The first WIXOSS series – the combination of Selector Infected WIXOSS and Selector Spread WIXOSS – really surprised me. It was far better than I expected, with heavy atmosphere, strong characterisation, and a genuine sense of dread. Expectations were low – it was essentially a Madoka-like trying to hawk a trading card game – but it surpassed them with ease.
It was a complete, self-contained story with a very specific concept closely connected with the premise of the card game itself. It didn’t leave room for natural and constructive expansion – so I was left wondering what Lostorage Incited WIXOSS would actually be accomplishing when it was announced. What direction would it go in? What would it try to do differently? Can it make itself stand out from its predecessor? Or, more likely, would it be stuck in Selector’s shadow, existing as an uninspired continuation of the TCG’s marketing? Mari Okada’s absence only raised concerns further, as her mark was all over Selector in a very positive way.
The good: it quickly made itself clear that it had few to zero links to the original beyond roughly the same premise. It was at least leaving the original alone, and trying to stand as its own thing. The bad? Well…
The premise really is similar to Selector – random people (not just teenage girls this time!) become ‘selectors’ by chance after purchasing a WIXOSS set. They’re forced to battle each other to take each other’s tokens – coins in this iteration. If they get to five, good things happen; if they lose all of them, bad things happen. In Selector, the good thing was getting a wish granted. In Lostorage you get to manipulate your memories as you see fit – remember something long forgotten, forget something you’d rather not remember, or never forget something ever again. Otherwise, essentially the same – which means if you’ve seen the first season, you know the true nature of the Selector battles.
And it operates under the assumption you have that foreknowledge. It absolutely does not hesitate to get stuck into the battles and the premise and all the despair, horror and dread. It starts firing with damn near all barrels, with only token gestures towards ‘twists’ that we already know from the first season. This immediately creates a few problems – namely, we are not given a chance to get to know and connect to the characters before they’re thrown into the thick of it. They don’t get developed or fleshed out before they start despairing, which means we aren’t given a chance to care about them and, therefore, what happens to them. For a series that’s meant to evoke feelings of dread and tension that’s a huge failing! Selector spent a lot of time just creating an uneasy feeling as the characters were being introduced, to great effect, but here? We’re expected to empathise before they give us any reason to empathise.
This very immediate and full-on approach to the story, combined with the assumption that the audience already knows what’s coming, means the characters find out most of the true nature of the Selector battles very quickly. In Selector, the characters gradually discovering worse and worse things about their situation hammered home their struggle and desperation. There were no silver linings, only more and more misery awaiting them. It was very effective – the gradual ramping of the twists and ensuing despair sustained the tense atmosphere and sense of dread. Having the characters exposed to all of it at once just to get it over with so as little time as possible is spent treading the same ground left Lostorage very monotonous.
The small elements that are different don’t help either. Consider what happened when the Selectors had their wish granted in the first season: much like a monkey’s paw wish, it was only granted in the most technical sense of the word with major, major drawbacks associated with it. This was a huge twist! The small, hard to reach hope that the Selectors had available to them was snuffed out as soon as they discovered this (first hand, naturally). What were they now fighting for? Their survival, exclusively, with the knowledge that despair was all that awaited no matter which direction it took. But manipulating memories? The worst thing we see with that is a character remembering something that makes her feel massively guilty, becoming a depressed recluse as a result (until that gets resolved and everything becomes fine again). It was hamstrung from the start – at its core premise, it was unable to achieve what Selector did.
Presumably the writers knew this, as several decisions indicate an effort to source the despair from other avenues. Most notably, the choice to have a definite antagonist.
One of the many, many ways Selector evoked horror and dread was through having otherwise normal girls forced to hurt, betray and borderline kill each other in semi-indirect ways to simply survive with the promise of having their wish ‘granted’ if they do well enough. It explored the idea of what people are capable of doing under extreme duress, with the system forcing it not even being malicious in nature, just utterly apathetic and/or naïve. The faceless inhumanity of it all was where the horror lay.
Lostorage forgoes all that by having just one bad guy to focus it all on. Sure, Bookmaker’s a manipulative puppet-master making all the desperate Selectors battle and suffer for his amusement… but that’s not really horrifying. Just ‘evil’. His motives and characterisation don’t exactly help either, beginning and ending at “I’m ~evil~”. It is extraordinarily shallow, and understandably there’s no tension as there’s nothing to be affected by or worth getting invested in.
Now, one could argue that maybe Lostorage isn’t trying to evoke dread, despair and horror. Maybe it has entirely different goals, and trying to measure it by a different yardstick is unfair. Of course it will fall short if it wasn’t even trying to do that! This argument gets shutdown as soon as you watch the show, because boy does it love to beat you over the head with ‘dread’, ‘despair’ and ‘horror’. There is no sense of subtlety. At all. None. Characters in the throes of sorrow and misery contort their faces into ridiculous over-the-top facsimiles of actual sadness. Bookmaker looks equally absurd when he’s being ~evil~, to the extent that the slightest bit of intimidation he posed is obliterated by his eyes popping out, tongue flailing around and saliva spraying everywhere. A character – seen once before – delivers a small speech about the nature of the Selector battles to one of the main characters then throws herself off a bridge! This show is so desperate to be dark and depressing that it crosses straight over into comical!
