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Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4: A Cold Diplomatic Decision and the Value of Teamwork

Quick Summary

In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Askuka episode 4, "Babel Brigade - Combat Begins," Abigail and her two Russian henchmen/sorcerers prepare to torture Nozomi Makino. Their goal? Ostensibly take revenge for the police torturing the captured terrorist. But the real reason is even more insidious. Asuka Ootorii, meeting with Yoshiaki Iizuka, demands to know why the police won't act -- only to find out that the official bodies are frozen due to certain political realities. Only an arbitrary act by an independent Magical Girl can break the stalemate. Will Asuka once again act to save a friend? Will Kurumi Mugen help her? And even if they both decide to attempt a rescue, will they be in time?

Note: Please be aware that this episode contains graphic scenes of torture that go well beyond the implied scenes in previous episodes. If this sort of thing troubles you, best avoid this episode.

Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.  

What's in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

I can't fault her logic -- letting Abigail and her henchmen torture Nozomi to death would absolutely get them a bigger budget. Bad, damn... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 1

If I have a "problem" with this episode, it's that parts of it are too close to real life. Consider the scene where the Public Safety representative tells Nozomi's father that they can't rescue his daughter (6:47). She coldly describes the situation to him: the police would be hopelessly outclassed and the JSDF wouldn't become involved in something to small. As he protested, she dropped the bomb: if they allow Abigail to torture Nozomi to death, the public outcry will be so great that the government will have no choice but to fund them (7:40). That's too realistic. That's the kind of thing that happens all the time in real life. But wait, you might reasonably say. Aren't I supposed to list a favorite moment here? Yes. Remember how I've lauded this show for its realistic handling of PTSD? Now, though I joke about it being too realistic, I have to say the show's gutsy for dramatizing such a decision. It was a compelling moment -- and it provided the motivation for Asuka to go back into action.

So it's generally recognized that the Magical Girls are more or less a force of nature -- beyond the ability of even the military to control. Interesting -- and relevant -- idea! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 2

A work of fiction that stays within its own rules helps me buy into that world -- that's the whole suspension of disbelief thing. What I even better is when a show builds on one of its ideas in a way I didn't expect, but that once explained, makes perfect sense and shows how any other approach would have been disappointing. Once Asuka and Kurumi had left to rescue Nozomi, two members of Yoshiaki's squad asked if he was sure he should let them go alone. His answer was illuminating: "We can't control what the Magical Girls do" (10:09). Given the power that we've seen Asuka, Mia Cyrus, and even Kurumi display, that only makes sense. But I've never seen anyone come right out and admit it before! Remember the scene in episode 1 where Yoshiaki and Constantince Asimov lamented that there wasn't even anything they could do help the Magical Girls? That set the stage for this idea. The concept also has implications going forward for Abigail's Queen... 

Asuka and Kurumi were completely in sync during the rescue operation. They also stayed on mission: They got Nozomi out of there! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 3

It was a treat to see Asuka and Kurumi fighting side by side, starting with Asuka incapacitating the first guard (15:49), Kurumi injecting him with Magical Girl truth serum, and Asuka asking him tactically relevant questions. What was even better was seeing how they handled Abigail's threat to decapitate Nozomi (after having severed the poor girl's left arm). Asuka pretended to surrender by dropping her karambit (20:15). But she and Kurumi had either planned for this contingency, or they were so used to fighting alongside each other that they knew exactly what to do. As soon as the blade bounced on the floor, Kurumi fired the harpoon-like needle from her hypodermic and pinned Abigail to the cement wall. Kurumi showed no hesitation. She fired with the resolve and precision of a well-trained solider. What made this scene special is that they didn't take advantage of the shift in momentum to fight. Instead, Asuka began firing her magical pistol at the two Russians while Kurumi and her magical familiar cut the last chain holding Nozomi. As Kurumi ran from the room carrying the injured girl, Asuka threw a grenade and retreated. Their goal was to rescue Nozomi, and they stuck to the plan. Their discipline and teamwork were amazing to watch.

Thoughts

In  terms of raw tension and dread, the scene where Abigail talked to a bound and gagged Nozomi about grilling meat was absolutely fantastic -- in that it was absolutely terrifying (5:02). Each scissor slice through the meat, each mention of grilling perfection, kicked the intensity up a notch. If only it had stopped there...

I thought the torture scene bordered on excessive, though it did give me an appreciation for just how dangerous these villains are. The way they used the Rusalka was particularly chilling. From that perspective, the scene did what it was supposed to do. If I had to take exception with anything, it was that Abigail monologued so much with the two Russian sorcerers. Though she does seem to like to hear herself talk...

This is as much of the torture scene that I want to show. The scene may have been dramatically effective, but I still found it difficult to watch. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

The scene had another effect on me: it gave me insight into why Kurumi acted the way she did in the previous episode. You remember how she was acting border-line tsundere and made me wonder if Nozomi and Sayako Hata were even safe with Kurumi around? I think I figured it out.

