A long interview with Akifumi Kaneko:
Symphogear GX creator, series composer and script writer
Regarding the growth and change of the girls among all the conflict and fighting
In the series, we saw each of the 6 girls develop and grow closer to adulthood in a big way. In particular we saw Hibiki rise up against the challenge of “reconciliation” with her father, who had abandoned her family.
Up until this point in the series, Hibiki has gone through a positive development arc of “an ordinary girl becoming a hero,” so this time I thought about writing a story in which we see her develop in a different way. In the series she is known as this cheerful, silly character, but within her heart she keeps hidden a “miserable side” and I wanted the focus of the story to be about how she faced that part of herself and conquered it. In order to achieve this I went further into Hibiki’s family life, which we had dropped hints about in season 1 and 2, so that she could bring an end to a problem that she herself had come to avoid: her father’s abandonment of the family.
Now that Maria and the other girls have been made part of the S.O.N.G. taskforce that Hibiki and co. are in, all of the characters were able to interact with each other in ways that we’ve never seen before. I thought it was impressive how the various grouping of the characters led to them showing a new side of themselves.
Maria and the other girls were originally part of F.I.S. and spent most of their early childhood within the research facilities of that organization. They were treated like lab animals and spent many of their days trapped in this “closed-off world.” Those girls had also once faced the members of S.O.N.G. as enemies, and so by adding them to that group I thought it would bring about a sort of “chemical change” that we hadn’t seen before. So each individual character went through some type of adjustment or growth as a result.
In particular, Maria and Tsubasa seemed to get paired up a lot. What was your aim in delving further into their relationship?
Both of them are performing artists so Maria and Tsubasa often have a relationship as rivals. However, if you consider Kanade to Tsubasa and Serena to Maria, both of them share incredibly similar circumstances in that they’ve lost an individual who they considered “their other half.” In fact, when you compare GX to season 1 and 2 the number of lines where Tsubasa says “Kanade…” and Maria says “Serena…” have dropped considerably. Of course they haven’t forgotten those who died, but they’ve lost their dependence upon those existences to support their heart in times of struggle and hardship. I think that’s proof that Tsubasa and Maria have become stronger and more stable mentally. During production I wasn’t actually keeping that in mind while I wrote the script, I actually just realized it for the first time thanks to our discussion (laughs).
On the other hand, we saw Shirabe and Kirika develop a much deeper bond with Chris.
Although Shirabe and Kirika had also fought against Hibiki and the others, afterwards they became friends and at that point their circumstances were very similar to what Chris had experienced. So Chris thought “I have to show them that someone is there for them to rely on, just how Tsubasa did when she saved me!” However she ended up too focused on that idea and put in a lot of fruitless effort, because a “senpai” is not something that one can become by trying to be one. A senpai cannot simply act tough and handle everything by themselves, it is necessary for them to put faith in their kohai and let them provide the support on occasion. Chris came to realize that the relationship between kohai and senpai is one of mutual support and reliance. Furthermore, thanks to her bond with Shirabe and Kirika, Chris was able to break apart a “wall within the heart” that she built after feeling that she was incapable of extending her hand out in friendship to others, because she feared forming new relationships. Along with that, Shirabe and Kirika had been tortured by feelings of powerlessness stemming from their reliance on LiNKER in order to use the Symphogear. However, when they found themselves supporting Chris they realized that “there is something we can do,” which brought forth a new level of confidence in them.
Regarding the concept of the Symphogear adaptors versus “magical girls”
In the series the enemy is a girl, Carol, who has control over alchemy. What kind of ideas was she created from?
Up until now we’ve tried to avoid the idea that “if they defeat an enemy this strong, then a stronger enemy will come and they beat them, so then an even stronger enemy appears…” because that gives way to a sort of “strength inflation.” So we’ve intentionally not had any enemies appear that were considered too strong. However, enemies that are ridiculously strong are also one of the appealing factors of battle anime. So with that, we decided this time to throw caution to the wind and make an enemy that was “all mighty.” Going with the concept of an enemy so strong that even all the adaptors fighting together couldn’t win, I created the alchemist girl named Carol. However the basis of what we call alchemy is essentially the same as the power of a “magical girl.” So we made the main focus of the battles revolve around how the adaptors were going to stand against this overwhelmingly powerful magical girl.
Carol goes from an innocent-looking girl into a full on adult when she fights, what sort of intentions did you have with this transformation?
Right now “fighting magical girls” are sweeping the world, but when I was a kid the idea of “magical girls” were mainly elementary school kids who used a transformation wand to become an adult and then go around resolving various problems. That was the idea on which her character was based, so I suppose if you were to label her Carol is a “Showa era fighting magical girl.”
