Anime

Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 6: Mia Cyrus Visits Japan and a Tanabata Miracle

Quick Summary

In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Askuka episode 6, "Wish Upon a Star," Sayako Hata invites her friends to a study session at her home, and Asuka Ootorii arrives first. After a quiet conversation where Asuka begins to open up, Kurumi Mugen and Nozomi Makino arrive, and Kurumi is frantic. Why? Did the Disas attack? Not exactly... Later, at the Tanabata festival, Asuka meets a stranger who is oddly sympathetic. Why is the stranger so helpful? Is it because she's enamored of Asuka in a yukata? Finally, Mia Cyrus arrives in Japan on a mission. She finds another dead body compressed into a macabre cube. What's that have to do with the Magical Girls? And why does a terrorist suddenly try to kill Mia and her team? 

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

What's in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Sayako seemed almost heart-broken that Asuka said she didn't really like herself. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 1

This show built its reputation, in essence, on brutality. Asuka and Sayako's PTSD, the ruthless way Asuka cut down her enemies in the previous episode, and Mia Cyrus' fighting style later in this episode are testaments to that. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to see a quiet emotional moment near the beginning of this episode. Sayako invited Asuka, Kurumi, and Nozomi to study at her house, and Asuka was the first to arrive. During smalltalk, Sayako mentioned that she wants to be a screenwriter. Asuka asked if that was her dream (3:54), but instead of answering, Sayako turned the question around and asked Asuka what her dream was. After a pause where she silently remembered watching Magical Girl anime as a kid and desperately wanting to protect the world, she admitted with a small, sad smile that "I really don't like myself that much... So I really don't have a dream." Sayako seemed overcome with emotion and, clasping Asuka's hand across the table, more or less demanded that Asuka not say things like that because she was so wonderful. In that beautiful moment between battles, Asuka had no idea how to respond to that kind of emotion. It was almost a shame that Kurumi and Nozomi arrived and interrupted the moment.

Kurumi and Nozomi had their own quiet moment -- until Nozomi ruined it! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 2

Have you noticed something about Kurumi's personality? When she feels like her relationship to Asuka is safe, she's her normal, cheerful, and helpful self. Take the scene where they had just arrived at the Tanabata festival, where within moments, Nozomi had already eaten so much that she felt sick (7:55). Kurumi saw that Nozomi was in distress, so she offered to stay with her until she felt better. That way, Asuka and Sayako could walk around the festival. Think about that for a second. Earlier, Kurumi had been anxious at the mere thought that something might have happened between Sayako and Asuka while they were alone studying. Now, she's offering to help them be alone! Nozomi even mentioned how Kurumi seemed like she was experienced taking care of people. "Maybe I am," she answered (8:20). This is Kurumi when she's not under stress. It was only when Nozomi, maybe playfully, suggested that Asuka and Sayako almost looked like a couple that things turned less warm and fuzzy. Kurumi stood up so quickly that she spilled Nozomi to the ground. This moment is more than it appears: It's less a comedy moment and more an insight into Kurumi's character. 

The helpful stranger, who turned out to have an agenda of her own, was shocked that Asuka didn't have any Tanabata wish. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 3

Speaking of insight into characters, how about the scene where the blonde woman -- who we later learn is a terrorist from Columbia -- meets Asuka in front of a Tanabata Wish Tree. The woman is mystified: What do the handing strips of paper mean? Asuka explains that if you write your wish on a tanzaku, your wish will come true. The woman asks Asuka what she wished for, and she answers, "Oh, no, I don't have any wishes" (13:51). The woman is scandalized and says kids need something to wish for, but Asuka is at a complete loss. So the woman writes "Be happy" on a tanzaku and hands it to Asuka, saying that it's a kid's duty to be happy. Given that we learn this woman was a terrorist who later tried to kill Mia Cyrus, a Magical Girl, there's all kinds of irony in the woman wishing happiness for Asuka. That's just the kind of world they live in, though.

Thoughts

Compared to episode 5, Kurumi was a lot different, wasn't she? Often less confident, more frantic. In battle, she and Asuka had been in complete sync. There was an intimacy that they'd built under terrible circumstances. But in this episode, there weren't fighting. They were back in a world where the rules are less distinct, and where relationships were based on things that Kurumi -- and Asuka -- really don't understand. So of course Kurumi was anxious and nearly frantic at times! Asuka is her rock, the talisman that drives away her fear and other negative feelings.

I am glad that Asuka accepts her without question. She understands Kurumi, even if she, too, doesn't understand these "emotion" things. I hate to think how Kurumi would react if she thought she was about to lose Asuka. 

