Behold! The worst unboxing video of all time!

Was testing out my dodgy new mobile phone tripod, so made this card opening video.

With bonus demon houses from a friend’s cat that I am looking after for a bit.

Please don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more upcoming awful unboxing videos. Plus if I get 100 subscribers I get a customer URL.

& if you want to see me make better quality videos, please support me via Patreon so I can afford to buy proper equipment with which to make videos: https://www.patreon.com/andthegeekshall

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We Still Need To Love All the Broken Ponies – Hands On Critique: The My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Collectable Card Game

66_46_mylittleponyccg Note: this article contains much hyperbole & such personal views. Wow.

Generally speaking, there are two ways that you can release a Collectable Card Game (CCG, another name for a Trading Card Game/TCG). The 1st is by going up with a fairly new & unique idea and then thoroughly play testing a new game; seeing how to break certain mechanics or cards, checking if any decks/cards/builds are completely OP & pretty much ensuring there is some semblance of balance before you release it.

The 2nd way is to find a popular media franchise, see how you can base a game around it & rush it out to capitalise on the popularity without putting it through play test, usually meaning the game is broken with poorly conceptualised rules & cards contradicting how things are meant to be played.

How the game is set up on the play field/mat.

Unfortunately, the official CCG for the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise is of the 2nd school of CCG creation & releases.

The game is more broken the promises of your ex-boyfriend & not so much bent as it is a spiral.

OK, calling it broken is unfair. It is more that it is poorly balanced & not optimised to it’s full potential but these issues are being addressed by the makers with each new expansion release & the makers are working with the player community to address any questions or issues there are with the rules.

Many of the ideas the game are pretty much unique to it -such as Faceoffs & Troublemakers– yet they are so poorly optimised & explained that they are constant sources of argument & contention. The text on the cards are often poorly written, with no clarity as to how some of them are used or what their triggering conditions are (especially for some of the Mane character cards). They are plenty of screwy rules & confusing set ups in this game -so much so that many ex-players (& some heavily invested franchise fans) claim that these “broken” rules & mechanics began to drive players away from the game. Such people also claim that this was more so because the game wasn’t produced by fans (AKA Bronies) but rather by game makers not invested in the characters or morals of the cartoon.  Upon being pointed to better research, I stand corrected in the creators not being part of the fandom but it still means people won’t stop using the whole “evil corporation wants to take fans money” argument spilling out of so many mouths.

Yet, despite all of those faults, I do actually really enjoy the game. I enjoy playing (the rare chances I can find someone to verse), I enjoy collecting the cards & I really enjoy the deck building. All because it’s so unlike any other game that I play (with the possibly exception of Legend of the 5 Rings) & it forces me to think differently to how I play it. It’s too difficult to explain how to play, so shall let this video do it for me.

As you can, it’s a pretty odd & complex game, but that is one of the reasons that I really do enjoy playing. First off, let’s look at the Problem cards.

Since unlike games such as Magic the Gathering or Cardfight Vanguard, you don’t actually engage in combat, Problem cards are your means to setting up your Win Conditions (basically: reaching 15 points before your opponent does). Yet how you Confront a Problem can becoming confusing when it leads into the Faceoff & Double Faceoff turns. You score points for reaching the requirements printed on the card, which are the numbers on either side of it, as in the below example.

The dual colour symbols on the bottom represents what the cost is to the player whose card it is. Decks are almost always two colours (being based on the colours of the Mane 6 from the series: purple, pink, yellow, white, orange & blue), so by playing/setting or moving Mane or Friend cards who match the colour requirement, you can score 1 point. Whilst the opposing player just has to met the Power requirements equal or above the upside down number on the top of the card. If you are the 1st player to Confront the problem, you score the Bonus Points written on the card. The more difficult it is the for players to meet the requirements or beat the Problem card’s active abilities, the higher the Bonus you score.

Now, here is where it gets fairly frustrating for some players.

If you’ve Confronted a Problem, you supposedly garner 1 point for every turn that your opponent is unable to Confront it post the initial confrontation but if you Confront both Problems without your opponent being able to Confront them, you can initiate a Double Faceoff -as opposed to a regular Faceoff, which requires your opponent to also be able to Confront the same Problem as you. Double Faceoffs are handy for scoring more points, as you get a point for each Problem plus the larger of the two Bonus points. It’s just the explanation for triggering them is really, really (reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaally) confusingly (really) explained in the manual.

