Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Series Review: Lock N’ Load, Make Up

Original Run: January 12, 2019 - March 30, 2019
Number of Episodes: 12
Genre: Action, Drama, Magical Girl
Based on the Series Created By: Makoto Fukami and Seigo Tokiya

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

When the Earth was invaded by beasts known as the Disas, humanity allied with the spirit realm. To combat the monsters, a select few were chosen to become magical girls. Among the most powerful was Asuka Otori (voiced by Aya Suzaki).

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Asuka and her fellow magical girls managed to defeat the Disas, but the cost of victory was enormous. And now, three years later, Asuka is haunted by the painful and brutal events she witnessed firsthand.

With all her might, Asuka is determined to move past her magical girl days and live a normal life. Unfortunately, there are some out there who refuse to let the war die for good. To protect the people she has grown to love, Asuka must once again join the battle.

The problem is, the seemingly insurmountable hardships that were once faced were just a prelude to something far more terrifying.

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Series Positives

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka (Spec-Ops) wasn’t great, but it occasionally (and I mean occasionally) had some interesting ideas. To its credit, this series even went so far as to embrace some of those ideas, and thus, there are positive aspects to point out. Unfortunately, the show’s biggest hinderance can be seen in its title.

The “Magical Girl” part of Spec-Ops failed to land spectacularly. However, those details are for later in this review.

Meanwhile, what was decent about this series was its action scenes. Actually, no, scratch that. Claiming this show had fun action wouldn’t be telling the whole story because there was a disconnect between the fighting and the rest. From what I saw, it appeared as though Spec-Ops wanted to be a military-based anime – and nothing more. When it wasn’t trying to force in as many magical-girl-story tropes as possible, that was when everything felt in sync.

When there was combat, when there was strategizing, when there was maneuvering, engaging, and every other thing soldiers and armies do, Spec-Ops had my full attention. To go even further, it didn’t matter who the enemies were. If they were human, fine. If they were some nightmarish teddy bear, sure. If they were another magical girl, count me in. Fantasy, realism, it didn’t matter. This series found its comfort zone within its action scenes.

It should also be noted: Spec-Ops wasn’t shy with its violence. There were plenty of instances which had blood, blown off limbs, and mutilations. There was even one particularly brutal scissors-to-the-eye moment. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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To add a caveat to all that, the graphic nature of Spec-Ops was a double-edged sword. There may have been entertainment value – or, at least, I got a kick out of it – but violence for the sake of violence can quickly run into problems. And problems were precisely what this show ran into.

Also – still sticking to this series’ action – it was only when characters were fighting did I not want to lower my head in annoyance. The extent of Spec-Ops’ characters designs, outside of battle, was giving all its female characters awkwardly large breasts and mono-color eyes. When in her magical girl form, though, someone like Asuka looked kind of awesome.

On this entire front, Spec-Ops had currency to spend. Should this series, for whatever reason, get the second season it so desperately set itself up for (do not hope for a well-rounded conclusion) and only goes more over-the-top with its action and violence, you can expect more of the same:

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An anime which has no idea what it wants to be.

Series Negatives

There were two characters in this series whose existence felt exceedingly pointless. They were Sayako Hata and Nozomi Makino (voiced respectively by Chinami Hashimoto and Rie Takahashi). Both girls went through something horrific – Nozomi, arguably, had it the worst – and nevertheless, the impact they left on this story was minuscule.

So, why bother bringing them up?

If it wasn’t for the fact Sayako and Nozomi were treated as though they were among the most important, most crucial, and most essential characters of the entire show, I wouldn’t have. That being what it was, this does serve as a glimpse into why Spec-Ops stumbled.

This series had a terrible habit of funneling its energy into plotlines and other details that amounted to nothing. Well, it was that, or the show would undergo some of the most drastic mood shifts I have ever seen in an anime.

At one moment, Spec-Ops would be lightheartedly silly. The story and the characters would become super slapstick-happy; altogether abandoning the whole war-is-hell attitude. Then within seconds of everything being fun and bouncy, BOOM, hardcore torture scene. Adding to that, this show would sometimes talk about incredibly dark and depressing subject matters, but it would frame them in the jolliest way imaginable.

Yes, the cutesy animal-like sidekick might explain and give exposition in actual magical girl shows, but a series should never disregard its tone to adhere to what is typically done. Spec-Ops failed because it wanted to be as intense as possible while still having as many magical girl elements as it could. And it did that without ever realizing why such a thing might be a bad idea.

There have been plenty of shows which successfully did what Spec-Ops wanted to be, and they were successful because they knew what they could blend together. Although Spec-Ops might be one of the most violent takes on the dark magical girl genre, it had nowhere near the same level of grit as some more memorable stories did. This series went for flash over substance, and even still, things were never all that impressive.

Wow, that was a whole lot of words to say: Spec-Ops was pretty damn boring.

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It did not help that this show wanted to be the first season in something much bigger. Everything was a foundation for what will come next. Sadly, this series forgot to make what it had compelling enough to encourage anyone to care about what might happen afterward.

One last thing, the big baddie of the Spec-Ops story is going to be Asuka’s mentor who she thought died long ago. That is complete speculation on my part, but I dare this series to prove me wrong. And that’s a dare my gut is telling me will never come to fruition.

Final Thoughts

There are better dark magical girl stories out there. Like, a lot better. If this is a genre that interests you, then all the more reason to stay away from this one.

While there were undoubtedly some decent moments of action, when this show wasn’t doing that, good luck staying awake.

The characters were dull, the story lifeless, and there was more importance placed on the next rather than the now.

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Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is a series I cannot recommend.

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? What would be your advice concerning Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

And if you’ve liked what you read and want more anime content, please follow me at LofZOdyssey Anime Reviews or on Twitter @thelofzodyssey.

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I’m LofZOdyssey, and I will see you next time.

About The Author

James Devlahovich

LofZOdyssey has been an anime reviewer since 2015, an anime fan for much, much longer, and is currently based in Osaka, Japan. As a rule, there is no anime he is unwilling to review, and any series he starts, he must finish. Leave all the feedback -- positive and negative -- in the comments. Also, be sure to follow LofZOdyssey on Twitter @thelofzodyssey for more anime related content.