The Battle of the Magical Girls Begins

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10 Review

With the invasion of the military base and the parallel invasion of Naha city occurring at the end of last episode it was clear that this week Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka would be focused on the battle at hand. What follows is a fairly scattered affair with the audience jumping from one scene of the battle to another and seeing Tamara and Mia in action at their respective locations as well as following the actions of various soldiers and Nozomi and Sayako in amongst the fight before we finally get down to business in the bunker with Rapture, War Nurse and the main villains of this fight.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10 Disas

While it is a scattered affair frantically jumping from one point where the soldiers are being beaten back to another, interspersed with civilians fleeing and dying and ordinary police being incredibly heroic before dying, all of this cut with scenes of the military commanders glaring at their screens and musing about potential strategy, it works really well because the set up for this fight was put in place last episode. Even though the overall motives of the villains is still unclear, making that the weakest link in the whole series, the basic parameters for this sequence were clearly laid out and the target of the General in the basement was pretty straight-forward, even if it turns out they were after something the general had rather than the general herself.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Nozomi and Sayako

Action sequences in this anime remain very entertaining to watch with a real sense of pace and movement about them. It makes getting screen caps kind of difficult because of the amount of motion blur at times but at the same time, watching the sequence it is very solid portrayal of a frantic fight sequence. It’s also fun watching the transition between the soldiers and their standard tactics compared to the Magical Girls who are almost a whole army on their own and have their own way of fighting.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 10 Mia

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Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1

While characterisation gets put to the side for a large majority of the episode, Asuka still manages to deliver a decent effort at remembering that she was traumatised by the previous war and has yet to really accept that she’s back involved with the conflict. While many an anime hero would have committed to fighting and then never mentioned their trauma again, Asuka is wearing hers on her sleeve and it really is only Kurumi’s presence at her side while they wait that keeps her grounded and prevents her from breaking down entirely as they listen to the sounds of battle and dying over the radio.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10 Kurumi and Asuka

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka remains a fairly decent viewing experience and while it has at times pushed the violence a little further than some people would like, its been delivering a reasonably compelling story and it seems to be heading to a decent climax. Now whether or not we get a decent end point or are left hanging is really all that’s left to find out in the next two episodes and that could really change my overall opinion of the show.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10
Well, I’m scared.

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The Dark Side of the Magical Girl Myth

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 8 Review

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka continues to hover on that narrow line between dark and violent with narrative purpose and gratuitous with a scene this week of Kurumi torturing the captured magical girl stepping over the line and firmly into gratuitous territory. While the themes and ideas in Spec-Ops continue to be interesting and characterisation at least for Asuka fairly solidly handled, it is scenes like this one, that could easily have been cut down and still maintained their effectiveness, that will make this series fairly hard to recommend without some strong caveats attached.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 8 Kurumi

Kurumi’s character is also becoming something of a problem. While her obsession with Asuka was already known and understood, this week we see that Kurumi has really got some issues and needs a lengthy amount of mental health care at this point. What she doesn’t need to be is put in charge of extracting information from prisoners and while I get the need for the military to use magical girls, I’m not entirely convinced that relying on someone that unbalanced is exactly a great plan A.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 8

However, equal opportunity for crazy this episode as we see another girl with some mental health issues (grounded firmly in trauma caused by drunken humans killing her mother and crippling her followed by abuse by her father) being given the opportunity to become a magical girl for the villains. Her transformed costume is perhaps the least subtle so far and isn’t exactly magical girl so much as BDSM and really makes you wonder how far they will push it. Not to mention, her initiation being to kill the four teens who kills her mother while in her human and un-transformed state really does make you wonder just how far she is willing to go.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 8 Asuka

Still, for all that this episode was definitely getting close to the line I’ll draw for myself, it continues to pose excellent questions for the characters to deal with and while the villain’s grand plan is still no where near clear at least these villains aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. If you can handle the violence, blood and torture, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka remains an intriguing viewing experience even if at times it isn’t as nuanced as it needs to be to really land the point it seems to be trying to make.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 9 Review

Episode 9 of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka gives us almost an all out war as the military base hosting talks with the spirit world comes under attack by the Disas. It’s a tense situation and we have magical girls all ready to fight but civilian casualties are definitely going to happen.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 9

For all that the episode ends up building to one of the biggest conflicts yet, we still have quite a bit of downtime early in the episode as they set up the scene and move all the characters into position. Kurumi and Asuka are reunited with Mia and Tamara as well as a general from the spirit world who apparently is the target of the most recent attack. Meanwhile their classmates are in the city currently being attacked.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 9

But they still manage to waste time on a stupid fan-service joke which just kind of broke the tension of the episode entirely.

