Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 1 Review
There’s been a lot of dark magical girl stories in recent times and we continue to move further and further away from the pink sparkly heroines of the 90’s where danger came in the form of cackling villains and light effects that seldom had any real impact. Though, outside of Madoka, I can’t say I’ve been a fan of most of these stories. Not that I object to dark stories with murderous plots and carnage, but just I find the premise somewhat thin and it is more a case of can we get these characters to kill each other rather than thinking through the why.
I will admit, I didn’t actually expect anything from Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. I hadn’t watched a PV or read any kind of synopsis I just saw militaristic magical girls on the thumb-nail and figured we’d be getting something along the lines of Strike Witches. Which is probably why this first episode had so much impact. It literally came out of nowhere for me.
The big bad magical threat is defeated. Asuka and the magical girls who survived long enough took out the big bad boss and restored peace to the world. We see this pretty much at the start of the episode as we see that this story isn’t kidding with its threats as of the nine magical girl who were working with the military for the operation, four died before ever making it to that final battle. Points to the anime for not showing us each of the deaths of character we didn’t know just for the sake of splashing some magical girl blood about the screen and instead we simply hear one soldier talk about the fact that there are nine girls, we then see five and one of them is holding the dog-tags of those who didn’t make it. Far more affective given we haven’t had time enough to care for anyone in this story.
Then we transition to a normal high school setting (because this is an anime and of course our heroine is going to transfer into a class). Still, this section of her making friends within the class, her dealing with memories she’d rather not have, slowly opening up and joining a club, is handled well and I actually found myself really hoping that she’d be left alone to live that life (though even before the scarred military guy shows up you know that isn’t going to happen).
Where the anime really shines though is in dealing with Asuka’s clear trauma from the war. She fought a war while in middle-school. Just seeing a mascot character handing out balloons causes disturbing flashes and later we see the fate of her parents (and here we have an anime character without parents where it seems to be more than plot convenience but actually a valid emotional note for the protagonist). These dark and disturbing images, and they are disturbing, are incredibly solid at establishing why Asuka is traumatised, how real the threat was, and that this is not going to be a light and frothy story of a magical girl fighting cackling villains but a world in which the threats are very, very real.
But what are those threats? Given the war is over, though I guess there is still room for another invasion. Turns out humans are more than capable of carnage and misery without the assistance of fluffy invaders from another world. When Asuka’s classmate is caught up in an attempted jail-break, Asuka is forced back onto the scene.
It’s a solid first episode and one that has me wanting to know where they’ll go next. This one has a lot of potential and hopefully it knows how to use it.
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THE PICTORIAL BOOK OF WITCHES AND MAGICAL GIRLS