A new darker way to look at Magical Girls
The magical girl genre has undergone significant changes in its over fifty year history in anime. From transformation sequences, sentai-esque groups, and darker stories, the genre has constantly been evolving. Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is looking to continue this trend by adding new aspects to the genre, while also keeping certain classical tropes. This is achieved by creating a much darker story unlike most magical girl series, a protagonist not following how magical girls traditionally act with regards to their powers, and implementing more real world elements rather than fantasy. With these new changes to the genre, we could be seeing the next evolution of the genre.
From the start, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka tries to change what is typical about magical girl shows by not dropping us into an origin story, but in the middle of Asuka’s journey. We briefly see what her and the other magical girls in her group have been through after fighting a war, but we don’t have to go through the song and dance of her learning about her powers and discovering how to fight. While that style of storytelling isn’t uncommon, it’s not typical that a protagonist lets her reasons for not wanting to be a magical girl anymore be known.
With a more realistic setting and a higher level of violence shown in the series, it’s easy to see why Asuka would be done with being a magical girl. Asuka’s team at the end of the last war had suffered casualties, and since she didn’t want to see anyone else around her die, she wanted out. She’s also been experiencing signs of PTSD, which isn’t a surprise since she was thrust into combat, but is as a characteristic for someone who’s a magical girl? It’s something that honestly, we probably should see more of in the genre with how much magical girl characters go through with trying to save the world.
Despite wanting out of being a magical girl, Asuka has reluctantly transformed to help her friends in times of danger. This doesn’t make her a hypocrite or anything, even when she joins back up with the M Squad in the latest episode. She knows that with the current climate and potential for a new war and the fact her friends have been targeted, she has to use her powers to protect them so they can continue living. This also doesn’t mean she’s magically cured of her PTSD as she is still shown to have nightmares that take her back to the previous war.
This militarization of magical girls shouldn’t be all that surprising given how the genre can be framed at times. Prior to the new modern translations of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon titling the first part as “Pretty Guardian”, certain translations instead used the phrase “Pretty Soldier”, and Usagi and her friends were the “Sailor Soldiers”. While Sailor Moon is far from militarized in the same sense, the team-based aspect that it popularized in the magical girl genre in the early ‘90s can be seen as a step towards where Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka has taken us today.
Having a realistic setting also changes up the idea of weaponry for the genre and ultimately their purpose. Generally, the demographic for magical girl series is younger than what Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is going for and that style seems to exist as anime in this universe. That means the weapons here aren’t designed to be made as toys. Fantasy weapons such as rods and staffs are pushed aside for magical knives and guns. This also makes these weapons more deadly, as while there are monsters that you’d see in this genre, humans also fight and are brutalized in gorey ways. There’s no hiding the ways these weapons are really used and their true effects.
Perhaps one of the smarter attempts to freshen up the genre is the way Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka covers up how people aren’t able to tell who a magical girl is when she’s transformed. If you’ve watched any number of shows in this genre, you probably noticed this. Sometimes this will just go unaddressed, but here we get an explanation. Essentially, magical girls have a special field of magic that doesn’t let anyone recognize you when transformed, unless of course they have told another person their identity. Which makes sense, why wouldn’t they have some sort of magic to conceal their identity when their face is uncovered?
Although there are a variety of ways this series is attempting to change how magical girls are looked at, it’s still rooted in the history and traditions of the genre. These girls aren’t adults, despite being part of the military, and are still in school. There are transformation sequences which are a staple of magical girls, a group of magical girls fighting together, and Sacchuu is the mascot character that helps the girls out during fights and in their daily lives. The traditions are needed because if they were missing, it’d be hard to call this a magical girl series and not just a standard action show.
Darker and more mature magical girl series aren’t new. Puella Magi Madoka Magica certainly showed that the genre could go in this direction. However, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka has gone in a different direction, albeit the same area code. It’s a new way to see where magical girls can go while still maintaining the roots the genre. The level of violence and some of the changes the show has created won’t be universally liked, but it has proved that this type of show can stay in the same space as ones that are traditionally thought of in the magical girl genre.
This article was originally published on Crunchyroll.