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.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka - Episode 2 - disas

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).

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Asuka being called

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