Due to the invasion of Disas—enigmatic creatures of soil from the land of the dead—mankind, who was on the verge of crisis, was saved by the efforts of magical girls who had obtained a mysterious magical power...
Three years later, new incidents suddenly occur, tearing apart the normalcy of the girls who had each returned to their normal lives. The saviours of humanity, those magical girls called "The Magical Five" now live each day fighting for their lives, even as they are trifled with by fate...
Do not be misled by the words “Mahou Shoujo” in the title, this is a military/sci-fi drama about an anti-terrorist unit, it is far more in line with Ghost in the Shell/Metal Gear rather than with any actual mahou shoujo series. In fact, Metal Gear is an almost complete thematic match for this show - gut-wrenching military drama plus “twenty minutes into the future and the world has gone to hell” sci-fi plus wacky tongue-in-cheek comedy.
As a military drama it touches on the themes of child soldiers (that is, magical girls), terrorism, PTSD of soldiers and civilians (one of the best and
most accurate portrayals of PTSD in fiction, btw), the effect of a global war on the world order (the classical Mahou Shoujo battle with monsters was won by the MC several years before the series even begins), political fuckery between the competing military branches, battlefield camaraderie and so on - all the genre staples. The writing is competent, dealing with the brought up themes in a mature and nuanced way.
Naturally, given the genre and the height of its proverbial brow, this is an appropriately dark show. And by “appropriately”, I mean that if you hear someone calling a show like this “edgy” or “gratuitous” - those people are clueless. Like I said, this is a military drama about war and terrorism - if a story like this isn’t dark, then it’s toothless and fails to achieve its purpose. Try calling something like Saving Private Ryan “edgy” and you will be laughed at, yet the same shit flies with anime for reasons that are not the topic of this review (*cough*, only children watch chinese cartoons, *cough*). Anyway, don’t watch this if you can’t handle torn-off limbs, just don’t delude yourself into thinking one’s sensibility has anything to do with the objective merits of the work of fiction.
That’s not to say this series is completely dramatic. There is plenty of unadulterated brainless B-movie fun that would make for a totally inappropriate tonal clash if it was any less self-aware. Again, Metal Gear is the most apt comparison.
The big highlight of the series - it’s an absolute treat to any modern military buff, a hard sci-fi fan, or just anyone who likes authors doing their research. The show rightfully brags about having a dedicated military advisor, and it also sciences the shit out of anything magical. Magic animal mascot - a synthetic life-form with true AI. Magic shield - it’s actually a magic explosive reactive armor. Magic truth serum - a magically altered barbiturate cocktail. Magic memory wipe - a full-on compex neurosurgery that needs the use of a (magic) tomograph. It feeds both the sci-fi and over-the-top fun aspects of the series, because there is just something magical about watching a mahou shoujo overcharging an assault rifle bullet with energy to a point where it becomes a bunker-buster.
Returning back to the “Magical Girl” part of the title - the series’ genre can be accurately described as post-dark mahou shoujo - by the same merit as post-cyberpunk subgenre of sci-fi. Meaning, “dark magical girls deconstructions” are old news, it’s time to deconstruct or subvert their tropes already:
Of course the MC has PTSD just like any self-respecting child soldier should. And yet it never stops her from getting in the fucking robot, because she doesn’t fail to understand a very obvious idea that she is a hero who literally saved the world and should be proud of herself.
Of course mahou shoujos are gay for each other - nothing breeds emotional bonds like the battlefield - and then they drift apart because they don’t actually have much in common in the civilian life.
Kyubey lookalikes are a multi-faceted society with good and bad factions/individuals no different from humanity. They don’t harbour some universe-spanning conspiracy, they just want to profit via trading or smuggling.
Special mention for the visual style that seamlessly merges military and mahou shoujo aesthetics, especially in the design of magical girls’ costumes.
It’s not all roses, though, the anime suffers a lot from poor production values. Action scenes are slideshows (somewhat alleviated by their tactical nature, but still looking bad). Important scenes from the source material are cut or changed. In turn, anime original parts of the story are inferior and harm the narrative. There is an adequate story arc, but a lot of the plotline still lead to “go read the manga”.
