Still not a way to sell your TCG – Anime Critique: selector spread WIXOSS

i0O4dk7WbjjtATitle: Selector Spread WIXOSS (selector spread WIXOSS)
Format: TV series
Genre: shojo, magic girl, fantasy, drama, trading card game adaptation, psychological, horror
Series Director: Takuya Sato
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 epsides
Original Airing dates: October 4 – December 20, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download


Synopsis:

Tama betrayed Ruko by not granting her wish & has vanished, to be replaced by Iona -whose wish was to become the LRIG for the most powerful Selector in the world. Feeling broken, Ruko & friends try to escape the Selector Battles but find themselves still trapped within them -both by Ulith, in Iona’s former body & Mayu, the mysterious girl behind the Selector Battles. Can Ruko overcome her fate & be reunited with her beloved Tama or will despair consume all?


Critique:

The first series of WIXOSS (selector infected WIXOSS) was surprising brutal, filled with dark & tragic themes, incest & forbidden love, despair & faint glimmers of hope that could be crushed like fleeting embers under heavy boots. The 2nd season of WIXOSS continues with these themes but doesn’t merely rehash them without going anywhere. It uses the previous series as a stepping stone to new ideas, dark themes & finding resolution. It seeks to answer many of the questions & plot threads left over in the 1st season but, in the end, it still fails to sell the Trading Card Game that it’s based upon.

That, in & of itself, shouldn’t be an issue but, ostensibly, this series is designed to promote & sell the Trading Card Game. Whilst this season does explore the rules a little more, it is still focussed on the Maho Shojo (Magical Girl) aspects as well as the tragedy & despair of having your one heart’s desire denied to you.

This series is emotionally heavy & fairly brutal in what happens to the characters mentally & physically. Whereas the 1st season dealt with what it meant to be reach your goal only to have it ripped from you, the 2nd season focuses more on aspects of isolation, need, connection & struggling through negativity.

Before I move into an overview of this season, I have to make mention something that I found a bit uncomfortable to deal with -that being the victimisation, degradation & abuse of young girls.

Ever since Maho Shojo Madoka Magika brought it to public popularity again, the Magical Girl genre has returned to the physical & psychological torment of the mid-90’s. This was something that Dr Susan J Napier touched on in her 1997 work Vampires, Psychic Girls, Flying Women and Sailor Scouts & is to do with turning the Shojo into a representation of Japan in a time of economic & social crisis; one that has to be protected & saved but only after they are being physically or psychologically tormented. This is meant to stir the populace into feelings that society can be saved & redeemed, but only after it has suffered & been purged. This was a fairly common trope within the 90’s, during the bursting of the Economic Bubble, where confidence in the nation, national identity & worth of self was crushed because the traits of superiorism no longer worked when unemployment was high & the country was afflicted by natural disasters like the Kobe Earthquake -which crippled a financial centre of the country. With recent repeats of such natural & economic disasters, it is only naturally that the media will turn introspective about the ills of society (such as with Psycho Pass) or create a catharsis with which to release feelings of unease -into which the Selector WIXOSS and other similar Magical Girl series falls into.

Within this aside, I would like to make another aside.

That is, during such times we may flinch at young female characters enduring hardships, abuse & physical/psychological trauma but we don’t bat an eye when it happens to young male characters. This can be endless argued about trope & gender roles, which is a book unto itself but we have to actually address what is an ongoing cultural & social reflection of gender roles in a very rigid & role-enforced nation like Japan.

In such series as WIXOSS, the female characters much struggle & suffer in order to find empowerment at the end to overcome what afflicts them. But they are only empowered to resume the female roles that Japanese society dictates to them. They must remain cute, loving, emotionally open, accepting & so forth but they must remain women. Women who will never lead companies, join the Diet or have a role in the national spotlight unless they are an actress, idol or pornstar. Whereas when young male characters suffer & overcome they are empowered to become leaders or heroes. They can become anyone with power & authority -even if they happen to die. Their suffering is so they can overcome & conquer, whereas as female suffering is a cleansing for the ills of the world.
RBdEoSo
That being written though, the Selector WIXOSS series does something different with their cleansing meta-narrative.

The resolution does remain that everyone shall be reunited in friendship & find strength in that connection -which is the theme of almost all Magical Girl narratives- but Selector Infected WIXOSS & Selector Spread WIXOSS serve to point out a cancer within female interactions. A cancer manifest within jealousy, petty rivalry, victimisation & extreme bullying that is part of a scapegoating/victim mentality culture.

A health dose of random lesbianism. Nothing wrong with that.
A health dose of random lesbianism. Nothing wrong with that.

This is represented through 3 characters: Akira, who delights in tormenting the weak to achieve her desire; Mayu, who wishes revenge against the world; & Ulith, who is a natural born sadist who delights in the utter suffering of other girls.

In this, they work in concert, with one using the others to reach her own ends yet it is not as simple as that.

This is expressed through Akira, whose entire sense of self-worth is shattered after she loses her 3rd Selector Battle in the 1st season. This left her scarred down her face, after being attacked by a deranged fan, & her psyche fractured. Her entire identity being based upon her beauty & using that beauty to manipulate others means that she can no longer hide the ugliness that is within her -on that feeds on the misery of those whom she deems weaker than herself. With this exposed, she spirals into destructive depression, locking herself in her room because she thinks that all her value, as a model/object of beauty, & her life’s purpose -destroying Iona because of how she was born into ease & privilege- are gone.

