The first season of Senki Zesshou Symphogear, translated either as The Superb Songs of the Valkyries or as the more dramatically satisfying Swan Songs of the Valkyries, is about as much of a narrative mess as that title discrepancy implies. Even so, it had a couple of scenes and even a thematic grounding that stuck with me well after finishing it, so I’ve decided to prioritize my post on it over the other ideas swirling around in my head.
Throughout the series, magical devices known as Relics (such as the sword Durandal or the Nehushtan Armour) as well as the Symphogear suits themselves are generally hyped up as completely superhuman powers. The Noise, alien monsters that habitually devour regular humans, are only ever defeated on-screen by people wielding these powerful objects, and the majority of the cast clearly believes they are absolutely necessary for fighting at the ridiculous levels the series is known for.
In perhaps the most memorable scene in the series, though, this is suddenly and convincingly thrown out the window. Fine, the series villain, is fused with the magical Nehushtan Armour Relic, but the thoroughly human Genjuro goes ahead and beats the absolute crap out of her. Until Fine abuses his kindness to lower his guard, their match is completely one-sided. As Fine herself remarks, this shouldn’t be possible. So what’s going on here? Of course, Genjuro is repeatedly shown to be extremely ridiculously strong, time and again. But when asked how he can possibly be doing this, his answer is straightforward:
Earlier on in the show, we had seen a bit of the rigorous physical training he puts himself through, but when it comes to fighting the superhuman, Genjuro credits nothing but the very basic comforts of life. The nature of Symphogear’s bombast makes it quite easy to read this line as just another ridiculous thing happening, but is it really? What Genjuro expresses in those two sentences is complete peace with who he is and what his role in life is. There is nothing special about him, barring the confidence with which he can set himself aside and dedicate himself to what he needs to do.
Three other people find their way to that level of peace and confidence over the course of the series’ climax, and one very notable example doesn’t. Yukine Chris finds it in herself to forgive her parents for dying and leaving her behind, which left her lost for the majority of her life; coming to terms with her past and embracing her found family as people worth fighting for allows her to sing her Swan Song and lay herself on the line to save the Moon (and the world along the way). Similarly, Kazanari Tsubasa comes to terms with her partner Kanade’s death, finally seeing past her own grief and singing her Swan Song to lay waste to Fine’s ultimate weapon. Finally, protagonist Tachibana Hibiki is able to make peace with herself when her partner Miku reveals that she is alive and supports her; Hibiki then overcomes her rage at the devastation surrounding her, and together with her fellow Symphogears takes down Fine once and for all.
All three of these girls reach a state of mind where they understand themselves, understand the roles they need to fill, and come to terms with their lives. Achieving this peace allows them to overcome the mighty powers of Fine’s Relic using primarily their own strength and determination (and a little help from their Symphogear suits and Relic Durandal, which they steal from Fine during the battle, after they achieve that crucial inner peace).
Sharply contrasting the Symphogears, Fine herself has been refusing to grow up, to grow into her destined role for several millennia. Initially being a human priestess to the (Pre-Judaic) God of the Old Testament, she sought to be His equal and partner, and along the way shirked not only her role of priestess — trading her worship and adoration for a steadily growing grudge of bitterness and hatred — but even her role as a human, becoming a quasi-immortal spirit that returns every couple of generations to continue her quest for deity. Needless to say, her inability to accept herself for the person she is leads to a sound defeat, achieving nothing aside from ending a few innocent lives along the way.
In the world of Symphogear, power is defined not by the weapons you wield or the plans you make, but almost solely by your own understanding of who you are and what you need to do. A person like Fine can never succeed here. Because even after thousands of years, she still hasn’t grown to the emotional maturity of the teenage girls who will strike her ambitions down time and time and time again.