Reviewby Theron Martin,
Selector Infected WIXOSS
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
In Ruko Kominato's world a fantasy CCG called WIXOSS (pronounced “wicross”) has become all the rage, even drawing a lot of interest within one less traditional demographic for the format: teenage girls. Ruko gets involved when her brother gives her a deck as a gift, but she is startled when one of the cards, depicting a cute girl in white whom she comes to call Tama, starts moving and talking to her. Ruko eventually learns that such cards are called LRIGs (“girl” in reverse – and yes, that's not a trivial choice) and mark the recipient as a Selector, one of a chosen few girls who can use the LRIGs to turn the game into a 3D virtual experience when competing against other Selectors and play for the highest of stakes: getting a wish granted with a sufficient number of wins. She soon gets into the game, both because early encounters lead to her making friends with fellow Selectors Yuziko and Hitoe and because she discovers an intense passion and talent for the game which at times scares her. Those traits attract the attention of Iona, a top teen model who is also a fairly ruthless Selector, but that is ultimately far from Ruko's greatest concern; the ugly truths underlying the whole Selector system include some vicious consequences for losing too much, and that's far from the only dark twist on the whole scheme.
By all appearances this 12 episode anime is intended a complement to the real-life CCG WIXOSS rather than an adaptation of or pure advertisement for it, as the two were released concurrently during the Spring 2014 season. Perhaps because of that, the series focuses far less on the mechanics of the central game (which you will not learn good enough to play from just watching this) and much more on the story being told, and that is very definitely to the series' advantage. It also helps separate the series from others of its ilk, although other factors do just as good a job at distinguishing it. This series isn't trying to teach you how to play a card game nor is it for children, so the two most common factors that keep fans away from "card game shows" aren't here.
In essence, Selector is a grimdark take on the long-standing preteen/young adolescent-targeted bastion of CCG-focused series, perhaps in an attempt to give the genre a broader appeal. This it accomplishes very well, and without resorting to the slightest bit of prurient fan service and largely without resorting to graphic bloodshed. (The most graphic imagery is in the first episode, though.) Instead it works its tone much more through imagery, soundtrack, and emotional intensity, though it does also include some edgy content in the form of one of the main girls very seriously (as in, not played for sexy humor as it is in harem series) yearning for twincest with her brother. In many senses the content also emulates the Madoka Magica franchise, to the point that it was a clear influence. Both series even open up with some dark, stark imagery before shifting to more cheery and sedate content, but whereas Magica played coy with its true nature for most of the first three episodes, Selector never does. In fact, it does not get to the eyecatch in its first episode before reminding viewers that yes, this is going to be a darkly-tinted affair. Even its earliest card battle scenes do not lack for intensity and a weight which seems disproportionate to the basic spirit of the game. In fact, at times the content more resembles that of a horror series, as the perversion of an innocent game into something with potentially dire consequences is a fairly common horror theme.
What makes the content stand out – and thus likely appeal to people who aren't in to card games and don't particularly like their anime grimdark – is that it has some surprising depth and development to it. Ruko may be the classic nice girl, but she also has a fiercely competitive aspect to her personality which she seems largely unaware of, one which comes out almost like an addiction as she engages in the thrill of battle, to the point of scaring her; this also raises the question of whether or not this unfathomable aspect of her might have something to do with why her mother is not in the picture. Yuziko may be the take-charge girl, but she is also burdened by feelings that she knows are trouble but still cannot resist. Hitoe is the timid girl, but watching start to open up and be comfortable with herself in the presence of Ruko and Yuziko is a treat – until, of course, the whole situation comes crashing down on her in what for her is the most horrible way possible, because this wouldn't be grimdark content if all of its main characters didn't suffer. Model Akira is less special as the cheerily callous bitch, but fellow model/rival Iona is more interesting as the serious one with initially-unfathomable goals; she is clearly the strongest and most successful of the Selectors, so why hasn't she achieved Eternal Girl status? What special condition has to be met? The final scenes of the last episode reveal this, and though it requires a bit of interpretation (it is not spelled out), her goal makes complete sense once the nature of the Selector system and Iona's demonstrated passions are considered together. While not the nastiest twist in the series, it is potentially the biggest and juiciest.