That is when Ulith, now in possession of Iona’s body (now that Iona is Ruko’s LRIG avatar), gives Akira back her beauty (through the use of make up) & a new purpose -to expose the ugliness in other girls before crushing them. In exchange, Ulith promises to give Akira utterly love, devotion & attention but only if she can fulfil her promise to obey her commands & show the ugliness within her that takes such pleasure in tearing down others.

Naturally, Ulith is only doing this for 2 selfish reasons.

The 1st is because she needs to fulfil Iona’s wish to find powerful challengers for her & Ruko, otherwise she’ll be ripped from Iona’s body & basically destroyed (a punishment any LRIG faces if they fail to fulfil their former Selector’s wish). The 2nd is for the simple factor that she’s a pure sadist, who gets basically sexual pleasure out of destroying things -especially other girls.

Ulith’s background is covered well. In that she was a human girl who took pleasure in physically torturing & tormenting other creatures & people until she was caught & punished for hurting a classmate. From then on, she developed techniques to create extreme psychological distresses, eventually pushing some girls to suicide. Her ultimate wish is to be transformed from human to LRIG & back to human again so she can keep on destroying lives & inflicting misery in whichever form she can. She is basically using Akira to achieve these goals but doesn’t understand the limits of what someone as unstable as can do to get the love & affection that she thinks she deserves -since Ulith is leading her on with sexual & emotional promises of belonging & contentment. Even so, such setbacks down stop Ulith from trying to spread misery & malice around her.

To this end, she’s aided by Maya, whose backstory is flesh out in this series.

Without giving too much away, she was a girl who suffered from profound physical & emotional isolation due to an unnamed illness. Meaning that she never go to socialise with other children or even go outside. Her family withheld any positive emotional reinforcement from her, simply leaving her with games & toys rather than affection -almost wishing she would die so she’d no longer be a burden on them. When she’s handed a deck of WIXOSS cards, she has no one to play with, so she creates to alter-egos -a Girl of Light (Shiro) & a Girl of Darkness (Kuro)- to play the game for her. This fundamentally shows her spiral into madness but it also somehow grants her magical powers to affect the lives of any other girls who play the game in the outside world. Sending out Shiro & Kuro, she begins the Selector Battles to twist & destroy the wishes of others, so they can suffer the isolation & deprivation that she did.

It’s all dark & very twisted but ultimately is a brilliant summation for what is a truly terrible cancer at the heart of all societies throughout history. That is: that those who feel isolated & abandoned will find some way to get revenge on that society -which is pretty much how ISIL & #GamerGate got started (same with any terrorist group really & yes, I did just call #GamerGate a bunch of terrorists).

The series also (re)introduces as characters who are key to the unfolding of the events behind the Selector Battles, such as the former LRIG Fumio & her LRIG Anne, who both wish to escape the Selector Cycle so Fumio can restore the original Fumio to her human form so she can live her dreams of being an author. Unfortunately, they aren’t used much in the full series but are supposed to have time in the spin-off manga.

The other characters who get more screen time is the hyperactive but delusional klutz Chiyori & her old country woman accented LRIG, Eldora. Chiyori’s wish is to turn into a LRIG so she can experience what it’s like to have magical powers & have a life like the novels that Fumio (above) wrote. This is mainly because before she encountered Eldora, she was a friendless introvert who spent all of her time in her imagination because she was to painfully shy to connect with anyone. The main trio of heroines -Ruko, Yuzuki & Hitomi- don’t want her to experience the hardship of what it means to both win & lose battles, to suffer at Maya’s whim, but Eldora, for all of her fighting with Chiyori, would rather give herself up than to see the hyper little girl suffer -wanting her to be free & who she really is rather than adopting a personality as an escape from the real world. A world where she can make friends with the central trio & have a happy life.

Chiyori: Innocent or brain damaged? You decide!
Chiyori: Innocent or brain damaged? You decide!

It’s this notion of self-sacrifice that surrounds Ruko’s core conviction to free & restore everyone caught up within the Selector Battles. This is pushed by discovering the truth behind Tama & Iona’s origins. As well as Maya granting Ulith the use of Tama as a personal LRIG with which to make Ruko truly suffer.

This is something that I genuinely found disturbing, more than some of the other inflictions of malice within the series.

Where Ruko can fill her LRIGs (Tama & eventually Iona) with the power of light & love, making them evolve beyond normal limits; Ulith can force all of her vileness into Tama, transforming her into a twisted version of herself who delights in destruction.

The horror at the heart
The horror at the heart

The concept of corruption is what is disturbing but the fact it takes on such a sexualised connotation that is.

Ulith basically rapes Tama; forcing her will, her inner darkness into the innocent (& fairly mentally deficient) girl. The dialogue & reaction of Tama plays it out like a rape, going on about Ulith “entering her”. This is combined with Tama’s shrill voice to terribly effect. It really left me uncomfortable & alarmed but I sense that was the entire intention of such scenes. To show what happens when someone uses their power to utterly violate another human being. Fittingly, Ulith finds a hubris filled end that echoes the countless physical & emotional violations but even for such a vile creature, it was a little too much & too unexpected but plays into the idea of some people being utterly unredeemable.

Again, this hooks into the disturbing trend of making female characters suffer that I mentioned in the 1st few paragraphs of the review but it bares repeating -especially since we have other series such as Yuki Yuna wa Yusha de Aru. This is a series that I couldn’t finish watching because of a lack of decent subs but the basic rub of it is that the female characters -all a form of Magical Girl- are made to suffer when they use their powers to protect a God Tree -which in turn feeds of their suffering & creates a cycle of producing new Magical Girls to sustain itself through their sacrifices. This is just one part of a continued & disturbing trend that girls must suffer horrendous things in order to be granted a chance of peace & love. A theme echoed in several recent Shojo series, especially the utterly abhorrent Amnesia game/anime series from a few years ago -which saw the heroine killed again & again, as well as suffering other emotional & physical tortures for no real reason in each episode of that terrible series (yes, I watched it all because it was like a fucking train wreck).

