Magical Torture, Pain, and the Unending War

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 12 Review

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.

Mia- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 12

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.

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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.

Asuka - Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka

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.

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Karandi James
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Bring the Pain; It Won’t Stop These Magical Girls

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 11 Review

As Asuka faces off against Giess and War Nurse Kurumi faces of against Whiplash, the fighting above ground grinds to a halt with The Russian magical girl rescuing Mia as well as Nozomi and Sayako. Of course, there’s no more reason for the fighting to go on above ground given the box with the magical tool in it has already left the building and so the fight below ground, while grand and all, is mostly just marking time.

Asuka vs Giess - Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka  - Episode 11

Kurumi gets quite the beating in this episode, both physically and emotionally. We already knew War Nurse wasn’t amazing at hand to hand combat so her opponent couldn’t be any worse. Yet, despite flash backs to days of being bullied and a lot of mental trauma, War Nurse isn’t going to take a beating lying down.

Kurumi - Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Episode 11

This is probably the best showing Kurumi has been given so far in this series. She’s wanting to go help Asuka, but more than that, she doesn’t want to feel pathetic. She doesn’t want to return to who she was. Kurumi gives this fight everything she has and while she is still very much a support fighter, you have to respect her victory in this instance.

Asuka - Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka - Episode 11

Asuka on the other hand is a front line fighter but her opponent is also ill-suited. She takes significant damage including the loss of an arm, but don’t think that’s going to stop her.

Now, I should point out, that the fact that Nozomi lost an arm earlier in the series and they simply reattached it takes a lot of the tension out of this sequence. There’s never any doubt that Kurumi will get there and repair Asuka’s arm for her so the cringe and fear that should really work with this scene isn’t there. So instead it feels a little bit flat despite the apparent gravity of a teenage girl having her arm torn off.

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Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1

Again though, we know it isn’t going to be permanent, unless Kurumi dies before the fight is over but that seemed unlikely, and also, the audience knows the reason for this fight has already gone. Asuka isn’t aware of it so is fighting for real, but it makes it hard for the audience to invest.

Of course, that doesn’t make Asuka’s winning attack any less cool to watch.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 11

I don’t know what they are going to do to Whiplash but I don’t think it will matter. She was pretty broken after losing her fight and then Giess put the final nail in the coffin by revealing what his side did to her.

Whiplash - Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka - Episode 11

The one thing I do know is that none of this will be properly solved next week unless it is done at break neck speed so it seems we’ll be left hanging at season’s end. And was that last comment by the villain about the magical tool a sign that Sayako is actually going to become a magical girl or am I reading too much into that?

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Karandi James
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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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Top 5 Military Focused Anime

Tuesday's Top 5

I’m not the biggest fan of military movies or war focused stories (at least not realistic ones). I find them a little bit depressing to be honest. There are exceptions, usually science fiction or fantasy is enough of a hook (such as Starship Troopers), and I’ve definitely noticed a soft spot for anime that brings in the military (though being told something is military focused isn’t the draw).

Today I’m looking at my favourite military focused anime. Authenticity isn’t a concern. I don’t care whether the ranks and positions are wrong, whether characters would actually be able to behave in certain manners in a real army, or whether the military exists or is part of an entirely fictional setting. I’m just concerned with anime that I really ended up enjoying that had a strong military focus. As such, I’m sure there are many great military anime that aren’t going to get a mention and I’d love to know your favourites so feel free to give them a shout out in the comments below.

Honourable Mentions:

Honourable mentions this time around go to the entire Gundam Franchise, which I continue to have a love/hate relationship with as the various entries either really grab me and pull me in or I end up abandoning fairly early on, and Heavy Object. Now Heavy Object is an anime in general that doesn’t get enough conversation so I really wanted it on my top 5 list, but the numerous flaws with the show prevented me from putting it above anything on the list. That said, I really liked Heavy Object, a lot more than I expected.

Number 5: Attack On Titan

Now, I won’t deny that season two of Attack on Titan saw my patience wearing thin after a fairly big slow down in the second half of season one. But, the early episodes of season one really grabbed me and while the titan at the wall was a big part of that, so was Eren and crew’s original military training. It is such an integral part of the show and the characters and those early episodes were really good. Season three also picked up a lot of things and part of it is the power structure of the world including where the military fits into that. All and all, while this isn’t one of my favourite of all time anime, the military influence is quite strong and some of the better moments comes when the story focuses on these elements.

Attack on Titan

Number 4: Full Metal Alchemist and Brotherhood

Whether it is FMA or FMA Brotherhood, the military focus of Armestris is pretty clear. Love the uniforms, as impractical as they appear, and a lot of the drama in the show comes from the higher ups withholding information from subordinates. Also, characters are regularly compelled to act against their own nature because being in the military does mean following orders. Both versions of Full Metal Alchemist really do an excellent job of showcasing both the problems of large military organisations as well as the camaraderie and loyalty that can grow between soldiers working for a common cause. All and all, a solid anime with a military focus to sink your teeth into.

