Don’t expect an ending or even a satisfying last ditch battle. This is more a conglomerate of character moments, set up for future plot lines, and random flash backs that just kind of splatter their way across the screen for twenty minutes before we get a narration that more or less tells us the story is nowhere near finished. Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka has been at times underwhelming and has never really lived up to its potential, but nowhere is this more clear than in the final episode which mostly just leaves the series on its lowest note yet.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting points along the way and the series as a whole has been kind of fun and introduced some interesting ideas and concepts. But it does mean that as a season it is sort of lacking given the absolute lack of resolution in this final episode.
Part of the problem is this episode is jumping between Asuka and Kurumi writing reports, time at school and hanging out with friends, the special forces group making an alliances with some other agency that I can’t remember in order to gather intelligence, Kurumi torturing the captured magical girls, a sex scene between the villains, and flashes to what the other magical five are up to, plus the flashbacks to prior to the end of the previous war. That’s way too much and as a result everything feels like it is just kind of crammed in and nothing gets developed or dealt with or feels overly satisfying.
It isn’t a great way for this anime to go out this season and it probably has shot itself in the foot for a season 2 (then again, maybe it already has one planned, who knows). I do know that this series hasn’t made me interested enough to go read the books and with an ending like that I’m not sure I’ll watch season 2.
Still, this one is going to be a tricky one to fully review with some fairly strong positives in some areas and some really big flaws elsewhere. I’ll have to think that through but for now Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is done for the Winter season.
Despite Asuka’s commitment to join the team again, it isn’t all smooth sailing this week in Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. While there aren’t any serious consequences, at least not for the team we’re following, Asuka freezing mid-battle at the thought of one of the team members being hurt could have had dire consequences and it was only thanks to Kurumi that she snapped back out of her frozen state. Honestly, how they are treating Asuka’s character remains the best thing about this anime.
However, we then have to look at the rest of what is happening. And this episode I even found myself looking at the overall episode count and wondering just where this story intends to leave us at the end of episode 12 because unless we are in for a really rushed conclusion, they still seem to be introducing world building elements at this point so it doesn’t seem likely we’re heading for a round resolution.
So with a plot likely to remain unfinished what else have we got. The tone remains pretty interesting. I like this version of a dark magical girl story where the girls are dealing with the reality of facing war at a young age, using magical powers isn’t about pretty sparkles, and consequences are very real (with the exception of Nozomi because they totally undid any consequence around that). I also like the weird mix of military and magic they have going on. It all kind of works.
What works less is that every villainous character feels the need to pull this ‘hey, look at me I’m crazy’ face just to show off that they are in fact a a villain. As well done as Asuka and even Kurumi’s characterisation has been the villains are really the weak link here (and I seem to be saying that a lot this season as I look at Krone in The Promised Neverland).
Still, this was a fun episode, we met a new magical girl from the magical five, had a cool fight sequence, some more interesting character work with Asuka, and generally the episode just kind of flew by. The only real drama with it was the welcoming party they threw Asuka. It seemed like they were going for some levity or whatever but the whole thing just sat really weirdly at the start of this episode. Fortunately, the rest of the episode more than made up for it.
He’s Not Trying To Save The World – He Just Wants To Slay Some Goblins
If you were on any kind of social media during the last months of 2018 then you probably caught some of the Goblin Slayer rape/infant killing controversy after episode one aired. Fortunately, after the storm died down and more thoughtful posts and commentary started coming out, most people seemed to agree that largely the problem could have been solved by the various streaming services providing sensible classification or warnings prior to the show airing and only a few extremists were still calling for the entire show to be trashed and calling those who enjoyed it degenerates.
Wow, I love it when people make a judgement over your entire existence based on your preference of fictional stories. That said, I don’t want this review to turn into a debate about censorship and I kind of covered my thoughts on this whole thing in a feature about triggers back when episode one first aired so I’m just going to get on with reviewing the anime now.