Anyway, back to the critique.

Visually, the series remains a mixed bag.

With some very dark & intentionally murky -such as the battle grounds- mixed with some bright & vivid cityscapes. The animation itself is fluid, able to shift scale & action well. The use of primary colours for characters as well as the varied designs of the LRIGs is very well down; if a tad sexual at a times. Still, the designs are both unique & referencing other cultural markers as well tropes.

wixoss-10

In the end, if you can get past a lot of the emotional & physical trauma within the series, it is a rewarding end & answer to the first arc. It has a lot going for it, with many subtle messages about the ills of modern society -especially in regards to how girls treat each other as well as how the poisonous nature of some people can be overcome with an unwavering heart & the determination of self sacrifice for a positive end. Even if you can’t achieve such goals, having the support of those whom you love & care about to carry you through is enough for you to see a resolution that benefits the many rather than giving up yourself to cease your own isolation & discontent.

A smile to end the darkness
A smile to end the darkness
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The Magic & Mundanity of Romance – Anime Critique: Glasslip

Glasslip_Prmotional_ImageTitle: Glasslip (Gurasurippu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, romance, slice of life
Series Creator: Junji Nishimura
Series Director: Junji Nishimura
Studio: P.A. Works
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Tōko Fukami’s family runs a glass-working business in a small seaside town named Hinodehama (“Sunrise Beach”). She hangs out with her four best friends at a cafe called Kazemichi (“Wind Way”). During the summer break of their senior year in high school, they meet a transfer student named Kakeru Okikura, who claims that a voice from the future talks to him, and that it has led him to Tōko.


Review:

This was a series that I thought may be great. A gentle blending of teen romance with a touch of magical realism but with more of an emphasis on the former than the latter. The supernatural/magical realism aspects are minute, driving part of the characters’ motivations but not having an affect the larger world at all. Unfortunately, towards the end of the series, when they try to explain what the supernatural power is, everything begins to falter & become confused. Leaving no explanation as to the nature of the two central protagonists’ abilities. In fact, the series leaves a lot in the air but at the same time resolves other aspects that similar series would more happily leave hanging in the air.

The cynical part of me thinks that might be to angle for a 2nd season as well as push the side manga & upcoming Light Novel. I may be right but that doesn’t really address how a series that started out with so much promise ended up so poorly dregged by the final episode.

The supernatural conceit of the series is that the two central protagonists, Tōko & Kakeru, possess similar yet different abilities to experience what they believe to the future. Whenever Tōko sees light refracted through an object such as glass, she sees visions; whereas if Kakeru is prodded by various aural stimuli, he hears fragment of what may come to pass. It is these abilities, which seem to compliment each other, that draws our two protagonists to each other but stirs ripples amongst Tōko’s established circle of friends.

The Chibi versions from the end credits.
The Chibi versions from the end credits.

Like more than a few other series this season, Glasslip (the confusing title comes from the fact that Tōko is a glassblower) is a romantic, more shōjo aligned series (although lacking in the grotesque art style of the shōjo genre. Instead on dwelling on the magical realism aspects of the protagonists, it’s more concerned with the changing relationships between & around Tōko & her friends. More so how suppressed emotions are brought to the boil by the arrival in town of Kakeru -whom Tōko accidentally dubbed David because he reminded her of the statue.

I feel that if the series actually made the relationships between the 6 characters the focal point rather than flirted with the two genres it would have been a much stronger series. Unlike so many other recent anime this year, the characters actually get a chance to develop, growing as the story progresses. They do start off as typical anime archetypes though. With Tōko being the kindhearted ditz; Yanagi as the bitchy yet insecure tsundere who is not so secretly in love with her step-brother (not incest like WIXOSS) & secretly jealous of the attention that he gives Tōko; her step-brother Yukinari, who tries to act cool & aloof but is actually feeling hollow since he may have to give up on his dream of professional running after suffering a knee injury & feels threatened by how Tōko is drawn to Kakeru; Hiro, who is the energetic dunce who thinks of things that the group can do & has a poorly hidden longing for the fragile yet beautiful Sachi; while Sachi is the physically wracked glasses-girl who appears to have a lesbian lust for Tōko & an intense hatred for Kakeru on sight because she feels that he may take Tōko away from her.

The central cast.
The central cast.

How these weird love polygons play out becomes the core of the series. With various misunderstandings, manipulations & confessions of emotion driving the drama inherent in the romantic genre. Yet because it’s filtered through the lens of magical realism, with Tōko & Kakeru’s glimpses of the future, the weight of the emotion if more muffled than it otherwise should’ve been if they strengthened one aspect over the other.

What I’m saying that if Glasslip was more content to more be more of a character drama it would be excellent. Instead a lot of the emotions of the characters are muted & ideas get lost. There are some interesting dynamics involved with the relations -such as with the step-siblings or Tōko’s & her little sister Hina (who has her own manga) or even Sachi’s quiet protective love Tōko & how that changes throughout the course of the series.

Unfortunately, the series really loses its way in the last few episodes -where they try to explain the nature of Tōko & Kakeru’s ability. With hints that they aren’t seeing the future & that it might be something passed down through the bloodline. There are no real explanations & no real resolution to that plot arc. In general, things in the series just end with little resolution. It might be because they have a Light Novel coming out in October or that they want to make another series but I found it weak & annoying. More so after such a promising start.

