Symphogear – the show full of moon-throwing, water-walking and songs of mass destruction. There are many aspects of the show which just beg for an in-depth analysis, so forgive this blogger for being obsessed with names, of all things. But with a show where everything has many meanings, peeling off the layers is too sweet a temptation.
When we begin begin our journey with the series, we meet Amou Kanade and Kazanari Tsubasa, two young singers making up the Zwei Wing unit. With one of the duo’s wings to be found in Tsubasa’s first name (翼、wing) and the other in Kanade’s last name (天羽, heavenly feather/wing), the reasoning behind the unit’s name is no mystery. But we see the symbolism extend further as Tsubasa develops throughout the first season. First of all, the two wings are a symbol of unity – only together can they grant the miracle of flight. Second, flight itself represents freedom. Having lost her “better half”, Tsubasa becomes the one-winged bird, chained to the prison of her guilt and past, unable to raise into the sky. And yet her other wing is still there, if only she could notice it. Kanade is, after all, the heavenly wing, supporting her partner from above even if her body is no longer there. It is no coincidence that as Tsubasa confronts her doubts for the last time during the first season, we see her falling, weakened by Fine’s blows. But when Tsubasa finally overcomes her doubts, she is able to soar once more.
And if Kanade’s last name connects her to Tsubasa, her first name (奏、to play out [a song]) defines her relationship with Hibiki (響、echo). Hibiki picks up Kanade’s mission right where her predecessor left off, and their names represent this baton pass. However, it is also true that the echoing sound is always weaker than the original sound that produced it. Similarly, Tachibana Hibiki is filled with doubts as she first activates her Symphogear and her performance in battle is poor. This is what Tsubasa sees, to her grief and anger, in Hibiki – a mere shadow of her previous partner, with only the Gungnir relic but none of the determination that made Kanade who she was.
Thankfully, Hibiki is eventually able to see that she is not forever bound to be Kanade’s inferior copy, but somebody with her own strengths and ideals. To her duty of fighting the Noise as a Symphogear user, Hibiki adds a goal of her own. If the opponent is human, she wants to understand them, and have them understand her. She wants to prove that conflict between people can be avoided if they just make the effort to communicate. And slowly but surely, her words and deeds reach both Chris and Fine – her sworn enemies. Hibiki shows the power to make her ideals echo in the hearts of others, a priceless ability which is entirely her own.
But of course, Hibiki is not about having others do as she tells them. Her goal lies beyond that, in what she and the other party can achieve through their cooperation. The true potential of Hibiki’s Armed Gear and her Swan Song are only revealed when she resonates in harmony with another, and this is another meaning hidden in her name (響き合う、resonate, literally echo against each other).
As was the case with Kanade, Hibiki’s last name also connects her to another character – her best friends Kohinata Miku. Tachibana (立花、flower) and Kohinata (小日向、sunlit place) form an obvious set like the Zwei Wing duo, but the nature of the relationship is noticeably different. Where the two wings of Tsubasa and Kanade were equal, here Miku is the giver and protector, providing the warmth and safety necessary for Hibiki to grow. As Hibiki’s family, friendships and everyday life fell apart in the aftermath of the noise attack during the final Zwei Wing concert, it was only Miku’s presence that let Hibiki believe that two people could understand each other.
Of course, things change drastically when Hibiki’s problems switch from handing in school assignment on time to saving the world from crazed immortal priestesses. While Hibiki still needs the emotional support and comfort Miku offers, the two necessarily switch roles when it comes to fighting invincible monsters of all kinds. In that context Miku’s name (未来), written with the kanji for future, makes her the perfect heroine. Hibiki’s heroic struggle for the future of humanity overlaps with her much more personal fight for a smaller, but no less dear “future”.
Symphogear was not content to have Hibiki just passively bear the burden of her name, though, and neither does it relegate Miku to the role of the hero’s helpless girlfriend. Again and again, Miku’s determination and level-headedness becomes the key necessary to save the heroes from a desperate situation. Whether it is a decoy operation or calling the crazed Hibiki back to her senses, Miku gives her all to carving out a better future. Where Hibiki represents the struggles of those with power, Miku shows us the equally worthy fight carried on by the powerless.
All this changes once more, however, as Hibiki’s condition becomes ever more perilous throughout Symphogear G. Partly in adherence to her ideals, and partly in fear of becoming unnecessary to her friends and comrades, Hibiki repeatedly decides to stand on the front lines despite the increasing risks to her health and life. Each time, Hibiki saves the today, and loses ever more of the tomorrow. It is in such circumstances that the relationship between Hibiki and Miku comes full circle. Even as she becomes part of dr. Ver’s wicked schemes, Kohinata Miku’s strong determination to save her friend will eventually produce the ray of light opening the path towards the future.
