Anime

Review of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 8: Kurumi’s Choices and the Enduring Power of Tribe

Quick Summary

In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Askuka episode 8, "You'll Surely be a Wonderful Magical Girl," Chisato Yonamine's father tries to sell his underage daughter to a brothel but is thwarted by a law-abiding proprietor. Unfortunately for her, her father turns abusive. Unfortunately for him, Giess showed up and wanted to talk to Chisato -- alone. Kurumi Mugen is in a rush to finish her enhanced interrogation of Nazani, the Russian Magical Girl they captured in the previous episode. How far will Kurumi go to get information -- especially since every moment spent torturing is a moment not spent with Asuka Ootorii -- in swimwear? Finally, what is Giess planning to do to the intra-world conference that's coming up? What will that mean for Asuka and Kurumi? And maybe even Mia Cyrus and Tamara Volkova

Note: Please be aware that this episode contains graphic scenes of torture. While it's not as bad as episode 4, some readers may find it disturbing. 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

Like the OP (Kodo by nonoc)? You can buy it from CD Japan:

Never bought from CD Japan before? I can show you how! 

3 Favorite Moments

It's no wonder that Kurumi adores Asuka. Asuka was always there for her, even if she did briefly abandon her after the Disas war. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 1

We learned a bit more about Kurumi in this episode, and it didn't go quite the way I expected. To be honest, I'm not sure what I expected. Kurumi showed absolutely no remorse as she prepared to torture Nazani, and her explanation was simple: she didn't want to make Asuka get her hands dirty (6:07). I'd rather she find a way not to torture at all, of course, but her reasoning was completely consistent with her character. What really got to me, though, was Kurumi's flashback to when she was in school. We've seen before how a group of girls bullied her before she became a Magical Girl. The flashback was to the almost the same time period, only after she'd become a Magical Girl. The bullies had enlarged a photo they'd taken of Kurumi after they'd beaten her up, and they framed it as it it were a funeral shot. They had placed it, along with a flower, on her desk, and they were snickering in their seats behind her. I could feel Kurumi's pain and rage as she wondered why she had to protect such terrible people from the Disas. She even considered transforming and killing them all (6:34). As she's trying to keep herself under control, everyone hears the door slam open. Asuka strides in, takes one look at the situation, back-hands the photo and vase across the room, and announces, "Come with me. There's no time to waste on these worthless people" (6:47). Partly because Asuka had come from her, and partly because Asuka's words gave Kurumi permission to think of the bullies as worthless, Kurumi felt saved. From then on, Kurumi would volunteer for any duty she thought would hurt Asuka -- like torturing a prisoner. 

It never occurred to Asuka the take CPR lightly. She knows too well how it can save someone's life. But the other high school girls were in a completely different world... Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 2

Asuka and Kurumi are clearly not normal high school girls, even through they are trying to blend in with them. That's an obvious idea, but it's not easy to make real -- to take it beyond the "yeah, they're trying to fit in" and move it to the "oh, of course, their perspectives are completely different and it's a wonder they can fit in at all!" Take, for example, the CPR scene. Since the girls are on a school trip, it has to be educational, and the instructor tries to teach them CPR skills. Do you remember taking CPR classes when you were in high school? Did as many students treat it as a joke as they did in my school? Nozomi Makino didn't even know what it meant, and Asuka seemed almost disdainful when she defined it (16:01). Realizing everyone was staring at her, she tried to dissemble, but the telling moment came when it was her turn to practice on the CPR mannequin (16:22). Nozomi and Sayako Hata were impressed and Kurumi wished she were the mannequin, but the other girls kidded Asuka about how serious she was. For Asuka, a military-trained solider, practicing CPR could mean the difference between everyone going home and someone dying on the battlefield. There was never a question of taking CPR training serious or not -- of course she'd take it seriously. But the other high schools girls, all untouched by death and disaster, didn't get it. There were just meters apart, but they might as well been on different worlds.