At least on the list pluses that this series has is that it is exceptionally beautiful. That’s honestly one of the best things about so many recent series is that they are so damn pretty. Glasslip uses a lot of nature scenes, with the location being set in a city between the mountains & the sea -so you get to see a lot of both. There’s a lot of interplay with light, either the glare of the sun on the ocean or being filtered through the leaves of the trees. Colours & layers are played with to great effect -especially in Tōko’s glass works.

How's the serenity?
How’s the serenity?

Overall, Glasslip is a good series that could have been utterly fantastic but it leaves too much up in the area & gets muddled as to whether it wants to be a teen romance or magical realism series. There is still a lot to enjoy about it but I personally wanted more resolution & a closed ending. If they make a 2nd series, I will watch it but I won’t forgive it for faffing about. Still, this is an enjoyable series that I would recommend; more so if you are sick of the action oriented harem loli-fest dross that has plagued us this year.

Demonstrating Toko's clutziness.
Demonstrating Toko’s clutziness.

Possibly the Funniest Thing All Year – Anime Critique: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun

Title: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoijo Nozaki-kun, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, satire, romance, 4koma adaption
Series Creator: Izumi Tsubaki
Series Director: Mitsue Yamazaki
Studio: Dogakobo
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6 – September 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs

manga cover featuring Nozaki
manga cover featuring Nozaki

Synopsis:

“High school student Chiyo Sakura has a crush on schoolmate Umetaro Nozaki, but when she confesses her love to him, he mistakes her for a fan and gives her an autograph. When she says that she always wants to be with him, he invites her to his house and has her help on some drawings. Chiyo discovers that Nozaki is actually a renowned shojo manga artist named Sakiko Yumeno. She then agrees to be his assistant in order to get closer to him. As they work on his manga Let’s Fall in Love (Koi Shiyo lit Let’s Have a Romance) they encounter other schoolmates who assist them or serve as inspirations for characters in the stories.”


Review:

Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun was a manga that I had heard of but hadn’t read because of the sudden, sad demise of mangatraders.com (scumbag hackers!) & unfortunately the anime almost passed me by due to lack of support from more well known fansubber groups (leaving us with groan Horridsubs & one unknown & undersupported subber group who dropped it half way through). But I’m really glad that I gave it a chance because it is one of the funniest anime I’ve seen in the last few seasons.

Battle of the eyes
Battle of the eyes

As I’ve previously written about, I’m a monstrous fan of 4koma/azumanga adaptation because of their punchy, quick-fire jokes & excellent character construction (because they have to build them strongly within such a limited on page space).  Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun really slams hard into the top tier of 4koma adaptations. Not above Acchi Kocchi or Azumanga Daioh but on the same level as the two seasons of Seitokai Yakuindomo & Working!.

What makes this series truly brilliant is the subversion of tropes, genres & roles. Upon the surface many of the characters do seem stock: the male lead ignorant of the female lead’s love, the devoted female lead, the pretty boy, the popular one, et cetera but it plays around with them so sweetly that I was in pain laughing at times.

Nozaki's OP animation frame
Nozaki’s OP animation frame

The male lead is Nozaki Umetaro, who is not only ignorant of Chiyo’s affections but of pretty much everything around him. He has a cold, stoic demeanour. Performing every action in a serious, deadpan fashion so lots of people are unable to understand what he truly means. What makes that so funny & subversive is that Nozaki is actually a shojo mangaka (a creator of romantic manga for girls) who is said by fans to know the true depth of the female heart, in all its anguish, passion & devotion. & the fact that he’s a mangaka isn’t kept a secret for the sake of the plot. He’s very open about but no one believes him because he’s so tall & scary looking, with a bad reputation of fighting (injuries actually caused by rushing to meet deadlines & such). The fact that he’s truly ignorant about all aspects of romance is what drives a lot of the humour around him, as he goes through complicated plans to come up with idea scenarios to illustrate -often at the expensive of the ever devoted Chiyo.

The various moods of Sakura Chiyo
The various moods of Sakura Chiyo

In many ways, Chiyo is very much the same as Nozaki yet fundamentally different. Where he is stoic & impassive, she is overly expressive -almost to make up for his lack of physical displays of emotion. She is at first confused at Nozaki’s strange behaviour but through spending time with him, so comes to be able to read his subtle shifts in mood. Yet she so often over reactions to situations -such as thinking he might finally be reciprocating her feelings or she’s totally oblivious to the negative traits of those around her -especially her close friend Seo. Despite always wanting to be around Nozaki & get him to understand her feelings, she’s far from clingy & annoying as a character. When failing to express what she truly means in her affection to the dense Nozaki, she goes to work for him -helping with the beta (no idea what it’s supposed to be but she does the inking for him mainly) on his manga. This is done so she can learn what he’s like & see if her feelings for him are genuine. She prone to near fetishising many of Nozaki’s traits & habits, such as getting people to pose like his drawing sitting position or praising another shojo mangaka for creating a character who’s exactly like Nozaki. But she does so in the sweetest possible way. She’s also marked by her petite figure (basically half the size of the towering Nozaki) & polka dot bowed ribbons in her hair, yet is never sexualised in any way.

Such a happy Chiyo face!
Such a happy Chiyo face!

Also by working with Nozaki, she becomes a little disillusioned on how he creates his manga & whom he bases his characters on.

Which brings us into the great subversion of the series, which was always the best for laughs.

the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!
the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!