9/10 for a could’ve-been-a-masterpiece undermined by a subpar adaptation.
It’s beautiful…is what I would say if Mahou Shoujo Toushusen Asuka managed to bring in a magical girl show worthy of glory. But beautiful isn’t a good way to express this anime. From what I’ve seen from the first few episodes, it’s a show that takes on a darker, edgier, and grimmer side of the magical girl genre. Adapted by LIDENFILMS and based on the manga, this was a peculiar anime to talk about.
For starters, there’s a clear reason why the show airs late at night on the MBS block. Like the manga, this adaptation actually keeps the censoring to a minimal. Here’s an early
warning: be prepared for body horror in the form of limbs being blown off, emotional torture, and brutal deaths. I’m not joking. Mahou Shoujo Toushusen Asuka isn’t even a bit afraid of showing how dark and dangerous its world can be. Speaking of which, let’s look at the world setting. It takes place 3 years before the mainstream timeline in Japan. According to history, the world was invaded by monsters known as Netherbeasts. A group of magical girls rose up to stop them from annihilating humanity. A girl named Asuka is the leader of this group (known as the Magical Five) as we look at her story.
From my first impressions, I actually got hooked by some dark and edgy entertainment. Make no mistake, I believe the creator is fully aware of the series’ style of violence so they are not timid to show it. The first few episodes contains a flashback that opens up the storytelling while introducing the main cast. We meet characters such as Asuka, Kurumi, and among others that we’ll learn more about later. Titular character Asuka gives off a peculiar charisma for being a badass on the frontline but more of a regular normal human being while not fighting. It’s made clear in the beginning as she tries to live a normal life until a faithful event pits her into fighting again. We also see her trauma in the past that resulted in PTSD and to this day, she hasn’t forgotten. But deep down, Asuka is a kind person who is selfless and isn’t afraid to take risks to fight the good fight.
Joining her is Kurumi Mugen, a combat nurse and close friend. I should say right off the bat that it’s obvious she has feelings for Asuka. It actually becomes more and more obvious especially in later episodes with even some rather disturbing moments. But don’t mistake this for a shoujo-ai. The bigger picture is that she is part of the Magical Five and serves as an important support in battle. The remaining members includes Tamara, Lau, and Mia. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t dedicate more time for them as compared to either Asuka or Kurumi. We only get to see their actions rather than development. However, the show also makes it known that illegal magical girls exists. Outside of the Magical Five, these illegal magical girls play an antagonistic role. Characters such as Abigail brings in the brutality and darker side of the magical girl genre. She displays psychopathic behavior and even uses scissors to terrorize a hostage for her personal amusement. Be ready for limbs chopped off and even a magical form of waterboarding. Sounds edgy yet?
Yet from what I’ve seen in this show, there are still some bright moments in their dark world. For example, Asuka’s friends (Nozomi and Sayako) at school brings in joy and an experience at normal life for her. The show also takes breather time on occasions such as with school activities and even a beach episode. But never forget, there’s no peace in the world of Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka.
For its worth, I wish this show had a better budget. Most of the fights all feel the same without strong production or animation quality. It lacks style too without demonstrating any source of uniqueness. I will say that while the violence captures a mature mood, it sometimes relies way too much on it. How many times are going to see blood being spilled until it’s satisfying? On the other hand, I do appreciate the variety of creative weapons that are featured. Asuka’s signature karambit is a set of weapons I don’t see often. A combat nurse like Kurumi also brings in expertise along with Mia, Lau Pei-Pei, and Tamara. These characters shows their transcendence beyond common logic. Furthermore, I should say this show is known for some uncharacteristic designs such as the oversized creatures. Most of them give an otherworldly appearance that I find hard to ignore. And the theme songs on most parts are worthy enough for this mature magical girl adaptation.
