In the current anime industry the continuing success of a completely original series like Symphogear is nothing short of a miracle. With no manga or game source material to draw in an existing fanbase, the 1st season went largely under the radar when it was released in 2012. The fact that it has now been extended to a 4th and 5th season has come as a shock not only to the fans, but to the staff and cast as well. We only have to look back at the original Symphogear live event to get a good idea.
The first event was held in 2012, right after the 1st season finished its TV broadcast. The venue was only large enough to hold about 4,000 people. The staff had not even prepared cameras to record the event as there were no plans to release it on video later. The meager blu-ray sales of about 5,000 per volume combined with CD sales were somehow enough to convince the sponsors to go for a 2nd season. However, from there the 2nd season blu-ray sales almost doubled to 9,000 per volume and a new live event was announced in 2013 at a bigger venue that held that same number of people.
From there it only grew bigger, and when GX premiered the series' popularity spiked and blu-ray sales now topped near 14,000 per volume. The live event for 2016 was moved to the Nippon Budokan, a location known for hosting many historic concerts, and was extended to span 2 days. And so, last weekend on February 27th and 28th, over 18,000 Symphogear fans converged to celebrate and experience the music live.
Before the show
Meanwhile, many people outside the concert hall stood around trading goods or chatting with fellow fans. Others were prepping themselves for the concert by donning their newly purchased t-shirts and prepping their penlights. There was also a small group of cosplayers scattered around the venue as well (myself included!) who posed for pictures and recreated scenes from the show.
Unlike the 2013 concert, the 2016 concert did not feature any "talk show segments" and instead opted to focus entirely on singing in order to cover the vast catalog of songs from all 3 seasons. In total, 31 songs were played during the concert. Although the setlist was the same for both days, the actor's speeches in between songs were different as was the audience's hype levels, which reached a peak at the end of day 2.
The concert stage this time was modeled after Carol's "Château de Tiffauges," and featured the throne she sat upon during many scenes throughout GX. However, the set pieces were also covered in lights that drastically changed the view during the concert itself. Above the set on either side there were also small lights that hung from the ceiling and looked like a small cluster of stars, which played an important role during Seiten Galaxy Cross's famous "Stardust" line.
Just before the concert was about to get started, a special announcement ran over the speakers. At a normal concert this is where a generic announcer will warn you "not to take pictures" and to "find the emergency exits," but this is a Symphogear concert so instead of a generic voice...they got Garie and Micha to do it. Yes, the pre-show preparation announcement was done in character by Garie and Micha on both days. They warned everyone not to break the rules, such as "throwing presents or ships at the stage like Leiur's younger sister" and that if someone was caught recording they would "have their memories drained out of them by a kiss." During day 2 Micha asked Garie to do the announcements again to which Garie said "just run what we said yesterday, they won't know the difference." The duo also did a "closing" announcement telling everyone to go home, which ended with Micha offering Garie a kiss in return for all her work even if she doesn't "have the functionality."
The concert began with a performance of the opening theme, "Exterminate" by Nana Mizuki. This was followed by the appearance of Yoko Hikasa for a duet performance of Tsubasa and Maria's "Seiten Galaxy Cross." They followed it up with their duet from G, "Fushichou no Flamme." Both of their outfits at this point were modeled after Tsubasa and Maria's outfits from episode 1 of GX, although not nearly as risque. Nana later commented that those outfits literally "only covered the important parts," and so were not exactly realistic for stage performances.
When they disappeared from the stage the next to appear was Yoshino Nanjo, singing Shirabe's character song "Sense of Distance" from GX. After this was over, she moved to the far left side of the stage and was lifted up on a platform, while on the opposite side of the stage Ai Kayano was also lifted up. Together they sang Shirabe and Kirka's duet song "Just Loving X-Edge" which was immediately followed by their G duet "Edge Works of Goddess Zababa." They took a break to talk with the audience and show off their outfits, both of which were designed by Nanjo and modeled after their characters. Kayano's outfit featured Kirika's signature hat and Nanjo's featured Shirabe's signature twin tail guards (which look like cat ears).
The two of them then went on to perform their cover of Zwei Wing's "Orbital Beat (ver. Zababa)" before Nanjo left the stage leaving Kayano alone to perform Kirika's "Okitegami." One fun part of this song is that the audience's normal call of "hey!" during interludes of the song is replaced by "DESS!" instead. After that Kayano left the stage to make way for Yuka Iguchi who sang Miku's season 1 character song "Hidmari Memoria." Yuka then took a break to talk to the audience. Her outfit was partially modeled on the Lydian school uniform design (note the small necktie) and her hair done up in a ponytail to mimic Miku's.
After that she performed Miku's battle song from G, "Waikyou Shen Shou Jing," describing it as Miku's deepest "love song" to Hibiki. After she left the stage, Hikasa appeared again this time singing Maria's "Ginwan Airget-lamh." She stopped to talk to the audience before moving on to Maria's second GX song, "Junpaku Innocent." During her day 2 performance she actually started crying during this song, as she was very emotional from being able to perform with Nana who she "actually loves very much." Her outfit had changed from her earlier performance and now she was wearing clothes that were designed after Maria's gear, with her right arm left uncovered and shoulder armor on her left side.