Take Chinatsu, one of the main two characters and driver of most of the tension and conflict in the story. Her personality switch early on is incredibly dumb. It is a complete 180 based off of what amounts to a really bad day – getting in a fight, losing her job, and her dad being laid off (again). From that, she… decides to partner with Bookmaker, cruelly manipulate everyone like a goddamn sociopath, and endeavour to win enough battles so she can forget Suzuko? It does not follow at all. You can tell that the creators thought that childhood friends being so violently divided like that would make for a despair-filled premise, and had to scrabble around to find some way of getting there. I shouldn’t have to say what effect it had at this point.
While efforts to distinguish itself from Selector through the premise and narrative failed on a fundamental level, the big change to the battles showed more promise. The ‘Coin Bet’ system was fairly clearly just a gimmick, but there was interesting potential. By betting one of their coins – one of the tokens they needed five of to win – they would be granted access to a powerful skill at the risk of losing that coin as well if they lost. Skills include things like making the opponent answer a question truthfully, forcing them to only be able to attack, multiplying the LRIG so attacks could miss, things like that. It could add variety to the battles and make each player stand out a bit more (which it did!) and even ramp up the tension of the fights as more starts riding on it – which isn’t explored as much as it could have.
The problem though is that it largely devolves into deus ex machina deciding battles – “whoops, my coin is super powerful and counters you entirely” and some incredibly stupid things in the finale. There are also no rules they seem to follow – Suzuko is able to shrug off or otherwise handle ‘Berserk’, the coin skill that forces her to attack, in bizarre ways that seem to go outside the scope of the established game. Sure, Selector wasn’t exactly about the card game either, but this extends far into ‘asspull’ territory.
LRIGs are a central part of WIXOSS: they represent the wishes/memories/whatever of the Selector, they battle in the Selector’s place, they are always with their Selector, and they are the Selector’s gateway into that reality. And yet they are bizarrely underutilised in Lostorage. The relationship between Selector and LRIG is barely explored, they have very little influence over the story, and they’re barely even secondary characters. They really are just ‘there’ this time around, but even so the show still acts like there’s a meaningful connection between Selector and LRIG during battles. The “we’re so close, we won because of our mutual trust and understanding!” stuff rings so hollow when there’s next to nothing between them.
Which is a shame, because the LRIG designs are excellent. Lil in particular stands out head and shoulders above every LRIG design so far, with an incredibly cool appearance distinct from every LRIG seen thus far – which is great considering she’s the only we actually see that often. Carnival as an ‘evil’ LRIG looks badass as heck too, and makes a nice change from the usual appearance of ‘bad’ LRIGs. None of the others are bad either, even if they only keep with the established aesthetic for LRIGs.
One thing I must praise Lostorage for even over Selector is the excellent sound design. Static and harsh noise is used to suddenly and violently end scenes, which does absolute wonders for the atmosphere. It makes everything feel so much more aggressive and hostile, and ramps up tension and unease more than anything else. That, alongside other sound effects and the general soundtrack, does manage to continue the ‘barren and inhospitable urban wasteland’ aesthetic established in the first season, even if the scenery is hit-and-miss in that respect.
While characterisation and development is lacking early on, after we’re given enough time with them the main characters are certainly enjoyable. Well, Suzuko and Hanna. Not so much Chinatsu, she remains a mess of a character throughout. It’s nothing exceptional – there’s not much nuance or depth to them, they’re just pleasant – but given where the rest of the show is standing I’ll take that as a small plus.
And this show does stick the landing, surprisingly enough. It ends on by far its strongest note, successfully creating a finale that ties the shows themes and motifs together nicely while doing a great job at demonstrating the endgame of Suzuko’s development. That doesn’t change the stupidity of the final battle mind you, just that the events after that battle are handled excellently.
Lostorage Incited WIXOSS didn’t need to exist. Selector’s premise was too specific, too thoroughly explored and too linked with the source material’s premise and design for Lostorage to do anything new or meaningfully different. It would, at best, be a major case of déjà vu. Unfortunately we didn’t even get that. Lostorage fails in so many areas where its predecessor succeeded far better than I anticipated; there’s no tension, attempts at building dread and despair are ridiculous, atmosphere was spread thin, and every narrative and structural deviation it made from Selector left it worse off. If you’ve seen Selector, there’s nothing to be gained from watching this. If you’ve not seen Selector, watch that instead because this is just a worse version of that.