Asuka said something that really resonated with me. "I really don't have a dream," she told Sayako. She said something similar later to Crescent Moon Sandino (when she just thought the woman was a tourist): "I don't have any wishes."

Asuka did have a dream. She remembered it clearly. She had wanted to be a Magical Girl so she could protect the world. In one sense, she's achieved that dream. She is a Magical Girl. She did save the world. Well, she saved the world from the Disas. Turns out there is more than one power that threatens the world, and some of those are best met with Magical Girls.

Asuka did have a dream. And it came true. Though there seem to have been some terms and conditions... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

After everything Asuka has seen, she can't find it in herself to dream anymore. I understand that place. I've never fought in the military, and I'm not an emergency responder. I don't see death on a daily -- or even an annual -- basis. So part of me says that I have nothing to complain about. 

But if you've ever had to deal with a family situation -- mental illness or elderly family members with failing health, for example -- you'll know that there's a kind of exhaustion that sets in. For me, almost fifteen years into such a situation, I realized that Asuka might as well have been answering for me. I'm to the point where I really don't have dreams or hopes. I understand intellectually that they're important. I see other people having dreams and trying to achieve them. So I use my intellect to emulate dreams. I try to figure out what a dream might look like, and if anyone asks, I say that's my dream!

I had thought that was a singular thing -- something unique to me because I was whatever I am. It's almost funny that it took a Magical Girl to jar me into the realization that what I'm experiencing is actually a normal thing. I look back at my interactions with others who have had to work with chronic conditions in themselves and their loved ones, and I see the same kind of demands and exhaustion. I even intellectually understood that this was the case; I just didn't apply that understanding to myself. I didn't acknowledge that sometimes, there simply isn't any emotional energy left to fuel dreams or hopes. 

At what point does a lack of dreams or hopes become a problem? Or is it a problem from the very start? Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Or is it something else? Is it that, like Asuka, I actually do have hopes, but they're buried? Is that why I feel so emotional when I forced myself to buy and watch Neil Gaiman's Master Class on the Art of Storytelling? Are my dreams is still there, just buried and fighting for breath? 

It's not that I look at Asuka and think, "There's someone I should emulate!" It's that I'm watching a show that is trying to deal with these issues, and I think, "Dang. This character just reminded me of a universal truth. I should probably do something about that!"

For me, the show's gone from being an interesting exploration of the effects of combat on the Magical Girls to a show that's addressing what it means for humans to be under long term stress. For Asuka, the source is combat, but for me, it's something different. Yet, there are similarities. There's something I can learn from this comparison. 

Isn't that the point of art? To reflect reality back to us in a way that helps us better understand who we are? And what we're capable of?

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

Other Posts about This Series

8 thoughts on “Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 6: Mia Cyrus Visits Japan and a Tanabata Miracle

  1. “In one sense, she’s achieved that dream. She is a Magical Girl. She did save the world.”

    Thinking on it… She’s not unlike Phos (Phosphophyllite) in Land of the Lustrous…. Both achieved their dreams, but neither imagined the terrible price they’d pay to do so.

  2. About Kurumi, I still can’t get a grip on her character. Intellectually, everything you say about her makes sense. It’s clear, for example, that with only a slight hint of crisis her protective instinct takes over. We’ve seen that, too, when Sayako was trying to jump from the high platform at the pool. It was no threat, but it was clear she was worried Sayako was pushing herself and would mess up (well, clear to me – I might still be wrong). On the other hand, when it comes to Asuka they seem to play her like a standard yandere type, and I can’t gauge how seriously I’m supposed to take this. It doesn’t help that those scenes in this episode had the most off-model scenes and worst production values in the entire episode (if I’m right about this; experts know more), which leads me to think the scene was no priority. I just can’t form a coherent picture in my mind.

    As for “dreams”: I thought the library scene was pretty strong. But even though I should be able to relate to this (a lot of what you said in your post applies to me, too), it didn’t even occur to me in this show. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen Hanasaku Iroha. It’s a show about girls working at a ryokan, and the landlady is a pretty strict employer. Since the girls are all students, she gets it in her head to make them consider their future. I don’t remember the particulars; I don’t think she was pushy, that wouldn’t fit her personality. However, I intimately remember the quiet, supportive one blurting out in frustration that not every one can have dreams of their own, some are fine with supporting other people’s dreams.

    That hit a nerve with me. It’s interesting, in that I don’t think that’s entirely true for me. But it’s so rare that you see the you-must-have-a-dream-and-work-for-it line challenged that I did a double take and found myself nodding. It’s not because I’m the archetypical supporter, but my personality also doesn’t lend itself to picking a single dream and running with it. I’d rather do a lot of things moderately well than one thing really well. For example, if I really like doing something, I don’t want to make a job of it, because that would spoil the activity. I’d have to work at it for deadlines, and I’d accumulate ill-will towards an activity I once enjoyed.