From Chisato's perspective, Giess and his Queen had given her safety, mobility, and belonging. It's no wonder she'd do anything for them. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Moment 3

I have been a little underwhelmed at the villains until this episode. Abigail felt one-dimensional and I have absolutely no idea what motivates the Queen. That sometimes gets in the way of me taking them seriously as antagonists. In this episode, though, we get two realistic and compelling villains: Giess and Chisato. Chisato had a decent childhood. We've seen how her father was a mess, but her mother loved and supported her. Right up until a drunk driver crushed her against a wall -- the same incident that had claimed Chisato's lower right leg. After that, her father had abused her until Giess put an end to him in the opening scenes. He not only saved Chisato's life, he supplied her with a prosthetic leg. It's no wonder she declared that she would do anything for him (18:11). We later learn Giess' story is similar, with the Queen herself and Abigail playing the role of saviors. That kind of gratitude humanizes these characters and makes their motives understandable. It doesn't excuse what they did; but it makes them stronger antagonists, and that lends strength to the story.

Thoughts

To be perfectly honest, when I saw the previews for this episode, I was apprehensive. I hadn't forgotten episode 4, and I was afraid the show might sensationalize the torture. After seeing it, I think it's debatable wether it sent too far -- and that's better than I'd hoped! At least Kurumi reattached the girl's arm when she was done. Nazani still had to be held accountable for killing the police officers and helping kidnap four Japanese citizens, but she'll face trial with her limbs intact.

Back in high school, I recall reading about Hitler's Germany and all the atrocities they committed. It's embarrassing to recollect now, but I also remember feeling relieved that that couldn't happen now. I was convinced humans had advanced beyond that kind of thing!

But we haven't advanced at all, have we? This episode reminds us of that.

To prove the point, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka gives us Giess. He had been a normal boy growing up in Africa. He loved his parents and his sister. Then terrorists (maybe similar to those we have to deal with) invaded his village and began slaughtering everyone. They only agreed to spare him if he would murder his parents and rape his sister. 

I wish Giess' experience was limited to fiction. Unfortunately, it's all too common. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

That's primitive. That's brutal. That's "recoil in horror" level stuff. But you know what? It's not fiction. That's how terrorist groups in the real world "recruit" some of their soldiers. The scene where Giess tells Chisato to slaughter the youths who had killed her mother is taken from the same playbook, but with overtones of loyalty and protection -- an even more potent combination. She took the assignment with a grim glee, and by the time she was done, she's his to command. The mixture of gratitude and primitive tribal loyalty forged by that act of savagery bound her to him -- and to the Queen, too. Baring some kind of miraculous intervention, she'll kill and keep killing to protect her tribe. And she'll feel zero remorse. 

But wait, you might way. Those kids murdered her parents. They deserved to die, so what she was did was understandable, especially in light of the easy sentence they received as juveniles. You could say something similar about the terrorists -- they deserved the death that Giess eventually dealt them! So what's the problem?

The problem is this: It all about probabilities. My younger self couldn't imagine participating in WWII atrocities because everything about that time, including its brutality, was foreign to me. It's not that I was some paragon of virtual; it's that I had never experienced the trigger events that would incline me to that kind of violence. No marauders ever invaded my family farm. No Gestapo officers kicked in the door to my suburban home. The chances of me -- or most people -- suddenly erupting in violence is low.

That's because our societies have found ways to break that cycle.

That's why we have rule of law. That's why we authorize a small percentage of our population to be police officers or soldiers so we can give them focused support and oversight. That's why we have the concept of cruel and unusual punishment, because violence doesn't just beget violence -- it escalates. 

Without the proper military or police training, Chisato has started down a road that's really hard to exit. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

If the point wasn't clear, look at the contrast between Nozomi and Sayako. Nozomi went through a terrible experience, but Kurumi healed not only her body, but her mind as well. Nozomi remains optimistic and innocent, and she's the ultimate counter example to Giess. Even Sayako, who had only a brief exposure to violence, exhibits some relatively mild symptoms of PTSD. A single exposure radically altered her life -- that's how little we can afford to let that stuff spread.

