A Normal Life: Grappling With War In Magical Girls Spec-Ops Asuka

Coming out of retirement is the only way to save the world.

This series definitely makes sure you know it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Magical Girl Spec-Ops doesn’t lead you into a false sense of security before suddenly becoming darker and darker. The series begins with a flashback of a war. Scenes of burning fire and dead bodies fill the screen ensuring we know what the stakes are. A race of beasts called Disas decimate cities around the world, and an alliance is the only thing that can stop them.

Enter, the creation of the magical girls.

Humans and spirits from another world know they can’t defeat the Disas by themselves, so the spirits give power to a number of young girls to fight. In the first war, the group of girls lessens to “The Legendary Five” from the original number of eleven. Once the war is over, they go their separate ways. Three years later, one girl named Asuka attempts living a normal life. But, she quickly learns she’s not meant for normality as she discovers the reappearance of Disas beasts and the government asks her to become a magical girl again.

While the series examines each of The Legendary Five in snippets, the main focus is on Asuka, also known as Rapture. Throughout the series we see her struggle with her identity as a school girl being forced back into fighting. Knowing she’s fifteen makes us sympathize with her. Who would want to constantly fight giant killer stuffed animals? When we first see the Disas, they don’t look terribly intimidating. But, when we get a flashback of what they do to Asuka’s parents, we know why the magical girls came to be in the first place. Despite public knowledge of her magical identity, Asuka would rather lay low and keep her personal life as peaceful and calm as possible. But with emerging danger, add some magically tailored weapons to the mix and you have magic based warfare.

There’s more to these girls than fighting battles.

Just like each magical girls series, we see a group of strong girls without stripping them of their human nature. Kurumi, War Nurse, grew up with bullying until Asuka helps her care about herself more. Tamara, Phoenix, puts on a robotic demeanor but loves anything cute and cuddly. Mia, Just Cause Mia, despite working for the CIA doesn’t like to stay too serious and reveals her identity to the public. Asuka constantly remembers what she lost in the war, and grapples with her identity as any teenager would. Plagued by nightmares of fallen comrades, she doesn’t want to lose anyone else. The difference is, not every teenager is asked to use magical abilities and possibly put everyone they love in danger.

This anime blends the magical girl sub-genre with a special operations twist. As magical girls, the characters have the ability to transform with special abilities to fight. With spec-ops, they’re part of a task force that focuses on Disas sightings in covert operations. It’s not portrayed as having a glamorous life “fighting the bad guys.” Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka truly shows in graphic detail the price of living as a magical girl. They give up having a normal life, their friends and family are constantly in danger, and they’re still teenagers. Not only are innocent bystanders killed, but even close friends get tortured when caught in the fray. How can they keep going on fighting?

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“Were you chosen because you were strong?”

“No. I became strong because I was chosen.”

And the Disas beasts aren’t the only ones the magical girls face. Other girls given the power of magical girls start to appear at every turn. With their appearances, you never know where the plot is heading. The anime does really well in keeping you on your feet and not knowing what’s coming. Just as warfare is unpredictable, this anime displays that unpredictability with tactfulness. Unlike most magical girl anime and their attention to transformation scenes, this anime gets down to business with quick transformations and calculated battles.

With having so many twists and turns, it can be hard to keep track of what’s happening. As a season, it gives more of an introductory framework. We see each character, what the main conflict is, and whether the enemy is a force to be reckoned with. That said, the season builds up just to leave viewers hanging by a thread. It ends attempting to lead into what should be another season. Whether that season will occur is still a question. But, we have much to look forward to if the second time around comes.

Just as the magical girls’ motto tells us at the end of a gruesome battle, “Who laughs last, laughs best.”

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