Have you ever watched your own mode of perception and thought change? Okay, it's a fancy way of talking about self reflection, but it sounds cooler this way. As I was watching the torture scene, I could sense my mind changing modes. I've never been in actual combat. I've only been in a few fist fights. So I don't know if this happens to people in the military, but I felt my brain shift to the same mode as if I had to fight. It's also the same mode I switch to when I watch the opening to Saving Private Ryan

It's not "fight or flight." It's only "fight." Everything becomes a target, a potential weapon, or potential cover. People are either an enemy or an ally; there's no middle ground. 

When I come out of it, there's a period where I'm in a very utilitarian state of mind, and I have very little patience with anything that's not life and death. That fades, of course, but remember: I've never been in combat. Based on my conversations with people who were ex-military or were (or are) police officers (or to a lesser extent, fire fighters), those feelings can persist for a long time. I guess one way to put it would be that once you face a life and death situation, it changes your perspective.

Did you see how well Asuka and Kurumi fought together? They showed the practiced ease of two warriors who had done this kind of thing hundreds of times before. They had faced life and death together; each had depended on the other to bring her home safely. 

The Kurumi in this episode acts far differently from the Kurumi in the previous episode. She and Asuka depend on each other without a thought, and it's almost as if Kurumi is most comfortable in this mode. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

From that perspective, Kurumi's reaction to Sayako answering "I guess" to the question of whether she was Asuka's friend makes perfect sense. Of course Kurumi would be dismissive to the point of anger. An answer as equivocating as Sayako's could be lethal in battle. Frivolous concerns like who likes who in high school would be laughable compared to the willingness to take a bullet for someone. 

But did you notice the one time that Kurumi took Sayako seriously in episode 3? It was when Sayako exhibited symptoms of PTSD. To Kurumi, that was a real problem, something worthy of notice. In the moment of her encounter with the terrorist, Sayako had faced a moment of life or death, and that's something Kurumi could respect.

In this episode, as she and Asuka went back into battle, you could see just how resolute she was. She was no longer trying to navigate the social mores of a high school. She wasn't trying to fit into the social fabric that Asuka was almost desperately trying to be part of. Instead, she was doing something that was familiar to her; something that now defines her life. She was going into battle again, and what's more, Asuka was by her side. Kurumi showed no more hesitation or tsundere behavior or even doubts. She knew exactly what she had to do. It was almost like she was home.

For a person so young to have already adopted that world view -- that's heart-breaking. 

And the new battle is just beginning.

What did you think of this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

Other Posts about This Series

7 thoughts on “Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 4: A Cold Diplomatic Decision and the Value of Teamwork

  1. I have to say, I’m quite impressed with your insightful breakdown of Kurumi’s reactions, something I totally didn’t notice. When I first watched this show, I judged it overall as ‘great trash’, but as I’ve rewtched it, read the manga, re-read the manga and discussed it with other people, I’ve seen a surprising amount of depth emerge, especially thematically. It’s honestly now in my top 3 favorite manga, among other reasons because there’s so much to unpack. That, and Sachuu punching things.

    1. Thanks!

      You’ve gotten me interested enough in the manga that I just ordered the first volume. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      “That, and Sachuu punching things.”

      Gotta say, Sachuu was really good at punching things!

  2. I’ll be honest: I’ve noped out of this show. I don’t need a torture porn show, it really bothers me, and it just seems like the show revels in it.

    Plus, I thought the idea of a “magical girl reintegrating into society” show was an interesting idea. A “Magical girl has to fight because of course she has to fight” show is much less groundbreaking (none at all), much less interesting (next bigger bad guy to beat, like every other show) and just not compelling.

    1. “I’ll be honest: I’ve noped out of this show. I don’t need a torture porn show, it really bothers me, and it just seems like the show revels in it.”

      I can certainly understand and respect that! I did a lot of thinking about the scene. I _think_ I can still call it justified, but I’m betting that the next couple of episodes justify my decision.

      If they don’t, well, I’m going to be really bummed!

  3. I think you have a point about Kurumi; it makes sense with how she acted.

    Personally, I’m losing interest in the show. Your moment 1 elicited an eyeroll for me. It’s that I think they couldn’t have such motives. It’s that I’m not sure anyone would need to explain orders or decisions to that extent, except if that final line “Now if a magical girl would interfere…” were the real point of that exchange. I should probably curious what’s going on, but I don’t care. I feel the show’s just trying to be brutal. However, they do stick to their guns. I mean, it’s not often that a re-curring character gets her arm cut off. I expect Nozomi to survive and remain part of the show; if that’s not the case, deduct that point again.

    I mean, I’m still watching. It’s not as ridiculously bleak as, say, Mahou Shoujo Site. And it has some genuinely good moments (I remember none from this episode, though). But overall I have little to say.

    1. The first moment just resonated with me because I’ve seen the same kind of thing happen too often. Now, I’ll grant you that I’ve not really seen the level of callousness exhibited towards Nozomi’s father (well, except for a clear villain). Still, the idea of political necessity overruling morality is topical.

      The show still has my attention, but it danced really close to the edge with the length of that torture scene…

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