As Chiyo spends more time with Nozaki, she gets to see how he comes up with his ideas & characters. Naturally, she thinks that he has some innate understand of romance & women but that becomes apparent that it’s far from the truth when he asks her to help out in enacting possibly scenarios for his manga. The best example is the romantic bike scene & how he tries to depict it in a romantic yet entirely legal fashion (you’ll get it once you see it). He drags Chiyo into it at first but then she comes to accept it as perfectly normal, wanting to continue it with him because she finds it fun after a fashion (even though it’s totally embarrassing). Similar with the situation with him making half a dozen bento to gauge people’s reactions to getting them, with Chiyo initially thinks makes her special until he sees him sharing them out with their other friends.

The friends are what make up the rest of the humour as well as some of the inspiration of Nozaki’s manga characters.

Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.
Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.

& surprisingly enough, he doesn’t try to model any of them on Chiyo.

In fact, all of Nozaki’s female characters are based upon his male friends for their strangely feminine traits.

Chiyo's reaction to Mokirin's self-inflicted embarrassment.
Chiyo’s reaction to Mikorin’s self-inflicted embarrassment.

This is especially true for Mimiko’s (Nozaki’s ordinary yet wilful heroine), who is modelled after the charming yet easily embarrassed pretty boy, Mikoto AKA Mikorin. Who is popular because he’s handsome & saying the right things to make girls lose their minds but he gets so embarrassed about saying them because most of his experience dealing with women comes from playing dating sims & his is incredibly shy by nature -using brashness to hide it. His embarrassed state serves as the basis for Mimiko’s flustered nature as well as his constant need for praise & attention.

The other character who serves as inspiration for Nozaki’s manga is Chiyo’s close friend, Seo, who is, frankly, a bit of a bitch. She’s not intentionally mean but she’s entirely tactless, oblivious to others, slovenly, greedy, ignorant of her emotional & physical surroundings & a bit of a bully. When Nozaki asks why Chiyo admires Seo so much, she reveals Seo’s amazing singing voice, which has earnt her the nickname ‘the Lorelei of the Glee Club”. Despite her amazing vocal talents, Nozaki finds her fairly insufferable to be around but finds inspiration in her taunting of his former basketball kohai Wakamatsu, whom Seo calls Waka after a basic misunderstanding of him trying to challenge her to stop traumatising him (which is her childish way of showing an interest in her). For his part, Wakamatsu, becomes inspiration for another female character because of his over worked nature & gentle temperament yet Nozaki hates himself for putting his kohai in situations with Seo just so he can get inspiration for his manga. Seo is also the cause of Wakamatsu’s insomnia as well as he’s cure, which makes more great comedy & inspiration for Nozaki, much to his personal regret.

How harems begin.
How harems begin.

The other great characters in the series are Hori and Kashima from the drama club. Hori illustrated the scenery & backgrounds for Nozaki because he lacks the talent to do so, in exchange for Nozaki writing original scripts for the club. Kashima is the mega-popular prince-like figure of the drama club, who is always surrounded in adoring female fans despite being a woman herself. No one really seems to care about her masculine appearance & attitude, except it she costs them the chance to get female attention for themselves. Kashima also often vies for Hori’s attention, admiring his amazing acting skill (while he stays off stage because of his short height), but everything that she does just serves to piss him off -so he usually hits her for it. I don’t like the physical violence against a female character aspect much but it’s not done out of vicious anger, just old slapstick style comedy. Kashima & Mikoto are also close friends, with Kashima calling him her fated rival, despite the fact that she smashes him in every aspect of their school & personal lives.

What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.
What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.

The other great thing about the series is the incredibly beauty animation. Rich, colourful & smooth designs -even for the most mundane background details are sweetly rendered. The character animations are also top notch. Great use of expression, cartoon conceits & action -reminding me of a lot of older style fast paced cartoons that I watched as a kid (Merry Melodies mainly). Great little visual gags & reaction shots -especially Chiyo’s confused & love struck faces.

The other sweet thing about it is that you feel the genuine affection that Chiyo has for Nozaki -especially in the last episode. The reveal as to how she came to love him & why she made her confession to him is left until the end. Which serves the story really well, because it’s hinted at but not dwelled upon. Love & affection is the core of this series, something which I felt more then in the genuine shojo romantic series Ao Haru Ride that’s also been screening this season (& will be reviewed later, once I finish watching it).

In the end, this is a series that I enjoyed immensely & will probably watch over & over again (though not as much as I have Acchi Kocchi -which EVERYONE must watch). The lack of sexualisation, the great characters & fast paced jokes has put it at the top of my list for the season’s selection. I highly recommend it if you want a good laugh, like a good satire or just want something unexpected & clever.

Plus it feels good to write a review that it’s 5 paragraphs bitching about hypersexualisation for bloody once (although will be doing that with another upcoming review, so having put that stick away yet).

Also keep an eye out for the running tanuki gag.

My expression when I realised that there wouldn't be any more episodes to watch.
My expression when I realised that there wouldn’t be any more episodes to watch.

Rain & Love are also beautiful – Anime Critique: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

Soredemo_Sekai_wa_UtsukushiiTitle: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii (The World is Still Beautiful, the Still World is Beautiful)
Format: TV anime
Genre: fantasy, romance, comedy, supernatural
Series Creator: Dai Shiina
Series Director: Hajime Kamegaki
Studio: Pierrot
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 6, 2014 – June 29, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Nike, the fourth princess of the Rain Dukedom and one who holds the power to call forth the rain, travels to the Sun Kingdom to marry Sun King Livius for her country, despite her own reluctance. She soon discovers that the King, who conquered the world in only three years after his ascendance to the throne, is still a child. Furthermore, for trivial reasons, he has demanded that Nike call forth the rain, and when she refuses, he has her thrown in jail. The story follows the two who, while at first are a married couple only in name, gradually begin to establish an emotional bond with one another.


