This Week in Anime
Is Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Worth Watching?

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka combines the flowers and frills of mahou shojo with Jack Bauer-esque tactical intensity, but is this a harmonious combination or a vomit-inducing mess? This week, Nick and Steve weigh the pros and cons of this edge-tastic anime.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

You can read our weekly coverage of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka here!

Well Steve, we're reaching the end of season, so I've been hurrying to catch up on all the shows I fell behind on since January. Today I watched eight episodes of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka in one sitting
and lemme tell ya:
There's a lot of stuff out there I don't want to see, and I found out that most of it is secretly in this magical girl show! Yay!
So Spec-Ops is the latest entry in the defining anime subgenre of 2010's anime: DARK Magical Girls, where you take a genre/aesthetic made for young girls, throw blood on everything, and maybe make the Magical Girls say a cuss.
It's a trend that somehow still doesn't seem to be going away, but Spec-Ops at least distinguishes itself from the crowd by the way it chooses to tackle Magical Girls But Dark, by wrapping it into a story about soldiers and war and terrorists and weapons of mass destruction and so on. So in practice, it's less the Madoka du jour and more 24: The Anime.
Oh, we're completely on the same page.
That's just exactly what it is! And that's both kind of amazing and frustrating.
Yeah, Spec-Ops isn't really interested in playing with the magical girl aesthetic or tropes at large outside the most obvious surface elements. I feel like they just added the magic element so its teen girl super soldiers had a justification to wear fetish outfits instead of kevlar.
What, you mean this isn't Tactical?
Honestly, I'm impressed by how much it manages to combine everything exasperating about the terrorism-obsessed post-9/11 American media AND everything ridiculous about fanservice titty anime. It's committed to being uniquely tasteless at every turn, and that's a big part of why I've kept watching.
Tasteless is certainly the word.
Like, this comically evil terrorist guy shows up in the first episode, shoots civilians, and then gets his legs cut off by a magical girl in a maid outfit. There's something inspired about that.
The show's at its best when it's just anime girls bisecting dudes and exploding monsters while dubstep blares in the background. And when it sticks to being a dumb-as-bricks bullet show with tacked-on anime bullshit, it's pretty fun. Like, I laugh every time they have to add "Magical" to the front of a mundane weapon in order to assure us that this is still a magical girl show.
It never gets old.
Another thing that never failed to cut me up is the extra-dimensional villains who happen to look like plush toys.
This most recent arc gives them Guns and Muscles too, it's absolutely amazing.
Not to mention they're all classified by different slasher movie franchises. Those are Halloween-level koala plushies, so you know they mean business.
Unfortunately, that's only about 50% of what this show wants to do. The other 50% is really poor character writing that tries to blend realistic war-on-terror politics with its schlock-tastic premise and the result is:
That's where the frustrating aspects of its ancestry come in. It's got all the good and all the bad of 24, including the two-dimensional characters and deeply irresponsible portrayals of torture.
Boy fuckin' howdy.
God, that scene made me cringe, and not in a potent way. Just in a "yikes" way.
Yeah, there's a very difficult line to tread when depicting fictional torture. It requires a deft hand to portray torture in a way that's responsible without feeling exploitative in its cruelty or trivializing a serious issue. And Spec-Ops routinely trips over that line to land face-first in a puddle of its own vomit.
It's almost impressive how they managed to frame a shot with a half-naked POW's ass AND her hastily preserved severed arm.
Yeah, between the fun campy action stuff, Spec-Ops is constantly vacillating between misery porn, torture porn, and Just Porn—sometimes all at once.
Incidentally, that scene happens in the middle of the beach episode. Adventures in Tone!
For all of 24's many issues, it was usually good about keeping its sex and violence separate. In Magical Girl Spec-Ops, we cut almost immediately from Kurumi drugging a prisoner to a shower scene where she fantasizes about banging Asuka.

