Torture Is Magic – ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Full Season Review

Torture Is Magic – A Full Season Review for ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’


What’s the show? Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka.

And what’s it about? After demonic plush toys with a taste for murder and chaos invade Earth, the Governments of the world form an alliance with the magical world to create ‘magical girls’ to defeat the evil enemy. The story takes place three years after the great war and concerns Asuka, one of the ‘Magical Five’ who helped end the big bad and bring “peace” to the world as she tries to regain a semblance of a normal life all the while haunted by memories of the past and facing an uncertain future as magical terrorism begins to surface.

I always enjoyed Kurumi’s solo fight scenes. She holds her own despite being a ‘support’ class.

Okay, that sounds interesting. What’s your take on it? This show is unbelievably complicated–and I don’t mean that in a narrative sense–it’s not confusing, or hard to follow or inherently problematic. No, what ‘Magical Girl Spec Ops’ is, at its fundamental level is “real”.

You might have to explain this to me, last time I checked magical girls weren’t the least bit real. That may be true, but a lot of the truly intriguing things about this anime is subtext and parallels to real-world actions rather than the glossy and lurid ~dark magical girl persona~ that it somewhat sells itself on. Discussing this show, unpacking its myriad complexities and connections to events we see and read about on the news is in some ways more satisfying than the execution of the actual series itself.

Too bad, because we’re going to talk about it!

Right, this sounds like it’s going to be a long one if I let you ramble too long, can you give me the abridged version please? Okay, so Asuka has severe PTSD from losing so many comrades in the great magical war. And for the most part PTSD is a ‘theme’ this series demonstrates best, it feels real and personal and occasionally crippling–especially for the non-magical girl side-characters like Asuka’s classmates Sayako and Nozomi. Next is TERRORISM, which I feel is represented at least semi-accurately with the indiscriminate and random loss of life foisted upon people just going about their daily lives with a seemingly flimsy and misguided excuse for committing it on the part of the perpetrators. The third; and potentially hardest to defend ‘theme’ of the series is TORTURE. Both utilised by the “villains” and “heroes” alike and shown to have at least passing efficacy. And it’s here specifically where the disconnect between the subject matter and the execution is most evident.

Don’t worry, there will be no torture gifs in this review.

How do you mean? This is still very much “Hollywood-brand TORTURE”–certainly its occasionally more inventive and definitely more sexual but the series seems to think that torture for the “greater good” is justified over torture for the sake of it. Whether this informed by a distinctly Japanese view on karma and justice or whether it’s just the author’s personal feelings on the matter is not for me to say but I think the series glorified torture as ‘necessary in the face of extremism’ for the sake of entertainment value.

Magical guns on the other hand…

Sure, I mean they all sound like worthy topics for discussion but we’re review the anime here not the subtext and what not. What about the show itself? It’s messy. Honestly, I think the series has amazing potential, great characters, decent action and a biting sense of humour. But it’s also wanting to be serious and grounded and intellectual–which I give it all the props in the world for–but at the same time it makes the experience kind of uneven overall. Not in a way that ruins the show, but simply that makes it flawed. And yet…

Luckiest henchman death ever.

And yet? And yet, I kind of love that about this show…

Huh?! Life is messy and complicated and flawed and hard to easily explain. On any given day you could be riding the highest of highs then have something that brings you down to the lowest of lows. You could be reading a news story about some terrible tragedy going on somewhere in the world one minute and then lose yourself in something fun and light the next. Sure this series doesn’t conform to a lot of the expected standards of narrative structure–it’s not nuanced in its pacing or tone, but it still works all the same.

Asuka enjoying the small moments of peace between the fighting.

I feel like you need to talk about some specifics about the show, who was your favourite character? That’d be my favourite Nozomi, as far as characters go her arc is um, almost non-existent. But I can’t resist a tanned genki girl! For sheer character development though, Asuka comes a close second.

Nozomi’s the shameless perv on the right, if that wasn’t abundantly obvious.