Review:

Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii was a series that I came to without previous knowledge or the weight of expectations, so it was genuinely refreshing to watch because I didn’t have any preconceptions as to what it was going to be or what I may want from it.

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It’s also stands apart from the other recent anime series because it centres around a female protagonist with her own positive sense of Agency; who isn’t just there so we can stare at her tits & arse all the time (although that happens over the course of the series).

To avoid beating the usual drum at the beginning: the series is sexualised but it isn’t hypersexualised.

The difference being that sexualisation is pushing up character attractiveness & manipulating how we view them by embellishing sexual traits. Whereas hypersexualisation is focussing only on the sexual traits or putting characters in positions where they are only seen as sexual objects.

This is something that I’ll write about in a future article but to summarise: sexualisation isn’t great but pretty much everyone (regardless of gender & sexuality) does it in their everyday lives, so we excuse it. Whilst hypersexualisation generates unrealistic expectations & images, degrades all involved & renders so many narratives utterly useless &/or annoying.

Although there is a level of sexualisation in the series that many may (mainly men) may be uncomfortable with & that’s the sexualisation of the male protagonist Livi -who is barely a teenager, despite being the king of a vast realm.

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This is honestly something that I don’t really care about -especially after all the loli lusting series from this past season (which was near fucking sickening in my limited online opinion). It wasn’t degrading, focussed more through Nike’s romantic lense. So whilst Livi is occasionally half naked, the screen doesn’t ogle or degrade him in any way. Only the way Nike sees him changes; from cruel tyrant & a child with an adult’s eyes to a loving companion & partner.

Nike is the most important aspect of the series & a well constructed character (until the last episode at least, where she gets all mopey without being in Livi’s company). She comes off as a brash, naive tomboy who reacts before she thinks but she is backed up by formidable magical & physical ability -being able to beat up at least 4 of Livi’s guards when she first arrives in the Sun King. She also reacts badly to challenges & has a desperate need to prove herself as worthy of Livi (at least not in the form of a superiority complex at least), so she rushes head long into several traps & assassination attempts but she often gets herself out of them or Livi comes to assist (not entirely rescue) her in her efforts.

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Nike also has a very tender side; which is seen when she uses her rain summoning magic -a song based upon the emotions she feels & her appreciation for the beauty of the world around her. The Sun Kingdom is in a desert, so they have need of lots of water for Livi’s plans for modernisation, so that is one reason he threatened Nike’s father to send him a bride from the Rain Kingdom. Although while their relationship starts out as hostile, Nike’s feeling grow for her underage husband, making her magic grow as well.

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Unfortunately, in my view at least, the song she uses to summon the rain is a touch annoying & amusing in how poorly it attempts to blend in English words with the Japanese. The voice actress does have a lovely singing voice, her mastery of English isn’t there. Not her fault, not her language, but kind of does show the uselessness of putting English words in songs for the sheer sake of having them in there. Plus, I do laugh more when Westerners put random Asian words into their songs & get them utterly wrong (looking at you, Wu Tang Clan!).

The other strength of the series is the humour & the supporting cast. Who bring a lot of the humour.

Mainly Livi’s valet (not a butler! Look up the difference!), Neil, who often has to force Nike to become more like a princess or chase Nike & Livi whenever they escape to have some fun. The three old advisors, who back up Livi’s claim to the throne through wisdom & force, are also very funny -making dirty jokes & comments that parallel the episode’s plot. But are best used when told that they aren’t allowed to go to the Rain Kingdom after they planned to go there with Nike & Livi to get more sweets for themselves & not do any work.

There are the usual tropes within the series about the notions of self-worth, mainly Nike wondering if she is the right match for Livi, whom she is growing more & more in love with, as well as the usual romantic stuff but overall I found this series very good. It was funny when it needed to be, with patches of strong drama & emotional interactions.

I do recommend it, especially if you want something different from the past season’s hypersexualised loli-fest!

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A weird way to advertise your TCG – Anime Critique: Selector Infected WIXOSS

indexTitle: Selector Infected WIXOSS (AKA selector infected WIXOSS)
Format: TV series
Genre: shojo, magic girl, fantasy, drama, trading card game adaptation, psychological, horror
Series Director: Takuya Sato
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 epsides
Original Airing dates: April 3, 2014 – June 19, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download


Synopsis:

WIXOSS (short for “Wish Across”) is a popular trading card game in which players battle against each other with fighters known as LRIGs (??? Rurigu?) (girl spelled backwards), using cards to support them. Ruko Kominato, who receives a WIXOSS deck from her brother, discovers that her LRIG, which she names Tama, can speak. She soon learns that she has been chosen as a ‘Selector’, girls who must battle against other Selectors. Should they be victorious in battle, they will be able to have any wish granted, but should they lose three times to other Selectors, they will lose that chance and lose all memory of the game. As she and various other Selectors battle it out for the sake of their wish, Ruko finds herself drawn into the dark sinister world of WIXOSS, discovering that win or lose, there is always a cost.


Review:

Mahou Shojo Madoka Magika truly has a lot to answer for, in now making every once light fluffy female demographic target anime into something dark & painful. Now, I don’t mind dark, twisted, violent &/or brutal anime series but it seem a bit of an extreme way to promote a Trading Card Game.