Kurumi is a big mess, and thematically it works in the context of showing us that all of these magical girls have been irrevocably scarred by war, but in practice, you just want to slap the show's hand away. No. Don't do it this way.
Kurumi still manages to be my favorite character, though. Our other magical girls are limited to Solemn Protagonist, Stoic Russian, and Texan.
Kurumi is definitely one of the most relatable characters in the show.

So while Kurumi gets some of the worst scenes in the whole show, she's also a more rounded character study than anyone else. She was horribly bullied in school and chose to become a magical girl because Asuka, her savior and only friend, needed her help. Now she's dedicated herself to this job to such a yandere degree that she'll do any awful thing if it means protecting Asuka.
It's a pretty stock trope, and there's a lot to say about the most textually queer character being characterized as obsessive, but I still laughed every time she freaked out over getting FriendTR'd.

It's not great, but she still ends up a much more rounded character than the other non-Asuka Magical 5 members. Although of course I have to be partial to Mia because she's just Mordred With A Gun.
(and sometimes Mordred with a grenade launcher)
Excuse me, but with that bow she's clearly
Chitoge with a gun.
Your opinion is as valid as it is wrong.
I kinda wish they'd gone deeper into the Blonde Gun-Toting Texan stereotype. Have her wear spurs everywhere. Give her a mid-season magical upgrade that's just a cowboy hat. Have her shout ranch-hand puns while she guns down teddy bears!
Meanwhile, the most we learn about Tamara is umm...
At this time, I wish to stress that all these screenshots are from the same anime.
And somehow after eleven episodes, we haven't even gotten the 5th magical girl who shows up in the OP! So yeah, characterization is not Spec-Ops' forte. That's made more painfully apparent by how it tries to handle its most serious character.
Kudos for trying what seems like a sincere attempt to portray PTSD but, as the kids say, this ain't it chief.
It's a shame too! Early on, it seemed like Spec-Ops was really trying to address that PTSD angle, and I liked the approach of Asuka helping Sayako with her trauma and in turn becoming more able to deal with her own.
But then it turns out that the show's way of coping with trauma is to pile on more trauma.
I was a big fan of how hard the show initially leaned into the "I'm too old for this shit" trope with Asuka (who's still a teenager!), but once she came around to rejoining the military, the narrative dropped most of its themes beyond Pain. It's a real shame.

It really is the most Jack Bauer way of dealing with the horrors of war: more horrors! And that's not even getting into the massive ethical questions of how they "cure" her friend's trauma by erasing her memories. It just hurls war fiction tropes at the wall and then spray-paints anime tiddies over it, with no concern for how stuff like abuse, child soldiers, or torture will read in that context.

Hoo boy does the show write checks with Chisato and Giess that it cannot cash at all. I don't even want to go into the specifics, because it's the anime's most egregious example of misery porn without ANY of the proper care, nuance, or gravitas to back it up. On the plus side, we do get a pretty cool and decently choreographed sparring match between Chisato and Kurumi! That's something, I guess!
At least it's a damn sight better than most of
the action scenes...
It ain't the best-looking show by any stretch, but it can deliver the occasional gem through nothing else but sheer audacity.
That's where the show shines: dumb, ridiculous, aimless violence. Like Sacchuu, the dead-eyed gremlin mascot character who's voiced by a former Pretty Cure mascot.
do NOT fuck with Sacchuu
Speaking of awful mascots, I cannot go without mentioning that This Week In Anime favorite seiyuu, Shiori Izawa (a.k.a. Heybot!), voices the enemy's flying penguin mascot.
It is possibly the smartest character in the show for taking a big drink and then peacing out.

Get out while the getting's good, Heybot!.
I'm ragging on Spec Ops a lot because it's garbage, but as a connoisseur of garbage, I can't deny that I've enjoyed the ride. It's VERY objectionable, but if you have a strong tolerance for tastelessness, there are flashes of brilliance that make up for its lazier moments.
Yeah, there are moments of fun in Spec-Ops, and if you're looking for pure trashy indulgence, you can certainly do worse, but there's just so much baggage holding it down that I can't really recommend it to most people. So I guess, in conclusion:

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