Fair enough, and a final recommendation and review for ‘Magical Girl Spec Ops’ then? Ultimately, someone open minded and willing to witness and discuss some dark subject matter and its real life comparator is required to fully enjoy this series for what it is. But likewise someone easy-going enough to appreciate the levity and silliness that comes so frequently not only as a trope of ecchi-adjacent (yes, that’s what I’m calling this) anime but also of life in general. It’s rough around the edges, it’s flawed and it’s sometimes hard to talk about but a magical girl anime about terrorism, PTSD and torture? What did you expect? 80 out of 100.

Speaking of shameless pervs. Enjoy this gif of two anime girls in bras on a treadmill.

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An Arm For An Arm – ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 4 Review

An Arm For An Arm – An Anime QandA Review for ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 4


What’s the show? Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, Episode 4.

How’s this episode? You know what, I expected the worst to befall our poor kidnapped Nozomi at the end of last episode, what with her being the daughter of a state-sanctioned torturer and all. But ~yeesh~ if this episode didn’t deliver on the cold-hearted brutality of torture… I mean sure I had zero negative reaction to seeing the terrorist Kim Kanth being tortured in the previous two episodes but this time was different! This was best girl being tortured!

I’m scared. What happens to her? It’s not like you to be rushing me towards the end of the episode, I’ll get there in due-time, but first the rest of the episode!

Nozomi’s father dealing with the tough reality.

Fair ‘nuff. What happens in this episode? Nozomi is kidnapped by ruthless “illegal” magical girl Abigail, words reaches her father but there are no ransom demands–this is personal and Nozomi is set to suffer for the sins of her father. ‘Public Safety’ the group her father works for, refuses to send in a rescue team because they deem her inevitable death to be beneficial for their bargaining with the government for a bigger budget. Asuka gets wind of this and doesn’t hesitate to advance on the enemy with fellow magical girl Kurumi quickly in-tow.

Asuka’s determined to get her friend back. No matter what.

And then comes…? And then comes the torture, first at the hands of two Russian magical mercenaries–one who specialises in fire based torture–which results in Nozomi getting the skin on her stomach melted–and one who specialised in water torture. It’s the water torture in particular that’s as inventive as it is sadistic with a floating sphere of water encasing Nozomi’s head and forcing its way deep down her throat and into her stomach. It’s controlled agony and absolutely horrible to witness Nozomi being subjected to such brutal treatment.

Poor Nozomi.

And what’s their goal here? It’s not just simple revenge is it? Partly for sure. But for Abigail and her “Queen” the end goal is as simple as it is terrifying. They want to lure out a magical girl to rescue Nozomi (knowing that ‘Public Safety’ won’t risk their own people for a rescue) with the intent of capturing a magical girl and turning them into a ‘Magical Girl of Mass Destruction’.

MGMD’s, huh? Yes the modern-day terrorism motif gets a further workout with the referencing of WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction) but the earnestness with which this show presents its dark themes goes a long way to legitimising them despite sounding like something half-baked and lame on paper.

Abigail has some anger issues.

Right. So do they rescue Nozomi? In a manner of speaking. They infiltrate the base (which is a pretty cool series of scenes in of itself, and make their way to where Nozomi is being held. Asuka and Abigail verbally spar, poor Nozomi loses an arm in the exchange and our magical girls escape–well until Asuka insists on getting Kurumi and Nozomi to safety and leaves the fighting of the Russian magical mercenaries to her already injured self. And that’s where the episode ends, with a modicum of victory but a whole lot of uncertainty…

Stylish and disturbing.

And so where do you stand on this episode? You’re usually pretty generally negative on dark subject matter. I take umbrage with that comment. I’m fine with dark subject matter as long as it’s earned and contextual. Which it is both here–plus it helped that I was mentally prepared for the worst considering the previous weeks which didn’t shy away from violence. Did I “enjoy” this episode? Not in a traditional way but I thought it was compelling and made the villains all the more loathsome and despicable for torturing an innocent girl whom we’d come to know from the previous episodes. How Nozomi will come out of this, and how her character will be affected is something I’m almost more interested in seeing then the main narrative itself considering how well this show has dealt with the realistic aspects of PTSD.

