Symphogear’s history began in January 2012 with its first series. It was followed by Symphogear G, Symphogear GX, Symphogear AXZ and the fifth and final series Symphogear XV, which finished airing in September 2019. Created by music producer Noriyasu Agematsu and game creator Akifumi Kaneko, the series follows a group of girls who fight using the power of music. One of the many charms of the show is that the girls often reconcile with their foes (but not always!) and the appearance of recurring characters across seasons.
MANGA.TOKYO was able to interview the person who produced the complete series of Symphogear, Yusuke Morii.
Could you please tell us about the origins of Symphogear and tell us about the 4th and 5th seasons?
Symphogear‘s story began when music producer Noriyasu Agematsu from Elements Garden came up with a plan for ‘an animation that focuses on music’, and was joined by game creator Akifumi Kaneko, who came up with the story and fleshed out the setting. They sent the concept to our production company and when the production studio and the committee members gave their approval, that was the starting point for this anime project.
At first, there were no plans for a continuation so we wanted to give the first season a satisfying ending, but we saw what a great potential this series had and felt the passion from the fans. When the second and third season finished production there were once again no further plans to continue the series, but we advanced with the proposal that season 4 and season 5 would finalize the series. During a season 3 completion event, we announced the production of the 4th and 5th season all in one go as to leave an impact and surprise fans like no other series had done so far, but it gave away to the fans that the end of the series was near.
jonnthebest asks: How hard is it to combine multiple aspects of production together, like recording the songs and the show itself? You need to keep consistency between them somehow.
Usually the animation and the audio are separate sections with their own work-flows. With Symphogear, each section was conscious of the other and would consult with each other throughout the process.
The combination of Kaneko’s charming characters and Agematsu/Elements Garden’s wonderful music definitely captivated the staff, which I believe is one of the biggest reasons the staff were able to unite so well and put so much effort into it.
I can’t go into the technical details of bringing the audio and the visuals together, but there were many distinguished professionals on the team, so I paid special attention to keeping staff motivated. We had to make quite a few unreasonable requests, such as asking for the music to be arranged over and over to match the visuals, or having the voice cast singing at the recording studio in time with the animation. That’s why I spared no effort in creating a comfortable working environment and supporting everyone. At first, we had to proceed a lot through trial and error. Now the staff members just say ‘Well it’s Symphogear, so we just have to do it’ and lend us their skills with more flexibility than usual thanks to their love for the series. It’s comparable to a cute child that’s a bit of a handful. [laugh]
The voice actors were in charge of writing the lyrics for the theme song. What’s the story behind that and how did you suggest it to the cast?
I’m not sure if it’s specific to Japan, but I think it’s neither uncommon nor unreasonable for the voice cast to be involved in the production of the music, since they are usually involved in the music industry anyway. Getting them involved in the anime’s music can help them express their characters better. Nana Mizuki especially has a lot of experience with lyric-writing and put a lot of thought into Symphogear, so we didn’t need to request any specific lyrics from her.
Ayahi Takagaki wrote lyrics for the ending theme ‘Lasting Song’ and it was her first time writing song lyrics. She feels a strong love for Symphogear and is a wonderful artist, so we didn’t feel any insecurity when we gave her the song. To help the voice cast out and give them an idea of what they could write, we asked Kaneko for some theme suggestions. However, Takagaki really exceeded our expectations and we were able to create an ending theme truly worthy of this series.
The series has been running for a long time. Was there an unexpected change, for example with the technology or the thought processes of the staff?
When we were first developing the concept, we wanted to use character songs as background music during the battle scenes. [Symphogear season 1 director] Tatsufumi Ito mentioned that the viewers may get confused and think that the characters are actually singing while fighting. This uncertainty eventually led to the development of one of the most original aspects of Symphogear. We started practicing unusual methods such as having the cast come into the studio where they recorded their lines and actually singing along to the animation right there. I really do think that it is a string of ‘unexpected’ events which have led us to come this far. It’s a highly experimental series, but thanks to the flexibility of the staff members we were able to proceed with trial and error.
However, I have to say that what was really unexpected for us was the reception we received from fans. Here in Japan there are many series where the business scale shrinks the longer a series goes on, but for Symphogear we gained new fans with every season and the project became bigger and bigger. The energy consumed when making Symphogear is very high compared to other series, so the response from the fans was essential so that we could keep it up!
This was your first time producing an anime; could you tell us what kind of experience this was and what new things you learned?
I was never taught the ins-and-outs of being an anime producer. One day I was just thrown in at the deep end and found myself a producer, meaning it was very tough at the start. The whole experience has been a learning process. I don’t really have many memories from the first season to be completely honest — I think I just sailed through it thanks to the guidance from Kaneko, Agematsu, Ito and the staff over at Satelight [laugh] Maybe that’s why the second season was tougher. I’d gained a certain degree of anime production know-how and so I felt under more pressure to make it a success. So the motivation was completely different compared to the second season.
Now that I think about it, I’d say it’s more important to be good at negotiation and communication rather than just having a lot of production knowledge when it comes to producing anime. Just a single anime takes hundreds of people to produce, so it can be very difficult to manage it in a way so that everybody reaches their goal around the same time. I think the most important thing to do is to keep everything in balance and take care that the motivation of each section doesn’t dwindle.
What was it like between seasons?
The two years we had to make fans wait between seasons was very hard for us. We needed to spend time not only on the story development, character creation, transformation scenes and attack animation — Symphogear requires a lot of work on the music production and it took some time. It was important that the lyrics of the songs were consistent with the rest of the series, so we only had the lyrics written after the scenario was complete. That also took some time.
Please tell us about something that went really well or turned out way better than expected. It can be about the technique, a scene or something completely different.
We produced every episode of every season of Symphogear so that viewers could enjoy the fusion of music and battle animation. If I had to pick just one part that sticks out, it would be the opener for the first episode of Symphogear GX. It’s not a traditional battle scene. The girls prevented a space ship from crash-landing by cutting off the top of a mountain together with wonderful vocal performances. The fusion of music and animation were of the highest level and perfectly represent the ‘Symphogear-ness’.
Do you have a message for the fans?
It’s been roughly seven years since the first season aired. It’s only thanks to the fans that I was lucky enough to be able to keep on working with the staff and cast on such a great series. Each person has their own way of supporting us, but all of the support reached the staff members of Symphogear and gave us the power to overcome many difficulties during the production process. I want to thank you all on behalf of the staff.
In Japan, we aired an advertisement where Hibiki said, “Saying ‘goodbye’ is a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? So I’ll say ‘until someday’. I promise.” That is also something I personally strongly wish for.
Thank you very much for your time!
Born 1984 in Osaka.
Started working at King Records in 2006. Worked in sales and advertising and is now a producer.
His major productions include Symphogear and White ALbum2 and produces the artist Inori Minase.