(Incidentally, if Miku is the spot in the sun where Hibiki, the standing flower may grow, we get a typically Freudian pair of feminine (the ground/Earth) and masculine (any long, thin and straight, aka phallic, object) symbols. Whether this is the writers’ intentional comment on the seme x uke roles in the HibiMiku pairing, I dare not guess.)
Next in line is the Ichii-Bal wielder Yukine Chris. What immediately stands out about her is that she has a non-Japanese first name. While Chris is the short form of several names, all of them are invariably linked in their origin to Christ, the biblical Savior. It is exactly as a fallen savior that Chris first makes her appearance in the world of Symphogear. Her stated goal is world peace – an ambition far beyond what either Tsubasa or Hibiki can claim at the time. Chris’s methods of making war to stop war are probably not what Christ had in mind for the world, even if He did tell his followers He “brought with Him the sword.”
It is not long, however, before Chris comes to understand the fallacies of her approach. By the end of season one, she willingly throws herself in the path of the Ka Dingir cannon, taking on the full madness and evil of Fine and dampening the power of the blast with her own body. Christ and Chris both triumph over evil and save humanity through personal sacrifice. Another interesting point is how Chris’s sacrifice also marks the point when she accepts her parents’ dreams as her own, where before she was resentful of their abandonment. The Bible’s accounts of the Crucifixion offers parallels, as Christ famously asks of God: “Why have you forsaken me?” as He is forced to go through the agony of crucifixion. To Chris, the horrors and suffering of war were her personal cross. But like Christ, she was eventually able to lift that cross and find the strength to save others. The shared theme of resurrection is merely icing on the cake.
Chris’s last name – Yukine (雪音、snow and sound, respectively) – is something more of a mystery. Chris’s association with snow is not surprising, especially considering her hair color. Neither is the appearance of the kanji for sound. It is when deciding how those two combine into a greater whole that we must wonder. Is it the sound of snow? Snowflakes are often described as falling down soundlessly. But then, for a large part of the first season, Chris is indeed “the Symphogear user who refuses to sing”. But that interpretation becomes obsolete once Chris comes to terms with her song and what it represents.
Events at the beginning of the second season and Chris’s song at the school festival point toward a new interpretation. At first, Chris was unwilling to sing because she hated and feared her song as the harbinger of destruction. Even once she realizes that her song can be used for the good of others, she avoids singing in front of her friends and acquaintances, although for an entirely different reason. Chris’s true songs are full of warmth and love, and therefore much more revealing (and embarrassing!) than she can normally handle. As somebody with close to zero social experience and a shy girl at heart, Chris cannot handle exposing her heart like that. But all that is a matter of time, as Chris’s newfound friends slowly but surely manage to break through the walls Chris had built around herself. Chris eventually decides to sing during the school festival. The prison of snow melts away, and the song within is finally released.
To round out the first season’s Symphogear users, let me come back to Tsubasa and her last name. Kazanari (風鳴) translates to the crying wind. Crying in the sense of a creature producing sounds, rather than a person letting tears flow, though Tsubasa does have a fair share of tear-related symbolism in her attack names and story developments. But the core issue in the interpretation of this name is not the cry, but the wind.
If you were born in one of the Western countries, the list of qualities you associate with the wind might be similar to mine. The wind is something quick, imperceptible, fickle and forever-changing. In RPG terms, a wind-based character may have high Speed and Attack/Sp. Attack stats, but weak Defense stats. Those are qualities of the wind as observed by a single person – as a gust or, at most, a destructive hurricane. It must be noted, however, that in Japanese works the wind will often be seen as the sum of the atmospheric movements over a given area, country, or even the world. Those movements carry with them the clouds, change the weather and the living conditions of the human populace. As such, the wind so defined is seen as an omnipresent and powerful force changing the lives of those it touches. You can see this idea reflected in the Japanese language, where the kanji for wind is used to express trends and styles (和風 Japanese style, literally Japanese wind).
With that approach to the wind keyword, the meaning behind Tsubasa’s name becomes clear, as it ties into one of her main character conflicts of the first season. She is the crying wind – the voice that can change the world by giving people hope in times of despair. The symbolism of Tsubasa’s first and last names intertwines here – the flightless bird of the first season was tied to the land of Japan, but from the beginning of the second season onward, she rides the wind and her song reaches the fans waiting for her abroad.
A common trait between all Symphogear users is that their names contain at least one song or sound related kanji. The writers take advantage of this by having Hibiki deliver this one-liner towards the end of season one, just as the girls are about to unleash their combined swan songs against the descending moon fragment:
Sound the bells of the coming dawn; let them cry out and resound through all!
Yoake o tsugeru kane no ne kanade, nari-hibiki-watare!
By combining parts of everyone’s names, Kanade’s included, in this challenge, Hibiki announces the unity of all Symphogear users in their fight for the future of humanity. At that moment, all their feelings, past and present, become one.
Following the lead of the first season, the Symphogear users of Symphogear G also have their names sprinkled with meanings and connections. One of those is yet another pair of characters forming a set – Kirika and Shirabe. This time, the set is formed by pairing up two opposites – the sun and the moon.