What a way to go.

Previous ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Reviews:

The Fight Never Ends – Episode 1 Review
Surviving Takes Its Toll – Episode 2 Review
Sink Or Swim – Episode 3 Review

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Sink Or Swim – ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 3 Review

Sink Or Swim – An Anime QandA Review for ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 3


What’s the show? Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, Episode 3.

So how’s this episode? After the recap of last week’s events we have a wonderful opening scene with Mia Cyrus a.k.a ‘Just Cause Mia’ and American Magical Girl taking down a drug cartel in Mexico. And is it just me or is there something really cool about an anime that has scenes taking place outside of Japan? Don’t get me wrong, I love Japan but there’s something broader about the scope of an anime when it can just plonk down into a new country. Anyway, Mia’s a total badass and because she’s American of course her magical weapon of choice is a shape-shifting gun, she blows through her enemies until they come to a torture victim in a room on the verge of death. But before they can do much a cube of light forms around him and begins crushing his body by shrinking in size. As he’s being crushed he mutters something about “the babel brigade” and “a more terrible war” before ending up a shoe-box sized bloody cube on the floor.

That’s a ‘yikes’ from me.

And I take it that’s important? I don’t know. Probably, I imagine it’ll be to do with the “illegal” magical girl faction and their plans going forward. But I just wanted to relay just how cool this opening scene was–that and Mia saying “crushing these fuckers is our job” was absolutely amazing. I could watch a whole series just about Mia taking down drug cartels and organised crime with her ridiculously overpowered magical gun and spouting one-liners.

You can crush me any day.

Right. And the rest of the episode then? I won’t go into too much detail as a lot happens but Kurumi transfers to their school and she’s hesitant about Asuka’s school friends and their connection. And turns out things are more complicated for Kurumi too as we learn she was horribly bullied as a child by her classmates and that being able to transform into a magical girl is the only thing that makes her life tolerable–that she has that escape. Still Asuka is reluctant to the point of combativeness to take up the old-life despite Kurumi’s very valid point that “having people you care about is a reason to fight for them”.

Kurumi being bullied as a child. *sad face*

Sounds like the series’ overall maturity on delicate subject matter retains in tact. That’s good to hear. Also they all go to a pool because Nozomi wants to ogle all the girls in their swimwear (the girl is so gay)!

Hard to disagree with the appeal of the pool!

*sigh* of course they do… Okay to be fair this scene excuses its fan service by giving Sayako some great character development. She climbs to the highest diving platform in the pool (despite never having dived before) and stares the terror in the face and she jumps and in doing so regains some of the control over her life that she had lost from getting caught up in a near-death experience. This show handles its subject matter with a mature and deft touch that I absolutely appreciate.

Also, gotta love swimwear with butt cleavage.

And then what happens? Well unfortunately for my best girl Nozomi something I feared was going to happen came to pass. She is kidnapped by the “illegal” magical girls and as they do so the villainous henchmen name check her father–who we learned in Episode 2 is a torturer for a special division of the Metropolitan Police. So I guess we know what that means, Nozomi’s probably going to end up getting tortured for something her father did and I’m going to get ~triggered~ and drop the show.

Nozomi’s been kidnapped by Spock from ‘Star Trek’ or an Easter Island Head statue, I couldn’t decided which comparison was funnier so have both.

Wait, what?! Okay, I don’t actually know that that’s going to happen, and I wouldn’t drop a show as good as this because it did something that narratively absolutely makes sense for it to happen. But I’m not going to be happy about it all the same!

I see… well then, overall thoughts on the episode? The show continues to build on its strengths established in previous episodes and remains an entertaining and compelling series. It juggles the gritty action of its magical girl escapades with its humble (but still well-written) slice of life-esque school shenanigans with ease. I eagerly await–and somewhat apprehensively dread–the next episode!

