Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka Review

Title: Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Magical girl, action, military
Year of release: 2019

There’s a fine line between action blockbuster pulp and saying something more profound, and it is that fine-line that Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka (henceforth, Spec Ops Asuka) tries to walk. Sadly, it does neither particularly well, fumbling, fumbling and eventually falling. Put simply, it couldn’t keep up with its ambitions.

gunn.png

Spec Ops Asuka sets itself in the (Not So) Happily Ever After, whereby the war with magical creatures ended a few years ago. Asuka Ootorii was the leader and most combat-proficient of the Magical Girl 5, the group of heroes that won the war. Three years later, she is suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reliving the horrors of war as she is pulled back into fighting as terrorists begin to rise up. There’s a lot of room here for great things.

Blending hyperviolent gore and torture with surprisingly well-researched military gear, tactics and styles is the selling point of Spec Ops Asuka – this shouldn’t be as dumb as it seems. There’s some complexities to the Magical Girl origin, whereby they form bonds with magical creatures, but it’s ultimately a hand-wave; this is in comparison to the surprisingly explained Magical Girl system, which has a lot of explanations, ranging between well-thought-out and a little convenient, but are appreciated. While there’s the occasional exciting bit of martial arts, the majority of the more intensive animation scenes are sold through panning or shaking stills; the action is routinely undersold by rigid visuals that can’t keep up with its high octane soundtrack. Beyond that, the series’ politics are undeveloped around an all-too simple story and power moves that are either too predictable or too abruptly introduced. With pacing that is roughly mixing awkward plotting and stiff action, it’s a hard watch. Put together, Spec Ops Asuka struggles with its popcorn aspects.

action1.png

As the series discusses Asuka’s state, it can be extremely emotional – that is, if you hold the infodumping at a distance and forgive the clunky script. The series is structured around some difficult sequences, not just as she violently rips apart her enemies, but as she grows to understand herself and find a purpose going forward. Even amidst how gracelessly it gets to these sequences and how amateurish they’re directed, I can’t deny their occasional effectiveness as tearjerker moments. Sadly, these scenes are a little too scattered, and the jerky tone can be hard to get behind.

Spec Ops Asuka’s cast is divided between surviving Magical Girl Heroes and a couple of friends that Asuka makes and tries to protect. There’s an awful lot of cliches in the cast – the yandere, the serious one that loves cute things, the American, the genki girl, the glasses girl… and none of them really rise above it, other than Asuka herself. The adults tend towards stronger tonal consistency, but, well, even they can veer into some eye-rolling anime tropes. And that’s to say nothing of the distasteful character designs – even the least endowed member of the cast carries around uncomfortably large breasts, and beyond that, have dead eyes and blank faces.

boobies.png

But, perhaps the biggest problem, is that Spec Ops Asuka has no great villains. While the Halloween Class monsters are terrifying in their cutesy designs and violent outbursts, the overall villains are kept too far offscreen. When a villain does arrive later in the series, they’re more like a mini-boss than the real thing, and the stakes feel equally mediocre because of it.

I’m bashing on Spec Ops Asuka a lot. While the core of the series is no high art, there’s enough tidbits that a bit of self-editing towards a more consistent tone could have made it a lot stronger. Hell, just having animation to live up to its well-researched foundation would go a long way to making Spec Ops Asuka a better series. With neither of these things, Spec Ops Asuka fails a strong premise.

asukaverdict.jpg

2 thoughts on “Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka Review

  1. Boy, I hate to be the one that makes the cliche comparison of the manga to the anime, but that’s a large part of the issues with this anime adaptation.

    Simply as a need of the move to an anime series of a limited number of episodes, it misses a lot of the background and detail of the manga. Having read a few issues of that manga before watching the series, I could immediately see how the anime failed in fleshing out the characters and the politics of their world. I also don’t recall Kurumi Mugen’s obsession with Asuka being so blatant either.

    I’m not singling out Spec Ops Asuka for any particular criticism; I’ve said much the same of David Lunch’s “Dune” as compared to the novel, and it’s true of many other adaptations. In the end it’s a matter of how well the production overcomes the limitations an adaptation faces. Asuka was a fun watch, but in the end did little more than skim over the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Believe it or not, but Spec Ops Asuka is one of the few manga I found myself turning the pages of. I really enjoyed the details and snippets and fun. The anime failed in getting so much of it across! It’s true things were over-exaggerated needlessly or underdeveloped, and the show fell very, very short. I struggled to find the anime fun without even decent animation or combat.

      Crying shame, because like I said, I really did enjoy the manga.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s