This season just finished had at least 5 anime series (don’t know, didn’t watch them) based around the promotion of new TCG franchises in what is essentially a very crowded marketplace within Japan. Selector Infected WIXOSS was designed as a way to promote awareness of the new Otome (Maiden) Card Game yet this series is so far removed from the practicality, cards & promotion of the series than something like Yu-Gi-Oh is.

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During the course of the 12 episode 1st series (something that I didn’t find out about until the last coda of the last episode, wondering how they were going to wrap it all up), you learn basically nothing about the real card game, how it’s played, the colour/element relationships or even what most of the cards look like. As a way of promoting a TCG series, it’s most odd but the plot of the series pretty much kills any chance to promote the game as something fun to play with friends.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Selector Infected WIXOSS is pretty dark -both visually & in terms of the general narrative. The basic plot resolves around girls who are chosen to be Selectors by being partnered up with LRIG (girl backwards or the mirror of a girl), who are trapped within special WIXOSS cards. The Selectors then use the LRIGs to battle other Selectors (with the LRIGs as their proxies) so that they can have a wish granted. Unfortunately, in order to achieve their wishes, they must first suffer the pain of knowing that they have destroyed the wish of other girls (if you lose 3 times, you lose your memory of the game & your wish) as well as having to suffer the possibility of having the same done to you, losing your bonded LRIG partner in the process. & boy! Do these girls suffer! & suffer! & suffer some more!

This unfortunately is a common trope in Japanese media. The worse things get in society &/or with the economy, the more the figure of the girl (especially in the shojo genre) is subjected to some brutal psychological treatment. It’s a topic that Dr Susan J. Napier has written a lot about in her career, saying at one point that the shojo genre has become geared toward “dark and damaging introspectives” (Napier 2006 p 296), with the female characters “becoming victims as they abandon their personal agency to ‘fate’” (Napier 2006 p 296). Basically, Napier is saying that the worse Japan feels as a nation, the more the media creators feminine objects that people (regardless of gender) feel the need to protect & hide away from harm. Because the feminine objects represent Japan as a whole & promoting the idea that populace needs to protect the nation from the harm caused by outside influence. This is a subject I’m becoming exceptionally well versed in & will write more about it at a later date but for now I will explain how it related to this anime series in particular.

The opening credit animation as well as the general set up makes series seem like will be something like a lighthearted shonen style cross promotional anime; where the girls form bonds of friendship as they struggle to help each other’s wishes come true. Instead what we get is an emotional & socially damaged & isolated girl learning the pain & hardships that come from lacking in personal desire/goals & watching her friends suffer as they come to terms with what it means to have their dangerous desires fulfilled. & it touches on some pretty dark subjects to bring that point across.

The central protagonist is Ruuko, a high school girl who lives with her grandmother in a small apartment after her mother abandoned her as a child because she (the mother) felt terrified by Ruuko’s strangeness. As such, Ruuko doesn’t feel the need to have friends or form relationships outside of her grandma or older brother, Ayumi. In order to cure this, Ayumi gives Ruuko a deck of WIXOSS cards, saying that to play she’ll have to make some friends. As fate would have it, inside Ruuko’s deck is the LRIG Tama, who is -let us say- remarkably simple (pretty much borderline retarded), who can only communicate in simple words at first (begging to battle mainly). Because of the mindlessness of her company, Ruuko (& thus the audience of whom she is the proxy) have no idea about the fantastical nature behind the WIXOSS game, which is why we are introduced quickly to Yuzuki, her fraternal twin brother Kazuki & Yuzuki’s (red) LRIG, Hanayo. Kazuki & Hanayo introduce Ruuko to the Selector Battles, which are in a pocket universe where the LRIGs are given a physical (if diminutive) forms so they can draw upon the power of their respective decks in order to become an Eternal Girl, so their wishes can be granted. With the aforementioned rule of 3 loses means losing all rights to becoming an Eternal Girl as well as all memories related to the Selector Battles.

These wishes are not some random fancy, like wanting to be a princess or other such drivel. They reach to the core of desire & the person darkness/grief that heavy & hidden desires can bring. In Yuzuki’s case it’s her desire to have an incestuous relationship with her twin, Kazuki.

This was something that came out of nowhere early on but also wasn’t taken lightly. Yuzuki is shown as knowing how socially & morally wrong her wish is but it’s that knowledge as well as the possibility of having that wish answered without true consequence or punishment that causes Yuzuki’s personal schism. Struggling for what she wants with all her heart yet knowing how vile such a love & desire is as well as how society will react to learning the truth of her desire. A theme that is played out with other characters yet without much actually development of them or the background to their desires. More so when you are introduced to the other 3 characters & their individual desires.

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The opening credits makes it seems as though these other 3 will somehow be friends with Ruuko, & 2 of them are constantly dropped through the series because they are famous models, but all pretense of them being sweet, kind & normal is swiftly fucking curbed stomped by the big gritty boots of the Dark Narrative Fairy.

You see early mention of Iona & Akira in the first few episodes because they appear on advertisements & in magazines that background characters read but the 1st character you get introduced to is the shy & panicky Hitoe -whose wish is to be able to make true friends. Hiteo is a sweet girl whom Ruuko & Yuzuki quickly take to after battling her but not so much their reactions to meeting Akira & Iona.