    I used to write stories. I enjoyed that. But being published, even as an innocent fantasy, was never a motivator. Instead it felt like a threat to an activity I enjoyed. Getting good feedback on stories was nice, but after I got good feedback, I usually didn’t show another story to anyone for months to years. I didn’t go out of my way to destroy my stories, but neither did I collect them. I still occasionally find fragments in drawers, sometimes of stories I don’t remember writing at all (but I do recognise my handwriting). What would happen if I made writing my dream? Would it turn into my nightmare? Some family members think I’m just scared of failure; but that’s definitely not it. I find the prospect of being picked up for publication much more frightening than the prospect of being turned down, or being told I suck. I can deal with that fairly easily. I’ve had bad feed-back, too. I get defensive, but eventually I usually see their points, and then it’s either a matter of taste, or I’ve learned something valuable. The most fun I had (during a bout of unemployment) was sharing stories with other writers, but most others were aiming for publication, and I started to withdraw, partly because I felt I was wasting their time (as publication was never my goal). Still, I might never have tried to pursue being published out of a sense of generalised anxiety: “If they pick me up, I’ll have to dance to their tune, and I’m sure I’ll come to hate what I find now.” How do I know that’s right? As so often in life, it’s not an easy either/or situation. But still: I think forcing dreams on people isn’t all that great either.

    1. “…but it was clear she was worried Sayako was pushing herself and would mess up ”

      That’s a great example! I noticed it at the time but promptly forgot about it. I saw Kurumi as being honestly concerned.

      “which leads me to think the scene was no priority.”

      I don’t know how to gauge if that’s right, but I think what you’re saying has merit. In this case, I candidly admit that I may be reading more into this than the show intends (though clearly knowing the writer’s intent is not easy).

      This reminds me of a passage from The Return of The King:

      “Then, whether Aragorn had indeed some forgotten power of Westernesse, or whether it was but his words of the Lady Éowyn that wrought on them…”

      I might be misinterpreting this, but it seemed to me that it describes two aspects: Aragorn intending to heal Éowyn (his intent), and her imbuing his words with meaning based on her own desires and perspective, which allows her to be healed. My interpretation of Kurumi might just be wishful thinking. It’s not _inconsistent_ with what the narrative’s presented, but I’m not sure the evidence is really all there.

      But I want it to be.

      “I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen Hanasaku Iroha”

      I haven’t seen that. Yet. iTunes has the first 12 episode for $14.00, so I’ll check it out.

      “It’s not because I’m the archetypical supporter, but my personality also doesn’t lend itself to picking a single dream and running with it.”

      I wonder if being free to pursue your curiosity itself is a dream? Doesn’t sound half bad, actually!

      “The most fun I had (during a bout of unemployment) was sharing stories with other writers, but most others were aiming for publication, and I started to withdraw, partly because I felt I was wasting their time (as publication was never my goal).”

      Did the other writers tell you that? That you were wasting their time? That wouldn’t make any sense to me. You were actually helping them be better writers, regardless of your ultimate intent! If all of you were enjoying the experience, don’t you think it’s reasonable that you’ll improve? The only way to get better at writing is to write, so anything that helps you write at least potentially helps you get better.

      “Still, I might never have tried to pursue being published out of a sense of generalised anxiety: “If they pick me up, I’ll have to dance to their tune, and I’m sure I’ll come to hate what I find now.””

      By “they”, do you mean publishers? I wouldn’t want them calling the shots, either. I’m a big proponent of self-publishing, in part because I don’t want someone else in the supply chain making the calls!

      Even if they’d sometimes be right.

      If self-publishing sounds at all interesting to you, I’d recommend Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers blog. You don’t even have to purchase the course; there’s plenty of good free information. But I’ll say the course lays out everything you need to know to get started (outside of the actual writing).

      What you’re saying hits home for me. I’ve been trying to write a series of books for years, and every time I start to get close, I reach deep down and find a reason not to. They’re all great reasons, but the line of questioning you just presented feels really familiar to me.

      I think maybe we’ve gotten really, really good at talking ourselves out of it!

      “But still: I think forcing dreams on people isn’t all that great either.”

      That makes sense to me. Good reminder, too.

