piece of her Symphogear relic, Gungnir, got embedded in Hibiki’s chest, giving her a scar in the shape of a stylised sign. Two years later, as Tsubasa now fights the Noise alone, Hibiki ends up awakening the power of the Gungnir relic inside her body, gaining the same Symphogear armour that Kanade had. Using the power of song, Hibiki and her fellow Symphogear wielders must fight to protect the innocent and defeat those who would use the Noise for evil.

This is the first season of Symphogear, added retrospectively with the second series on Crunchyroll after the popularity of the third season, Symphogear GX. Now we start back at the very beginning, learning just how Hibiki gets her powers and how she establishes her relationships with Tsubasa and, later on, Chris. It’s good to see what made the Symphogear franchise such a hit after watching the most recent series.

There’s a sense of something almost dystopic about Symphogear‘s setting – a city under the plague of Noise and having to find new ways to battle their threat to humanity. The whole story arises out of tragedy, with Kanade falling and Hibiki having to take her place. The whole concept of magical girls in armour summoned from artefacts is interesting. I find their singing to be quite empowering and certainly drives the tempo of the battles and brings that extra emotional element to a type of scene that would otherwise bring a ‘been there, seen this’ reaction to veterans of the magical girl genre.

Hibiki also has a best friend outside of the Symphogear crew: Miku Kohinata. What I really enjoyed about their relationship was how realistic it was. When Hibiki started disappearing without saying anything, forgetting their plans together and standing her up on days out, Miku actually starts to get suspicious. Contrary to typical magical girl tropes, it’s really difficult to keep your friends in the dark and they definitely will recognise you if they see your face – regardless of whether you are wearing a sailor fuku, a masquerade mask or special armour. Since there’s this extra element of realism, Miku discovers Hibiki’s secret before the end of the first series and, you know what? The world doesn’t end. She’s actually quite relieved to know Hibiki’s okay and she’s not being lied to anymore.

Between Hibiki, Tsubasa and Chris, we see a great emotional range from the main characters. Their relationship is interesting and develops throughout the series – Tsubasa being the experienced fighter, Chris is a hothead struggling with a tormented past and Hibiki is a rather ‘genki’ character that tries to bring everyone together.

Though she is usually bright and cheerful, Hibiki also has a dark side and weaknesses. She doubts herself, her powers and her capabilities to save the people she cares about. Even at this early stage I find her to be quite a compelling main character – she’s likable, yet she has layers to her personality. She’s also very strong emotionally and physically. I mean, she destroyed a portion of the moon that had been blown off and was plummeting to earth. That’s pretty hard core.

Symphogear also avoids reverting to ‘monster of the day’ tactics. Though the Noise are monsters that get called up by antagonists to make things more difficult for our plucky young heroines, the main focus in on Chris, her background and the mysterious Fine and her relationship to the Symphogear. She is a convincing anatonist with some dark secrets that make for some interesting plot twists later down the line.

I was very impressed with the final episode. Symphogear is very good at always being able to take things up a notch until the very last. There’s always plenty of high-octane action, explosives and super powers with absolutely incredible names. The way the symphogear user’s attacks are portrayed is arty and creative and put a new spin on a typical magical girl trope. Since the girls are singing whilst they fight at super-speed, they can’t really pause to shout out elaborate attack names every five seconds.

Despite some of the traumatic things that happen along the way, everything ends very positively and sets itself up for further seasons. I really enjoyed immersing myself in the first Symphogear season and am looking forward to getting into the second one, where the origins of more characters that feature in the third series will be introduced.