When Hikasa finished her set, the next to hit the stage was Ayahi Takagaki performing GX's ending theme; "Rebirth Day." For this they used the TV version's long introduction. She then moved into Chris's more intense song, "Trust Heart" before taking a break to talk with the audience. She introduced the next song by making a reference to Chris in season 1, which led into "Tsunaida te dake ga tsumugu mono" before she finished with "Hokago Keyholder." Her outfit was themed after Chris, and while on stage she made sure to highlight the ribbons attached to her high-heels just like on Chris's gear.
When she wrapped up her final song, Nana made a second appearance so that the two of them could sing the duet song "Bayonet Charge." When Ayahi left the stage, Nana performed Tsubasa's solo songs "Beyond the Blade" and "Sora e" (complete with feathers being shot out to float around the stage) before doing GX's 2nd theme "Glorious Break." Her outfit most seemed to emulate a mix of Tsubasa's concert outfits from season 1, though she made a special note that her midriff was actually exposed by see-thru fabric actually making the costume a bit embarrassing at how much it revealed.
The next singer to appear on the stage which was now covered in an ominous fog was Inori Minase, singing the famous final boss theme of GX, Carol's "Senkin Dur da Blá." She stopped to talk with the audience before moving into Carol's "tomorrow," telling everyone that she would sing "as if the audience were my papa." Her outfit was designed to evoke the image of both young and adult Carol, with the ribbon covering her chest being designed after the one that is attached to Carol's hat.
When Inori was finished the concert began to reach it's end, and they saved the main character for last as Aoi Yuki made her appearance singing Hibiki's "Little Miracle (grip it tight)." After that she went straight into "Genkai Toppa G-Beat" before introducing herself to the audience and making a throwback to season 1 with a performance of "Gekisou Gungnir." Her outfit was modeled after Hibiki's gear and despite having a more simple appearance than the others, captured the most eyes with its striking headphones.
Aoi talked on stage for a bit before calling out Hibiki's "wife," Miku (Yuka) and together they performed "Itsuka no Niji, Hana no Omoide." They then announced that the next song would be the last song, and the 6 main girls came out to perform "Hajimari no Babel."
When that song was over the trio switched with Hikasa, Kayano and Nanjo performing "Arigato wo utai nagra." They then switched back to the main 3 who sung the season 1 triplet "First Love Song" before the entire cast (sans Inori and Yuka) came out to sing "Niji iro no flugel" which included the pre-recorded line sung by Kanade. With the concert now at an end the cast lined the stage and spoke a few words before ribbons shot out and the concert came to a definitive end.
In addition to the season 4/5 announcement, the cast also announced that a new smart phone game was in development. They made some jokes that it might be an idol based game (similar to Love Live which Nanjo also stars in), or it might be like a love simulation game. In fact, Symphogear has already gone through 2 smart phone applications after season 1 ended: a character app where users could interact and take pictures with the 3 main characters, and a rhythm game app where you could use the touch screen to match arrows to music similar to DDR. However, both of these apps have had their service discontinued after complications that occurred from an iOS update. Here's hoping that the new app will be something fun and creative and not just the same generic phone games that other popular anime have.
Impressions and finer details
Because Symphogear is an anime where the music is tied so deeply into the show, when you come to the concert it's not simply to hear the music but to experience the performance. Symphogear is an original series and the actors are largely responsible for bringing the characters to life, so it seems evident that as the series has developed the characters have taken on personality traits of the actors (or perhaps vice versa). When the actors take the stage for the concert, they don't simply sing the songs and do a dance - they do their best to bring the character to life in various ways. Often times they will shout out quotes from the show, or will mimic a pose that the character does, or even shout out the lyrics instead of singing them. The Symphogear concert is not just an ordinary concert, it's an opportunity for the fans, staff and cast alike to really show their love for the series and make it come to life in a way that can't be experienced anywhere else.
Of course the one with the most stage presence is Aoi Yuki, she is without a doubt the headliner of Symphogear. What is most striking about her performance this year is how high her level of confidence has boosted. When Symphogear first started Aoi was flanked by two singers with much more experience than her, and understandably it made her nervous. Symphogear has been responsible for developing her career as an actor and singer in many ways, and now with 3 seasons under her belt she doesn't have much to fear. Although that doesn't stop her from being emotional. She cried at the first live, she cried at the second live and she cried at the third live (although she wasn't the first to do so, as that honor belongs to Hikasa). During her chat with the audience Aoi told a story about how she received a letter from a fan after the 2013 concert. The letter said "you don't seem like a singer as much as you do someone who can channel spirits." This was meant in the sense that Aoi effectively "channels" the spirit of Hibiki when she is on stage, the character comes to life more so than any of the other performances. And this year Aoi fully embraced that, on her fan blog prior to the concert she actually posted a message in character as Hibiki, saying that she heard the Budokan was under attack by the Noise and she was going off to fight them with her songs. When she was on stage she appeared in character, using a voice and manner exactly like Hibiki. Even her interactions with the other actors, particularly Hikasa and Yuka, made it seem like she was interacting with Maria and Miku.