“Should I watch Mahou Shoujo Toushusen Asuka”? Or rather, the better question would be…”Do I enjoy anime with dark and edgy magical girl content with troubled characters?” The bottom line is, you should judge this anime exactly for what it is but realize that it’s nothing really that special. It’s one of those shows anyone with a livid imagination can write or come up with. There has been a reemergence of dark magical girl anime in recent years. We may be seeing more of these in the future so who knows, maybe the next one will set a higher standard.
Whelp, here we are again. Another attempt at making a darker, more mature magical girl anime for all those who want one. Last year gave us Magical Girl Site. An anime so over the top and ridiculous that it was unironically funny when all things considered. Now this anime throws its hat into the ring at its attempt. Now the question going into this show was how serious was this show going to be or is it more or less going to be a ridiculous spectacle? So you read the synopsis, watch the trailer and then when you see magical girls wielding side arm
pistols, assault rifles and flamethrowers, then you are probably intrigued as to what the f**k is going on.
Sit back, relax and DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY NOW SOLDIER!!! As I present to you the anime review for Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. Let begin.
There was a war, a great war. Mysterious, magical beings known as Disas invaded Earth with the intention of wiping humanity out. However, with the help of Spirit Realm who also oppose the Disas, help create the Magical Girls that managed to oppose the Disas and save humanity. Then they go their separate ways. Three years later, one of the girls, Asuka, decides to live like a normal girl and go about her days in high school and abandon the fighting. However, mysterious, random events involving the Disas forces her back into fighting and defeat the Disas once again along with the rest of "The Magical Five" in order to protect humanity once again.
So there you go, a pretty standard plot. We get told of this big threat; who defeated them; the big threat returns; the girls must defeat them again. But it ain't that simple. Because you see, the show likes to show the horrors of war and how terrorism affects the lives of everyone who is involved. It likes to address some pretty mature stuff and what this anime shows is true. These things do happen. So it is good to see this anime take these thoughts and rolls with it and not make it over the top with it. Although I do think the more goofy, fun side of the magical girl genre that it presents here clashes with the show's darker themes and military aspects of this show. Making it some kind of mashup between the two that really doesn't work honestly. It's hard to argue when one scene tries to be on the cute side, whereas another scene is so focused on torture that it makes you forget that these are from the same show. And this show REALLY does like to go vigorously into these torture scenes with torture tactics like injections and waterboarding. Didn't turn me away but will probably turn some people away.
Another thing I want to knock down the story for is that the pacing is rather slow. It shouldn't take 4-5 episodes of a twelve episode series to complete the prologue of how Asuka gets back into fighting. It tries to distract people with its fight scenes and flashy colours to hide the pacing issues but I saw through that and I can knock it down a peg. While it wasn't awful and bored me to tears, it was noticeable at times that the show was taking its damn time to get where it wanted to go.
"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" - Michael Corleone, The Godfather: Part 3.
That line couldn't be more relateable to describe Asuka. Simply put, she doesn't want to fight again but has no choice as she one of the only few people that can do it. She refuses at first because when you fight in a war, people you care about will most likely die and most of them do. So to avoid seeing more people die in front of their eyes, she refuses. But then realising that people will have a bigger chance to die if she is not there fighting, she agrees. You can understand her decision to do this because she wants to prevent more people from dying by getting involved with her. But my problem is that the show doesn't do that good of a job of making Asuka have her past really affect her. While the show does show scenes and Asuka does react to people dying or people who have died, you would think that it would have a bigger affect on her psyche but it doesn't happen. They're like spur of the moment scenes that remind the viewer of what Asuka has been trhough and not really being fully effective to damage her mind.
The rest of the cast is rather bland and are just meh. So much so that I can't remember most of their names on the top of my head. Even the two high school girls that gives a motive for Asuka to fight again are rather uninteresting as they fall into stereotypes with one being a hyped up tomboy and the other being a timid bookworm. They are a nice reminder of what Asuka is fighting for but only if you care about them. In my case, I don't really care about them and they are kind of just there near the end of the show.