The Selector system is itself a supremely twisted piece of work. Why it even exists in the first place has yet to be revealed, but it is a sinister, insidious system which essentially involves duping girls into a situation that they are initially unaware is hellish; the consequences for losing three times in Selector battles are far steeper than just being ejected from the system, but winning enough also only involves a positive outcome in the most underhanded way. It forces girls to crush the hopes and dreams of others in order to get ahead or even just protect their own necks and does not give them much pay-off for it; in these and some other regards the series also has some definite parallels to My-HiME. The wish-granting aspect is different from how it works in Madoka Magica, but how exactly it does work cannot even be alluded to without engaging in spoilers. Suffice to say that it is quite a bit different than other comparable series.
An interesting consideration raised by all of this is whether or not a message was intended here by director Takuya Satō. In one sense this all could be interpreted as a cautionary tale against getting too obsessed with a card game, as some of the behaviors and attitudes seen here are definitely reminiscent of what one might encounter at the upper, more serious levels of competitive CCG tournament circuits. That makes for an odd fit given that the series is at least peripherally meant to promote a card game, though, so another possibility is that this is intended as an indirect stab at the kind of systems which can chew girls up and spit them out as they strive to be successful, such as the modeling and performing fields. Both could even be true, or these could be unintended parallels. That seems unlikely, though, given how well the interpretations fit.
The series makes an interesting (though not necessarily appealing) visual statement by casting most of its real-world backgrounds in grainy, mostly drab textures. Its battle scenes transport the Selectors to a setting with a nourish cityscape and atmospheric depictions which can be grim and foreboding or comfortable and cheery depending on the spirit behind the battle. (The more intense the mood is between the combatants, the darker things are.) The actual battle animation achieves impressive impact and intensity despite not actually doing anything all that special. Likewise character designs are clear, attractive and well-defined despite having very familiar looks and feels. Imagery abounds but not to an obtrusive degree, which tends to make it more impactful.
Very little in the series would work the way it is intended without the musical score by Maiko Iuchi as a driving force. She bases everything around a synth-heavy sound reminiscent of her work on the Index/Railgun franchise, one which in this case heavily uses electronica themes in varying textures to very effectively promote an ominous, oppressive feel and heightened state of tension. It stops just short of going overboard, though it does lay on its effect thickly. In a big contrast, opener “killy killy Joker” (yeah, I have no idea what that title has to do with the lyrics or series) is a more traditional mix of piano, strings, and drum set, while closer “realize -Yume no Matsu Basho” remains melodic despite switching from slow and graceful to up-tempo in its middle. Neither has especially inspired visuals but are strong numbers musically. Curiously, the final episode has a slightly altered version of the opener which remains intact except for considerable additional sound effects.
The English dub for the series stands among Funimation's stronger recent efforts. Roles are uniformly well-cast and well-performed, especially Juli Erickson as Ruko's grandmother. (No surprise there, though, since she also did a fine job as Winry's grandmother Pinako in the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise.) The script is also sharp and fully retains a natural flow, especially in small talk. If there is a complaint to be made, it would be that two of the male figures in charge of the modeling shoots for Iona and Akira sound gay almost to the point of caricature.
Funimation's regular edition release of the series contains both DVDs and Blu-Rays in a single case contained within a slipcover; a Limited Edition version with an artbox is also available. Extras include clean opener and closer, U.S. Trailers for the series, and English audio commentaries for episodes 1 and 12 featuring ADR director Christopher Bevins and two different groups of English voice actors. The most interesting observation to come out of them is that this is not the first time that Apphia Yu and Micah Solusod haves voiced incestuous female/male twins. (They also voiced the villainous twin Denizens in the Shakugan no Shana franchise.) Irritatingly, the colors for chosen/not chosen are difficult to differentiate on the Blu-Ray menus, which is actually far less of an issue on the DVDs. Otherwise the visuals are a very distinct upgrade for the Blu-Rays.
The big twist that the final episode ends on also quite clearly indicates that the series is nowhere near done, and in fact a second season called Selector Spread Wixoss has already aired; Funimation has the rights to it, too, but at the time of this writing a release date for it has not been set. A movie sequel, Selector Destructed Wixoss is also due out next year in Japan. Because of this, the lack of explanation for many points will not be taken as a negative yet. Overall, the first season hits the right notes, and hits them surprisingly strongly enough, to make the content compelling despite its card game foundation.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : A-
+ Very effective musical score, surprising amount of depth, far more tense and compelling than one might expect, good English dub.
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