Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is a TV anime series based on the manga of the same name written by Makoto Fukami and illustrated by Seigo Tokiya. The manga has been running in Square Enix’ Monthly Shonen Gangan since 2015. Fukami is best known for his screenplay for the popular anime series Psycho-Pass, and was in charge of the screenplay and series composition of the Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka anime adaptation.
In the series, a group of magical girls who saved the world three years before the events in the anime are busy fighting against international crime syndicates and terrorists. Five legendary girls who survived a war against monstrous invaders are referred to as the ‘Magical Five’. One of these girls is Asuka Ohtori, also known as ‘Rapture Asuka’. She has retired from the front lines and is living as an ordinary teenage girl. However, she ends up fighting again as a magical girl after her high school friend becomes involved in an act of terrorism.
MANGA.TOKYO invited the director of the anime, Hideyo Yamamoto, to an interview to talk about this sensational anime.
What was your impression on the manga series when you first read it?
I thought it was unique because it depicts dark scenes such as torture. Hard-boiled manga can have a torture scene, but this is categorized as the magical girls genre with cute girl characters. I thought it was an awesome manga in a good way. That’s my first impression of the manga.
Tell us what you thought when you were offered the directing job for the anime adaptation.
At first they just wanted me to think about the adaptation of the original manga. I’m not against dark action scenes and have no reservations when it comes to depicting something I’ve never done before.
What are ‘magical girls’ in your personal view?
I used to associate magical girls with Sunday morning anime programs, in which cheerful and active girls face various challenges and successfully overcome them after a bit of struggling. Asuka is mentally weakened and has suffered from traumatic experiences. Her character is far from the typical magical girl. I think it’s an interesting point of the anime because it’s different from other magical girl anime, and what makes Asuka who she is. I wanted to focus on the uniqueness of Asuka to differentiate the anime from others.
There is a scene of a young Asuka watching bright and cheerful magical girls.
That’s right. At the time she really wanted to be a magical girl, but reality bit her in the butt. We all know that happens. Even when we think we’ve landed that dream job, it might turn out to be like working in a sweatshop, just like in the anime industry. [laugh] There is a sense of reality there.
You were responsible for the storyboards for all the episodes, right?
I did nearly all of them. About one and a half episodes were done by somebody else. Well, I modified them a lot, so it could be said that I did all episodes. The reason is quite simple. Fukami, the original creator, was involved in the anime adaptation for its script and series composition, so he finished writing the script at a relatively early stage. I was directing another work simultaneously at the time, but I received the script for Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka much earlier than the other. So, I started making storyboards for this anime first and finished the job before I knew it. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I draw pretty fast. [laugh] Well, the main reason is still the fast delivery of the script, though.
It must be advantageous for you to have the original creator to write the script.
Definitely. Script writers have to expand or reduce some parts of the original story to adapt it into an anime series. If they don’t establish good communication with the original creator at this stage, it could cause some friction. As Fukami is in our production team, the decisions of what to expand upon and what to reduce went very smoothly. He is adaptable and flexible to our suggestions as well. I appreciate that he understood the anime’s standpoint and decided on what to add and take away. I know that screenwriting often takes up a huge chunk of the production process, so I’m glad that we had Fukami on our team.
Regarding anime expressions, what do you pay attention to?
As the anime airs on TV, there are some restrictions placed on the show regarding depictions of violence. For example, when severed body parts are flying through the air. However, I believe some gory scenes such as the torture scenes are what make Magical Girls Spec-Ops Asuka special. So, I pushed the limits on the storyboards. I might sound like I’m bragging, but I was never afraid of the challenge.
Having said that, it’s a magical girl anime after all. So, I was careful about preserving their girlishness in their poses and gestures while I was depicting the action scenes of the girls. It may sound a little bizarre, but I wanted them to be cute and dignified even when arms and fingers are flying by.
Kurumi often makes extremely funny faces in the manga. I asked our animators to depict her funny faces as a part of her personality.
Here is a question from one of our readers overseas. ‘What was your inspiration?’ from reewaz.kunwar.
I’m not the original creator, so I’m in no position to talk about the inspirations that brought about the story itself. However, I do love watching movies and I think that has some influence on the storyboards and layouts. I often watch blockbuster movies like The Avengers, so I guess I’m influenced by them more or less.
The next question is from Lostsoul For Live. ‘I would like to know the name of the guns the girls are using. They look interesting.’
In the manga, their guns are drawn in detail to highlight the differences between each other. As for the anime, we generally use color to differentiate between the East, West, and terrorists. We can’t depict them in too much detail because of restrictions placed on the detail of weaponry in order to allow us to air the anime on TV. To be honest, I don’t know all that much about guns. The firearm designer Yoshihiro Ujiie could probably give you a better answer.
