In Magical Girl Spec-Ops Askuka episode 9, "The Lid of Hell," Yoshiaki Iizuka has to recall Asuka Ootorii and Kurumi Mugen from their field trip, but he had a good reason: They have to provide security for Spirit World representative conference. They meet Mia Cyrus and Tamara Volkova, two fellow Magical Girls, and Asuka's reaction surprised all of them -- except maybe Kurumi. The Spiritual World's General arrives and gives Asuka a greeting that was both smothering and wildly inappropriate, much to Mia's amusement. Just who is this General Tabira, and why is she so affectionate to Asuka? Meanwhile, at a location near the meeting site, Giess and Chisato Yonamine gather their Disas forces and begin an attack. Is their target really the meeting itself -- or something else?
Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.
What's in This Post
3 Favorite Moments
Staying stoic in the face of adversity? That's easy! Staying stoic in the face of happiness or joy? Now, that's hard! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Have you ever had to endure something difficult for years and years? If so, have you noticed that it becomes easy to maintain your composure in the face of that adversity, but the slightly kindness or unexpected delight can bring you to tears? Resignation followed by an unexpected hope can do that! I thought about that when Kurumi and Asuka met Mia and Tamara for the first time in years (3:40). Kurumi and Asuka enter the room, and Kurumi start talking to her old friends. Mia's her chipper self, and Tamara nods a solemn welcome. Asuka, though, is frozen in the doorway. She surprises everyone, herself included, when tears begin streaming down her face. She tries to explain herself by saying that after the war, they returned to their home countries, and it probably can't be the way it was before. "But we all survived that awful war together," she said (4:11). "So I'm happy to see you all again." We've seem just how powerful Asuka is (and she's very powerful); we've seen what she can withstand. Watching the sight of her friends bring tears to her eyes was a touching moment. Bonus points for Mia feeling so embarrassed that she had to look away.
There's something heart-warming about Tamara relying on a huge cute stuffed animal to help her get through the day. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
You're probably going to get the wrong idea about why I like the next scene, and truth be told, I don't blame you. But bear with me here. It's the night before negotiations with the Spirit World are supposed to start. Asuka's crashed on her bed, and she's texting with Nozomi Makino (6:33). Pretty much what you'd expect from Asuka. The scene switches to Tamara's room. She appears to be her usual reserved self. At least, she appears to be her usual stoic self until she leaps on top of the gigantic stuffed animal taking up most of her bed and gives it a big squeeze (7:18). Overcome with emotion, she marveled at how cute Asuka was when she had cried at their meeting. The little mouse-type treated us to a bit of Magical Girl trivia, namely that Tamara loved cute things (as if that weren't clear from the scene!). Now, here's where I'm pretty sure the misunderstanding will come in. I liked the scene because it gave us insight into Tamara's coping mechanism: hugging cute things helps her relax and get to sleep. That's how she deals with the war's emotional aftermath. I thought that was a remarkably healthy coping mechanism. It's much better than drinking alcohol (self-medication) or something like that! I didn't like this moment because of how ridiculously cute Tamara looks in stripes. Seriously. It was the coping mechanism!
Mia seems pretty happy about her extrajudicial authorities! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
When I chose this series to review, the "Spec-Ops" in the title encouraged certain expectations, namely that we'd get some realistic (or at least seemingly realistic) military operations. In this episode, we got just that. The first example was Giess kicking off his attack (12:23). He used the four-winged flying creature as his sighter. He had Cenobite-class Disas with the ability to hurl magic long distance as his artillery. He even performed test firings before starting the full bombardment. That was all very cool! It's exactly the kind of tactic I'd expect in that situation. But do you know what really struck me? Our heroes are trying to decide how to respond when a messenger whispers to one of the high-ranking officers (15:53). Apparently, the Japanese Cabinet had decided that, under the Response to Magic-Related Incidents Act, the military could now respond "with all we've got." Also cool? Mia mentioning that "Magical Girls have extrajudicial authorization to fight Disas" (17:37). It's a little thing, but it's civilized. It shows that the rule of law is still important. In fact, that might be one of the most hopeful things I've seen in this series so far!
I'm a little surprised the JSDF didn't notice the four-winged Disas flying surveillance over their camp! You'd think that they'd be on the lookout for that sort of thing!
I still think the bridge to the Spirit World looks like the titular Stargate from Stargate SG-1.
Confession time: Writing the Thoughts section for my review of episode 8 was hard. I went through more revisions and rewrites than any other review I've published. I knew what I wanted to say. I knew my perspective. What I didn't know what how to set the context to get the ideas across.
I'm a little surprised our heroes didn't see this thing flying above their base. It doesn't exactly blend in! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Two things changed since I posted that review.
First, I read reactions to episode 8. They were all over the place, which I've learned to expect for this show. But among the opinions I've come to think of as disapproving or negative, a theme appeared: the show's presentation of brutality in one scene and frolicking girls in bikinis in the next seem discordant. It was either callous, absurd, or a combination of the two. It was too much!
Second, Ospreyshire from OSPREYSHIRE'S REALM left a comment on my review of episode 8. That comment gave me the key I needed. It mentioned "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."
Because of my background and training, the first question I asked myself when I see something is "Is this true?" In the case of fiction, the question is "Is this realistic?" The question of how I feel about something -- about the reaction it provokes in me -- is completely separate and secondary. When I watched episode 8's contrasts, I asked myself, "Is this realistic? Does reality match this kind of thing?" My answer was yes, it does, and I had facts to back it up.
Did I like what Giess had to do in order to survive? Good God, no! But in the context of this story, it not only made perfect sense: it was a complete thematic fit. On one hand, the show is making a point about how both sides use similar tactics (e.g., Abigail torturing Nozomi and the seemingly parallel example of Kurumi torturing Nazani). On the other, the series is drawing clear distinctions on how the two sides treat one another and the general public. They both might do terrible things (like torture) to their enemies, but only one side targets civilians.
Only one side of this conflict targets civilians. That's a huge difference in tactics. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
When I watched episode 8, I noticed that there was a gulf between Kurumi torturing Nazani and Asuka having fun with her friends on the beach. But you know what? That's not in the least bit discordant. That's the world we live in! Worse, it's the world we see on cable news or via social media all the time. We see a scene of genocide; scroll down, we see a kid's birthday party. Scroll down again, we see an advertisement for lingerie. And so on.
If anything, in showing just two points on the continuum of taste, this series was tame compared to real life.
I think it's clear that Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka isn't for everyone. It makes no attempt to sugar-coat or otherwise hide the mirror it holds up to the more terrible aspects of our world. Im not sure, though, that getting mad at the show for being realistic is the right reaction. I wonder if it makes more sense to direct any outrage to the underlying realities? It'd be great if I could object to Asuka's story because its violence was unrealistic.
Because right now? It's pretty much spot on.
What did you think of the military tactics in this episode? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!
Other Posts about This Series
Other Anime Sites
- Reddit Discussion of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 9
- Rory Muses: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Episode 9: To the Ready
- 100 Word Anime: The Dark Side of the Magical Girl Myth