In the story there is a fighting strength booster called “Ignite” that is essentially the key to their victory, but using a weapon that could be considered a “double-edged sword” was a new element to the series.
This is something that shows up frequently in the works of Shotaro Ishinomori and Go Nagai, but I like the concept of “taking from the enemy’s strength and using it to power up,” so I wanted to try doing that with Symphogear. I also thought that the concepts we applied to the battles could intertwine more deeply with the story, and so the “double-edged sword” concept played off the idea that if the girls make one wrong move they might go berserk, but they could train themselves to use it properly if they overcame the darkness in their hearts. In season 2, the “fusion case” that ate away at Hibiki’s body was totally cured so I let everyone think that in GX there would be no instance of her gear going berserk again, when in reality I thought we’d head in the direction where “this time, they all could go berserk due to Ignite!” (laughs). After I proposed the idea, our music producer Mr. Agematsu was able to express the enormous power and danger of the Ignite by changing the arrangement of the songs. I think in the end we made it so that they didn’t just get more power, but were able to become stronger in a different way.
Regarding the enthusiasm of the staff who supported “doing it his way”
Looking back, what are your feelings about the production of the series?
Back during Symphogear G I suffered heavily from the “labor pains” of production, but this time I actually didn’t struggle much at all. When production first started the chief animation director, Mr. Satoru Fujimoto, told me, “It’ll be okay if you just do more of what you want, because the other staff will accept it and follow through.” With that in mind I didn’t hold back any of what I wanted to do personally, and just kept throwing balls at them with all my might. As a result, we made unconventional scenes like the outset of episode 1 where “in order to save a space shuttle falling from the stratosphere, they break a mountain” (laughs).
The animation staff really took your script to heart as well it seems, they managed to draw everything with a more ridiculous and more dramatic flair than usual.
That’s right. They took my reckless requests and brought them back even more flashy than I imagined. Of course while the animation was amazing, the music was wonderful as well. At the beginning I approached Mr. Agematsu and abruptly asked him for “a new song that Hibiki, Tsubasa and Chris sing together,” I thought it might not be possible but he gave us a song with so much impact that it didn’t lose out to the animation at all. There are many scenes where I wanted things my way, but the one that leaves the strongest impression is of course the first 6 minutes of episode 1. You could say the “Symphogear” that was created as a result of me doing as I pleased is condensed into that segment.
Looking back at it again now, what kind of production do you think “GX” became?
The theme that served as a base was “a story of fixing that which is broken,” and in the end Hibiki was able to mend her heart, her family’s relationship, and even Carol who had been an enemy. After she restored many various things, everything finally settled at a point where everyone had been saved as a result. Furthermore, through this we were able to emphasize again that when Hibiki grasps her hand tightly it doesn’t just form a “fist used to fight,” but rather “bonds” that tie people together.
“Symphogear” is getting a lot of support from fans, what is it about it exactly that you think managed to capture their hearts?
Many of the fans actually call Symphogear “an anime that’s hard to recommend to others” (laughs), and certainly I myself think it is a strong-willed anime that’s hard to swallow, so to speak. If I were to put it into words, Symphogear is like “pork bone broth ramen.” The type that emits a strong smell that wafts from the back of the restaurant and has a flavor so rich you get addicted to it. For people who just glance at it, the hurdle seems too high and it’s certainly not a flavor that everyone would like, and yet for those that do like it they simply just can’t get enough of it. I think the fans have embraced that part of “Symphogear.” Also, I think the entire series leaves a sort of “Showa taste.” People watching who were born in the Showa era will recognize a lot of throwbacks that we’ve worked into the series, and inversely for those who are younger they may be looking at that as a new “spice” that they haven’t experienced before.
The grand finale of the 3rd season has now come and gone, but beyond “Symphogear GX” are there any plans for a continuation in the form of a 4th season…?
Just the same as the previous seasons, I worked up until now with the intention that the ending would bring a conclusion to “Symphogear.” At the moment nothing has been decided regarding a season 4, but with everyone’s continued support there may come a day when we can make it a reality.
Lastly, please send a message to the fans who have supported the series thus far.
As it is a “strongly flavored pork bone broth anime,” I’d like to apologize that even though you may already be tired from school or work, the contents of the series likely resulted in you exhausting even more stamina while watching, now even more so than in season 1 or 2. For those fans who have followed us all the way through, I have nothing but words of gratitude. For the time being the story has come to a conclusion, but after this there will be the “Symphogear Live 2016” event where I’m sure we will all re-experience “GX.” So please look forward to the big “festival” next year as we continue to make preparations for it.