It seems you can always count on magical girl anime for some yuri, so enter Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka, which certainly doesn’t let us down in this regard. It’s dark, it’s violent, and it’s hella gay. But is it any good? Well…
Synopsis: Due to the invasion of Disas—enigmatic creatures of soil from the land of the dead—mankind, who was on the verge of crisis, was saved by the efforts of magical girls who had obtained a mysterious magical power…
Three years later, new incidents suddenly occur, tearing apart the normalcy of the girls who had each returned to their normal lives. The saviours of humanity, those magical girls called “The Magical Five” now live each day fighting for their lives, even as they are trifled with by fate…
I think when most people think of magical girl anime, they have a very specific vision in their heads. Basically, something along the lines of Sailor Moon or Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka plays along to a degree, but it’s very much a dark magical girl anime, so that means all sorts of unsettling things, and in this anime’s case, those “unsettling things” usually involve torture.
But my biggest problem with the story of Asuka is that it doesn’t really go anywhere. This takes place after the Distonian War, which saw magical girls defend the Earth from the otherworldly forces of the Disas, and to be honest, that seems a lot more interesting than the conflict we see play out over the course of the season. With the Disas relegated to being nothing more than fancy weapons for terrorist groups, the magical girls of this anime find themselves fighting terrorists and international crime, and while I kind of enjoy this change of pace, being different doesn’t automatically make this anime good.
In a lot of ways, this seems more like a character-driven story, but that comes at the expense of the plot, which is lacking, to say the least. There just doesn’t seem to be any meaningful progression, so if you were to skip the ten episodes in the middle, you miraculously wouldn’t miss that much. It’s just a very straightforward story that’s barely there, and it feels like it’s just an prelude for what’s to come later. Like so many other anime, there isn’t even any real resolution to the story. More than anything, this anime seems like a twelve episode advertisement for the manga, so if you were hoping for a conclusive ending, you’re really SOL.
By the way, it’s kind of hard to take this anime seriously when the (Halloween-class) Disas themselves often resemble giant stuffed animals. It’s almost like a huge Barney float is going on a rampage, and it feels so out of place with the rest of the violent acts scattered throughout the show. All in all, Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka is not going to win any awards for its writing, but despite all of its flaws, it’s still a little entertaining in a cheesy way, yet this could’ve been a lot better.
“Magical Girl Rapture Asuka” is the titular character, and she’s a pretty good one. Of course, Asuka kicks as much ass as you’d expect, but I especially liked how despite all that, she’s still portrayed very much as an ordinary teenage girl, and it’s obvious that she’s experienced a lot of psychological trauma since the conflict began. She’s strong yet caring, and although she doesn’t have a huge personality and although she’s more or less your prototype protagonist, she’s very easy to like and root for.
But if I had to name one character that was my favorite, it’s hard not to say “Magical Girl War Nurse Kurumi”. Not only is Kurumi incredibly gay for Asuka, but her sweet and innocent image ends up being nothing more than a facade, since she’s the one that does a lot of the torture, and it seems that she’d be willing to do almost anything, if it’s for Asuka. So even though Kurumi often ends up being the damsel in distress, she’s a bit of a yandere and has a screw loose, also, the flashbacks involving her paint a picture of a girl with a tragic past, so her unending devotion to Asuka for helping her escape that situation is made very clear.
But enough of that gloomy stuff. As dark as this anime is at times, Kurumi is the shining beacon of yuri light that gives Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka life. Those brief flashes of her manic love for Asuka are bright spots that keep this anime from being too dark, and they’re some of the funnier moments in the show as well. Asuka isn’t as forward with her emotions as Kurumi, but it’s clear that Kurumi means a lot to her, so she’s essentially Kurumi’s knight in shining armor that’s always there to protect Kurumi. Finally, Kurumi is responsible for the greatest maneuver in the history of anime (I’m probably overexaggerating just a tad, but just go with it :P): Magical Spanking. How can you not love this girl?! 😀
The rest of the “Magical Five” that survived the war also play a role in the action. The title of “Most Badass Magical Girl” is a close race, but despite all the evidence pointing towards Asuka, I might have to give it to Mia. Unlike Asuka, we don’t see Mia struggle with life as a magical girl, so she just keeps killing and killing, and she has a sizable role in the show. The role of “Magical Girl Phoenix Tamara” isn’t as prominent as Mia’s, but Tamara uses fire as her main weapon, and that’s pretty badass as well. And then there’s Peipei, who isn’t formally introduced until the final episode, and while she definitely seems to be a lesbian, her role in this anime is extremely limited, and introducing her so late just feels like a missed opportunity.
Also, there’s the queen. Her identity isn’t officially confirmed, but her identity is obvious, although she doesn’t really do much of anything all season. That’s right, she’s made out to be the main antagonist, yet she’s painfully underdeveloped and underutilized. Her biggest contribution to the show is actually her relationship with Abby, who is essentially another (illegal) magical girl, and the two even have a very brief sex scene in the final episode. Some insight into the Queen’s motivation would’ve been nice, but it seems that that was too much to ask…
Don’t forget that these magical girls are teenagers, so of course they go to school, and there Asuka and Kurumi make a couple of friends, Nozomi and Sayoko. They always find themselves in some sort of trouble, but they help humanize Asuka and Kurumi, and they’re cute and entertaining on their own. Some of the other characters are also somewhat entertaining. Sacchuu’s role as the comic relief is appreciated, Giess turned out to be a somewhat likable villain, and you had to feel really bad for Chisato. Don’t forget about Tabira, a general from the spirit world. She seems pretty gay as well, so she’s another winner.
The story is obviously not the strength of this anime, but the characters pull their own weight, and they’re pretty likable as well. Of course, it certainly helps that some of them are clearly into each other, so as disappointing as the story was, these girls definitely weren’t the problem.
Visually, Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka is nothing special, but at the same time, it isn’t bad either. The battles are perfectly acceptable (with two or three of them actually being pretty good), though, what really stands out is how violent this anime is. Severed limbs abound, and you haven’t experienced true terror until you’ve witnessed a 10-foot-tall killer teddy bear-looking thing. As I mentioned earlier, that was definitely unexpected, but aside from that, I like most of the character designs (what’s not to like about Asuka in a maid-ish magical girl outfit?), yet that doesn’t extend to the Disas.
Oh, and this anime has quite a lot of fanservice. To be fair, a lot of magical girl anime is at least a little ecchi, but this is definitely ecchier (is that even a word?) than most. So the animation is the least of Asuka‘s problems, and the fight scenes should be good enough for all but the most demanding of action fans.
To me, the single best thing about Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka is the OP. That says a lot about the rest of the anime, but I think it’s a pretty damn good song, and more often than not, I rarely found myself skipping it. Unfortunately, I don’t think the rest of the music is quite on that level, so I shouldn’t praise it too much. Occasionally, the music would start blasting, and it’d really enhance a scene, yet those moments were too few and far between for my liking. So this is another aspeect of the show that’s good enough, but it could’ve been a little better.
Not all dark magical girl anime are created the equal. For every Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica, there are shows like Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka. The mix of magic and terrorism isn’t that bad, but the execution here is severely lacking. Perhaps if this was a two-cour anime, the story would’ve came together much better, but as it is, Mahou Shoujo Tokushusen Asuka just feels incomplete. On the plus side, there’s a whole lot of yuri to be found here, and not just the subtext variety either. Is that enough to make up for the mediocre story? I’d say no, but at least this isn’t a total loss, and there’s definitely a lot more yuri than you’d expect.