At least the method for resolving the Faceoffs themselves are very straight froward. You add up the total Power (the coloured numbers in the top right of the cards) of all of your cards facing both Problems before you Flip the top card of your deck. The term ‘Flip’ is rather useless & confusing. It would’ve been better if they just said “reveal the top card of your deck” instead. You add the Power from the Flipped card to the total of your cards on field & if you have a higher number than your opponent, you win. There are of course cards & abilities that grant you more power or other bonuses; such as scoring extra points, Flipping additional cards, dismissing or discarding opponent’s cards & so on & so forth. The scoring it all pretty straight forward for the most part & it also ties into how the turns are performed.

If you watched the video a few paragraphs above, you may remember it talking about how you Action Points. AP acts like your Mana if you were playing MtG but unlike Mana, your AP returns at the start of each turn & increases as you score more points. They also roll over each turn. So if you have 1 point left over & you get 2 AP at the start of your next turn, you’ll have 3 AP & so on. In an odd bit of balancing & forethought, your opponent will always have the same amount as AP as you, regardless of their actually score. So if one of you is ahead, the ability to play cards is always equal. This means you can get in some nice last game volleys by storing points & then playing lots of high cost cards, Troublemakers to prevent your opponent from Confronting problems or using your AP to draw a few more cards per turn.

The challenge of the game lies in anticipating what your opponent may do as well as trying to lay down a good opening gambit with the limited resources that you have. Because cards such as Troublemakers are played face down & stay that way for your turn (unless you have other cards or abilities to let them be flipped right away), you can set up strategies well ahead of turns to hinder or shatter your opponent whilst they try to do the same to you. The fact that you can stack Troublemakers also leads to some pretty far thinking strategies.

How you build & balance your deck is also vitally important.

You need a minimum of 45 deck cards (Problems are always limited to 10 & have their own deck & you’re only allowed to have a maximum of 3 of the same card in either decks) to play but if you run anything past 70 or so cards, you run into the standard issue of inconsistent draws & having to discard cards from your hand once you go over the 8 card limit. You also need a balance of 2 colours, with one colour leading towards which ever Mane you prefer to use. The pre-built Starter Decks tend to come with two Manes with similar abilities that represent each colour of the SD’s theme but sometimes it’s better to build your own decks so you get a better feel for the game.

I’m currently running 3 decks: A modified Special Delivery theme deck (because Derpy is your cross-eyed muffin eating goddess!), one of the new Unlike Duo decks (because Fluttershy is the best waifu) & I’ve got a self made Purple/White deck based around the giant Twilight Sparkle: Friendship is Magic card that came with the Fat Pack. The latter deck is my most played because the Twilight Mane card is so easy to flip (play two different colours on a Problem & she flips) but her Flipped ability is pretty useless for the most part. My Derpy deck is a great one because of how it juggles the yellow Critter Friend type with a card that allows for unlimited Critters on the Home space (where cards go once Problems have been resolved with Faceoffs & are limited to X number of cards based upon your Mane’s unflipped/flipped state) but getting Derpy into her Flipped state is a confusing mess, taking ages to get done.

Compared to the other dozen TCG stuff that I play, my win/loss ratio in the MLP CCG is stacked more on the win side but, I have to be honest, most of them are chalked up to exploiting dodgy & ill-written rules & general confusion of what we had to do. Still, it’s a game that keeps me playing & genuinely keeps me interested.

As I’ve harped on throughout this Hands On Critique, this is a very unbalanced game but that doesn’t stop it being fun. In fact, the latest expansion, Absolute Discord, relies on the fact that much of the game is broken & exploits it even further with wacky card effects & abilities -which I think is a nice touch but doesn’t get them out of fixing the balance for all future releases.

In the end, I play this game because it is so different from the combat driving styles of other TCGs. It appeals to my more cunning &, frankly, underhanded nature to use cards to completely throw off my opponent’s game but at the same time help them with mechanics & understanding the rules so we can both enjoy the game more.

