The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Wixoss Diva(A)Live ?
What is this?
The anime's story moves the "Wixoss" card game to the online virtual space of "Wixossland" as it continues to grow more popular. The game allows players to become the LRIG avatars themselves. The most popular format in the game is "Diva Battle," which allows three players to team up to compete against other units for the most "Selector" fans. Some units are idol-themed, while others are DJ- and band-themed.
How was the first episode?
Wixoss is one of those multimedia franchises I was dimly aware of, knowing there was a girl and cards were involved from the key art I've chanced upon around the internet. After watching the standalone spinoff Wixoss Diva(A)Live, I think it's safe to say that it's going to stay that way for now.
This premiere is something like a virtual reality Yu-Gi-Oh! but with pseudo-idols instead of teenage boys with ridiculous hair. Competitors, almost entirely teenage girls from what we've seen, get into card battles that seem to involve magical girl transformations for their avatars and splashy holographic effects like in the old Yu-Gi-Oh! anime. Their rankings aren't determined just by how well they play, but also how much they appeal to fans called “Selectors,” who give them points arbitrarily based on how much they like them.
There is no explanation to be found for the rules of the game; they yell out attack names and jargon like “life cloth,” and stuff happens for reasons the audience is not privy to. Maybe if you play the game it makes sense? I'm genuinely unsure, because a lot of the time, these card-game-turned-anime operate on completely different rules than the real life versions. But then again, the plot isn't much to write home about either. The main trio hits the usual triad of hotblooded heroine, shy best friend, and cool new friend. The first group they fight are mean ol' bullies who abuse the Selector system and appeal to their fans, presumably, by having their tits out. The nicest thing I can think to say is that Hirana's personality type is more common in male shonen heroes, but then again, it's not like it's uncommon in heroines.
I have serious questions about the “Selector” system as well. As shy best friend Akino points out, it's not really fair to have so much of your ranking determined by a popularity contest rather than skill. Considering that the game seems to mostly be played by teenage girls, it seems to be sending the message that, no matter how good they get at something, their primary value is based on their appearance, so they should always try to look cute while doing it.
But honestly? Considering the timeslot and some of the characters assets, if you get my meaning, this isn't aimed at young girls. It's aimed at the men who watch Pretty Cure and other shows aimed at children, but wish it was geared slightly more toward them as a primary rather than secondary audience. I'm none of those things, so I will be setting Wixoss Diva(A)Live firmly to the side.
I'd honestly completely forgotten that the Wixoss card game and its numerous anime commercials existed, which is saying something, because I reviewed most of those commercials for this very site. Neither Selector Infected Wixoss nor its follow-up, Lostorage incited WIXOSS, were very good. They essentially amounted to watered-down Madoka Magica ripoffs that slapped some weak Card Battle Anime tropes on top of its weak Magical Girl Anime tropes. Well, the dormant franchise has returned from its slumber to ask the question: “What if instead Wixoss became a lame card battle anime that was also a lame magical girl anime that was also a lame idol anime and a lame virtual-reality arena fighter anime?”
Since Wixoss Diva(A)Live is only ever operating at the bare minimum of competency — let's say 50% — that means that fans of any of those four different genres will walk away from this premiere feeling about 12.5 percent satisfied. That isn't to say that the show is terrible; I had to watch Scar of the Praeter today, and that show makes getting my eyes doused in lemon juice and rock salt feel like a 2/5 experience. Rather, Wixoss' mediocrity is amplified by how obviously it is overreaching in its unsuccessful attempts to make nearly every cheap cash-grab play in the anime handbook, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if our generic trio find themselves isekai'd into an MMO Fantasy World and reincarnated as God, or something. The production uses tacky CG and flashy effects to try and mask the very plain and frequently off-model character animation. The story shambles along rather aimlessly until it cajoles its three heroines into a perfunctory battle. I was initially happy to see that this iteration of Wixoss seemed to care just a little bit more about the actual card game it is advertising, but the combination talent show/pop concert/arena battles make even less sense as vehicles for a collectible card game than the high-stakes duels of the previous anime.
All of this might have worked if the characters were likeable enough to see the story through, but as far as I can tell, the only reason that Hirana, Akino, and Rei end up on a Wixoss team is because they have reddish, blondish, and blue hair, respectively. That's about as far as their personalities go (I was actually surprised to see Akino even join the team, because she comes across more like a walk-on extra who accidentally got stuck reading for a main cast member's part). I didn't hate Wixoss Diva(A)Live, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you why it exists, and I don't plan on spending any more time with it this season to find out.
In one iteration or another, the card battle franchise Wixoss has been around since 2014's Selector Infected Wixoss. Most previous iterations have involved a dark, even sinister game in which players (mostly girls) get drawn into magically scaled-up battles with heavy consequences for those who have too many losses. However, this spinoff is going in an entirely different direction, and by doing so it is a standalone to the rest of the franchise. You need not be at all familiar with the franchise to understand and follow this series.
Like the previous entries, the card game Wixoss still lies at the core of the story and is at least loosely the guiding mechanism. This time, however, the action happens virtually rather than magically and there do not seem to be devastating consequences for winning or losing too much. It really does seem to be just a game. The other big difference from earlier iterations is the addition of the idol group element. Players in the virtual arena are not just competing with cards; they are also trying to earn accolades from fans, which come in the form of points called SP. While winning is still the primary determinant of ranking, the amount of SP a group collects also affects advancement. That means that showmanship is nearly as important as actual card playing.