There’s a lot going on and a lot at stake and I’m really kind of looking forward to seeing where they go next episode. It would be great to see all the magical girls fighting and really great to see how the military handle this current threat.

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MAGICAL GIRL SPEC-OPS ASUKA LARGE TOTE BAG BLACK
MAGICAL GIRL SPEC-OPS ASUKA LARGE TOTE BAG BLACK

It’s Raining Magical Girls and Deals With Other Worlds

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Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 7 Review

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 7 Asuka
Another flash back from the war – Asuka really needs some help dealing with her emotions after everything she’s been through.

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 7

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 7
I don’t know what her name was, nor do I suppose it matters, but here’s another ‘bad’ magical girl. You can tell because of the smile.

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).

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 7

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.

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Karandi James
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GUNDAM 40TH ANNIVERSARY BEST ANIME MIX – BEYOND
GUNDAM 40TH ANNIVERSARY BEST ANIME MIX - BEYOND

Everybody Loses In A Magical War

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 6 Review

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 6 Asuka

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 6 Festival

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Episode 6 - Mia

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.

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ITEMYA BOOK OF MAGIC BAG
ITEMYA BOOK OF MAGIC BAG

Magical Trauma and Political Intrigue a Plenty

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 5 Review

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.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 5 Nozomi

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).

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 5 Asuka

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.

Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka Episode 5 Kurumi

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 Episode 5 Abby
She’s a little annoyed by their interruption.

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.

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Karandi James
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POKEMON X TAMAGOTCHI: EEVEE X TAMAGOTCHI COLORFUL FRIENDS VER.
	POKEMON X TAMAGOTCHI: EEVEE X TAMAGOTCHI COLORFUL FRIENDS VER.

This Is Not How One Puts Together A Solid Plan

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Review

Nozomi is pretty much in a horrible situation made worse by bureaucracy that is worried about relationships and power struggles rather than saving her life. This isn’t easy to watch and at the end of the day I’m still feeling like the villains really need more motive than what they’ve been given. Perhaps there’s a grand plan but it isn’t overly clear yet so this just seems like pain for pain’s sake.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Nozomi

Which is something this anime had tip-toed around previously but avoided. It had heaped pain upon the characters but there always seemed like a sound narrative reason, whereas the torture sequence here with Abigail grinning over it while she holds her camera just feels very much unnecessary. We’ve seen enough already in this anime to know the stakes are high so just seeing the set up in the room would have been sufficient to create a sense of urgency and terror without actually witnessing the torture of a young girl. While some anime show too little to really create a sense of menace, this one had already firmly established what could happen. We could have figured it out. Ultimately it just ends up being an uncomfortable viewing experience.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Nozomi's father

More interesting though is what is happening in the background with the father desperately trying to get permission to rescue his daughter but being blocked by bickering factions. It is far too believable and fairly tragic that the girl’s life isn’t the number one priority from the point of view of organisations that apparently exist to protect people. More time on this angle would have really been appreciated as it made this somewhat fantastical situation feel very grounded in our reality.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Asuka

Less pleasing is the lack of planning by Kurumi and Asuka before charging in to the rescue. Equally, the villains still don’t have much in the way of a clear objective. Abigail has said she wants to capture a magical girl alive and there’s some scheme there but details are scarce and mostly the villains seem kind of foolish. It will be interesting to see if there’s more going on here or if the villains really are just going to remain cackling lunatics.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4 Abigail

I’ll admit, this episode took some of the shine of this series by focusing on the pain rather than the impact of it and by not really giving enough attention to motives and characters. That said, it isn’t a train wreck and provided it leads somewhere this could still be quite compelling. We’ll see what it does next.

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Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1
Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1

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