It’s far from perfect but the pre-built decks are very affordable & once you get the complex basics under your belt, the bouts go along at a good pace.

We also have regional matches coming up soon, so I hope that I’ll be in town for the local ones where I currently am. Last year only one person attended, so she got all of the prizes. So, if I slash a few tires, I might walk out a State Champion! Because prizes are better than friendship!

Dragons Unleashed! – event review: Dragons of Tarkir pre-release event.

*disclosure: this writer has no affiliation with Good Games Hobart or the Good Games franchise, nor does he have any association with Wizards of the Coast. What is written below is entirely opinion based upon playing experience & have not been altered or affected by any incentive or association from the store of the makers of Magic the Gathering. If you want to dispute that, then piss off elsewhere to do it.*

Midnight, Friday the 20th of March, Good Games Hobart & the Magic-philes eagerly await the handing out of their special Dragons of Tarkir pre-release packs. The air is tense, silent; everyone is expectant -wishing for the perfect seeded drop or rare rich booster. Sweat pricks brows as the 1st shipping box is opened & the 1st name is called. Possibility is in the air tonight.

Not really.

As we waited for midnight to rock around, we were all talking shit, chilling or, in some cases, people are playing other games -like Magic Modern or Dungeonquest. No one is silent, no one is tense but everyone, in their own way, is excited & expectant. Eager to see what they might get & how the new mechanics play out.

Dragons of Tarkir is the 3rd and final set from Wizards of the Coasts’ latest Magic the Gathering block, Khans of Tarkir. Set in a parallel world from the original Khans (a pseudo Mongolian inspired plane) after the events of Fate Reforged (yes, MtG actually has plots within the blocks/expansions) where the former extinct dragons are now rulers of Tarkir thanks to Sarkhan’s changing of history. The story isn’t really important, the cards & new mechanics are.

If you’ve played any of the Tarkir block you’re already familiar with the mechanics of Manifest, Morph, Delve, etc. DoT adds in new or altered abilities. Most of these abilities tend to be Colour or Clan related, so Blacks & Blues related to Silumgar have Exploit, Dromoka’s Green has Formidable & so on. Abilities such as Megamorph & Dash can go across colours after a fashion but you tend to find them more associated with factions again.

Here are some examples of that which I used or had used against me:

Megamorph, where if you have a creature with this ability & you pay the Morph cost, when you flip it right side up you put a +1/+1 counter on it & usually activate abilities which grant bonuses to either that or other creatures on the field.


The Gudul Lurker may seem weak but if you get its Megamorph in, it becomes a nice creature to wittle down your opponent’s life since it can’t be block (it’s still vulnerable to spells & such though if you don’t have Hex Proof)


When dragons have Megamorph, they tend to booster other dragons, which is a deadly thing to have because dragons are already so powerful. But makes them perfect for a Dragon EDH deck if you’re building one.

Exploit is another new mechanic, where in which if a creature possessing Exploit enters the field, you can sacrifice another creature on your side of the field to trigger an effect. This can often be damaging to your opponents, making them discard cards, lose life or grant bonuses to your side to name but a few of the things that it does. Exploit are great if you have a deck that produces tokens because you can sacrifice them to really screw with your opponents without losing any important creatures on your sides & there are a few heavy hitting creatures in DoT that drop some handy tokens -either when they enter the field or when they do damage.


This is a typical Black sapping skill but one you can cast without spending any mana, so it’s pretty handy to use if you can.


This is one card that I got & he’s really handy because he’s a low cost fetch. If you have a resurrect ability, you can Exploit Sidisi himself, find the card your after, bring Sidisi back again & keep going that way if you can. A nice & handy creature if played right, I think.

These are a few examples & when the block is fully released you’ll be able to see what cards have & do what as well as how these new abilities will effect other meta-games, such as Modern & EDH/Commander.

Since Dragons of Tarkir is chockers full of new dragons (well, duh), you’ll be seeing a lot more dragon decks in play. Mainly because these dragons bolster other cards -mainly other dragons- plus there are more cards which get granted special bonuses if you have a dragon card in hand (you reveal the card to get granted the ability). This seemed to have people fairly divided as to how affective it would be in meta-gaming but since I really want to build an All Colour dragon Commander deck, I’m excited by the possibilities that these new dragons offer -especially the dragon lord ones.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really pull much in the way of dragons from my boosters & no dragon lords.

