Review: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, Episode 1 — The Magical Girl Comes Back
In 2016, hostile lifeforms known as “Disas” began a covert infiltration of our world. While these lifeforms look cute and cuddly at first glance—taking the forms of stuffed rabbits and bears—they are, in truth, bloodthirsty murderers. In 2017, another world that opposed the Disas made contact with Earth and formed a pact, thereby introducing earthlings to the reality of magical girls and allowing girls from Earth to contract with spirits, granting them access to magical powers. The girls fought as part of a unified front of Earth’s military forces and, after a long, bloody war, manage to defeat the Disas once and for all. Three years later, titular character Asuka is living a normal life as a high school girl, with her magical girl days behind her. Though she tries to put the past behind her, she is ultimately haunted by the things she’s seen and the fights she’s endured, often occupying her mind with books and other thoughts. While some of the other surviving magical girls have gone on to do further military operations, Asuka has refused all such offers, claiming that people only get hurt around her when she works. Meanwhile, Asuka befriends fellow classmates Nozomi Makino and Sayoko Hata, neither of whom know of Asuka’s past and both of whom try to recruit Asuka to their clubs for various reasons. When Sayoko finds herself in a desperate situation, Asuka is forced to realize that, though the Disas are defeated, the world still has need of magical girls.
The magical girl genre has come a long way in the past two decades. While many of us (guys and girls alike) were likely introduced to the genre through shows like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura (Cardcaptors for the American audience…shudder), there’s no denying that those shows were targeted towards a female audience, as had been the standard for much of the genre’s life. Since then, we’ve seen the genre expand to target male audience members more directly through more plot and action oriented stories (Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha), we’ve seen the genre take a darker, almost horror-themed twist on itself (Madoka), and now we’re seeing the approach of magical girls as soldiers.
I had seen this title in passing once or twice as the Winter 2019 season approached, but hadn’t particularly looked into it, only checking it out because the artwork ultimately caught my attention as I scrolled through Crunchyroll’s simulcast titles for this season. After viewing the first episode, I can honestly say that I am excited to see where this show goes. While I do have a couple minor gripes—namely, the way Asuka’s eyes are drawn, especially in comparison to the other characters, and the fact that Asuka was supposedly in middle school during the Disas war despite looking older, with no apparent change in appearance despite a three year time lapse—I was overall impressed with the introductory episode. While I acknowledge that the amount of blood and gore shown isn’t for everyone, I have personally mused on the concept of a more realistic magical girl story for a long time. Let’s face it, these girls are using devastating magical and physical attacks on their enemies, yet in most shows said enemies just burst apart into fragments of light. The existence of blood, injury, and death in such a battle just seems more realistic for such fights. I also appreciate the fact that Asuka didn’t watch people die and walk away as if nothing happened. She’s clearly haunted by the things she’s seen, and one scene suggests she may suffer from PTSD.
The show is dark, but not in the same vein as the shows one would usually throw into the “dark magical girl” genre (Madoka, Magical Girl Raising Project, Yuki Yuna, etc). The dark elements in this case aren’t based around horrific revelations of what it means to be a magical girl, but rather the realities of war and death, and for that reason I would consider it distinct from that particular sub-genre. It feels more adult-oriented, although it’s too early to say that for sure, as the series could easily devolve into typical magical girl tropes. Another noteworthy point is how the show deviates from the typical concept of magical girls working in the shadows, keeping their identities and existence secret from most of society. Here, magical girls are a known force, with their identities as magical girls—if not as real people—known far and wide.
If you are a fan of the magical girl genre and you like seeing new takes on it, I would highly recommend looking into the first episode of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. Those who are squeamish about blood or who simply disapprove of it’s use should probably look elsewhere, though, as you will find plenty of it to go around in this episode alone.
Language: I counted one use of “d*mmit.”
Sexual Content: Asuka is shown transforming once in the episode and once in the ending credits—the first briefly exposing portions of her breasts and butt, the second showing only the equivalent of cleavage. Another female character is shown in a skimpy bikini near the end of the episode.
Alcohol/Drug Use: None
Violence: The show is gratuitously violent. Soldiers, enemies, and even magical girls are shown bloodied and dead. Characters are shown with lost limbs and others are shown being dismembered. Blood is ample during combat scenes. One sequence of events shows terrorists opening fire on police and civilians.
Spiritual Content: The magical girls contract with spirits from another world in order to obtain their powers. As of now, this is simply backstory so the details of the “contract” aren’t really shown. Beyond that, there aren’t any real spiritual or religious themes in this episode.
Other Negative Themes: In general, the focus on war and crime will probably be an ongoing negative aspect of the show. While the show doesn’t glorify these actions, they still serve as a reminder of the darkness that permeates our world, and they are done in a way that is realistic or, in the case of the attack at episode’s end, overly exaggerated. How negative this is will probably differ from person to person.
Positive Content: The climax of the episode is Asuka realizing that there are still reasons for her to fight and that, despite her reservations and desires, the world still needs magical girls. Seeing her friend in danger helps her to realize that there are still things wroth fighting for.