Not Brushing Aside Trauma Makes For A Better Narrative

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 2 Review

I loved Sailor Moon growing up. It was really the first anime I watched that I came to realise was anime. As such, magical girl stories have been something of a staple for me since entering the world of anime and while I will admit I’m a little over this dark take or parody twist all of them seem to take these days, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is so far managing to offer a nice balance of elements that is drawing me right into the story. In Sailor Moon when the bad guy’s insidious plans went public, the normal response the following day from characters, particularly Molly, was to assume they’d had some crazy dream or similar. Very rarely did any impact from the event linger and it was almost as if it hadn’t happened. While that works well enough in Sailor Moon, it was refreshing to that this wasn’t the approach taken here.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Episode 2 - Asuka

The events from episode 1 were not brushed aside and the world did not reset with everyone just moving on. The trauma of nearly being killed weighs heavily on Asuka’s classmate as does the feeling of helplessness. This story is taking it’s themes seriously even as it builds something fairly entertaining.

And it is entertaining. It isn’t wallowing in the misery of its characters and traumatising them just to see them break (not yet at least – it might still go there). Instead it seems to want to look at the situation it put its characters in and consider the way it would impact on the different characters. We see this in the classmates’ different responses to the violence in the city with the girl who was in the midst of it exhausted and suffering, going into shock after a police car with its siren passes her by. We also see those less close to the scene and their more subdued tone compared to the previous episode.

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Then we get another contrast. We have seen Asuka is still dealing with the trauma from the war and trying to get on with her life, but what about the other magical girls? This episode brings in Kurumi who is more of a support fighter but because Asuka is refusing to join the unit, Kurumi is all they’ve got when a left-over Disas is set loose in the city. Not only do we get a bit of back story between the two but we see that Kurumi, despite admitting she isn’t very strong, is still fighting the fight and has taken a very different approach to life after the war than Asuka. What I found particularly applause worthy, was that the scene didn’t condemn Asuka’s choice even though Kurumi accused her of being unfair and awful. The story leaves the audience to decide as it presents these two characters.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Episode 2 - Villains

While the villains of the piece may yet be the weak link, they’ve still got time to develop beyond crazy for the sake of it and there’s plenty of interesting ideas afoot here. If you’ve been avoiding the dark magical girl genre, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka may just be the one that works for you (then again, early days).

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Karandi James
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MAGICAL GIRL LYRICAL NANOHA THE MOVIE 1ST 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED PVC FIGURE: NANOHA TAKAMACHI CASUAL WEAR VER
MAGICAL GIRL LYRICAL NANOHA THE MOVIE 1ST 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED PVC FIGURE: NANOHA TAKAMACHI CASUAL WEAR VER

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What Happens When a Magical Girl With PTSD Drawn Back Into War?

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Asuka

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Magical Girls

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).

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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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - New battlefield

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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Karandi James
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THE PICTORIAL BOOK OF WITCHES AND MAGICAL GIRLS
THE PICTORIAL BOOK OF WITCHES AND MAGICAL GIRLS

Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Series Review: Will They Just Let The Franchise End Now?

How much mileage can you get out of a parody concept of magical boys who don’t really want to save the world? Well, this franchise has asked that question again and again but if there is one thing Happy Kiss has taught me, it is that Cute High Earth Defense Club Whatever needs to just stop now.

Review:

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On watching the original Cute High Earth Defense Club series I was sceptical but ended up pleasantly surprised that despite the formulaic monster of the week approach, it actually did a pretty solid job as a magical girl parody and it gave us enough interesting dialogue and random conversations between the boys to make it worth the while. It didn’t amaze me but I had a reasonably good time with it. Then we had a sequel. Which I didn’t finish. And an OVA. Which I didn’t watch. Most recently we were introduced to Happy Kiss with a whole new group of boys and I decided, probably poorly, to give the show another go. After all, it was a comedy show I’d finished a season of. It couldn’t be that bad.

And that assessment is probably right. It isn’t that bad, but neither is it particularly good. While the first episode has flashes of those intriguingly random musing between the boys and each character in the new group could potentially be interesting, as the season progresses you will realises that this series has absolutely nothing to say. While the first season was undeniably a parody and some of the monsters were truly inconsequential it still offered up some half-decent social commentary and just some random food for thought. Happy Kiss brings nothing to the table other than the tongue in cheek apathy of the main cast and giving the audience a knowing look asking us to find it hilarious as they bemoan yet another transformation sequence.

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But even then they couldn’t commit with the final episodes seeing boys joining forces with the henchmen of the previously evil brother and willingly throwing themselves into a fight against a suddenly propped up villain that the audience has legitimately no reason to care about. So the boys didn’t even manage to be consistent in their apathy.

Actually, I do have a couple of positives. I mean, I did get through the entire season so it isn’t like it is an unwatchable steaming pile of overcooked spinach.

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Firstly, I kind of loved the song that they played every single time the boys used their final attack. Well I say final attack but generally it the only one because mostly they just kind of made stupid comments until Karl (the talking otter who is actually a prince) tells them its time to make everyone happy and then they attack. But the song is pretty infectious and it definitely got stuck in my head every single week.

