Grim_Noir Is Overrun By Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka

 

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Title: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka Volume 1

Story: Makoto Fukami

Art: Seigo Tokiya

Military Advisor: Naoya Tamura

Translation: Christine Dashiell

Adaptation: Tom Speelman

Lettering & Retouch: James Adams

Editor-in-Chief: Adam Arnold

Publisher: Square Enix

Licensed by: Seven Seas Entertainment, LLC

Distributed by: Macmillan Corporation

Reviewed by Grim_Noir

Sally the Witch, the first “Magical Girl” anime may have been inspired by Japanese re-runs of Bewitched, but most modern “Magical Girl” stories (as an anology for puberty) tend to get fairly dark before they end. Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka may set a record for getting awfully dark, awfully quickly (even counting Puella Magi Madoka Magica).

The troubled war veteran returning home, looking to be left alone, only to have trouble find them, has been an action hero trope since Roger Corman was in short pants. We want to feel bad for what the atrocities of war have done, but we also know what it means when the bad guys “draw first blood” against that disassociated loner. We all sit up straighter, awaiting highly-trained, bloody vengeance of the Special Forces variety to rain down on the antagonists.

Now, suppose that hero was Hermione Granger and the war that traumatized and haunted her was the battle against Voldemort, in a world without Harry Potter. That will give you an idea of the atmosphere of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. To truly get the full idea of this “Magical Girl” story, however, you need to keep that scenario, but swap out a shell-shocked Hermione for a burned-out Sailor Moon.

Three years ago, enchanted aliens, called the Disas, had begun an invasion of Earth that no army could stop. That is, until extra-dimensional fairies, who had been conquered by the Disas, offered to give Earth the power to fight the aliens. That power transforms many of the world’s pubescent girls into magical beings (if you aren’t familiar with Shojo “Magical Girls,” think of this variation as frilly, frilly Slayers). The most powerful nine of these girls become Disas fighters. By the end of the war, only five of these nine remain. Dubbed the “Legendary Magical Five,” the most ferocious is Asuka. The aliens sought to break this thirteen year-old by giving her the full Se7en treatment, but instead forged a woman-child willing to do anything to destroy them.

Asuka to the rescue

Now, the Disas have been destroyed and sixteen year-old Asuka finds herself having trouble living with all the means she used to end the alien invasion. A stranger yelling at her new high school friends immediately becomes a decision to either break his arm or break his neck. A mascot making balloon animals can send her into flashbacks of a Disas twisting off a soldier’s arm. Even the Magical Girl uniform she summons for herself (in the present day) doesn’t appear to be sexualized as much as it represents a refusal to let go of the childhood she has been cheated out of. Everything storyteller Makoto Fukami (School-Live, Psycho-Pass) shows us about Asuka, tells us that she is seriously broken.

As broken as Asuka is, the world, post-Disas War, is equally broken. The more Asuka tries to hide in her schoolwork and her new school friends, the more it becomes apparent to her estranged foster father, a lieutenant in the Japanese Self-Defense Force, that Disas technology (and even individual Disas themselves) is being sold on the black market as weapons of mass destruction for terrorists. Worse yet, unbeknownst to either of them, other magical girls may be involved…

Artist Seigo Tokiya is a relative newcomer compared to Fukami. He tends to rely on the delicate line work of shojo manga whenever there isn’t a big action scene. This is not always for the best. Fortunately, this series has a military advisor, Naoya Tamura, who keeps both the fight scenes and the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder moments on track whenever Tokiya’s instincts veer panels toward the more “bishonen.” Even so, he isn’t a bad artist and when he puts his mind to it, he can conjour the more horrifying scenes this series calls for. (A situation involving an informant slowly being crushed to death by an ever-shrinking, transparent magical box, should remove any doubts regarding his suitability as the artist for this genre-mashup.)

The elevator pitch “a Magical Girl with PTSD” should be enough to sell most otaku, but anyone looking for a psychological thriller that smashes together Rambo, Jack Bauer and the best of Vertigo-style supernatural storytelling, should at least check out this first volume of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka.

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Ol' Grim Hisself

* GRIM_NOIR is convinced that the internet is a figment of his imagination. Please comment below and/or follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter or Friend on Good Reads or Facebook to end his self-delusions.

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