Kirika’s last name – Akatsuki (暁) – literally refers to the dawn. The sun connection is obvious if you define dawn as the time of the sun’s raising, but it is also present in the single kanji if you break it further down into its base elements: （日、the sun) and (尭、high up), which form the same definition. Kirika’s energetic and carefree personality and her blonde hair further link her with the sun.
Shirabe’s last name – Tsukuyomi (月読、literally moon-reader) – is also the name of the Japanese moon deity. Shirabe’s quiet personality, somewhat mysterious demeanor and dark hair are all traits associated commonly with the moon. That a deity is involved might be one of the hints in the convoluted “Fine dilemma” that ensnares Shirabe and Kirika throughout the second season.
The sun and the moon are easily described as a pair of opposites, but there is a possible deeper significance to this pairing. The two as often represent lovers in separation, as they can never be seen out together. Indeed, if Fine were to be reborn in either of the girls, it might mean eternal farewell for both of them.
And the writers make sure to keep us on our toes. Kirika’s name (切歌、literally to cut and a song, respectively) might just be referring to her as “the one who cuts with her song” – a scythe wielder. But it might as well be hinting that she will be “the one whose song is cut short”, with the coming of Fine.
Shirabe’s name (調), at least, seems free of such ominous hints. Besides the basic meaning of tone or melody, the kanji also carries the meaning of balance and things being in their right order. This reflects her role in the Fine group as the one who keeps everyone on the right track, be it reminding Kirika of their mission objectives or standing against Maria when she has lost sight of herself.
Maria Cadenzavna Eve, the third new Symphogear user of the new season, is another katakana-name entry in the name list, and like Chris was before her, Maria seems strongly linked with Biblical figures. As anime fans likely already know, Maria is the common Japanese spelling of the Virgin Mary’s name, as well as the spelling used in Eastern Europe, which is Maria Cadenzavna Eve’s canonical place of birth. As the most important Biblical mother figure, Mary is strongly associated with the virtues of love and kindness, particularly in Eastern Europe (in Poland, the strength of her image in this regard rivals that of Christ Himself.) Those virtues form the core of Maria’s character in the show, but are also the source of her suffering as she becomes uncertain of the path she ought to take.
One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of Mary’s story as portrayed in the Bible is that as a believer, she is aware of Jesus’s great mission and the sacrifice He needs to make. Yet as Jesus’s mother, she would pay any price to prevent her only son from shouldering the burdens and suffering required for the gift of salvation. As the son suffers on the cross, the mother suffers in her heart. Maria’s backstory parallels this with Maria’s connection to Serena. As the two no longer have an adult to depend on, Maria, as the older sister, is the supposed protector and guardian of her only living relative. But when a crisis befalls the Frontier Project and the Nephilim goes berserk, there is nothing Maria can do about the fact that it is only Serena that can give humanity another chance, and only through the ultimate sacrifice. Maria can only watch as her little sister bears the cross of her swan song, just as Mary could only watch her son’s sacrifice. Maria presents a striking vision of a post-Jesus Mary – one wrought with the fear that the sacrifice of her most treasured person might yet prove to be meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
But Maria is not only the mother, but also the Eve – the great betrayer. Dr. Ver kindly plays the role of the snake offering her temptation, even if Maria’s kindness made her the one most appalled at the doctor’s cruel methods during the initial stages of the season. As the Frontier Project begins falling apart for the second time, Maria decides to stand against her friends and side with Dr. Ver. Maria’s fight for the success of the plan is a subversion of Eve’s story in the fact that it is not a personal vice that leads to the betrayal – it is the burden left by Serena and Maria’s own desire to protect others that lead her astray, proving once more that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. (As an aside, Dr. Ver would not mind being the Adam to Maria’s Eve, if some of the later episodes are any indication. But his dreams of being the one in charge of repopulating the Earth will hopefully crash and burn soon enough.)
The first part of Maria’s last name, Cadenzavna, serves as the obligatory music reference in the name of a Symphogear wielder. With cadenza being an “elaborate flourish or showy solo passage, sometimes improvised, introduced near the end of an aria or a movement of a concerto”, we may expect Maria to go out with a bang in the final episodes of the season. In fact, this is particularly likely now that Nastasha has announced that Maria’s song is their last hope to solve the moon problem.
While her on-screen appearances are extremely limited, Serena’s name also contains hints regarding her character – both by referencing the serenade, a “song of love fit to be sung under a lady’s window in the evening”, and by the more direct reference to serenity and calm. Either of the two connections match up well with a Symphogear user whose swan song is fully specialized in protecting others.
There are two Symphogear G episodes left to be aired as of the writing of this post – will there be more references and hidden meanings revealed to the names? Will we get a mega-sentence combining the names of all nine known gear users? We will have to wait and see.
It is Symphogear, and anything can happen.