The other thing I really enjoyed was that at least the main characters called the villains on the pathetic nature of their complaint. It was something I always wished the Sailor Scouts would do when someone gave in to something really petty and transformed into a monster.

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Outside of those two things though, there isn’t a lot to love about Happy Kiss. The cast don’t develop at all, the rivalry between the Defense Club and the Student Council seems forced and doesn’t really go anywhere until near the end and then it is kind of just over, and even the two princes don’t really do much more than repeat their formulaic lines week after week.

I’d honestly say that you would be better off watching the original than this if you’ve never watched anything in the franchise. The writing is undeniably better and more amusing. I’m clearly not recommending this anime and I’m kind of hoping this is where the franchise stops but somehow I doubt it.

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Karandi James

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Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Episode 12: Another Cash Grab Ends

If I ever get around to writing a list of most pointlessly depressing sequels and follow ups, Happy Kiss is most definitely ending up on it. From start to finish this was pretty uninspired and pointless, and this final might as well not exist.

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I should have realised that final episode or not, this anime never had anything more to say than tell someone they aren’t unhappy and then sing a bit before zapping them into a bath and everything will be solved. That’s literally what we watched for 12 episodes and the final boss fight doesn’t vary from this routine at all except that the song takes longer and the boys use their magic sticks as pseudo microphones while the tin soldiers dance. It’s a little depressing to be honest.

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And while the student council and Kyotaro’s group now seem to all be getting along, we kind of realised that there wasn’t any reason for them not to be other than stupidity in the first place. Where earlier seasons of this franchise had a little bit of cleverness to them and some amusing observations, outside of the first two episodes, this iteration delivered nothing other than formulaic drivel. On the bright side, at least it is over now. At least until we get the ‘Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Super Love’ spin-off which almost sure to be the next cash grab for the franchise.

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Karandi James

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Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Episode 11: He’s That Upset Over That?

While I’m kind of used to this show trivialising things, particularly motivations, finally finding out the cause of Ata’s deep rooted resentment was even more vapid than I had suspected. Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss has one more episode and then I will fortunately say goodbye to this one.

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The whole season has seen Ata glaring daggers at the more or less oblivious Kyotaro and really I’ve just wanted him to get over it from the start. However, if it had at least been based on some kind of rel trauma or slight that might have made it bearable. But no. Instead it turns out Ata is just a petulant child blaming others for his own shortcomings and interpreting everything as a slight so that he can continue to feed his petty hatred. And while this in itself may have made for an interesting character exploration, it hasn’t been explored. It was screamed at us during an over the top boss fight and then resolved in more or less an instant, except that it isn’t because Kyotaro once again ran off and left Ata.

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Really this continuation continues to be pretty vapid and pointless with characters who have ended up fairly uninspired. The one hope is that the return to Karls’ home might make for an interesting final episode at least, but I won’t hold my breath.

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Sailor Moon S Series Review

She’s defended the world, saved the future, and is ready to just get on with her life, but there are certainly new dangers afoot that will ensure things are not peaceful for long.

  • Season 1 review: here.
  • Season 2 review: here.

Review (Spoiler Warning):

Things are going to get tricky here because seasons 1 and 2 were the only ones playing on TV with their fun English dub when I was growing up. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to watch S, Super S and finally Stars and then I had to switch to subs so all the character names changed. One of those fun parts of my early anime journey in the 90’s really. That isn’t to say there wasn’t some benefit to this given a few of the characters weren’t quite as squeaky in Japanese, but some characters actually sounded even more over the top. And I’m not sure how, but Usagi/Serena crying certainly seems even more ear-splitting in the original soundtrack. For the sake of review consistency, I’m going to try to stick to the English names for characters.

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Sailor Moon S is kind of where Sailor Moon peaked for me. Outside of the first season, it was always my favourite and the reason for that lies squarely at the feet of the newly introduced Sailor Scouts and Rini’s new friend, Hotaru.

We’d previously met Pluto, but not like this, and Uranus and Neptune are a fantastic pair for so many reasons. Okay, we’ll overlook the fact that the pronunciation of some of the attacks is so poor that my friend and I had to look up what Uranus’ attack actually was because the version we managed to find didn’t put subs in for when they said English words and no matter how many times we listened to it we were convinced the word ‘chicken’ featured somewhere in there and that didn’t make a lot of sense. Turns out it is ‘world shaking’ and not ‘chicken’ and really that sounds like a much better attack, but all of that just added to our ongoing obsession with this show.

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It is odd that Uranus and Neptune work so well, given they are essentially taking on much the same role Tuxedo Mask had in season 1. They aren’t necessarily the scout’s allies, tell them that they are not and that they have their own agenda, and yet the almost never allow real harm to befall the scouts. Their actions are motivated by a goal they have to achieve but they don’t actually just tell the other scouts what it is. The parallel between their role and Tuxedo Mask in season 1 is further emphasises by Uranus’ not so subtle advances on Serena. Now, we kind of know she’s just teasing given Haruka (Uranus) is totally devoted to Michiru (Neptune). Which is where the English dub becomes a little dubious (I saw it much later when it was finally available on DVD), and realised that they changed these two into cousins. It seems kind of ludicrous given how close these two are and how important their relationship is to the entire narrative being constructed here, but I guess they really wanted to keep pretending that only kids were watching and that somehow seeing two female character in love would somehow be harmful. Because, watching them have their hearts ripped out apparently wasn’t.

