Got to chase that Madoka money, am I right?
Actually, that’s a bit unfair for me to say. If there’s one thing about this dark magical girl subgenre that I can praise, it’s that a fair amount of them haven’t entirely copied Madoka‘s shtick. Magical Girl Raising Project had a solid battle royale aspect to its plot. Magical Girl Site…pushed boundaries to put it mildly. It’s not as carbon copied as isekai and imouto anime are. In regards to Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, I did find that it had a decent gimmick to its plot. There’s not a lot of military-themed magical girl anime that I can think of. Really, most of my skepticism was just in execution.
…Which brings me to what I actually think of the show’s first episode.
Truth be told, I do think there is a great story buried somewhere in this show. I mean, a story set after the magical girls fought a war against demonic creatures? There’s a lot of potential with such a plot. Whereas Madoka or MahouIku has their protagonists going through various tribulations, Spec-Ops’ Asuka Ootoorii (Aya Suzuki) has already gone through such experiences. She’s put her life on the line in the face of battle and has not only lost comrades to all that fighting, but also her parents. Three years may have passed since the war ended, you can tel that she’s struggling with re-adjusting into a civilian life. Just the sight of a mascot (you’d think someone would pull the “Too Soon” card there) triggers her and while she’s making some friends at school, she still hesitates in committing to such emotional attachments. By all accounts, Asuka is a war veteran with a case of PSTD and that truly is a fascinating and unique angle to take with the concept of magical girls.
In that case, what could possibly be troubling me with this premiere? Well, to be frank, I found the structure and progression of the episode a bit messy. Let’s start with the beginning of the episode. First, you have a scene where two soldiers Asuka transforms in Shibuya. That’s fine but then, the episode then cuts to when Asuka and the other surviving magical girls make their final stand against the monsters. And after that, the episode cuts again to present day where Asuka tries to come back to a normal life. Simply put, it all feels very wonky. The bit in Shibuya is entirely filler and it would make much more sense to start the episode with the final battle. Hell, the part where the two soldiers (one of whom becomes Asuka’s guardian) converses about the existence of magical girls and their role in the war would’ve been a perfect segue to establishing said magical girls within the setting.
After that, there’s a oddly placed flashback where Asuka finds out that the monsters have killed her parents. It’s a tense scene in of itself, especially given how the parents died (hint: very grotesquely). And yet, it also plays out for too long, becoming a solid 2-3 minute stopgap in the middle of a scene in which Asuka’s guardian tries to recruit her to a new special ops program. Surely, this scene could’ve been briefer; maybe only show an abridged version to provide enough hints and then later showing the full scene in a later episode.
There’s also the bit at the end where terrorists run amok in Tokyo. I get that it’s to convince Asuka that she still needs to fight and protect the people she cares about but how random that there just happens to be an terrorist leader in the midst of transferring between facilities. I can’t fault Spec-Ops for not establishing the existence of terrorists. There is indeed a scene early on that confirms that the other magical girls are helping with homeland security in their countries. I will, however, argue that the show probably should’ve established there being a terrorist leader near where Asuka lives, thus making the prospect of him appearing and Asuka needing to intervene more natural. For that matter, do you even need terrorists in this anime? Why introduce demonic stuffed animals and not have them reemerge as the threat?
It’s a bumpy road with this premiere but I’m hoping this is all a fluke and that the rest of the show will be a much smoother experience. The idea of a post-war, special ops story based in the template of the magical girl genre sounds so promising and distinct that it’d be a huge shame if the product itself fails to make bank. I’d like to see the second episode fare better. I really, truly do.
OP: “KODO” by nonoc
Maybe a rock song isn’t the best fit for this type of story but if nothing else, the beat is super catchy.
Thanks for reading!
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is officially available on Crunchyroll.
For all of my Winter 2019 First Impressions, check out this archive page!
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