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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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