Selector Infected WIXOSS – 01-05 Review
That’s one of the good guys saying that to the main-character upon meeting her. She becomes the main-character’s best friend. Also… after five episodes I still haven’t heard of these ‘rules’ she’s talking about here.
So M3 is kinda shitty after two episodes so I checked out this other series in this season written by Mari Okada. Okay, some girls, angst, some supernatural stuff – and card games. I really don’t get why this series went for such a rule-heavy game like a Trading Card Game. Just make those little talking cards people fight each other like in Angelic Layer (which I like to call the shounen-series aimed at girls). Well, at least it’s no Yu-Gi-Oh – although it was always funny to see dangerous-looking adults threatening teenage-kids by… playing a kids-card-game against them.
In a world where girls almost exclusively play Trading Card Games, there’s a bunch of girls with a mission and a wish. The mission: To kick every other girl’s butt in a card-game. The wish: Whatever they want. And like a rumble in a jungle, this thing is all about the survival of the fittest which means the duels are pretty mean.
So enters Ruko this world of Selectors and she’s different from everyone else because she doesn’t actually have a wish. But despite that she gets drawn into the struggle…
In a setting where these battles have often tragic consequences, it’s a refreshingly dark concept to have the main-character basically be someone who seemingly just plays for the fun of it.
What’s the deal with Trading Card Games? You buy some cards to play a game but you lose against some punk because he or she has better cards. So you buy more cards but who has the money for that, I ask you. Kids, that’s the answer, kids have the money. And if they don’t, they lose. Class warfare was never simpler than that. Oh, sure, those kids might think they’re too hip for 20th-century-shit like that but you know what hip 21st-century-kids like to do? Aping cool people. And you know what gets cool people to play a Trading Card Game? Being told by a talking card that they are SPESHIAL (with a big ‘s’ in case you missed it). What’s the deal with Trading Card Games, well, I tell you. Apparently you do some shit, your opponent does some shit and then there’s supernatural stuff to get all mazy-crazy about. At least that’s what I got from this series regarding its central game.
I have played Magic: The Gathering. I was a kid so that’s my excuse right there. It was the time before I got the money-talk (it’s like the bees-and-flowers-talk but more about how lives are destroyed) and there’s a lot that has changed since back then in the way Card Games are produced, made, designed etc. … Anyway, nothing of that matters actually because the first thing I noticed watching this series is that apparently NOBODY involved with its script ever has played a Trading Card Game. I really have to say, the level of ignorance is remarkable. I simply assume that this series isn’t trying to sell an actual card-game because it really doesn’t do anything to sell the game (which I appreciate, though) but where shows like Yu-Gi-Oh show way too much of the card-game in the most nonsensical way imaginable this shows goes pretty hard into the other direction where I’m not even sure what exactly is going on in these game-sequences. From time to time some character will talk about the rules and it’s the most meaningless thing ever. They might as well exchange trending Instagram-pics and say the gal with the trendiest one wins. In the fourth episode one character talks about how this one card would’ve given another 5000 more points or something like that and I have seriously no context whatsoever what’s the supposed to mean. Is 5000 a lot in this game? How many points does the talking-card-thingy has? I have no clue. And it results in these game-sequences where the girls will shout seemingly random things. And I’m especially confused since that makes me wonder then for whose benefits these stupid sequences happen. There’s a card-shop in the series as well and at one point one of the girls talks about “updating” her deck or something. It’s the most unrealistic Trading-Card-Game conversation imaginable. Maybe the translation didn’t choose the best words but still… The whole concept of a Trading Card Game is simply ignored by this series. And you might say that it doesn’t matter to the actual drama in the series. I know that it doesn’t but there was a choice made here to commit to these girls playing a Trading Card Game. There are so many easier ways to implement pseudo-games to create plot-hooks and flashy battle-scenes than this.
Nothing of this means anything and it doesn’t matter at all to pay attention to lines like this. Every time the series to pretends to have rules for its card-game it’s basically just wasting time.
Also, this series isn’t about the card-game at all. The game is just the supernatural plothook for all sorts of character-driven melodrama. The basic concept is that there’s a bunch of girls with talking cards who battle other girls to have some kind of wish come true. And the series, just like Madoka Magica, really goes all-out on calling wish-fulfillment a really shitty thing. Established in the fourth and fifth episode there’s some sort of “Be careful what you wish for”-thingy going on as losing three times means seeing the opposite of your wish come true. And since only one of the girls can see her wish come true, the rest all see their wishes turn against them in some horrible way. Then there’s the whole “Wishing for something to happen doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen”-thingy going on where the supernatural nature of the wish-fulfillment stops the characters from actually doing anything practical about making their dreams come true. The characters basically end up needing their wishes to come true through supernatural means because they convince themselves there’s really no other way for this wish to come true.