Still, the need for a warning label on this anime does exist because it does have content that some people will find distressing. I’d strongly recommend not watching it if you know that you don’t like shows where female characters are subjected to sexual assault or if buckets of blood flying about the screen in fight sequences is going to make you feel queasy.
The problem with that though is that while these things are in Goblin Slayer, it isn’t really what the show is about. Quite a few reviews I’ve read have criticised Goblin Slayer for not being as dark as Berserk or for being toothless. While Goblin Slayer does explore some of the darker aspects of adventuring and the less noble side of killing creatures most other consider merely pests rather than facing off against demon kings, the story is essentially about the two main characters: Goblin Slayer and Priestess.
In the first episode we meet the Priestess as she joins up to become an adventurer, gets recruited into a party of rookies and more or less lead to her death by the overconfidence and cockiness of youth and general perceptions about the weakness of goblins. It’s a solid opening encounter that sets the tone for a world where adventurers can and do die particularly early in their careers and goblins might be individually weak but in a dark cavern with numbers on their side if you aren’t prepared you are in for a world of hurt. It’s also pretty confronting in that the fates of these nameless rookies are pretty tragic. Fortunately we haven’t spent enough time with them to feel we know them, but basic empathy for humans and knowing none of these characters were actually bad people, just inexperienced, makes the whole encounter leaving you with a slightly sick feeling in your stomach, which is more or less what it intended.
Fortunately, Priestess is rescued by Goblin Slayer and the two then form a partnership of sorts. The story follows the two as they learn from one another, the Priestess learning how to use her miracles to best effect for a party and about the tricks goblins use and how to beat them, and Goblin Slayer learning slowly how to interact with others and to trust others even if just a little bit.
What this means is the story seems to sway back and forth between life and death encounters in dark dungeons and slower moments where the two go about their days in the guild and town preparing equipment, eating and drinking with others, and generally living their lives. It is this two toned approach that seemed to annoy some viewers who stuck around after episode one. I think they might have expected the violence just to keep going and not let up, but the point of the story isn’t to be violent. Violence happens in the world being constructed but it isn’t all there is to life. That is what Goblin Slayer is needing to learn and his removal of his helmet in the guild in the final episode is a good sign that he is finally starting to realise he doesn’t need to be the armed Goblin Slayer 24 hours a day.
That might seem like a small step but it is some massive character progress for him and it builds on dozens of small exchanges peppered throughout the series.
Priestess is no slouch either really stepping up in the final fight to both immobilise the final boss and to heal Goblin Slayer. She uses his plan and her own decisions to get the outcome she decides is best.
However, in case it seems like I just keep heaping praise on this series, I do have to point out the biggest problem with it. The series works best if you’ve read the source (either the manga or the light novels will do).
And that’s a problem.
An anime adaptation should stand alone. It should show the story in anime form for fans of the source who want more of the characters, but should also be accessible and make sense on its own.
Goblin Slayer fails in that regard in that a lot of the decisions and ideas are kind of hinted at in the anime but don’t make sense without the additional knowledge the source gives you.
One example that stands clear from reading episode reviews was when High Elf Archer asked Goblin Slayer not to use fire and a whole bunch of other things on the goblins under water town. And he agreed. That was all there was to the exchange in the anime.
From reading the books there was a lot more behind both her request and his acceptance. Namely the whole town being above the sewers and potential collateral damage. Now it makes sense why she’s being fairly specific with her limitations (other than she doesn’t want to get set on fire or poisoned) and why he actually listens and agrees. More importantly, it makes sense that in the next episode, when he is about to set off an explosion he checks first that they have travelled beyond the borders of the town before he puts his plan into action.
Now, the sequence makes enough sense in the anime in that you aren’t completely unable to follow it, but it also feels like you are missing something. That isn’t how a story should make you feel and this was only one scene out of many that had anime only viewers tilting their heads and wondering just what was behind a decision.
