English Dub Review: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka “A More Terrible War”

Such terrible. Much pain.

Overview (Spoilers Below)

Kurumi has just transferred into Asuka’s high school in order to be closer to her former comrade, and she has quickly been welcomed into Asuka’s circle of friends. Meanwhile, in Tijuana, another magical girl, Mia Cyrus, is taking out a cartel cell where a strange, shriveled man is held, hostage. When they approach him, a magical cube constricts around him, forcibly turning him into a mangled cube.

In Japan, the girls decide to go to the pool together and Kurumi seems to have something of a crush on Asuka that she tries to play off. While in the gym together, Kurumi confides in Asuka by telling her tragic backstory of being bullied as a kid, which prompted her to become a magical girl in the first place. Later, Iizuka introduces Asuka to the maid cafe secret hideout he’s developed to serve as a base of operations for renewed magical girl operations. He reiterates to Asuka that things are looking grim, as new evils in the world are using magic to commit greater acts of terror.

The next day, at the pool, the girls get along swimmingly, and Sayako manages to get out of her trauma induced depression by conquering her fear and jumping off the high dive. The girls enjoy the rest of their day after the pool by spending time together, which makes Kurumi feel a little jealous of Asuka’s new friendships. On the way home, Nozomi gets kidnapped by a couple goons working for the illegal magical girl from the last episode because of her relation to her father, who works for the Foreign Affairs Police.

Our Take:

Week three, episode three of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is here and quickly evaporating all hope I had that this show might be something refreshing. The awkward mix of boring and violent continues this show generates with each scene is only trumped by the cold dullness of its main character, who has as much personality as an ammunition crate. This episode’s plot fails to capture my attention but illustrates some of the larger issues that this show is falling prey to.

This is a small complaint, but this whole “Amnesia inducing field” aspect to the magical girls in this show is just plain stupid. It’s the kind of thing you would expect grade school students to come up while they’re playing pretend and trying to one up each other on special powers. From a story perspective, it doesn’t add much to the lore except creating a forced secret identity subplot for Asuka and her companions. It’s part of a setting that has failed to be compelling because even though it’s “Our world but with magical influence”, the world that we see is basically identical to every other generic depiction of urban Japan out there. We only hear about magic, but almost never see it, meaning that the setting fails to come even close to immersive.

Let’s talk about tone for a second because Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka needs a crash course in the subject. There is this body horror element to the show that I understand is there to reinforce the larger theme of “War is hell, even for magical girls”, but they way its executed here is giving me whiplash. To compare to “Madoka Magicka” again, (Because let’s face it, this show wishes it was “Madoka Magica”) that show had a surrealist, definitive visual style to it that made its violence, while at times surprising, still feel at home in the story. It shocks you, but it doesn’t knock you out of the story because the setting of that world is a black mirror of our own. However, here, the show cannot figure out if it wants to be horrifying and intense or a slice-of-life. Case in point, this episode takes a weird turn halfway through when Asuka and friends decide to have a sexy time at the beach, with plenty of gratuitous anime sweater stretchers to get that sweet, sweet otaku money. Part of me thinks that this contrast in tone is what the show is going for as part of its pitch, “Sexy military magical girl slice-of-life with horror elements”, but a wiser part of me knows that, intended or not, that idea is ridiculous. A show cannot be everything, it has to choose what it wants to do and then try its best to do things well. This is a perfect example of a series trying to have its cake and eat it too, with barely enough direction and budget to have a cake in the first place.

This show is starting to make me a bit nauseous. While originally, I had considered it to be a potentially interesting idea, Spec-Ops Asuka seems much more concerned with selling itself by cherry-picking things from other shows and that splattering them all together in an ugly mess. Not to mention, there’s something morally questionable about a show depicting people suffering from PTSD that also is chock full of fan-service. I don’t know what to make of all this just yet, but I’m fairly certain it’s going to end badly.

Score
3/10

Erich Hau

Erich is a northern California based writer on the front lines of the nerd frontier. When he's not burning the midnight oil he enjoys musicals, smooth jazz, and a good cup of dark roast. Cream and sugar not included.

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