Actually, my pull from my seeded pack & boosters overall was pretty poor. I went with Silumgar (Black-Blue) because haven’t played those colours in ages. I swapped my Ojutai box for it. It wasn’t a terrible drop that I got, because I wound up with some sweet non-Black-Blue cards but not a lot of good cards in the colours that choose to go with.

What was terrible, however, was my playing.

I really do suck at this game.

One is because I don’t know how to build decks properly, another is that the rules have changed so much since I stopped playing & I’m trying to catch up with it. The last reason is that I always play against people who are really good at the game. That last one isn’t a gripe because I learn so much from them & they always give me good advice on how to play & build decks when I ask; as well as being patient for being so slow on the uptake with various things in game (not to mention getting confused over rules since I play so many different games).

Overall, the pre-release midnight gathering was really fun -even if I did come dead last in everything.

Good Games has the best set up for such events, because it has so much space as well as drinks & food (good when locked in so late & everything else is shut). The staff member we had running the event is also an official MtG judge (meaning that he adjudicates at official tournaments & events), so he handled any confusion over the new rules (& the conflict with some of the old ones too). The space that the store provides is also a boon because it means you can walk around & stretch your legs between rounds.

With the Tarkir block wrapping up & WotC moving onto the next block-expansion, I think I’ll get a lot of use out of collecting the Tarkir stuff, especially the new DoT block. A lot of it sits well with my broken play style & I’m guessing that they’ll bring a few of it’s mechanics into the next block to save time & hassle.

I’m also enjoying these pre-release events & Good Games puts them on well with a fun environment. Though I’ve only attended two re-releases so far & both at the same store, so that may show a limitation in experience & opinion.

At any rate, I look forward to the possibilities that this new set can bring, to both the standard & meta-games & my bank account shall be new empty buying what I can, when I can -as is the way with being a consumer whore.

Article: My Glorious Return to the World of TCGs

mtglogo    It was 1994, when I was 14, that I first heard about a new game called Magic: the Gathering. It was like an old Pen & Paper RPG but without the characters or involved game play; it was also like a video game but expansive multiplayer (these were the days before good networking or many PVP games & only consoles had dedicated multiplayer). So I went to my local gaming store -The Games Cupboard in Woden Plaza- & brought a starter pack so I could play with people I knew at school (wouldn’t call them friends because I was basically the social outcast amongst the social outcasts). I enjoyed playing, got more boosters & other singles & played for a while but then I just got bored with the whole TCG thing. Too many competition players with their Uber Decks killing all the fun, less casual players in my social circles & I was doing other things with my time that I found more rewarding. Not to mention the sudden glut of other TCG games appearing on the market that vied for attention & money. After holding onto it for years, I ended up selling my collection to a friend for a decent price (even though I had some very rare cards) & didn’t really think about TCGs for a long while.

So, apropos of nothing, 20 years -December 2014- after I buying my 1st starter deck I decide to get back into not only Magic: the Gathering but also try my hand at a few other TCGs -including Yu-Gi-Oh! & Weiβ (Weiss) Schwarz.