It’s not really relevant to the episode but I felt like including this anyway. Also, is that Mia Cyrus on the poster?

Previous ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Reviews:

The Fight Never Ends – Episode 1 Review
Surviving Takes Its Toll – Episode 2 Review

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Surviving Takes Its Toll – ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 2 Review

Surviving Takes Its Toll – An Anime QandA Review for ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 2


What’s the show? Magical Girl Spe-Ops Asuka, Episode 2.

So how’s this episode? Great, it builds upon ideas and plotlines hinted at in the previous episode and contains a satisfying amount of character development and depth!

Wow that was a quick review. Can you talk about it some more? Of course, you must have been surprised at how concise and to the point I was just now, right?

Little bit. Sorry, I’ll try to waffle on a bit more in future as not to catch you off guard.

I like this creature.

Appreciated. So what happens in the episode? So we get the ~somewhat~ convenient but at least easily explained excuse for why no one can ID Asuka as one of the most famous Magical Girl’s in history despite looking not too different when transformed. Apparently she’s got a magical obfuscation field that prevents people from recognising her or something like that. Anyway, we see Sayako return to school after her dramatic run-in with terrorists the day before and she looks a little worse for wear–understandable considering she came face to face with death the other day–but as they leave school and a police car drives past with its sirens blaring Sayako collapses to the ground. Turns out she’s got a bit of PTSD of her own from the event and what’s more she’s got a bit of survivor’s guilt thrown in for good measure. And I’m so glad this show addressed this, too often in these tragedies people overlook the people who survived and the trauma’s they suffer on a day to day basis.

Realistic angst.

So doubling down on the PTSD huh? Oh that’s not even the half of it. So Sayako’s best friend genki tomboy and all round best girl Nozomi has a father who works for the Metropolitan Police… at least that’s what he tells her. Truth is he’s a brutal interrogator tasked with getting the information out of terrorists by any means necessary, and the small scene where he’s exchanging casual banter with one of his co-workers in-between torture scenes is as chilling as it is effective at conveying the kind of world this anime operates in (i.e. one frighteningly close to our reality). But that’s not even the most interesting thing about this episode!

War Nurse Kurumi is a sexy badass.

Okay go on. So the group of “bad magical girls” that were teased at the end of last episode rears their heads again and unleashes a “Halloween” class ‘Disas’ on Shinjuku and with Asuka not being part of the Magical Girl Spec Ops team the only other magical girl who can attend the scene is ‘War Nurse Kurumi’ a support class magical girl, one of the legendary five who originally ended the war with the ‘Disas’ 3 years ago and one of Asuka’s closest friends. Naturally when Asuka hears about this unfolding situation and that her friend is in danger she leaps into action and manages to protect her from the rampaging ‘Disas’ just in the nick of time.

I mean she manages to hold her own for the most part, so she’s definitely not just a support class Magical Girl.

And is it a loving reunion between these two friends? Not quite. Turns out Asuka pretty much ~begged~ Kurumi to become a magical girl alongside her back in the day and the fact that Asuka turned tail and ran after the end of the war is something that’s still a sore spot for Kurumi. Asuka makes no excuses for her actions but likewise she reiterates that she can’t fight anymore, she’s just not mentally equipped to return to that kind of life. But Kurumi’s not willing to let things go Asuka’s way so easily and the very next day she transfers into her school!

I ship it.

Well that seems a bit “tropey”. I mean sure, but it works. The thing is, the school parts of this show are just as compelling and interesting and entertaining as the magical girl battles so having another magical girl join their class is a natural progression for the narrative to both keep things confined and tight but also make Asuka address her demons in a comfortable environment.

Fair point. So overall thoughts? I’m really loving this show and while it’s a shame that there are many who’ve written it off as mediocre or worse I think this show has the brains and empathy to tell a compelling story and I eagerly await the next instalment!

Oh you!