Who is your favorite character, or who are you interested in?
I felt obligated to draw the heroine, Asuka, at the initial stage so I put my heart and soul into drawing her. As the story progressed, I became more and more interested in Kurumi. I thought no one would like her because she appeared to be too crazy at first. However, once I realized that the reason of Kurumi’s every action and motivation is her dedication to Asuka, her bravery and patience touched my heart. I think there is also a bit of the personality of Kurumi’s voice actress, Akira Sekine, mixed in there. I never get tired of watching Kurumi as she has various aspects in her. I remember that Fukami said he enjoyed writing about Kurumi at a script meeting at the beginning of the production. I now truly understand what he meant. It was a bit of surprise for me to know that I could love such a crazy and out-of-control character like Kurumi. I’m impressed by my low tolerance level.
I also like Sacchuu for his cuteness. He reminds me of a certain character in a certain anime. He can ease our minds just by being Sacchuu. I think the personality of his voice actress, Kokoro Kikuchi, affected Sacchu’s personality as well. I feel relieved when he appears on the screen to give his analyses even during the savage scenes.
Julia, a CIA agent and a friend of Mia, is just one of the side characters, but I think she is super cool. I want to make a spin-off anime centering on her. Fukami once told during another interview that every character in Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is actually invincible like the characters in The Avengers. I think each character has enough individuality and charm to be the protagonist of a story. Personally, I’m hoping Fukami will create stories venturing on some of these characters. Toda, the bespectacled buddy of Nozomi’s father, looks plain but is still way stronger than the average person. I was pretty surprised when I found out. Well, the question is about the characters I like or am interested in, however, I can’t stop talking about them one by one. That’s because every character is likable and interesting.
I like the tough middle-aged men in the anime.
I agree. There are many middle-aged male characters in this anime. It’s unusual for the magical girl genre. I remember that I was wondering if I was actually making a magical girl anime as I was only listening middle-aged guys talking one scene after another in a recording studio. I was like, ‘hey, someone please assure me that I’m making a magical girl anime now.’
What do you think went better than expected?
I’d say the voice acting of our cast members. I got to know the characters including Asuka and Kurumi while reading manga and making storyboards. With the voice acting, I felt an emotional attachment to them. I really admire voice actors for their abilities.
In the Okinawa arc of the anime, Nozomi and Sayako are seriously involved in the battle itself, which is a different development from the manga and makes the story more interesting. I think the outcome of the change is better than I thought. Despite not having magical abilities, they are important characters and more than just Asuka’s friends. Their relationship with Asuka is more intimate and precious than in the manga. Because we have the original creator, Fukami, on our production team, we were able to create different developments in the anime. I’m glad that we can have exciting developments that are original to the anime.
What part of the anime should we focus on?
I’d like viewers to pay attention to the action scenes which our animators put extra effort into. Obviously, I want viewers to focus on not just the action scenes but also the story itself. However, the action scenes in this anime are vital to the storyline. If viewers could watch the series a couple of times, I hope they can focus on the action scenes sometimes to see the hard work our animators put into it.
I would be happy if the viewers could keep an eye on the emotional movements of Asuka when she is cornered.
It’s quite rare to see an anime protagonist who can’t physically move when cornered.
It’s unusual indeed. I’ve never heard of an anime with a protagonist who has PTSD before. I think that’s the uniqueness of this anime and gives depth to it. I think it stays in the viewers’ minds and makes them want to continue watching the anime despite its brutal scenes.
Is this the end of this anime?
This series has 12 episodes. Whether it ends here or not depends on the reaction it gets from viewers. Not every character in the Magical Five plays an active role. For instance, Peipei plays a key role in the Ukraine arc, which comes after the Okinawa arc in the manga. Tamara also appears in the Ukraine arc. We even considered putting Peipei’s action scene in the final episode once, but it didn’t work out in the end. I’m personally eager to create scenes in which Peipei takes a lead. I need viewers’ support to do so. Please keep watching the anime!
Finally, could you give a message to our readers?
You might notice the bloody scenes of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka first. We think it’s only a superficial element of the story. Because these scenes are quite apparent due to their superficiality, you might hesitate on whether or not you should continue watching. However, please be tolerant and stay with us for a little while. As you keep watching the anime, I believe that you will realize that it has lots more to offer. It has several key elements including the relationship between Asuka and Kurumi, as well as the theme of believing that we can always find hope even in such a horrific world. Please find our messages in the anime by watching it until the last episode, and hopefully you will grow to love it.
Born in 19XX in Fukui prefecture. He joined Production I.G and moved to Bee Train before becoming a freelancer. His nickname is Bob-san. He made his debut as an episode director with Noir and as a series director with The Prince of Tennis II. His major directorial works include Strike the Blood and Code:Realize -Guardian of Rebirth-.