There is also a distinct magical girl-like aspect at work here as well. The heroine is the traditional dedicated, justice-minded girl with the short orange hair, and the traditional standoffish girl with the long, dark hair becomes her partner after turning off her previous teammates while also recognizing Hirana's talents. They compose the Red and Blue members, respectively. One of Hirana's friends, who is good at the game but not confident as a Diva, fills the Yellow role. Together they unleash distinctly magical girl-like flair against the “evil” team that's trying to newbie-hunt.
In other words, this is about exactly what you might expect to get when cross-breeding card battles, magical girls, idols, and VR gameplay. The technical merits are not anything special – in fact, I daresay that they are lower than previous franchise entries – and the characters introduced so far are very ordinary, so whether this series works or not depends entirely on how intriguing you find the central concept. It's not interesting enough for me to get me back into the franchise.
The good news – you don't necessarily need familiarity with previous incarnations of the Wixoss franchise to watch this show. The less good news – it's about magical-card-playing idol girls and doesn't make much more sense than it sounds like. In this version of the TCG tie-in franchise, it looks like you can collect Wixoss cards in the real world, then strap on your VR headset to use them in battles against other girls in some sort of arena showdown where teams must consist of three (female) players and there are fancy visual embellishments to all cards played. But since the winner is determined at least in part by who has more “selector points,” meaning who has more fans, girls tend to dress up in idol-style outfits and possibly have team gimmicks, like the regrettably named Team Namaste, whose members look like they escaped from a poorly-illustrated version of The Arabian Nights' Entertainment. Apparently if you're not a girl and want to play this game, you're out of luck.
I do have to admire the chutzpah of this effort at cramming as many different popular story tropes as possible into a thinly-veiled advertisement for a TCG. Not only do they appear to be playing with the basics of their own franchise to a degree, but they've also made a bold attempt to join in the glut of idol shows premiering this season while also making nods to magical girls and, unless I'm mistaken, plain old music-themed shows, as a few teams also seem to be bands. Heck, Hirana even looks a little bit like Nodoka from Healin' Good Precure.
The downside is, of course, that it's not very good. The various elements don't really sit comfortably together, and watching someone else play a card game, even a fancy VR one, isn't terribly exciting. The outfits don't seem to serve any point beyond catching viewers' attention (which they do admit to, although they're talking about the in-show audience), and at least one girl, Akina, is uncomfortable with them; prior to being co-opted into Hirana's team, her avatar was dressed very conservatively. Other bits and pieces of the episode just don't work because they aren't actually funny (Hirana's intelligence level) or aren't as surprising as the show wants them to be (Rei's real identity). Plus there's something that just feels off about the faces, although I can't quite put my finger on it. The dog at the end, on the other hand, has little twig legs in front, so maybe it's a question of proportion for the faces as well.
In any event, with the plethora of idol shows out this season and a new Pretty Cure on the way in February for your magical girl fix, there just doesn't seem to be a compelling reason to suggest watching this unless you're a devotee of the franchise in general.
While I have a few friends who followed the first season of the initial Wixoss anime, I never really got into the franchise, and as the titles of each season got more obtuse I figured it had just become a big bundle of lore I'd never untangle. So I wasn't sure if I should bother trying out this new, apparently idol-themed spinoff(?) series, but at least as of this episode I don't think I'm missing anything important by going in uninitiated. I'm confused, yes, but I'm pretty sure that's just because this premiere isn't very good.
In the abstract this is a perfectly fine setup, almost identical to any given idol anime mixed with any given card game advertisement: excitable but dumb Hirana wants to be the best “Diva” in the VR Wixoss game, and sets about building a team that'll make that dream come true, beating some cardboard villains along the way. The issues come in the details, mainly that the actual mechanics of the central video/card game are barely coherent and unnecessarily busy. Beyond mixing idol, magical girl, and video game aesthetics together in a way that's more garish than appealing, the battles are a confused mix of card game mechanics and physical attacks that the show never bothers to explain beyond dropping what I assume to be card game terminology. I have no idea how popular Wixoss is within Japan, but considering it's almost non-existent in the US that's going to be a problem for anyone trying this out. It also means that when Hirana and her costars win out, it feels totally unearned because I have no idea why they're able to pull out a super powerful attack with no life points.
Hirana herself is also a problem. While she's meant to be a likable dummy like many an idol protagonist before her, she trips over the line into obnoxious territory within minutes. By the time she started literally eating paper because she misspelled a word I was out of patience for her, and neither Ice Queen Rei or Shrinking Violet Akino were much better. I did have a laugh at the baldly evil Idol Bullies they fight this episode, because they somehow kept a huge audience's adoration despite saying aloud that they love bullying new players and are just all-around assholes. Which I guess is true to life, considering how many people will watch Twitch streamers grief people in MMOs and multiplayer matches. Not enough to make me watch any more of this, but it's at least something memorable.
Otherwise this is a functional-at-best premiere for a show that wants to sell some trading cards and character merch but not much else. Aesthetically it's too messy to be memorable, and unless Wixoss is your passion, you'd probably be better off waiting for the next season of Pretty Cure instead.
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