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I will never understand censorship.

What I think makes Uranus and Neptune work so well in the role, as compared with Tuxedo Mask who became more of a running joke, is that you could actually believe that these two would burn Sailor Moon if they had to. They were cold enough and desperate enough that they might just have let her die. Whereas, there was never any doubt that Tuxedo Mask was a goody-two-shoes. Even when brainwashed he couldn’t bring himself to actually hurt Serena.

This kind of character, still technically a good guy, and yet ruthless in their devotion to their cause, was thrilling and added an edge to a show that might otherwise have just given us yet another iteration of the same old story.

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When we throw Hotaru’s character and plight in as well, we see that Sailor Moon S really was trying to step things up. This isn’t just monsters or fights or magical powers. This was a real human drama and an ongoing one. Previously characters with issues had been introduced, some magical menace would pray on them and Serena would zap it with her wand and all would be well. Hotaru’s loneliness and isolation was an ongoing theme and there was no magical and quick fix. Without spoiling the season finale, while there is an ultimately magical fix, it doesn’t exactly just make everything all better. There’s a lot of pain here and it is real human emotion that is being explored.

Which of course brings the conversation around to the villains of the piece, the Death Busters. And yes, they look every bit as ridiculous as Beryl and her minions and Prince Diamond and his. Actually, the fashion probably got worse. However, the viciousness of the monster of the week was certainly stepped up in this season. While the same sorts of patterns were followed, the stakes always felt higher and only one or two of the passing villains were so absurd that they drew out laughter rather than a desire to see them vanquished (the car one is memorably terrible).

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However, the Death Busters have a plan that seems a lot more together than either Beryl or Diamond and even though ultimately it amounts to once again destroying the world, these characters seem like they have so much more chance at success. Maybe it is because instead of living in some cave under the ice, or being a thousand years in the future, these characters are working in a laboratory and seem to be taking the whole evil plot thing far more seriously. Doesn’t assist their general poor sense of fashion or the fact that the professor’s glasses do that weird thing evil anime character glasses do where they glint in total darkness.

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If I was to throw any complaint at this season, it would be directed at Sailor Moon herself. Early on she fails against the villains and then for reasons she just gets a new compact and rod. Previously it made sense that Serenity had sent weapons back in time, but if there was a more powerful version of the basic tools, I have to wonder why she didn’t get them initially or why they weren’t ever mentioned. It is very much plot convenience, or a desire to sell new accessories. Plus, the heart rod always drove me crazy because if we thought Serena’s attacks took a long time to power up before, be prepared for the new dancing and spinning Sailor Moon. Also, Serena is such a klutz, I always wondered how she didn’t trip over her own pig-tails while powering it up.

But, I’m not just mocking the convenient power jump. The biggest issue is that Serena lost a lot of her bite in this season, and that is a trend that would continue to plague the next two seasons as well. She’s growing up, but that means she’s becoming less interesting. Less wailing and whining and ditching and more responsibility and wise, kind words of calm. It might make her a better person but it doesn’t make her as fun to watch in action. The other scouts also get seriously side lined and while they each get a story line devoted to them, ultimately they could have been ditched from this altogether and we could have just had Serena, Rini, and the new Sailor Scouts without much adjustment of the narrative.

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Still, this is definitely a solid season of Sailor Moon and for those working their way through the 90’s version of the series for the first time, this season is one to look forward to.

If you are still with me in reliving the classic Sailor Moon seasons, I’d love to know what you thought of this one so leave me a comment below.


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Karandi James

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Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Episode 10: The Silver Lining

Well, the one thing I consistently liked about this anime, the song they use when transforming the monsters back, was butchered this weak by the geriatric versions of the cast. I’d call it quits but I’m thinking there’s only like two episodes left.

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There was something that could have been quite funny about this episode. The situation is so inherently ridiculous and while the boys transformations are funny enough, having the old versions of them transforming could have been pretty laughable. Instead, this all feels very lazy. From the slap dash and fairly uninspired interaction in the bath before that serves as a clumsy lead in to the theme of the episode, to the presidents rising anger, everything is all just kind of obvious and lacking in any kind of depth. And while over the top and obvious can work, here is just seems like we’re going through the motions because we can.

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I’ve mentioned before that the dialogue was something I really liked about the first season of this franchise, but with the exception of the first couple of episodes, Happy Kiss has just not delivered anything even close. The characters have inane conversations and they are just inane. There isn’t any subtlety or interesting points to pull apart. The villains are poorly thought out and realised and not even in a parody kind of way. They are just badly done. The only light shining here is that we finally broke formula at the end of the episode so maybe something vaguely interesting might happen next week.

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Karandi James

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