It's no exaggeration to say these concepts are at the heart of the prosperity and peace that a lot of our world has enjoyed for decades. It also shows how fragile that peace can be. And we don't have any Magical Girls to step in and save us.

Truth be told, I think I'd feel guilty about asking for their help.

What do you think the show's saying about cycles of violence? 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 8: Kurumi’s Choices and the Enduring Power of Tribe

  1. I’ve just had the grim realization that Kurumi’s “I wish I was that mannequin!” could turn out to be one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ moments. She doesn’t really take this seriously because she’s super healer girl. Usually she’s with Asuka, so Asuka wouldn’t need to do it either. The one time she might absolutely need to know how to do CPR is if it’s Kurumi who needs the CPR. Asuka’s probably figured that out, so it’s kind of cute that Kurumi is oblivious to it, but…

    1. That would be a grim foreshadowing, wouldn’t it? I agree that Asuka understands the necessity — she’s a great soldier! Though that title has certainly cost her quite a lot!

  2. Asuka would have to be one of my favourite animes of recent times. In Asuka, violence has real emotional consequences of types that pretty much correspond to what can really happen. This is rare in popular media. Its certainly rare in American popular media (I sometimes amuse myself thinking about the endless inquests, law suits, and counseling sessions Stallone et al would have to attend if their villain killing sprees occurred in the real world). I respect the Asuka production team and Liden Films for taking the risks they have in bringing us this great show.[.

    1. “In Asuka, violence has real emotional consequences of types that pretty much correspond to what can really happen.”

      That kind of realism is one of the things I loved about the show.

      “I respect the Asuka production team and Liden Films for taking the risks they have in bringing us this great show.”

      Well said!

  3. Wow, that sounds like an intense episode almost on the level of something Now and Then Here and There would do. I do like it when media realistically uses the concept of the cycle of violence. It’s a rarity in American media on so many levels. Researching other events of humanity at it’s worst has certainly influenced some of my own fiction like how I learned about the Congolese Genocide which made my blood boil as 10 million Congolese died under the regime of King Leopold II and never got punished for it. It’s good that a show would take a chance on some darker subjects. Also, thanks for liking some of my recent opinion posts, by the way.

    1. It’s interesting that you mentioned Now and Then Here and There. I’ve been thinking about it lately, and I’m not sure why! I tried to watch it years ago, and it got so brutal that I stepped away. I think I need to correct that.

      I like your observation about American media — thinking about it, I might say popular media in general. It’s like we shy away from this topic, and to the extent we do that, we’re complicit, aren’t we? Even with events like you cited.

      I’ve been having a hard time coming up with the context to present my views on Asuka. It’s not that I disagree with the perspective of other reviewers; it’s that I see something different. I think you just gave me an idea that’ll help!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      1. You’ve seen parts of that series? Nice! That’s one anime I want to re-watch even though it is one of the most brutal anime series I’ve seen especially with the subject matter and the level of tragedy rivals Grave of the Fireflies, yet R-rated. I don’t blame you for stepping away years ago, but it would be something to try again if you’re in the right mood.

        Thanks. It’s not limited to just American media, but I find it to be more obvious by the lack of that subject matter discussed stateside. That’s a great insight with viewers being complicit in the cycle of violence as we become entertained by consequence-free action whenever the heroes fight. Interestingly enough, Kimba the White Lion actually touched on that subject in the episode where Kimba confronts his father’s killer. The rest of the animals ask him why he’s not going to kill the poachers and he admits that he wanted to, but couldn’t. He says (paraphrased) “My father did everything to have peace in the jungle. If I get revenge on them [the poachers], then they’ll get revenge on me and there will be no more peace in the jungle.” Keep in mind, that’s from the original 60s series and there’s media decades afterwards that didn’t touch on that concept. Yes, I know I’ve talked about that anime more than most anibloggers on WP, but that was what came to mind.

        Sure thing, and I’m glad to have helped. I know you’ll write something insightful about your own personal thoughts on Asuka.

        No problem!

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