Absolute Destiny Cardpocalypse: Lostorage Incited Wixoss

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Combining the trappings of Yu-Gi-Oh! with the zero-sum world of Madoka Magica, the Wixoss franchise is an oddity among card game anime. Although based on an actual existing TCG, its narratives tend to be less “buy our things” and more melodramatic human relationships with an occult twist. The latest series—the bizarrely named Lostorage Incited Wixoss—continues this trend, but trades in the “be careful what you wish for” theme of its predecessors for a new challenge.

Overview

Clumsy Homura Suzuko and capable Morikawa Chinatsu are the best of friends, but when Chinatsu moves away the two lose contact with each other. Fast forward to when the two are teenagers, and both girls get involved with Wixoss, a collectible card game that appears innocent on the surface but has mystical origins. A handful of players are chosen as “Selectors,” pitting them against each other in a battle for their own memories. Players are given special cards with sentient girls called “Lrigs,” and whoever wins enough earn the chance to restore or change one of their memories. However, every loss destroys one of their memories. As a result of both becoming Selectors, Suzuko and Chinatsu end up on a course for a difficult and painful reunion.

Oh!! That’s a Card Game

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One of the key differences between Lostorage Incited Wixoss and the older Wixoss anime is that the latter were made before the shows’ creators had any idea as to how the actual game’s mechanics work. Much of it was therefore just used purely for dramatic effect. With this newer series, there appears to be much more of a coherent portrayal as to how the game is supposed to work. Where Selector Infected Wixoss and Selector Spread Wixoss used the TCG aesthetics as a vehicle for characterization and character development, Lostorage strikes more of a balance between the thrill of seeing two people face each other in a competitive environment, and highlighting the players’ stories. The key example of this is the “coin bet” system, where characters can wager special coins—essentially their “star chips” in the parlance of Yu-Gi-Oh!—to activate unique special abilities, with the caveat that this is literally putting their memories on the line.

Even as the show presents the game in a better light, however, one of the curious aspects of Lostorage Incited Wixoss that it shares with the other Wixoss anime is that they don’t exactly inspire a strong desire to play the TCG. It’s one thing when Yu-Gi-Oh! has its heroes fight against the forces of darkness, but when the game of Wixoss is portrayed as a source of endless anguish I’m not sure what feelings it’s supposed to conjure up in its potential player base.

Intimacy and Hatred

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The highlight of Lostorage is the complex relationship between Suzuko and Chinatsu, a corrupted twist on the concept of childhood friendship (with mild yuri elements) that offers vague glimmers of hope throughout. As kids, Suzuko looked up to Chinatsu as everything Suzuko wished she could be. When she gets her Lrig, she bases the card’s appearance and personality on her image of Chinatsu as someone to aspire. To Chinatsu, however, Suzuko is a reminder of the false facade of strength that she’s had to keep up since childhood Thus, much of the series is about Chinatsu trying to erase her own memories of Suzuko in order to destroy their friendship, while Suzuko attempts to save it.

This conflict is very different from anything in the previous Wixoss anime, and the fate of their friendship does drive the story along effectively. And yet a part of me also misses how unique Ruuko from Selector Infected Wixoss was as a protagonist. The strange joy she feels from matching wits against other opponents despite knowing about the horrors of the game was an interesting source of conflict, but I also understand that doing this again would’ve just been treading old ground.

Given this strange love-hate relationship between Suzuko and Chinatsu, Lostorage Incited Wixoss resembles elements of Madoka Magica even more than Selector Infected/Selector Spread Wixoss, with the two of them possessing a kind of Madoka-Homura dynamic. When I think about it further, though, it’s actually closer to an Utena-Anthy relationship from Revolutionary Girl Utena: a girl who wants to be the light of hope for another girl who falls further and further into corruption.

Overall

Much like the previous two Wixoss series, Lostorage Incited Wixoss provides a mostly dark, cynical twist on the typical “TCG anime” formula. What sets Lostorage apart is that the stories of the characters comes across as much more personal and interconnected due to the use of “memory gain/loss” as an overarching premise. It lacks some of the surprising punches of the old Wixoss, but is a much more stable and coherent narrative overall.

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Why “Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin” is Still the Best Card Game Anime I’ve Ever Seen

In my previous review of the card game anime Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, I stated that the series is the best show of the collect-em-all TCG competition genre that I’ve ever seen. Having finished the series, I stand by that opinion more than ever. Though the climax and resolution of the series is a bit too abrupt, the overall sense of consideration for what it’s trying to convey and the continued growth and progress of its characters on both emotional and “competitive” levels make Shounen Toppa Bashin remarkably deep and a joy to watch.

Spoiler warning.