Aoi also took the time to talk about her understanding of the series. One moment that stood out to me was after she performed "Little Miracle" she stopped and talked to the audience about Hibiki's dad. She described him as a person who "caused some problems," which made the audience laugh, but when she heard the laughing she stopped and asked "why would you laugh?" She told everyone that Hibiki's father in GX actually resembles Hibiki from season 1 in many ways. Her advice was to go back and re-experience the first season and that served as her introduction into "Gekisou Gungnir."
The other highlight of Aoi's performance was her synchronicity with Yuka in their performance of "Itsuka no niji, hana no omoide." It involved a fair share of hand holding and gazing into each other's eyes. Yuka actually talked about this on her radio show after the concert. She said that during rehearsal she and Aoi discussed what would be the best way to show off Hibiki and Miku's relationship during the song, and eventually they came face to face during the part of the song where the lyrics say "I love love love love you!" In the rehearsal Yuka says she actually got a little embarrassed being so close, to which Aoi told her "I'm used to it because I'm in another singing unit."
Finally, towards the end of the concert Aoi also talked about how Hibiki fights while singing, but generally never sings with the feeling of "defeating an enemy." Aoi said that during GX, whenever Hibiki fought against Carol, Aoi never sung with the feeling of Carol being an "enemy" but rather a future friend. She talked about how Hibiki has come this far by befriending literally everyone who stood against her. Obviously this included the F.I.S. girls in season 2, and Chris in season 1 and even Nana mentioned that Tsubasa "didn't like Hibiki" at first in season 1.
However Aoi wasn't the only one who took the opportunity to appeal to the crowd. Other highlights included Ayahi performing some of her signature puns to make the audience laugh, which lead to Nana trying some of her own and being so embarrassed that she had to sit on the stage's stairs to compose herself. Another striking moment was during day 2, when Hikasa took the time to confess her admiration for Nana and how she is never able to tell her in person despite working together all this time. Hikasa described the situation exactly as Maria is to Tsubasa, wanting to get close to her but being unable to because of her "tofu-like mental state." This later led to Nana saying "she should just be upfront and tell me! I'll have to send her the "I'll hear your story from bed" LINE sticker later."
After her performance of Exterminate, Nana also talked about the future of Symphogear and how surprising it was to her. She said that the creators came to her early in the production of GX and gave her a script so that she would know everything she needed to write the lyrics for Exterminate. She said at that time they told her the "X" in "GX" was meant to signify the end and that the third season would be the last. However, for Nana and the other members of the cast Symphogear has become almost like a team sport that they all participate in and cheer each other on. She and the others didn't want it to end and they put a lot of effort into their performances in GX. She said that these feelings must have come through because during one recording session, Kaneko (the head writer), suddenly told everyone that he "felt like he wanted to write more." And thus Symphoear seasons 4 and 5 are now in production.
In the cute department there was perhaps no one stronger than the team of Nanjo and Kayano as they paraded around the stage singing as Kirika and Shirabe. During the talk segments they spun around while showing off their outfits, similar to what they did at the 2013 concert. One notable moment of their performance was when they were separated from each other on far ends of the stage, but the split screen on the projectors made it seem like they were standing next to each other. During this time whenever Kayano was singing the solo part of the duet, Nanjo would stick out her fingers and point towards her, an adorable scene which fan artists have so kindly recreated for us.
In the end, there was a ton of awesome moments and I can't possibly recap the entire thing here. For now I've given you the highlights that I remember and hopefully we can all relive the experience when it comes out on blu-ray. And for those of you who were unable to attend this year, you can rest easy because there will definitely be more opportunities to see Symphogear live in concert as we head forward with seasons 4 and 5. For me personally one major appeal of the concert isn't just seeing the actors and hearing the songs, but it's being a part of something bigger. Being in the audience is a unique experience itself because your surrounded by people who love the series just as much, and everyone works hard to yell out the backup lyrics, cheer to the cast, and match the colors of their penlights to the characters.
The single moment that made the biggest impression on me was the performance of Radiant Force on day 2. It was immediately after the season 4/5 announcement which had already made the crowd go insane, but the energy level in the room was so high that nobody wanted to just listen to the song anymore, we wanted to sing it. So the entire crowd sang the lyrics along with the cast and it felt like a scene that literally could have been in the series itself (like the end of G when the entire world sings along to Maria's "Apple"). It was a moment that was so out of character for a concert, especially in Japan, where people are usually too conscious of others to let their inhibitions run wild. But that particular song left such an impression that at the end of the concert, the cast actually commented on how strongly the passion in the room came across to them on the stage. It was truly a miracle of Symphogear.
Anyway, with our sights now set on seasons 4 and 5 I am now working on numerous projects to continue and hopefully further grow the Genjuro's Angels blog. Thank you for your continued readership, comments and encouragement. As always, stay tuned for more.