Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka
Episode 3

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 3 of
Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka ?

So how many of you would watch Samurai Cheerleader vs. Megaton Shark? I kind of feel like I would. That's not really what's important about the girls' brief interaction with the movie poster, though – the film title serves as a lighthearted red herring in a much darker show and a reminder that Asuka's life isn't one where she just gets to plan on going to see schlocky films with her friends—and thanks to Nozomi's dad's job, neither is hers. Dark as things were in the previous episodes, the preview (and source manga, whose first volumes we are flying through) tells us that things are about to get a whole lot worse.

This episode is mostly concerned with letting us know that Kurumi has very little understanding of what Asuka is going through. That may have been something you picked up on last week, when not only did Kurumi ask (tell?) Asuka to keep protecting her, but she also transferred to Asuka's school, something she basically threatened her way into. Kurumi's got a serious attachment to Asuka in a way that feels like it's bordering on unhealthy: she doesn't actively try to get between Asuka and her school friends, but the clenches of her jaw and thinning of her lips indicates that she sees them as an annoyance, if not an outright hindrance. She goes out of her way to insert herself in Asuka's new life, too. Not only has she transferred to her school, but she won't let Asuka be alone with Nozomi or Sayako, making sure that the two magical girls are a package deal for outings and lunches, and she's quick to establish herself as Asuka's best friend, something Asuka never backs up. (The way she talks about Kurumi at lunch is more how you'd talk about a comrade-in-arms than a best friend, although I'm not sure Kurumi knows the difference.) By the end of the episode it's clear that Kurumi is clinging to Asuka in the hopes of convincing her to rejoin the JSDF, and she in no way understands Asuka's statement that she doesn't want to fight because she has people she cares about.

On the surface, Asuka's statement goes against everything that manga and anime has taught us about heroes: they fight because they love. But Asuka's words are a more realistic reaction from someone who has lost too many people. She won't fight because she can't bear not to be there with her loved ones any more. Fighting in a war will take her away from them, and there's no guarantee that it'll even save them in the end. From her parents to the magical girls who didn't make it in the last war, Asuka's lost too many people. Now she just wants to live quietly with the ones she has left.

The flashback we get to Kurumi being bullied as an elementary student shows why her take is different. Asuka, we can assume, is the first person she felt safe with, and to her, other kids her age may not register as anything more than a threat. In elementary school, that meant to her safety, and now it means a threat to her friendship with Asuka. If she and Asuka are Rapture and War Nurse, however, there's no one to come between them.

Kurumi's lack of empathy comes into even more prominence over lunch, when girls popping open wrappers leads both Asuka and Sayako to panic. We see it in Asuka's quick rise to her feet (followed just a very telling beat behind by Kurumi), but Sayako starts to melt down. Kurumi clearly doesn't think much of the other girl's distress, especially when Asuka explains why she's upset. Her anger when Nozomi tries to calm Sayako by saying that the magical girls will protect them is a little less straightforward, because that's what she's trying to convince Asuka to go back to. But maybe the issue is that she's egotistical enough to want to be the only reason for Rapture's return to the fold. Nozomi's words are a suggestion that Kurumi herself isn't enough.

When Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is focusing on the emotional consequences for its characters, it's a really good show. Likewise some of the parallels about warfare that we glimpse at times, like the distinct similarities between the man being tortured by the cartel Mia (Just Cause) and the US Army discover in Mexico and the man Nozomi's dad is torturing this week are very well done, especially since Dad is purportedly a “good guy.” When the episodes are trying to shoehorn in more fanservice, like the whole pool scene this week, things are less good, largely because the magical girl outfits really don't make extra fanservice strictly necessary. But be that as it may, this still feels like a good take on its genre and as commentary on war and mental health, because the reality is that everyone reacts differently to stressful, traumatic situations, making it hard for people to truly understand what someone else is going through.

Rating: B

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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