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Iona is cold, dispassionate & bored with everything, carrying around an air of superiority & longing whilst her LRIG, Ulith, is a psycho who takes pleasure in the weakness of others. In this, Ulith is a mirror for Akira, who appears cute & sweet on the surface -speaking in a trendy-talk mixing in English words (Aki-lucky being her catchphrase)- but, in truth, she’s an opportunistic sadist who takes pleasure in discovering her opponents’ wishes & turning it against them by mocking them over it. She targets girls who have just lost, promising them easy victories so she can destroy them, all for her own wish of knocking Iona off her perch of Top Model, yet is terrified to face her in open battle because of Iona’s superior skill. So she uses tricks & bullying to become an Eternal Girl instead.

    Talking Akira & her sadistic habits brings up the other dark social issue that is the form of bullying known as Ijime -which I’ve previously spoken about in my Witch Craft Works review. Ijime is where groups pick on an individual using both physical & psychological attacks. Ijime is seen in various forms throughout the series but rears its disgusting visage when Akira tricks some of Ruuko’s classmates into bring her along so Akira can battle her. Naturally, Akira promised these girls a tour of the modelling studio, filling their heads with dreams of being discovered as models but as soon as they bring Ruuko to her, after chasing her & Yuzuki all over the school, she abandons them having got what she wanted. Yuzuki is also subjected to a more subtle form of this bullying, when she refuses to set her brother up with one of the girls in her class. This girl later threatens Kozuki by saying she’ll spread rumours of incest if she doesn’t kiss him, causing him to storm off in disgust. Yet these rumours are spread anyway by someone else, causing the twins’ school life to suffer.

& the series just gets darker from there as the nature of the Selector Battles & the truth of the Eternal Girls is revealed.


[SPOILER WARNING]

    What the girls painfully learn is that when one of them lose 3 battles, not only do they lose their memories of the Selector Battles but their wishes are reversed. So a girl with a serious disease wishing to live dies straight away, Hitoe -wishing for friends- lose all chance to ever made friends again, wracked with pain if Ruuko or Yuzuki touch her. Akira too loses her 3rd battle against Iona & gets a scar across her face, driving her even more insane (if that were possible). What makes it harder is that the LRIGs know about this but are forbidden to reveal this knowledge in case it stops the Selectors from battling.

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    Which leads into why the LRIGs are so eager to see the battles continue.

    It’s revealed when Yuzuki finally clears the preconditions for her wish that she is not granted her wish but rather her LRIG Hanayo is. Hanayo takes over Yuzuki’s body whilst Yuzuki is transformed into a LRIG (who, as fate would have it, is paired up with the near catatonic Hitoe) & forced to continue to battle so she’ll be released from her card but placed in the body of another girl. Thus perpetuating the cycle.

    This drives Ruuko to chose to use Tama’s unique power to free all of the Eternal Girls & LRIGs but this plan is broken by Maya -the ruler of the LRIG realm- who manipulates Tama into breaking the Eternal Girl Oath, thus causing Ruuko to lose to Iona, who then becomes Ruuko’s LRIG (her wish being to battle forever because she’s hollow inside & only feels alive during combat). Which is a bit of a downer ending for the series but turns out there is a follow up -Selector Spread WIXOSS due out later this year (Northern Hemisphere Autumn according to the coda).

[SPOILER ENDS]


In all honesty, this might be a very rough series for a lot of people to watch. It deals with some heavy issues -those mentioned above but also issues of physical & emotional abuse from parents & the inability to connect with others.

I think it might have had a touch more impact if you got more development from Ruuko & Tama, since they are the central partnership.

Tama is pretty annoying, because she talks in such a childish way with a bit of a grating voice -always demanding that Ruuko finds other Selectors to battle & repeating things said to her like a mentally damaged parrot. It is hand-waved away that Tama is both special & empty, symbolised by her white colour & ability to level up more quickly than other LRIGs. Yet Tama knows nothing about being a LRIG or the rules of the Selector Battles, so it’s left to Hanayo to explain everything for Tama, Ruuko & the audience.

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Unfortunately, like the series as a whole, Ruuko’s development is also terse.

She speaks in an immature manner (calling herself Ruu in the 3rd person, an affectation that Tama also does) & you are told that she has had past trauma with her mother abandoning her but you don’t get a full sense of why & how in this series. Ruuko is also shown to be obsessed with battle, coming alive much in a fashion like Iona does, but she’s always chastising herself for lacking a wish to have -believing that she has no right to battle since its pointless if she wins because it will achieve nothing. She also falls quickly to despair upon learning all the truths of the Selector Battles yet, like an addict, keeps coming back to them, willing to sacrifice herself to save her friends.

She isn’t a bad character over all; just too thinly render. Which is common across all of the cast, unfortunately. You get more time with Yuzuki’s backstory than any other but I really wanted to know why Akira was so insane, driven to destroy Iona, & why Iona herself is willing to destroy her own life just to be able to find the perfect Selector to use her in battle (which is Ruuko since she believes Ruuko is the perfect embodiment of battle).

Still, even with all the darkness & heaviness, this is a series that I would recommend to those looking for something that goes against many current media trends (unfortunately not the ones about abusing &/or torturing young female characters). I really want to see the 2nd series because I genuinely want to see what happens to the characters as well as the truths behind the Selectors & LRIGs.

Also, there is a lack of hypersexualisation within the series. There is still sexualisation (mainly around the designs of the LRIGs) but not to an offensive or grating level. I would still have preferred to have seen more explanation of the game itself (since it is a marketing tool after all) but the story does honestly hold up on itself own without being tied to an existing merchandising product. It might be stronger if it wasn’t a branded entity but if you can look past the product tie-ins & narrative terseness, you might be intrigued by what you see.

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