We’re Having an Intervention: Selector Spread Wixoss

wixoss-spread-lrigs

Combining the fun of an anime about card games with the classic idea of “be careful what you wish for,” I genuinely enjoyed Selector Infected Wixoss. It explores the lives of various girls sucked into a zero sum occult game, with a protagonist who defies the rules in the sense that she plays for the love of the game, which has its own consequences. Selector Spread Wixoss is an immediate sequel that follows up on the cliffhanger from the first series, and it tries to take all of the disparate information strewn throughout the series and thread it together into a coherent story. The results are mixed.

At the end of the first series, protagonist Kominato Ruuko has a climactic battle with the fashion model/fellow “Selector” Urazoe Iona, but in spite of Ruuko winning it is Iona’s wish that triggers. Iona, wishing to battle alongside the strongest, becomes Ruuko’s Lrig—her main card. Along the way, Ruuko and her friends have also learned the terrible truths of the Wixoss TCG: those who lose three times have their wishes reversed (someone who wishes for friends can never make friends again), and even those who win have their minds swapped with their own Lrigs. Selector Spread Wixoss explores the origins and reasons behind the Selector battles as well as the truth of a mysterious “white room” and the girl that resides there.

wixoss-spread-ruuko

As elaborate as the story can get, plot was never really the strength of Wixoss and it shows in this second series as there a number of huge inconsistencies. While sometimes narrative consistency can be set aside for dramatic flair and strengthening characters, with Wixoss those plot holes are really impossible to ignore. I won’t go into detail about them, but there are certain explanations, connections, and reveals that just don’t quite make sense if you think about it for a few seconds, and more often than not it’s to instill a major change in a character. The story resolves well enough, and Ruuko’s stance is ultimately an interesting one, but it could have happened without all of the attempts at intricacy.

Even so, I still hold Selector Spread Wixoss in high regard. While the “conspiracy” behind the Selector battles kind of falls flat, this second series still maintains and even amplifies the strengths of the original, namely the exploration of various characters’ psychologies and the idea of wishes and desires born out of suffering, ambition, and various other emotions. For example, after Ruuko learned the truth about Wixoss in the previous series, she and her friends become dedicated to never battling again. They’ve lost too much, and are too conscious of the dangers. However, Ruuko loves Wixoss, and along with prodding from Lrig Iona she comes across as a recovering addict. “One more card battle, just one more, no biggie,” Ruuko says, as her friends try to pull her away from he deck, which she actually keeps in her pocket the whole time. At the same time, while she eventually finds a reason to battle and a noble wish to grant that is very fitting for her character, it is a bit disappointing to lose her Ryu-like status from the previous series.

I had previously compared Wixoss to Puella Magi Madoka Magica because their similarities make it almost impossible to ignore. In looking at these two works again, I realize that they essentially have opposite strengths. Whereas Madoka Magica thrives on its twists and manages to bring it all together in the end at the expense of characterization (which often feels stiff and unnatural), Wixoss as a whole manages its characters’ stories, feelings, and humanity much more deftly with the overall plot holding together like a game of Jenga. In the end, I find Wixoss to be a fascinating series that doesn’t deliver on all of its promises, but the ones it manages to fulfill are satisfying and thought-provoking.

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.

To Her, the Fight is Everything: Selector Infected Wixoss

Selector Infected Wixoss (pronounced “Wicross, not “Weak Sauce”) is Highlander meets Yu-Gi-Oh! meets Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Girls are chosen to become special battlers in a card game, with the goal of becoming the mugen shoujo, or “eternal girl,” and having their wishes granted. However, if a girl loses three times, she loses that opportunity. Of course, as one might expect given the constantly foreboding atmosphere of the show and even its opening, there’s a twist or three.

It’s actually really hard to avoid the comparison with Madoka Magica, not simply because it makes for a convenient point of reference, but because the strengths of Wixoss—its exploration of its characters’ wishes, and the way it incorporates the “Wixoss” card game into its narrativeare best explained relative to the popular magical girl anime. The main character Kominato Ruuko is, like Kaname Madoka, an innocent and cheerful girl with no particular wish of her own despite being thrown into this scenario where one’s heart’s desire is the most important thing, but as the series explores Ruuko’s character and her lack of “motivation,” she also reveals herself to be clearly different from Madoka.