Previous ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Reviews:

The Fight Never Ends – Episode 1 Review

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The Fight Never Ends – ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 1 Review

The Fight Never Ends – An Anime QandA Review for ‘Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka’ Episode 1


What’s the show? Magical Girl Spe-Ops Asuka, Episode 1.

So how’s this episode? I’m shamelessly stealing this observation from Irina but calling something a “dark Magical Girl series” feels redundant. I may not be the biggest authority on the genre, there’s plenty I haven’t watched but for the most part they’re all pretty dark in both themes and content. So maybe we should start being more specific with classifying our Magical Girl shows? Let’s start with this one, I’d call it a “bloody and mature Magical Girl series”.

The original Magical Girl group facing off against the ‘final boss’ in the prologue set 3 years before the main events of the anime.

Okay sure, let’s go with that. What’s it about? Sadistic plush monsters called ‘Disas’ invaded Earth and started wrecking shit and killing people, so an envoy from the magical realm signed an agreement with the representatives of Earth to allow specially selected girls to become magical girls to defend the earth. Some years later, after defeating the ultimate evil and loosing some comrades along the way one of the magical girls Azuki just wants to live the life of a normal high school girl but her past keeps coming back to haunt her. Both in the form of traumatic PTSD and by her old handler and official guardian beckoning her back to work for them.

Asuka’s seen some shit.

Wait. If they defeated the “ultimate evil” what do they need her back for? To fight terrorists, drug cartels, organized crime—you know all the other evil shit our normal world has to deal with. He wants her to join an international Magical Girl Spec-Ops group but she’s reluctant to do, especially as she makes a couple of school friends in the space of the episode. Absolutely adorable friends I might add—especially Nozomi who charmed the pants off me with her looks and personality.

Nozomi, Asuka and Sayaka. Protect these girls!

I’ll thank you to keep your pants on please… so let’s get back to this “bloody and mature” label you designated for this show. Care to elaborate? Well the ‘bloody’ part is easy, Asuka is a magical girl whose weapon of choice is a karambit (it’s like a curved knife) and she slices and dices her way through her foes with extreme prejudice! During the end of episode action sequence she cuts of limbs and eviscerates people with accompanying fountains of blood from their wounds. Likewise the ‘mature’ part is an offshoot of the bloody wake she’s left behind her—not wanting to kill anymore for how much it haunts her—but constantly finding herself in the position where she’s the only one who can protect innocent people. And it’s the ‘protecting’ part that drives her, especially as we find out she lost both her parents to the ‘Disas’ who kidnapped, tortured and sent back bits of her parents as a “punishment” for being a magical girl.

And she was only in middle school when this happened.

That definitely fits the criteria… yikes! So how’s this ‘action sequence’ come about? Didn’t she want to quit? What she wants and what’s reality are too vastly different things. She’s just out and about minding her own business when an international terrorist who is being transported is broken free by his henchmen and they proceed to shoot up the general public. It’s a scene reminiscent of many Hollywood action films and plays similarly but it was still fun seeing an anime take on such a trope. Asuka then sees one of her new friends Sayaka about to be gunned down by the terrorist and so leaps in to save her, blocking the bullets with her magical abilities at which point she proceeds to murder them all—well except for the main terrorist who she merely slices both his feet off and leaves him for the authorities to take back into custody.

*arterial spray sounds intensify*

That’s pretty brutal. Indeed, also pretty damn cool too.

So you liked it, overall thoughts and a recommendation then? I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did a lot of ~dark~ magical girl shows conflate edginess for maturity but the two are at the opposite ends of the enjoyment spectrum and I think the way this show dealt with PTSD was nuanced and effective and while the violence was over-the-tip with regards to bloodshed I don’t think it was necessarily gratuitous. Added to that characters that are wholly enjoyable and fun to watch interact and a promising amount of potential for future storylines I’d say this one is well worth watching—regardless of your opinion on the genre.

And we get a “tease” of our main villain towards the end. That’s totally the reason I included this screencap, no other reason… totally not the boobs…

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