Was lucky that I have a store that deals with all sorts of TCGs there & it was one of their staff members who told me about Weiβ Schwarz as a relatively new game. Unluckily, when I went back to purchase my decks I was served by the grumpy, unhelpful staff member who refused to explain what all the new Magic card packs were.
You see, when I brought my 1st starter deck, that’s all you had. A random deck plus whatever booster packs you wanted to grab. Since then, Wizards of the Coast have released about 137 different flavours of decks -many of them just reusing the same cards with new art &/or flavour text. So you can understand my confusion when I walk into the store & ask for a “starter deck” & the clerk gets uppity about my request. I ended up going for a 2015 edition Core Deck, which would cover everything I needed. The Core Decks also come with 2 booster packs, which gives you random drops & the chance to get some good rares -which I managed to nab in the form of some legendaries & a Planeswalker http://mtgsalvation.gamepedia.com/Planeswalkers in the form of Chandra, the Pyromaster.
YS14-DeckNA
I also got a Yu-Gi-Oh! Space-Time Showdown ‘super starter’ pack, being the most current starter pack available that had the most diverse range of cards within it. Now, I haven’t played Yu-Gi-Oh! In a long, long time & that was using someone else’s deck. Yu-Gi-Oh! has the distinction of being a very easy yet amazingly complex game that has thousands of cards to collect & use. They all fall into Decks and Types that each work to different themes & Styles of Play. This means it has a myriad of combos & constructions & can be daunting to get your head around. It’s something that I had entirely forgotten about until I picked it up again but also means I haven’t been able to get a game in since am still trying to build my perfect decks -which means a lot of side collecting of individual (& rare) cards.
weiss_schwarz
The 3rd game that I got that day was Weiβ Schwarz (more commonly spelt Weiss Schwarz, which is German for White & Black), which is a fairly unique Japanese TCG that, instead of originating in or having an anime to sell it (like WIXOSS), it uses different anime series or movies (with the exception of the Project Diva deck & the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid characters) as theme for the various decks. Since they didn’t have a great deal of decks to choose from (limited releases in English so far), I went with a Persona 4 themed deck -since my enjoyment of that franchise has been long established on this blog. The game also has an exceptionally complex style of play, so it was hard to get my head around -more so since I came to it solely on recommendation without explanation. I basically had to turn to an online video tutorial to learn how to play but that proved incredibly helpful -so instead of explaining the game, I’ll just post said video instead:

So, I was decked up but didn’t really have anyone to play with, so it was several weeks before I could get a game in.

A friend took me to another Tabletop Games store that had recently opened up for a game of Magic. I just had my starter deck, which didn’t really stack up well against someone’s refined specialist deck but it allowed me to go over the basics again as well as learn all the new stuff that had been placed in the game since I stopped playing (so many new things, so confusing).

That then got me looking into other styles of playing Magic -such as EDH/Commander, Modern & other special Deck Types. The other customers at the store were really helpful, offering advise & explaining new rules & cards to me.

&, although it took me a while, I started playing Weiβ Schwarz with a good group of people at another local store (the one I first got the deck from in December). They taught me all the basics for proper play & were very patient with me learning the ropes. Am lucky that I’m a quick study & had watched the video linked above a couple of times to get my head around things. Once I had a few games under my belt, I found it a very fun experience. There’s a lot to remember & pay attention to but there’s a lot of logic to how the game flows & what you can play at any given time as well as how you play. You really have to know your cards though, what their special functions are as well as the conditions that they can do certain special abilities under. So the more you play, the smoother your deck usage becomes. At the moment, everyone in store seems to be playing either Fairy TailSword Art Online or Nisekoi decks but that’s fine because each series has their own strengths & weaknesses. Some people there are more focussed on tournament play, because every two weeks there is one, but if I can get a cause game in with my non-specialised Persona 4 deck, I’m fine with that.
weiss_schwarz_featuring_persona_4_by_spongejan-d5h2g5c
So, that pretty much kicked off a new, nerdish addiction.

In order to play the Style that you want or have different Decks for different game types, you need to collect. This either means swapping with other players, buying them individually in store or online (eBay is both a friend & a curse with this) or hoping for random drops from booster packs. Buying or swapping online but with Magic & Yu-Gi-Oh! you literally have tens of thousands of cards to go through, so it can be hard to find the right combos or individual play makers to complete a set or a theme.

I was lucky that I had a few friends donate to me their old cards (which you can do to if you want, send a Tumblr note or Twitter DM to arrange), which gave me a huge range to look through. Although it did make me wish that I kept my original cards, since some of them were pretty cool & others were worth a heap of money to sell or trade.
yugiohunited.21.1356733398
So far I’m finding it the most frustrating trying to build up decks for Yu-Gi-Oh! because there are so many commons & it’s becoming harder & harder to find cheap or free cards from the series that I want (such as Ghostrick). No matter. Once I get the ones that I want, I can sell off the ones that I don’t for a decent price.

I’ll soon be expanding out my collections beyond those three games (as I mentioned in my previous blog post). I’ll be focussing on some of the common TCG, such as Pokèmon TCG but have the advantage of trying the free online version before I sink any money into it.