So while I will recommend this anime, it is an average anime. It isn’t great or amazing. There are definitely issues with how this has been adapted from its source.
Still, I thought it looked great, I enjoyed the characters, loved the sound design, and all and all had great fun following along with these characters and adventures. While it does get dark, there’s also plenty to balance it and from a narrative point of view it makes sense that those moments are as dark as they are.
There are two distinct parts of this episode that kind of overlap through a character Asuka encounters and gives directions to who later becomes significant in Mia’s story. I’m going to start looking at Asuka’s side of the episode because that is the less significant part of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka this week.
We begin with Asuka and her school friends having a study session. There’s some very clunky exposition where Asuka is asked what her dream is, but otherwise the only up-shot of this whole scene is that Nozomi is bubbly as can be almost as if her whole torture didn’t happen… Oh wait, it didn’t because they erased her memory. They do decide to go to a festival which leads to the main girls in yukatas and Asuka running into the blonde girl she gave directions to earlier who tells her that her wish should be to be happy and everything else will sort itself out.
I’m not really sure why they bothered to bring the rest of the members of M squad to the festival and all and all this whole sequence just seems relatively like episode filler. I don’t really like saying that given it is still kind of fun to watch, but I can’t imagine this has much purpose other than adding to the overall contrast because Mia’s story is anything but happy filler.
Mia arrives in Japan to investigate the guy in the box we saw at the villains’ lair earlier in the season. She transforms and she and her team check out the apartment before finding the magical girls’ motto written on the mirror. Then the blonde girl who has been encountering Asuka all episode shows up and it turns out she’s a magical mercenary who wants revenge because her family were killed during the war. It all seems just a little bit over the top and Mia is completely cold. Why? Because her family were killed by terrorists. Turns out no one is winning in this war because the disas were a threat and the military used methods that killed civilians, terrorists have risen up but they also kill civilians and basically everyone is suffering from some kind of regret or trauma.
It isn’t the most deft handling of the themes but it does get the point across. I do kind of wonder what is going to happen when Mia, Kurumi and Asuka end up together because it doesn’t seem like Mia is really looking for a team to join and she has good reason to suspect one of the magical five is involved in her case. I guess we’ll find out.
There’s always a little bit of a problem when an anime tries to have its cake and eat it as well. So far one of the strengths of this series has been its desire to look straight at the trauma of war and the mark it leaves on those who fight in them, particularly when the participants are quite young girls. This week they at first do an exceptional job with Nozomi and the lasting impact of her capture, and then, after making their point, erase the memory and essentially reset her character. While there are implications going forward given she’s still a target, it felt like the anime just could commit to its own theme in this instance and wanted to just move things along.
That said, that moment comes on the back of what is a fairly impressive and interesting series of fights. Asuka vs the two magical mercenaries is a fun battle of tactics as the two double team her and each one uses their strengths to compensate for the holes in the other’s defence. It forces Asuka to go for a brute force approach which again, may have had some implications later except that the villain just kind of runs away later. Asuka was more or less out of magical juice and couldn’t have broken free but there’s some other plot going on that the audience still has no insight into (though clearly there’s a connection between the Queen and Asuka so I guess we’ll wait for tragic back-story flashback time).
Kurumi’s fight isn’t as visually impressive as it mostly involves her getting pounded as Abby not only transforms into a magical girl but also pulls out two Halloween Class monstrosities. In Kurumi’s defence, she’s a back-line support character and a pretty impressive one, and she does manage a fairly decent fight here she’s just out-numbered and out-classed. Still, she does deal a heavy amount of damage, even taking out one of the opponents despite the circumstances.
But, we’re still left with the noise in the background here. We still don’t know what the terrorists are actually after, which may help explain why the Queen just kind of picks up Abby and runs off. We don’t know what the different organisations want, though they are clearly fine with continuing to use Nozomi as bait for future encounters which makes it hard to get behind the government agencies as the ‘good guys’ in this plot. It’s also kind of hard to like Kurumi when she’s clearly projecting her own vision of Asuka onto Asuka and isn’t going to let her hero play any other role.
