I guess you can call this sort of thing “world building” or whatever, but something I really like in these sorts of shows is how they’ll toss out little details about stuff in an off-handed way that add to the whole vibe without actually being plot points.
Like these two Russian mercenary dudes and their magical abilities. I doubt we’ll see much of them after this little kidnapping/torture story. They’re built in such a way that they’re interesting enough as one shot villains, but they don’t have the sort of personality or aesthetic that makes them recurring villains or anything along those lines. They make an impression, give the heroes a challenge, and then get killed, captured, or something else that removes them from the story. But instead of just having them be competent mercenary types with the usual sets of skills, they’re given a little bit of flair. Yeah, they’re trained in Systema, wear tactical gear, and have a general menacing appearance, but their “monster of the week” shtick is enhanced by dropping little tidbits about non-magical girl based supernatural stuff into their respective styles.
One guy has controls a spirit based on old folk legends about women who drown. The spirit gives him water manipulation abilities that he mixes into his more grounded combat. The other one wields an ax forged by some famous mystical forge likely based in the spirit world mentioned in the first episode. It’s a weapon supposedly on par with the ones used by magical girls.
All of this is really cool because it shows that magical girls and the accompanying things that come with that are just one aspect of this world’s supernatural nature. The nature of most magical girl shows has it where the girls and their foes are usually two sides of the same coin. They’re using the same sorts of powers and have similar origins, they’re just using them for different means and have different philosophies. In a few lines of throwaway dialogue like this, Spec-Ops has shown there’s a larger world at play here, and the magical girls at the forefront are just one part of the bigger picture. Yeah, the main antagonists look to also be magical girls with a different philosophy, but we have other things going on at the same time. We have illegal black markets for magical weapons, people binding spirits to them in ways that differ from the binding that creates magical girls, and likely all sorts of other stuff.
Even if this is only a 12-13 episode, one season show, and the manga isn’t one that runs for a decade or longer, these hints show that there’s a larger world at play. It isn’t just a matter of “there are magical girls, and then there’s normal reality,” it’s a matter of “there’s a lot of stuff going on, and we’re just focusing on this.” The former, while perfectly acceptable if that’s their intention, also feels confining in a way even when it’s well executed. Maybe it’s my history of reading super hero comics, playing in large RPG campaign worlds like The World of Darkness, and the like, but it always feels weird when the world only has one strange thing about it. If you only have vampires, people with mutant powers, or magical girls, it feels like such a world would also have other strange things running about. Why would such a world only develop one oddity? It’s a bit like having our reality where we have humans, but none of the human-adjacent species that came before us or lived along side early homo sapiens. Yeah, we happen to exist in a time where Neanderthals and other similar species are extinct (to our knowledge), but human-like species existed along side us at one point in time.
The world doesn’t allow for just one thing to exist. Strangeness develops along side other strangeness, and while one strain of strangeness may win out for some period of time, it’s never totally alone in the bigger picture.
It makes sense and it feels right. We don’t need the story to focus on this, but getting little hints and teasers about said bigger picture, even as throwaway lines, makes the smaller picture that much more organic and breathable.