I also want to try Cardfight!! Vanguard and Future Card Buddyfight. Both of these series come from the same creator as Weiβ Schwarz: Bushiroad. This means that all 3 games share some similarities in play style. I’ll also be boosting my Weiβ Schwarz collection, both extending my Persona 4 collection & trying out some different trail decks (mainly waiting for KanColle in May) but might grab some Japan only decks because they just look cool.

Also, despite not yet (& maybe never) being in English, I’ve found places online where I can grab some WIXOSS starter decks as well as people who’ve translated them & the rules as well. I mainly want to play after seeing the anime (& knowing that my wish can’t be granted &/or twisted).

I’m also thinking of trying the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic TCG because, fuck it, why not. It’s a different sort of TCG that isn’t based upon conflict but rather solving problems & scoring up points. Resolution, not destruction, the the goal of the game & that isn’t a bad thing overall. Plus: PONIES MOTHERFUCKERS! PONIES!!!

There’s also Android: Netrunner, which I saw some people playing the other week. It reminds me a lot of the old D20 Cyberpunk RPGs that I used to play way back in the day. Think it’s actually based a bit on those games & systems but modified to suit cards. Will be interesting to play since the role you take on has different functions & play styles.

Next month, Wizards of the Coast will be releasing the final Block for the Khans of Tarkir set –Dragons of Tarkir– next month, so am hoping to go to one of the pre-release play sessions. Where you pay the money, get a special box with a couple of boosters, some pre-sorted cards, a D20 life counter & a bunch of Basic Land cards. You then do a tournament play & if you win two of three matches against an opponent, you get two free booster packs. You also add to your official tournament ranking (of which mine ranks a single win & many loses), which is transferable to any official Magic tournament across the world. If I do attend, I’ll make sure to write a review up of it & such.

Eventually, I’ll like to get a decent camera to record matches & talk about different Decks & Styles of Play but that is only once I have the money (please remember to donate via the PayPal buttons on the widget menu).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding more articles on TCG related stuff, including talking about matches, Decks, individual cards & so on.

Now, I have to get back to sorting my vast collection.

BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED!!!
BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED!!!

Tweaks, Changes & Updates (plus possible begging for donation)

tamayay

Since am reaching the end of my Masters work & our other contributors are busy, I thought it was time to add a few tweaks to the blog as well as add a new category for reviews & articles.

The latest section is on Trading Card Games (TCG) -which are also referred to as Collectable Card Games.

I’m doing this because I recently got back into playing Magic: The Gathering & Yu-Gi-Oh as well as starting slightly more obscure games like Weiβ Schwarz (Weiss Schwarz -German for White & Black). Soon I’ll be moving into Pokemon TCG & other series like Cardfight!! Vanguard & Future Card BuddyFight because there are enough people were I live who play it regularly. Also want to get WIXOSS cards but they’re still only available in Japanese (but seem to be popular over there).

This will move into reviews of the various TGC, their various flavours/decks/series as well as talking about the different decks & play styles out there. This will lead into recording How To Play guides with other players as well as filming the different types of matches.

For that I was considering setting up either a Patron or other similar donation system so I can afford to buy new cards/decks/booster packs as well as improve software & equipment to record things. I set up a PayPal donation button on the side widget if you care to donate either $1 of $5 USD to me. Every little helps really (since am living hand-to-mouth being a post-grad student & all).

I was also thinking of using this donation system to shift the blog from the free version to the full paid subscription model so can host videos & other things as well as have a customised domain name.

Also: if you have any old TCG stuff lying around that you’re happy to get rid of, please let us know & we’ll arrange compensation & postage stuff.

If any of my readers are interested in helping with this, please leave a comment below.

I’ll also be posting more retro reviews & hopefully finishing up my various manga/comic reviews as well. This is mainly so I can publish the half finish stuff that I have sitting around but also to flesh out the blogs content more.

As always, thanks for reading this tiny corner of the Net’s Geekdom & for your current & future support. Will try to get more regular updates from now on.

thumbs-up-for-sakura-trick-2

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.
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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.

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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

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.

Selector Infected WIXOSS - OP - Large 05

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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