AL ON ANIME: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka

How do you live a normal life in a world after you’ve saved it from extinction? How will you co-exist with a society that owes you every breath it takes? How can you return to high school, to worry about mundane things like exams and school clubs, when you’ve pushed back the very powers of oblivion itself?

Don’t let the pretty outfits fool you, these girls are dangerous!

The manga of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka credits a “Military Advisor” just beneath the writer and the artist on its cover, and with good reason.  After a band of magical girls wins an all-out war against an invading otherworldly force, the survivors must learn to re-assimilate themselves into a society that idolizes yet also fears them.  Sure, they’re your stereotypical cute girls in an adorable outfits, but they’re also warriors. Sisters-in-arms with near-godlike power and skill beyond any normal human. Oh, and they’ve just saved the world. Literally.

It’s just a flesh wound…

Some girls – unable to give up what they’ve become – chose to remain soldiers or mercenaries, using their magical skills as directed or hired. Titular heroine Asuka simply wants to return to high school and live the life she had before the war. Re-adjusting to the “real world”, however, isn’t going to be as easy as she might have hoped. Like her comrades, she’s seen things normal people couldn’t handle on their best day. She has flashbacks. When Asuka hears a little girl say she wants to grow up to become a magical girl, she’s not honored. She’s mortified.  Winning the war came at a cost, and Asuka is doing her best to deal with it as best she can. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for magical girls? Perhaps, but Spec-Ops Asuka takes itself and that idea seriously…one of the reasons it works as well as it does.

Why would you give up being a hero? The reasons might surprise you…

With the recent addition of the anime to Crunchyroll, I was curious to see if it could captivate me as much as the print version. Thus far it’s done an excellent job of following the plotlines set forth in the manga. There are a few very minor drawbacks – no matter how good the animation is (and it’s very good, particularly during the action sequences), it’ll still be hard-pressed to match Seigo Tokiya’s artwork in the books. On the plus side, the seiyuu (voice actors) for the characters encountered thus far have hit the exact tones I’ve heard in my head as I read the manga. Asuka is unsure of herself in the “normal” world – making friends, doing after-school activities, etc. – but put her against a giant monster and she’s more in her element, and that really shines through in the voicework. The nervousness gives way to confidence almost as quickly as she transforms from Asuka, mild-mannered high-school student, into her magical girl persona.

If you love the magical girl genre but crave something a bit edgier and decidedly different, this could be worth checking out. Because it takes a superficially silly-sounding premise – Sgt. Rock meets Sailor Moon – and comes at it with absolutely no sense of humor (in a good way) it creates something fairly unique in an already crowded anime category. Don’t let the “Magical Girl” in the title scare you off, though…this is a dark ride. Enter at your own risk.


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