Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka ?
Were you chosen because you're strong? Sayoko and Nozomi ask Just Cause this week. No, she answers, I became strong because I was chosen. One of the interesting things about Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is the conflicting views of the magical girls, and that's on full display in this week's episode. Ever since Rapture saved her, Sayoko has seen them as a source of strength in face of danger and adversity, but to others, they're monsters or maybe just poor children forced to fight in a war they have no business being in. (It's worth noting that the show stops short of comparing the original magical girls to Giess the Somali child soldier, which is probably a good thing.) But to the magical girls themselves, they're just ordinary people who were asked to do difficult and extraordinary things, and Just Cause's words, or rather, Mia's, can be taken a couple of different ways. One is certainly that she became a badass because she gained the powers of Just Cause, giving her a strength that Mia Cyrus could only dream of. But we could also read them as being sadder than that – that she had to become strong not to live up to her powers, but because that was the only way to survive. Strength is a coping mechanism, a faint hope that maybe there's a point to this war and these powers if you're just strong enough to use them to get through it. As the granddaughter of a WWII vet, that interpretation makes a lot of sense to me. How did my zayde go from working in a toy shop to a machine gunner? In the same way that Asuka went from schoolgirl to magical solider – because it's what was needed.
We can see that evolution in Sayoko as well this week, and although the scene isn't lingered on, it isn't hard to guess that Just Cause's words make sense to her. As was hinted at in the CPR scene in a previous episode, Sayoko isn't just going to roll over and let bad things happen to her since Rapture saved her. Unlike Kurumi, however, she's also not going to get angry or vengeful; instead she's going to do her best with what she has to save who she can. In this case, that means hauling an injured Nozomi out of the path of the Disas, even if that means that she has to abandon the policeman who saved them first. He's a lost cause, she knows there's nothing that she can do to save him. Nozomi is right there with her, so she makes the choice (a difficult one from her tense shoulders when she hears him scream and her brief pause in walking Nozomi off the scene) to save who she can. Sayoko knows what she's capable of now, a strength that is comparable to Chisato telling Giess that she'd forgotten how strong she was until she became a magical girl. It's just that life had beaten Chisato down before someone else could help her while Sayoko was lucky enough to be friends with Asuka.
What's not clear is whether the girls are talking about mental or physical strength. In Sayoko's case it's almost certainly the former, but with the magical girls, it could be either. I'd argue that Kurumi and Chisato are physically strong without Sayoko's mental fortitude, and I think Mia's hiding a lot beneath her surface. Tamara and Asuka seem more evenly split, with Asuka's PTSD making her perhaps more unstable, as we see when she begins to break down this week. Perhaps more than the other girls Asuka feels the resumption of their battle against the Disas personally – she takes responsibility upon herself for the deaths of her comrades, regardless of whether or not she deserves it. Her strength is in the moment; like my grandfather, when the battle is over, she keeps replaying it in her head, unable to stop the anxiety of the might-have-beens and the trauma of what happened.
Speaking of trauma, there's one that may have happened in this episode that was perhaps blessedly unclear from some less-than-great animation. When the smaller Disas, who look like goblins, are attacking the town, there are a few shots of them with schoolgirls. What's not evident is whether they're raping them or just sitting on them as if they were playing horsey - and honestly, I couldn't tell. Their positioning is such that it really looks more like the latter than the former, unless there's something I really don't want to know about goblin genitals.
It's a shame that the show hasn't delved more into the psychological aspects while overindulging in its grimmer elements (poorly drawn or not), and heading into the final episodes it doesn't look like there's going to be time to do the theme of PTSD justice, because that was what really set it apart from its grimdark brethren. But this week's scattered scenes of battle are all coming to a head next time: Mia's injuries, Asuka's fight against Giess, and Kurumi's against Chisato. Asuka almost certainly has to survive to find out who Queen really is.
The others? Maybe not so much.
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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