      1. ****Did the other writers tell you that? That you were wasting their time?****

        Nobody told me that, and I didn’t actually think it was true. But there’s this… process you’re going through. I mean, I’ve read plenty of manuscripts for other people, and you sort of find yourself hoping they get published. And then you think that most people think of writing and publishing as unit, and you think that you’re sort of… robbing them. It’s really just a feeling, that they’re putting in work for me, but they’ll never really see results, because I’m not even trying to get any – in terms of publishing. And then there’s also the feeling that you’re taking time and effort away from others: if they weren’t reading me, they’d be reading someone else who actually does want to see their book in print. It’s really just a general feeling: reading and commenting is a magnitude more effort intensive than just reading and offering a few lines of response. (And I’d have stopped anyway, once I found a job, since I’ve never had the dedication of an “author”.)

        ****By “they”, do you mean publishers? I wouldn’t want them calling the shots, either.****

        Again, I’m talking about a general sense of anxiety that I’m trying to explain. I don’t actually “believe” that I’d have to dance to anyone’s tune, if I were to publish. Most of it is my attitude: I treat things I do for myself differently, than things I do with others. So “they” don’t force me to do anything, but simply because they invest in my book and put their label on it, I feel I owe them respect.

        Neither agents nor editors call shots. The biggest edit, the developmental edit is a conversation with the editor about weakpoints in the book, and if you get along with your editor (and they’re hopefully flexible from working with many different authors) they really do help you make a better book. Trade-publishing is really the only way I’d consider; self-publishing isn’t something I want to do. I might serialise a novel I’ve written on a blog – but the whole thing would have to be finished before I start.

        In any case, I haven’t written much in the last decade.

        ***What you’re saying hits home for me. I’ve been trying to write a series of books for years, and every time I start to get close, I reach deep down and find a reason not to. They’re all great reasons, but the line of questioning you just presented feels really familiar to me.***

        It sounds a little silly to say it, but practically the only thing published novelists have in common is that they’ve actually finished a book. False starts – first draft – rewrite – developmental edits… any of those stages.

        In any case, my preferred medium has always been the short story. I’ve finished exactly one draft, which has been read by quite a few people to whom I’m grateful, and I have quite a few ideas of its weakpoints. Scrap scenes and re-write them from other points of view – that sort of thing. But it’s a lot of work. A lot.

        What do you need before you start writing? Me, I’m an improviser. I mull things over in my head, but I’ve written stories just from a nonsense line I liked as a title. If I plan things, I lose interest in the actual process of writing. Do you enjoy putting things in words? For example, imagine an exercise. Write the same scene, first person narration, from all characters present (including the hot-dog vendor you didn’t even mention). Does that sound like fun? Like a chore? That’s the sort of exercise that invigorates me.

        1. “if they weren’t reading me, they’d be reading someone else who actually does want to see their book in print.”

          I suspect you’re judging yourself too harshly! If I read and commented on your work, in terms of my personal development, your goals mean almost nothing. I still get experience critiquing, and that’s valuable. I honestly think you were helping those writers get better even if you didn’t want to be published.

          “but simply because they invest in my book and put their label on it, I feel I owe them respect.”

          I’m saying this as someone who has a degree in Theology (one of my concentrations was moral systematic theology), but I think your sense of responsibility is limiting you! A publisher isn’t acting out of charity. If they pick up your book, it’s because they want to use your work to raise their profits. The only thing a writer ever owes — and it’s owed to the world and not the publisher — is writing.

          “Neither agents nor editors call shots.”

          If you’re working with highly ethical professionals, or if you’re an established writer, that’s true. I know too many horror stories of new writers feeling like they had to change their works to suit a publisher or agent. Of course, that relationship doesn’t last long, but for the writer, it’s a complete waste of time.

          “Does that sound like fun? Like a chore? That’s the sort of exercise that invigorates me.”

          If it were part of my vision for a given story, it’d be awesome! But as a class exercise or other kind of assignment, not so much.

          Do you want to write novels? Or more short stories?

          1. I don’t currently feel like writing at all, but if I get back into the groove at one point, it’s definitely short stories. They’re my favourite medium.

            As for editors/agents calling shots: they can tell you they can’t sell it that way, but they can’t force you to put your name under something you don’t want to. Yes, there are horror stories out there, and yes “we can’t sell that,” can feel like pressure to change. But, well, it’s a business and you’re responsible to yourself. It’s important to research the people you submit to.

            Also, when I say “I feel I owe them respect,” then I mean that literally. It’s how I feel, no matter what I think the ethical situation is like. The key point is actually: writing to be read is a different activity from writing stuff down to get it out of your head. I sort of understand Kafka asking Max Brod to burn all his stories after death (he published them instead). I’d never go that far, but I understand the mindset.

Please let me know what you think!

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