English Dub Review: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka “Daily Life and Comrades in Arms”

Who knew being a magical girl was this hard?

Overview (Spoilers Below)

Asuka returns back to her apartment where Iizuka awaits with intel about the terrorists she just defeated. He asks her to join the special operations unit to assist in anti-terrorist missions, but she refuses. The next morning, Sayako, who had seen Asuka in action yesterday, pretends not to have seen anything, much to Asuka’s relief. The three enjoy lunch together, where Sayako expresses her admiration for the power of the Magical Girls. Asuka explains how much of a burden power is to her, however. As their day finishes, Sayako has some kind of panic attack triggered by flashbacks to the events of the day before. Sayako uses her experience with this pain to calm her down with some breathing exercises. Later, Iizuka sets about torturing one of the terrorists for information.

Terrorism is afoot around town, as a young girl aids more terrorists to get ready for another attack. It would appear that she’s backed by some powerful people and that she’s also some kind of evil magical girl. Iizuka shares info with Syako that the terrorists are getting their hands on weapons from the war, making them extremely dangerous.

A disaster wreaks havoc on the city, but Magical Girl Kurumi, the “War Nurse” comes to stop the beast. The giant teddy bear monster is fierce, but Kurumi injects it with her magical syringe to great effect. Yet, it isn’t enough and she is nearly struck down by the beast until Asuka arrives at the last second to save her. The two share a touching reunion where they discuss their pasts and their pain on the swingset together. Kurumi offers to be there for her and tells her how much she trusts her. The next day, Kurumi transfers into Asuka’s school as a new student.

Our Take:

We’re two episodes into Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka and I’m beginning to notice, besides its ludicrous name, some inherent problems that are appearing in the foundation of the show. This anime appears to, unlikely many other seasonal releases, try to tell a story that’s actually challenging and mature. It wants to be something like “Madoka Magica” with more military intrigue involved, but it doesn’t have the wherewithal to execute a story that complex. Everything here is set up to make for an interesting story, but its delivery is incredibly weak, and its world left too unfinished to leave a strong impression on me. If it can’t get those things down, this show is going to have a really hard time moving forward.

A show like this needs to rely on the dramatic ability of its writing and voice acting to bring the emotions of the characters home. Yet, in almost every scene, you can spot some noticeably flat or tone-deaf line deliveries from actors who seem like they’re really phoning in their lines. Not every performance is spectacular, but one gets the impression that the actors bringing this thing to life really don’t give a shit about this story. And rightfully so, because the dialogue is nothing to write home about. Magical Girl Asuka falls into the classic production of a trap of “Tell, don’t show”, where the creators can only seem to use prolonged dialogue sequences to convey information. As I always say, anime is a visual medium, and it demands visual methods of storytelling to keep the audience interested.

Very few things are as important as the setting in an anime; the world that it creates must be alluring and pull the audience’s interest. Whether through mystery, through detail, through smart and stylish art design, there has to be something that makes a show stand out. However, Asuka has opted to place itself in a generic Japanese cityscape. It presents itself as a world very similar to our own, but with only a few minor differences in the occasional appearance of magical girls. I think a world where magical girls exist in a realistic setting is a great idea to work with, but you have to do more to make the world exciting and believable. This looks like almost every other modern set anime out there, with very little defining originality.

There are pieces of a good show here, but just pieces. It’s as if the creators took the idea of “Realistic magical girls suffering from PTSD” and ran with it, but forgot to flesh the idea out before putting it to the screen. So much here is lacking, and so much here is just plain boring. Bad voice acting, bad execution, and a lack of intrigue or tension spell disaster for the second episode of this unique, but troubled show.

Score
4/10

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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