In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Askuka episode 1, "The Magical Girl Comes Back," Asuka Ootorii is trying to lead a normal high school life. But her past -- as one of the Magical Girls who fought against the brutal and cunning Disas -- continues to haunt her, in more ways than one. Some of her new classmates reach out to her, and she hesitantly begins to form friendships... until terrorists put one of her new friends, Sayako Hata, in their sights. Can Asuka put aside her past and protect her friend? And if she does, at what cost?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What's in This Post
3 Favorite Moments
I've never been a fan of info-dumps/exposition, though I admit that they're sometimes necessary. In the case of this show, though, the writers found a way to show us a ton of information in a very small amount of time -- without any info dumps! Take the early scene of Asuka and the other Magical Girls as they faced off against the Disas king. In the space of just a few minutes, we learned that the conventional military could do nothing against the Disas; that only the Magical Girls stood a chance against that enemy; that of the nine Magical Girls who started out, only 5 remained; and that of the remaining 5, Asuka with her short blade stood the best chance of killing the Disas king (4:00). We even got to meet the surviving magical girls. Dramatic, effective, and to the point. I like those traits in a scene!
The sight of a person wearing a mascot/cat suit reminded Asuka too much of a Disas she had faced once -- and brought terrible memories flooding back to her. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Walking along a downtown street, Asuka saw a news story mentioning one the Magical Five (as the five surviving Magical Girls are now known). She found herself unwillingly remembering the past, and it was obvious from her pained expression that they weren't happy memories. A girl's voice interrupted her thoughts, and she saw a mom and a small girl about to take a balloon from a person dressed in a large cat suit. Unfortunately for Asuka, that large yellow feline looked too much like a Disas she had faced before, and she found herself responding to those old emotions (6:39). The war had obviously left deep psychological scars on her. I'm not a clinician, but it looks to me like she's suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I don't recall seeing such a realistic portrayal of the aftermath of battle -- except maybe for Yuki Yuna is a Hero.
Asuka had wanted to leave the horrors she witnessed in her past. Yet, when it came time to make a snap decision, she chose to protect her friend. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Asuka had begun making friends. She was even considering trying out for the track team at school! Yet, her past still haunted her, and she felt guilty for trying to get on with her life, especially when she saw news stories about terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, one of those attacks found her. She'd been walking around town when an escaping fugitive leveled an AK-47 at her friend Sayako. An instant later, Asuka had transformed into her magical girl persona, and she stood between the attacker and her friend (20:34). She let her training take over, and seconds later, despite a barrage of automatic weapons fire and even a grenade or two, and she had sliced through one henchman (literally) and had hacked the lower legs out from under the fugitive (21:09). As much as she wanted to live in peace, the combination of her abilities and her conscience wouldn't leave her alone. What comes next for her? I'm anxious to find out!
Picking which series to review each season is kinda hard. First, there're a lot of choices, and they debut across weeks. If I don't choose something quickly, I feel like I'm behind before I even start! Second, it's hard to know which series is going to deliver on its potential. What if I start watching a show and it gets terrible? I'm trying to celebrate anime here! It'd be awkward if I hate the series I'm trying to review! Though to be honest, even most of the worst shows have two or three moments I could probably tag as my favorites.
What I'm saying is that I try to pick a show that I'll not only enjoy writing about, but you'll enjoy reading about!
I think this show is one of those!
Asuka is clearly capable and determined. Those same traits kept her in the fight years ago; what will they mean for her now? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
A show dealing respectfully with PTSD, especially in the magical girl space, is interesting to me. I thought the show did a great job of establishing that Asuka is suffering from that malady. She had to consciously override her combat instincts and not kill the man who pushed her friend to the ground (7:57). She tells her new friends that she had to read to keep her memories at bay -- "It just keeps me from remembering bad things" (9:52). Then there's the emotional aftermath of remembering what had happened to her parents (14:17). That's just not something you walk away from!
Maybe because socializing with her new friends helped her get a new perspective on what she's feeling, she told Sayako that "I want to keep my mind occupied as much as possible when I've got free time. If I'm not constantly reading a book and thinking about something, it feels like I'll be crushed" (17:05). I'm sure she could have articulated that before. This paints a picture of a warrior who's struggling, but who's at least holding her own.
She's also haunted by feelings of guilt that's based on what happens to others when she fights. As she tells her old military friend in the cafe, "Lots of people around me get killed around me, too" (14:32). She was specifically remembering her mom and dad.
One of the reasons Asuka doesn't want to fight is because of what happens to those around her. Like her parents. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Even worse: She feels guilty when she doesn't fight. As she watched the news, she felt tormented by the idea that if she could just have done more, she could have saved lives (18:13). That's got to be tough on her!
By the end of the episode, I felt like I'd watched Asuka working through authentic emotions and conflicts to save her friend. But far from being a moment of catharsis, her re-emergence as a magical girl undid all of the work she'd done to free herself of that responsibility and power. Now what? Where's she go from here?
I'm really looking forward to seeing what the show does with that conflict!
What did you think of this episode? What do you think of Asuka as a character? Let me know in the comments!
Other Posts about This Series
Other Anime Sites
- Reddit Discussion of Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka - Episode 1
- Anime Evo: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 [First Look]
- Rory Muses: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 1: Magical Five
- 100 Word Anime: What Happens When a Magical Girl With PTSD Drawn Back Into War?
This Site (Crow's World of Anime!)
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 2: Daily Life and Comrades in Arms
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 3: A More Terrible War
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4: Babel Brigade - Combat Begins
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 5: A Very Realistic Way of Dealing with a Problem
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 6: Wish Upon a Star
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 7: Magical Girl Development Unit
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 8: You'll Surely be a Wonderful Magical Girl
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 9: The Lid of Hell
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 10: Each of Their Deadly Battles
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 11: The Magical Girls and This Beautiful World
- Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 12: If This Battle Never Ends