In the transition to the latter half of the 50-episode Shounen Toppa Bashin, the series moves its characters from elementary school to middle school. This brings with it a whole host of changes, such as the shift to school uniforms. However, what is fundamentally different about the anime from this point forward is that the characters are beginning to be viewed as young adults, even if their designs don’t change that much.

The best example of this would have to be Episode 32. In a seemingly generic boys’ show about playing other people in card games, Shounen Toppa Bashin devotes 25 minutes to exploring the mother of the main character and her feelings of loneliness as she watches her son hit that age where boys begin to emotionally move away from their parents while also dealing with the fact that her husband is never home (he’s out adventuring). As the protagonist Bashin Toppa nonchalantly ignores his mother Hayami (a case of being oblivious in general but also taking her for granted), her sudden disappearance makes him realize that all of the little moments in which she was “bothering” him were actually cries for help and attention. Upon remembering that it’s his responsibility to look after her in his father’s absence, Toppa ends the episode by declaring that card games aren’t as important as their relationship as family.

Toppa’s mother Hayami worried about losing her little boy

The obvious joke with TCG shows (thanks in part to Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series) is that whenever there’s a deep emotional connection, it’s usually in the sense of friendship, that one’s companions give the moral support one needs to overcome any adversary. Though that also exists in Shounen Toppa Bashin to a strong extent (and is better developed compared to other series as well), the situation between Toppa and Hayami is actually a moment where the show says that its own card game is meaningless if it means neglecting those close to you who are in need. The complex emotions of a mother watching her son grow up take center stage in a genre that is more often known for actively ignoring parents entirely.

However, Shounen Toppa Bashin not only expresses this sense of change outside of the card game its purported to sell but within it as well. From the beginning of the series, each character is associated with a certain color-themed deck. For example, Toppa runs a “red” deck, which is primarily devoted to outright aggression, while his main rival Sawaragi J utilizes a “white” deck, which emphasizes healing, defense, and regeneration. Conveniently, both characters are color-coded in their designs as well. Early on in the second half of the anime, Toppa finds that while he’s continuously improved as a player, his red deck has reached its limits. When another character suggests that he incorporate other colors, Toppa’s initial response is that the red attribute is a part of his identity, implying that he thinks using other colors means abandoning his very way of being. Eventually, he realizes the benefits of mixing it up and being able to grow beyond the one-dimensionality of his old methods while still maintaining it as a mostly red-oriented deck. It’s at once both an easy example for kids to learn how to improve their strategy in this game and a way of showing Toppa’s increasing maturity.

The color-coded cast

Similarly, when J goes from friendly rival to antagonistic force in the series, he abandons the white deck that had previously characterized him in order to go for something more varied and ruthlessly efficient. At the finals of a tournament, Toppa confronts J, and at the climax of a fierce, back-and-forth match between the two, Toppa plays a card that can win, provided the opponent has no white cards with which to defend. This is seen as suicide by all of the characters given J’s propensity for that color, but then the show reveals that J’s hand is devoid of any white cards. In other words, in his desire to find the “best” way to win, J forgot who he was. Combined with the lesson Toppa learns earlier in the series about varying his own deck, the result is a greater message of being open to change but not to the extent that you forget who you are and what values are important to you. And all of this is through the card game itself!

The last example of personal and emotional progression I’d like to talk about has to do with something I mentioned in the previous review, which is the development of a character from sideline cheerleader to direct participant. This is the path taken by the character nicknamed “Meganeko” due to her over-sized glasses. While you have examples of both in TCG anime, such as Anzu/Tea in Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters and Asuka/Alexis in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, rarely does one turn into the other, and as in strong a fashion as Meganeko.

At the beginning of the series, Meganeko is essentially Toppa’s close childhood friend, unwavering supporter, and tacit love interest. Around the half-way point of the series on their last day of elementary school, Toppa and Meganeko have a fight because Toppa just wants to go play more “Battle Spirits,” whereas interprets his behavior to mean that all of their cherished memories of elementary school and their friendship mean nothing to him. Rather than merely waiting for Toppa to realize his mistake, however, Meganeko decides to learn how to play “Battle Spirits” in secret in order to understand him better and to basically meet him half-way, thus showing her active desire to better herself.

Meganeko, from supporter to equal

The typical series would have Meganeko learn the basic rules of the game and place value on simply the fact that she tried at all while at the same time placing her on a skill tier below the “important” characters. Shounen Toppa Bashin, instead, actually defies this trend by transforming Meganeko into a formidable competitor as well. Through her training, Meganeko becomes about as proficient in “Battle Spirits” as Toppa in a lesser amount of time. Not only does she find her own identity within the card game (a yellow “spell and support” deck), but she also ends up overcoming an opponent who had previously bested J, and even meets Toppa himself in the semi-finals of a tournament. Though Meganeko loses in the end, the show presents their battle and Toppa’s reactions in such a way that it’s clear that she has firmly established herself as Toppa’s peer in the very field he so cherishes through her hard work. By the end of the series, neither wins nor losses are guaranteed for Meganeko (or any of the other characters for that matter), which further highlights her position as being equal to that of Toppa, J, and the rest of the core cast.