The whole purpose of all this wishing is therefore to produce tragedies. And this series really counts on the audience to give a shit in that regard. There are a couple ways in a story how you can benefit from a disparity between what the audience knows and what the characters in the story know. For example in horror you can create tension by making the audience aware of a monster sneaking up to an oblivious character. Or you can create comedy when you for example do an absurd joke like two people obviously talking about two different things but somehow they both don’t realize that while the audience is aware of it. Then there’s of course the elegant, classy form of the dramatic irony where characters say or act in some way relying on the disparity between the audience and the characters. And this series really tries to be strangely ironic sometimes with its drama. At the same time, though, the drama of this series is so heavy-handed that this disparity just makes the drama predictable instead of tense or interesting. Like red-girl’s wish to be able to love her brother openly is ironically leads to her distancing herself from him. You know that she wants to hide her love from her brother so that’s why her behavior is so awkward around her brother. But the irony really hits home when it’s made clear that this brother actually cares a lot about his sister as well (although it’s not clear that he has romantic feelings for her I wouldn’t put it past this series if that were the case).
WIXOSS’ worst moments come though, when it’s just forcing itself to create drama for drama’s sake and naturally things are getting REALLY stupid at that point. Like when green-girl whose wish was to find friends actually finds friends in the form of red-girl and white-girl. But pretty soon after they end up friends there’s an ominous dialogue between the talking red card and the talking green card. And the latter warns green-girl to abandon him but he avoids telling her the convincing reason – until it’s too late to do anything about it! I really hate it when characters in animes pull this shit. There was the same stupid thing in Mashiro-iro Symphony when a girl was taking care of cats and another girl protested but didn’t say why. Then a couple days later after the first girl had been absent from school that entire time, the other girl finally reveals that the first girl actually has a severe cat-allergy. Being ominous and vague to later reveal the reason for that behavior isn’t a clever shock-twist. That’s just artificial drama. But this series is trying really hard to sell its ominous atmosphere.
Ominous might even be an understatement and there’s actually something quite sinister about the series. The most obvious elements are the card-battles up to this point. Sure, the actual card-game is just a lot of bullshit with a topping of even more bullshit in the form of banal pseudo-game-lingo but the real deciding factor of each game is a lack of empathy. The winners in all the card-battles up to this point were always the ones more interested in crushing their opponents than actually reflecting on their own wishes to find a reason to fight. Indeed this series really seems to think that reflecting on your own wishes would just put you in a downward spiral to self-doubt and fear. Also, thanks to the way this series has pushed its dramatic irony there’s something very needy and selfish about being a Selector making all these friendly scenes between red-girl, white-girl and green-girl ring kinda false and self-delusional. In fact this is one of the few cases where I would say that this series should actually be a lot grittier. All these artificial attempts to be shocking or creating some sort of sympathetic story just needlessly obscure the really dark world in this series. Despite how dark this series is at its heart there are a lot of attempts to hide it from the viewer which leads to the series distancing itself from its own story in the plot in an effort to create stupid twists.
And there’s no better proof than the main-character. White-girl is appearance-wise just another shy solitary girl with a nice grandma and her talking card is basically a loli-moe-blob that can barely speak. And in accordance with her shy nature she becomes a Selector without a real wish. But instead, in accordance with what her moe-blob of a talking card keeps talking about, for her it’s all about reliving the rush of battling other Selectors. It’s a very obvious obsession but with everything else she and the audience know about the stakes of this game and that she herself doesn’t even have a wish, she seems almost sociopathic. I already talked about how only the real meanies seem to win these card-battles but while blue-girl and black-girl (I assume that the other Selector introduced has a black deck) sort-of look down on other people’s wishes and seem to win that way, white-girl doesn’t even seem to care about the stakes. She’s just in it for the fight itself. This obsession is a really twisted interpretation of this stereotype where a timid girl finds the fun of playing a certain game or sport and awakens her talents through that feeling of fun. Usually this fun-thingy leads to an “Everyone’s a winner”-message or the timid girl would beat the elitist girl because having fun in a game makes you a better player (of course). But in this story’s context such a “pure” character really seems like the most evil person around. Again, though, the series really is trying too hard to obscure that stuff or distract from it instead of simply embracing it.
Psychological angst-bait combined with supernatural wishing-mechanisms on the basis of flashy fighting is hardly an original concept. And even aside from that this series strangely tries very hard to seem even more generic than that. But behind this surface there are some really dark things stirring that from time to time shine through. And even in those moments when the actual true essence of this show is revealed WIXOSS shies away from committing to the actual dark tone underlying this whole series. In the end this series does so much to hide its darker, more interesting bits that you get to see far more of the boring façade than should be necessary.
- That grandma was REALLY creepy in the first episode with that almost David-Lynch-esque comment about how a big pillar is gonna fit into that skyscraper when it’s finished and that she feels the whole city will disappear with it. And Ruko goes out onto the balcon at night to stare at the damn thing as well. Not very subtle but all the more disturbing for how blatant this whole thing is.
- I really hope that this series won’t have any sorts of reveals in the third act of the overarching story that add some sort of complicated explanation to everything so that it all “makes sense”. What I really love about the really dark stuff in the show’s story is how grotesquely it all seems in the way it seems to be the natural state instead of the product of some logical development. Explanations would make that whole stuff just seem like a cheap ploy to create tension.