I’m still trying to decide if I really want to stick with covering Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. On one hand, it’s an interesting enough specimen to examine. On the other, I prefer covering anime I actually like. Things get taxing when I have to episodically review something I’m not enjoying. Looking at you, Darling in the FranXX and Hanebado! (by the way, how did Liden Films go from that show to this one?). There’s a little over a week before I post my Midseason Rankings but I really do need to come to a decision soon.
One thing that is becoming sure, this show’s tone will forever vex me. I’m sorry but it’s really hard to buy into a very serious conversation about military politics and the use of civilians as martyrs when it’s all taking place in a maid cafe of all places. I know the cafe is a front for spec ops forces and to be fair, I kind of like the concept on paper. Whether or not it just gels with the drama though is a whole other issue. And again, with the freaking dubstep during the action scenes!
The one scene that really fell flat for me though is when Asuka remembers the death of her original commanding officer, Francine. Ignoring the fact that it’s followed up by a gratuitous lingerie scene, there really is no emotional weight to the scene at all. Who is Francine and why should I care when I see her die? What even is her connection with Asuka beyond the fact that they were fellow magical girls, she was the original leader, and her death makes Asuka sad? There really isn’t enough text, let alone subtext, to go off of here. For example, take Violet Evergarden to compare with. That show begins with one scene showing how Gilbert is the closest Violet has to a family and then proceeds to leave a strong indication that Gilbert’s absence has left a profound effect on her life. By the time it flashes back to Violet’s last moment with Gilbert, you have a clear sense of why this relationship matters and are hopefully even invested in it. This was all even done in just one episode too. Spec-Ops meanwhile…showed a bunch of dog tags in the premiere and then a few episodes later, jumps straight to one of the dying bodies those dog tags belong to. If you have a supportive character that’s important to the protagonist’s arc, establish them.
Oddly enough, I’m fine with the scene where Nozomi gets tortured by the terrorists. Yes, the show is trying too hard with that kind of content but given the track record, I’d have to be a fool to think this show wouldn’t go in that direction. Really, the bone I want to pick with is how long the scene is. I checked and it’s about 4 and a half minutes. That seems like an awful lot of time to get your point across, especially when said point is simply “This girl is screwed unless someone saves her”. By the time she got a water hose shoved into her mouth, I found it was hard to sit through less because the content is extreme but more because the scene just keeps droning on. Maybe if the scene was cut up and the editing went back and forth between that and Asuka’s scenes, things would flow better.
It also doesn’t help that the villains aren’t terribly interesting. The two henchmen admittedly have some interesting powers but their character designs make it really obvious that they’re expendable (they also remind me too much of Severus Snape). Abigail offers the most personality though it’s so far just a one-dimensional flavor of crazy.
On the bright side, it is really neat to see Asuka and Kurumi conduct a straight up rescue operation. Getting the police to clear the area and the manner in which the two girls breach the door and disarm traps really gives the impression of professionalism and discipline. And while I still wish the character designs were more uniform, adding a sort of tactical headset to their outfits does make for a nice touch in better matching the special operations theme of the show. This episode also reveals that Kurumi isn’t just a medic but that she also specializes in interrogation, as evidenced by her use of a magical truth serum she herself concocted. What I didn’t need though is Sacchuu explaining to me how the damn item works. I think we can take a hint based on what it’s called.
Is Nozomi safe and sound? We won’t truly know until next episode. It’s possible Abigail might catch up to Kurumi and things will go south. Personally, I think it would serve Spec-Ops‘ theme of PTSD a lot more if Nozomi stayed alive. Have her try to re-normalize her life only to realize that she can’t entirely go back to her upbeat self from when the show began. Even better is if you pit that against Sayako’s own trauma which comparatively feels way less severe now. Asuka could also be involved given her own experiences. You could really do something interesting with Nozomi’s character…whether or not Spec-Ops is smart enough to go there, let alone treat it with enough tact is something the show will have to prove.
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