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka continues to be interesting and has some solid ideas. It also seems to have found a good balance between being a dark magical girl story and actually dealing responsibly with the fall out of those darker moments, even if Nozomi is going to be spared the memory of being tortured. However, there’s still a lot of connections that are missing and it will really depend on how these come together as to whether this one ends up being a solid entry into the Magical Girl genre or just another title trying to ride the coat-tails of those that have come before.
Episode 2 of this anime turns down the extreme content, but what do we get instead?
As much as the first episode of this show flaunted misery for the sake of it and gave us characters that we couldn’t sympathise with because they hadn’t tried to make them real characters, at least there was the potential that maybe, just maybe, this anime was going to do more than just inject death and misery into a magical girl story. Episode 2 kind of dashes those hopes and what we are left with is a protagonist who’s only personality trait is being timid or a punching bag, a mentor type figure who is clearly damaged but not in an interesting way, and a count down to some horrible future event that is about as non-specific as you can get.
It doesn’t make for terribly compelling viewing. When they’ve frightened half the potential audience off in episode one by hitting us hard and fast with that kind of content, and episode 2 begins with blood rushing from a girl’s sliced throat, to follow that up with walking, talking, and a half-hearted confrontation between yet another unbalanced girl with magical powers and a protagonist we still don’t care about and all and all, it is just kind of dull.
Possibly they’ve given themselves some wiggle room with the oncoming tempest but this feels like they just intend to introduce psycho magic girl, have some kind of show down, at some point there will be a betrayal, and ultimately everyone will be miserable. Just my prediction though.
In the battle to see which magical girl anime could hit the bottom first for dealing out sensationalist violence without substance, this one is a strong contender for victor unless it actually does have some point other than misery. What did you think of this first episode?
Other than Killing Stalking and the occasional BL manga, I haven’t had to issue content warnings on most the stuff I cover because I either don’t directly discuss or show the truly horrific parts or because most of the stuff I watch uses the violence and misery it presents for some actual narrative purpose (King’s Game was probably an exception but you really couldn’t take that seriously even if you were trying to). And now we have this ‘Magical Girl Site’ which from start to finish during the first episode manages to be a bottomless pit of the worst attributes of human nature with little to redeem it or to even make you think this has some other point other than the writer was wondering how much suffering he could inflict on his protagonist (maybe the writer was female, I don’t really care).
I don’t actually mind seeing protagonists put through some horrific events, but usually that is because challenges help them grow, develop, find some hidden talent, make them realise some weakness in themselves, or something. There’s usually something. Even a power of friendship message might have been nice here, trite though that is. But no, we get to see Aya tormented, abused, threatened, assaulted, ignored, and generally treated as sub-human by every single person in her life. Literally every person in this show is scum. That includes every bystander in her classroom and the teacher that openly ignored the harassment that is being carried out.
And Aya herself is horrible. There’s no other way to describe her. She kills two people (accidentally of course as she gains a magical power she has no control over) and her first thoughts are of self-preservation and denial of guilt. Not one instant of actual guilt for killing them. All of her trauma is because she doesn’t want to suffer punishment for their deaths. This is after she’s spent the first however long it was telling us she wants to die. As much as she’s in a horrible situation, and the people who died really don’t deserve much in the way of sympathy, a single moment of thought for them may have helped me care a smidge for protagonist girl. Or, you know, any act that seemed like she was genuinely trying to overcome any of the situation rather than just trudging along and accepting it. This isn’t bullying she is suffering from. These are criminal and violent acts being inflicted upon her.
So this should probably hit my dropped list and yet part of me really wants to see if this show is going to sink lower or whether all of this misery is actually going to end up serving some narrative purpose other than just seeing how much the audience can endure of watching this.