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
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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.

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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