Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka ?
It's the final episode! Who's ready for a random lesbian sex scene? Or how about some of the most gratuitous of War Nurse's torture sessions, which she fully admits isn't even necessary, since they know that Chisato has zero inside information? I suppose we could throw in some random bits about the missing member of the Magical Five too, just for fun since there's no way there's time to do anything with the character.
Sarcasm aside, this episode is a showcase for how difficult adapting ongoing manga (or light novel) series can be. In the specific case of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, there were simply too many plot threads to attempt any sort of tidy anime-only ending, and while I do think that they did the best they could in some places, it would have been better to just leave Pei-Pei out of the season entirely, along with the random sex scene. Both of those took up time that could have instead been spent on Chisato, whose betrayal has once again sent her into depression. That would have been more in keeping with the show's overall thematic elements.
But at the end of the day (or at least of the anime), I'm forced to reconcile with the fact that this show simply wasn't equipped to handle its own themes at any point. Nowhere in the series has this been more clear than in this episode. The blatant conflation of BDSM with actual torture in Kurumi's session with Chisato is disturbing, not just for its content (although yeah, she does drive a spike into one of Chisato's breasts), but also for the way that it's clearly framed to be titillating. Even without Kurumi injecting Chisato with the “sense enhancing” drug, her first act is to begin groping Chisato's chest, and when the torture is over, she brings out the other illegal magical girl in bondage gear. This girl is not only being made to act like a dog, but she equates her treatment with pleasure to Chisato. According to her, it showed her the errors of her ways and now she's happy with her Kurumi Life. This hand-waving of Kurumi's actions is really not okay.
The show ends on a similar note. It opened with Asuka not wanting to fight anymore and trying to find a way to cope with her trauma. It ends with Kurumi gleefully saying that they should just keep fighting forever, and Asuka realizing that wars never end as she rushes into battle once more with a slight smile on her face. That's Asuka denying her own issues, much as the show has done with Kurumi's persistent character flaws and torture scenes – she's essentially given up on any hope of a future. While we might say that she's instead decided that fighting is her future, that doesn't match what we see in a flashback lunch with Francine and the other girls, where Asuka says that she can't make plans for her future until the war is over. What she's really done here is put her life on hold. That's not noble, as the episode seeks to frame it when Sayoko is talking about Just Cause. That's just denial on Asuka's part, shoving her PTSD aside to deal with “later.”
In the end, that's how the world and the series itself has always treated magical girls. Tamara's government is tricking her in order to keep her under their thumb, Pei-Pei had to disguise herself to get away and do her own thing, and Asuka and Chisato will be forced to fight no matter what, while Kurumi's worsening mental health issues are ignored. It's ugly and unfair, but at least it's exactly the same as the world we saw in episode one: these magical girls are weapons, not people.
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka could have been a much better show than it turned out. Ultimately, it feels like the story was fighting with itself over whether it wanted to tackle serious issues or indulge in cheap fanservice, and in the end it didn't do either of those things well. I'm sorry it didn't manage to make better choices about what it wanted to focus on, but I can't say that I'm sorry that it's over.
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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