Overall, Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin is able to provide characterization and emotional development at various levels, both in direct relation to the card game after which the series is named and with respect to the realistic concerns that might face children as they grow up. The former can be seen in how Toppa and J are symbolized and represented through their personal decks and strategies, while the latter is most evident in the amount of care and attention the series gives to the relationship between Toppa and his mother. Furthermore, the character Meganeko presents a mix of these two aspects while also showing how a “cheerleader” female character can transform into a direct participant in an anime, thus providing a potential template for other characters as well. The cumulative effect of these and many other aspects of Shounen Toppa Bashin result in a series that is worth emulating.

Of All Things, an Introspective Card Game Anime – Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin

A few years ago, I went to an event at the Japan Society in NYC, where Satou Dai of Cowboy Bebop and Eureka Seven fame was a guest. In the lobby, they had design materials from shows he’s written for, and among the works on display was something unfamiliar which caught my eye. This anime was Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, a show whose character designs by Shimogasa Miho (probably best known for Demashitaa! Powerpuff Girls Z) stayed with me for years. Having finally decided to take a look, it turns out that Shounen Toppa Bashin is surprisingly strong in the categories you wouldn’t expect a trading card game-themed anime to even take into consideration, such as personal psychology and portrayals of parent-child bonds. It’s one thing to be an anime like Selector Infected Wixoss, which tries to mess with the conventions of this genre, but this very first Battle Spirits doesn’t subvert so much as challenge and uplift.

The basic premise of Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin is about as standard as it gets: kids (and adults) love a trading card game, and they somehow are able to access another dimension and battle with 3DCG monsters. They challenge each other, enter tournaments, form friendships. It basically sounds like a Yu-Gi-Oh! clone. What is notable, however, is that the character relationships in Shounen Toppa Bashin really stand out in a way that I would expect more from a Satou Jun’ichi magical girl show (Ojamajo Doremi, Fushigiboshi no Futagohime) than a TCG merchandising engine. I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised that the man responsible for the series composition of Eureka Seven would also give an impressive showing here.

For example, when you see the extremely straightforward, shounen fighting spirit main character Bashin Toppa talk to his mom Hayami (both pictured above), you get a real sense that his energy and attitude come directly from how she’s raised him. Rather than ignore or deny that familial connection as is often the case with anime, the show uses it to give a real sense of personality to Toppa, to show that his simple-mindedness is also surprisingly deep. After all, what does it really mean to always look ahead, to always want to “Break through the front,” as Toppa often says? It sort of reminds me of Sei and his mother in Gundam Build Fighters, though it also doesn’t hurt that Hayami is not only a classy lady just like Rinko but a taxi driver famous for her Initial D-level driving.

There are a lot of other examples too, but I’ll only mention one more. Another source of delightful interaction comes from the fact that the devious ace player Suiren is actually the popular idol My Sunshine, and Toppa’s inability to see through her disguise in spite of how much time they spend together is pretty hilarious. At the same time, however, it’s also the impetus for Suiren to open up to others and to form friendships with the rest of the main cast. The character designs by Shimogasa really shine here, which reminds me somewhat of Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter and its own strong character designs and personalities. Speaking of character designs, they’re probably at their best when looking at the show’s ending videos.

Seeing all of these characters with really simple yet vibrant personalities interact with each other in clever and entertaining ways while sporting those strong character designs just makes the show a joy to watch to the extent that it pretty much overshadows the card battling aspect of the series, which almost feels intentional given how much the show rushes through the matches. Usually, when it comes to TCG anime like Yu-Gi-Oh!, the drama is mostly focused on the card game, seeing step by step how the hero overcomes his opponents, but Shounen Toppa Bashin is different. In fact, in most episodes it generally skips a lot of turns to get straight to the climax of a match. The result is that, like Yes! Precure 5, the “fights” seem supplemental to the characters. Maybe not the best for selling the “Battle Spirits” card game, but purely as an anime I would rate it higher than most other shows in its genre.