The only other character that was interesting was Kurumi Mugen, a fellow magical girl. Her backstory is rather depressing since she was treated like trash throughout her school life, only for Asuka to swoop in and give her the confidence she needs. But it is clear that she has a rather unstable mind. She has the kind of damaged psyche that I wished Asuka had. It is much clearer that she has been mentally damaged from what she has seen and how she has been treated. Asuka being her saviour from a life of cruelty causes her to develop Yandere-like qualities and gets a kick out of torturing people. Seeing these things shows how damaged Kurumi and that's good because these things should have some affect on her and it clearly shows throughout the show. Now you could say that's the show trying to make the characters more edgy and you would be right. For me though, I see it as appropriate due to the circumstances.
This show looked good to begin with and then just kind of flopped. The show constantly uses cheap ways to animate a fight scene like cutaways and and moving camera shots with still images. It gets worse when we get shots of people firing guns as they just stand still with no sense of recoil from firing the guns. Instead, it uses flashy colours to distract the viewer. In fact, this show does love to use a lot of flashy colours in its animation, but really, it is more of a distraction than a core part of its animation. Character designs and art design is fine though, although I do think it tends to lean towards the fan service side a little bit. Some the characters designs as well tend on to lean on the big, kawaii eyes which feels off IMO.
The show is really heavy on the techno music but honestly, it just doesn't stand out at all. It just blends into one another and is really forgettable. The only soundtrack that stood out for me was the shows main battle music, which is arguably alright as it is the only one that stands out with how it uses the sounds to get you hyped. Of course, its hard to hear the music when explosions, clashing of weapons, swipes and gunfire drown out the music to make it difficult to listen to.
The opening as well is alright. It just highlights Asuka's conflict of fighting or not to fight and continues the use of techno as well in its music. It is the only other piece of music that stands out but didn't really get me excited to watch the next episode. The ending however is a big skip as it just didn't interest me at all, it bored me and I lost interest after watching it the first couple of times for being a pretty standard ending sequence.
Magical Girl Spe-Ops Asuka just exists as another attempt in making a more mature magical girl anime. The main problem with this show that it just doesn't excel in anything. It does everything either meh or bad so I am left with an "eh" impression of it. This show isn't horrible as it has some moments. Not a lot, but some. But I will just chalk this down as another anime I took an interest in and left me with an "eh" impression. Again, this show just exists in its own way to incorporate magical girls as elite, military agents to stop terrorism. It ain't offensive or just terrible, but it will be one of those anime I will forget in the near future. So you can pretty much skip this one.
Also one last thing, since the magical girls are nicknamed "The Magical Five," why did we get only four of the girls? Seriously, where is the Chinese girl that appears in the opening and ending of the show. Anyone? no? ok.
Welcome to the latest entry of “Dark Magical Girls”, the anime sub-genre that rose to popularity in the 2010s. The creators of these types of stories grab the aesthetic made for young girls and smash it repeatedly until blood is splattered on everything. When you begin to peel back the very thin layers to the story, it really isn't interested in playing with the Magical Girl aesthetic or tropes at large outside the most obvious surface elements. The magic element is there so it's teen girl super soldiers have a justification to wear fetish outfits instead of Kevlar.
Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka (Spec-Ops Asuka for short)
is a story where magical girls meet military warfare. The premise is proud with itself for framing Magical Girls in the context of military ops and gun porn, and while it’s not determined on punishing its protagonists for cheap emotional punch, most (if not all) emotional scenes lose their importance with the show implementing gratuitous and titillating fanservice. Simply removing such things instantly turns this into a decent show that really understands PTSD, it depicts and tackles this issue well. Spec-Ops Asuka does a good job of showing its heroine’s having to continue living after having fought a bloody, vicious war for humanity's survival, coping with the emotional consequences of their actions. Even though they once saved the world but its survivors are often blaming them for the unintentional side-effects post-war. It's a good hook, but the shows biggest issue with fanservice gets in the way of having these themes resonating, and thus the impact is lost.