Whereas Madoka’s hesitation is more because she keeps seeing the horrors and consequences of being a magical girl, Ruuko realizes that deep down she needs no reason to play the cruel game that is Wixoss other than that she simply enjoys it. Ruuko thus ends up exhibiting shades of Ryu from the Street Fighter video games, someone who lives for the thrill of the fight. However, because people potentially sacrifice their happiness when playing “Wixoss” as a means to an end, Ruuko feels immense guilt from the fact that she derives such pleasure from the game itself. Just the fact that the pure joy of playing is put into question, albeit not in an especially deep manner, gives Wixoss an interesting platform to think about this whole wishing business. Additionally, the show is a bit less concerned with the aftermath of wishes gone wrong and looks more at the pain of trying to fulfill one’s wishes.

The scriptwriter Okada Mari (Aquarion Evol, The Woman Called Mine Fujiko) can often be a divisive figure as her tendency to challenge social and sexual taboos in her work (in this case incest) while showing a penchant for the melodramatic can come across as heavy-handed. In this respect there’s a clear similarity to Madoka Magica, where writer Urobuchi Gen regularly has his characters announce their feelings and the despair associated with them. One noticeable difference between the two, however, is that Okada clearly has a better understanding of how girls behave and interact with each other. I’m not a girl so I can’t speak from firsthand experience, but in talking to girls about their experiences, the sort of underhanded and subtle tactics of exclusion are closer to how girl bullies operate. This alone gives Wixoss a sense that it treats its characters less as vessels for ideas or specific personality types as Madoka Magica does (which is not to say that the characters in Madoka are bad, just that they serve different purposes), and more as different manifestations of worries.

I believe this is the first show to specifically mix the TCG anime genre with a primarily female cast, and what I find especially surprising is the fact that “Wixoss” is actually a real card game, which makes me wonder if its marketing is successful or not. Most accompanying media for collectible card games in Japan present their TCGs into the most exciting and wonderful experiences ever, something that will help you make friends and cherish competition., and while Wixoss does this to an extent, the decidedly dark bent of the anime highlights the fact that players tend to suffer tragically when playing. It’s clear that the actual mechanics of the card game play second fiddle to the characters and their narratives, especially because the show doesn’t do much to explain how the game works, but in the end the actual real-life game is still there, and while it would be unreasonable to call players of the official TCG masochistic or anything like that, I’m sure the concept of the show is something quite a few keep in mind as they play.

There’s a strong sense of a yin-yang relationship in Selector Infected Wixoss between pleasure and pain, joy and tragedy, gain and loss. Strangely enough, however, though the anime definitely pushes itself as a “dark” series, I find that enjoyment of it doesn’t necessarily require a fondness for heavy works or an interest in deconstruction or subversion. The experience of watching Wixoss is not so much about horror as it is introspection, and the light that exists within the series is worth paying attention to as well.

There Are Two Kinds of People in This World: Winners and Trolleys

In Anime World Order’s look back at the previous decade of anime, guest Matt Alt talks about how the true successor to giant robot anime isn’t current giant robot anime, instead bestowing that title to those shows which spawn trading cards and games revolving around collecting. Essentially, the true spirit of super robots lies not in the continuation of the aesthetics of giant robot anime, but rather in their ability to push merchandise.

Considering this point, I can only think about how much more today’s anime for boys fosters a sense of competition, with trading card games and the like being at the center of children’s entertainment. The kids don’t have to be competitive “high-level” players, and they don’t even have to necessarily know the rules, and I still think these games, even if their shows talk about friendship and honor, still push the theme of competition more than anything else. Just the fact that there are  specific rules and stats and points means that, in a given activity, there will be winners and losers, even if it’s just cheap plastic being spun in an enclosed space. In contrast, that’s not really possible when you just have toy robots and the like. You can perhaps beat your friends by collecting more toys than them, or even create arbitrary rules of competition or even create fake competitions between your toys as Cobra Commander attacks with his vicious horde of My Little Ponies, but at the end of the day there’s no definitive way to become King of Make-Believe.


Well, almost no way.

This in turn got me thinking about the anime fandom and how we have figured out ways to compete via anime. The act of watching cartoons is not really an area in which you can determine winners and losers (unless you say that we’re all losers), so the community instead focuses their competitive spirits towards anime-related activities such as making music videos and cosplaying. These competitions are far more subjective in their criteria and human judgment is paramount in determining winners, but all the same we have taken a relatively passive activity and found ways to test our abilities against others.

I don’t really have a grand point I’m trying to reach, as I’m just laying down some thoughts. But be it through subjective judging or concrete goals, I don’t think an increase in competitive spirit is really a bad thing. That said, it can be taken too far.