There is one TCG-relevant aspect, however, that I do find unique to Shounen Toppa Bashin, which is that the anime makes an effort to show how the characters gradually gain experience with the card game they’re playing in a way that is easy to follow. Toppa is head-strong and prefers a straightforward approach of busting through his opponent, for example, but then loses a match early on because he doesn’t take into account strategies that more directly counter his deck type. By the next battle, you see this weakness made up for to an extent, and then strengthened further in a following match. It’s a nice touch to show that the characters are learning, instead of just seeing them bust out a new deck with “all-new secret strategies!!!” (though that happens sometimes too). What also helps is that a lot that both male and female characters are considered strong players, and everyone will take games off of each other fairly regularly so there are no real “weak links” in the core group, and even those who start off that way improve over time.

I’ve only watched 26 episodes so far, but I definitely look forward to seeing how the show continues to unfold. It’s the kind of show I wish more morning boys’ anime would be.

Do You Truly Know What It Means to Draw the Right Card?

Last week while taking the train home, I saw a kid with his head buried in some kind of Bakugan guide, and it got me thinking. The first thing was that it reminded me of when I used to sit on the same train with a printed Pokemon pokedex, poring over move lists and trying to imagine new movesets and strategies. It filled me with a sense of nostalgia. The second thing was that it got me thinking about the future of anime.

Bakugan, one of those collecting and battling game franchises designed to separate kids from their money, has an anime to act as a half-hour commercial for the product. It’s one of the latest in a long line of merchandising engines, from Pokemon to Digimon to Yugioh to Beyblade and so on. The shows can still be pretty decent; there’s no illusion about their true purpose, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be entertaining.

That said, what if someone made a collecting and battling anime that wasn’t there primarily to push a product? “Impossible!” you might say. And to some extent you’d be right. Shows are made because they have some kind of chance at making money. But my response is, give it a decade.

In those ten years, the kids who grew up with those trading card games and battle tops will be getting older and older. They’ll be adults working full-time jobs and looking back fondly on their childhoods. It would mirror the progression mecha anime has had, with shows now being made for adults and having more advanced and mature concepts. In this situation, a collecting and battling anime which really takes an artistic and philosophical look at the nature of collecting and battling anime would be perfect.

It could look at the nature of probability and psychology. Perhaps it would ask what it means to play a game where you must collect to improve your chances of winning. There could be legitimately well-written characters and a skeptical eye, but still a love letter to the genres of TCGs and monster battles. It would really master and perfect the sense of timing and tension that would make the heroes’ actions seem all the more worthwhile. Actual rules to the game are optional.

It would be the Gurren-Lagann of collecting and battling anime.

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh the Manga Way

There’s Yu-Gi-Oh the manga, which begat Yu-Gi-Oh the trading card game. Yu-Gi-Oh as a TCG has a ton of rules and cards, and the game is enjoyed by many, but you always get that impression that what’s happening in the real life TCG isn’t quite lining up with what’s happening in the original comic or its anime adaptations. The disparity comes from two points. 1) In the original stories, the cool strategies are always played at vital moments to add tension and 2) the cards in the actual TCG are based upon cards whose powers were simply made up by the author without concern for balance or those silly things that a game needs to actually be competitive. The solution then is to make a system to play Yu-Gi-Oh the Manga Way. Best part is, you don’t even need Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

Two players have their imaginary decks with the minimum amount of cards necessary a draw the right number of cards. Use whatever rules you want, but they have to be established ones, like Battle City or Duelist Kingdom for example. When they play a card face up, they declare it to be whatever they want. If they play a card face down, the card in play is not actually determined until it’s flipped up. This means it can essentially be anything before it’s revealed. The same goes for the cards in your hand. They can be anything until the cards are actually shown. Of course this means if there’s any cards if one player has that forces the other to show their cards, then the identity of those cards becomes locked in place.

Still, with the ability to make cards whatever you want, the game could quickly become unplayable. The key then is that every time you do something drastic, it takes away from the amount of “miracles” you have. A miracle is basically believing in the Heart of the Cards, or in the will to victory, or using the power of Plot Devices. It’s the meter you have for pulling off the most ridiculous moves possible and turning the whole match around, or even just coming back a little from a disadvantageous position. The more powerful the turnaround, the more quickly your miracles deplete. If you’re out of miracle power, then you’re victim to your opponent’s. Playing longer, more complex miracles that use multiple cards will not cost as much as playing single game-changing cards though. And there’d be a way to build up meter as well, possibly by taking hits and allowing yourself into a disadvantageous position, or to simply let things happen as they should.

Manga-style Yu-Gi-Oh becomes a game of rationing your “luck” while being faithful to the canon you’ve established for each individual game. Do you press your luck early on? Do you wait until you’re low on life for a big comeback? Do you perform small miracles consistently in order to keep in an advantageous position? Do you trick your opponent into using their miracles at the wrong time?

I’m sure this game isn’t actually balanced but I can pretend it is.