Full Metal Alchemist - Military

Number 3: Code Geass

Right, so we’re really moving away from realistic here, but I love Code Geass. The ongoing war, the terrorist tactics, the military responses and escalation of weapons of mass destruction… despite the mechs and the fantastical political scenario so much in terms of the themes and ideas are incredibly relatable but it ends up being over dramatised and becomes pure entertainment. From Lelouche’s flamboyant persona as Zero to the amazing feats Suzaku pulls off, everything about this story is great entertainment, even if a little tragic if linked back to reality.

Code Geass
Okay, I couldn’t find a nice picture of the military uniforms, but the school uniform is pretty military like.

Number 2: GATE

This one had to be on the list. In fact, this was where I started and I felt for sure GATE would end up being number one. Alas, I remembered something better, but for now I’ll just go through why I love GATE. It reminded me a lot of the early Stargate episodes with the military going through to other worlds and Daniel Jackson trying to talk with the populations why they looked for resources and the like. Yet, it had all the crazy anime trapping we’ve come to expect from isekai with elf-girls and magicians, and of course Rory Mercury… Want to see the Japanese military face off against a fire-breathing dragon? Helicopters taking on bandits storming a fortress? GATE was great fun to just strap in and watch.


Number 1: Full Metal Panic

Lastly, we get to my number one entry on this list. When thinking of military focus of course I thought of the number one military maniac himself, Sousuke Sagara. I absolutely loved Full Metal Panic’s ability to balance a fairly serious military style story with hired mercenaries and various agencies as well as the high school comedy aspects. It doesn’t make a huge amount of sense if you stop and think about it, but it absolutely gets the fun factor right and some of the fight sequences and the tactics they come up with are incredibly impressive.

Full Metal Panic

And there you have it, my top 5 military focused anime. As I said, I’d love to know yours so leave me a comment.

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You Can Only Smile For So Long

The Price of Smiles Post Title Image

The Price of Smiles Episode 7 Review

Even after taking the capital the war continues. Episode 7 follows Stella and her squad for the most part as they have a bit of down time and also send off Pierce who was injured during the fighting. However, while that does involve some wine drinking and cooking, because anime, it also involves some very real questions being asked about what is next for Pierce.

The Price of Smiles Episode 7

While we’ve never once seen the reality of the planet outside of Yuuki’s kingdom. Brief flashes of childhood memories from Stella are as close as we get, but stories like Pierce and the reactions of the squad to the Kingdom is a pretty good indicator that things are not so crash hot. Whether that justifies invasion is another question, but The Price of Smiles continues to remain free of sermonising and is more presenting the situation for audiences to interpret as they will.

The Price of Smiles Episode 7 Stella

That said, I think they’ve fallen into a bit of a pattern now as the ‘twist’ at the end of this episode was very much expected after what they have previously done to Joshua. While it lessened the impact a little bit, it still is a good moment and seeing Stella’s smile faltering more often as she opens herself up to others has been an interesting experience.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8
I wish I could remember either of these character’s names. They continue to play at war while the others have a farewell party.

Kind of hopeful for this series still though they are kind of running out of episodes and it still feels like we are setting things up. Either we’re getting an incomplete ending or a rushed ending. I’m still hoping for an actual ending but I guess we’ll see how the next couple of episodes go.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8 Review

Hey, I learned the long haired guys name. You know, the one who has been a prisoner since Yuki fled the palace. And of course, I learned his name just in time for that to be more or less a pointless exercise. Still, he left his impact on the story and I quite liked him even if I did struggle remembering what his name was.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8 Yuki

We flip perspectives again this week and follow Yuki as she commands what is left of her forces in hit and run and retreat tactics. The problem is, she’s trying to have her cake and eat it to as she doesn’t want to surrender and doesn’t want anyone on either side to die. It is certainly a losing strategy long term and one that by the end of this episode comes to bite her. Then again, Harold’s rush the enemy with everything you’ve got strategy would probably be equally disastrous.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8 Harold

However, suddenly the old empire has become a significant figure and I’m wondering if I just missed mention of it earlier but it seems there’s a third faction with their hand in this war. I really feel like I’m going to have to watch this anime again from the beginning at some point because clearly I’m not catching everything the first time through.

Looking forward to seeing what the next episode brings.

The Price of Smiles Episode 9 Review

Another episode and another death, though this one was well past the expiration date and I was kind of glad it finally happened given how many times it probably should have. Still, I think Yuki’s smile might be permanently damaged after the last couple of episodes and who could blame her?

The Price of Smiles Episode 9

However, more important than the ongoing retreat and battles is the information Izana sent the Princess last episode right before his death. Yes, the reason the facility was blown up 12 years ago is revealed and it ties in with the colonization of the planet and the dwindling resources. I love it when a plot actually comes together and everything feels purposeful rather than just kind of like an added on complication to stretch drama.

The Price of Smiles Episode 9 Yuki

While the science might be a little on the ludicrous side, it has been internally consistent at least and while I’m not sure what they can do at this point to fix the problem, at the very least the picture has now become pretty clear. Incidentally, it appears Yuki isn’t the only royal to have her orders routinely ignored and to be lied to given her parents apparently never got the memo about how dangerous their chrars actually were.

The Price of Smiles Episode 9

Still not sure how this can wrap in another three episodes but this was a good step in the right direction for bringing this story together.

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It’s Raining Magical Girls and Deals With Other Worlds

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Post Title Image

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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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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