At least it tried to distinguish itself from the crowd by the way it chooses to tackle the Dark Magical Girls sub-genre—by wrapping it into a story about soldiers, war, terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction, etc., which is cool but maintaining your suspension of disbelief is incredibly hard when most of the enemies the heroines are fighting are oversized, cute-looking plushies that have the “Fluffal Frightfur” (Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V) aesthetic to them. And in case any of you were wondering, yes, this show has yuri elements for the sake of having yuri elements. And yes, this show has the “all men are assholes” narrative for the sake of… well, you get the point. The disappointment comes from the fact that you know that this could have been a decent Magical Girl series. The excessive torture porn, fanservice, and vulgarity just feels too weird, bizarre, cringe-worthy and sometimes unintentionally funny. This is one of those anime series where it recommended to view with the volume turn down and with headphones on because you don’t want anyone overhearing a big fat orgasm that is thrown into most of those scenes.
Furthermore, I think the creators and LINDENFILMS don’t understand that you can have a dark and gory depiction of Magical Girls without the excessive number of unnecessary elements. The result is that you get a show that is Cinemanarratively Dissonant. Spec-Ops Asuka is a very ugly undertaking in its depiction of the cruelty that happens in times of war. But we also have to sit through the ahegaokin faces, titillating fanservice with the victims put in scandalous positions. Imagine watching a war movie where the goal and purpose is to show the audience the terror and horrors of war, but during the battle scenes, it's portraying visually that war is the most badass thing ever. Another example is playing a video game where the whole goal and narrative revolves around stealth missions where you have to go through the game undetected with minimal casualties. Yet, there are achievements based on how many headshots you can perform to attain a certain skin—the story being told visually doesn't agree with the story being told by the script. Or, in this case of the video game example; the story being told narratively doesn’t agree with games mechanics.
By now you may have gotten tired about the constant callbacks to the show's fanservice. I’m not against fanservice in general, but just pointing out that the type that exists in Spec-Ops Asuka is the kind that devalues stories. Take Kurumi for example. By the text of the script, she is smart, caring, talented, hard-working, driven, heroic and strong-willed. She’s essential to the plot and the main Heroine in Asuka, she has her own thoughts and opinions, she comes up with plans, and her character arc meshes while with the themes of the show, like PTSD for example. However, the camera treats Kurumi as a hooker in a strip club because of how she is consistently framed. Despite these good traits and qualities, she is framed to be pervy and annoying, and that dissonance between the cinematography and Kurumi's writing devalues her as a character. The theme of “girl power” takes a hit when Asuka says she wants to be just as strong as a Magical Girl when she was young, only to have her mother discourage her that it’s too dangerous—the scene is framed in such a way that girls must remain in the kitchen.
So, as you can already tell, the shows visuals take’s a dive in the scoring department. Although there are plenty of well-choreographed action sequences, some having solid fluidity to them, LINDENFILMS didn’t really do the Spec-Ops Asuka justice unless you’re into the fanservice. The character models look like they’re from another decade, and even then, not of the good sort. Most times poorly drawn where facial features get inconsistent with size and proportion. The big eyes and pupils are very distracting. The fashion sense for our character has one goal, which should be obvious by now. Designing almost every female character to have huge knockers is part of the shows absurd hilarity (unintentional) and reinforces the idea that this is basically softcore hentai. The score has a few great tracks which are mainly used for the battle scenes, but apart from the dubstep beats, it just exists. For what it's worth, it has a fantastic OP theme, "KODO" by nonoc.
In conclusion, Spec-Ops Asuka doesn’t only dwell in seriousness, there are moments, even a dedicated episode for the fun slice-of-life side of things, giving another tone for the characters to show other sides of their personality. Between the fun and campy action stuff, the show is constantly vacillating between gun porn, misery porn, torture porn, justice porn, and just porn—sometimes simultaneously. I found myself laughing in moments when the show feels the need to remind its viewers that it’s a Magical Girl show because the guns and weapons have the name “Magical” in it. A disappointing series, where the flaws outweigh the boobs. A rather great recommendation for hardcore ecchi fans that need more spank bank material.