Yes, there is so much suffering in the anime Selector Spread WIXOSS that I had to list it twice.

Selector Spread WIXOSS is the continuation of last spring’s Selector Infected WIXOSS—an anime where young girls battle alongside magical girl avatars in a collectible card game, hoping to have their greatest wishes granted.

[The following review contains spoilers for both Selector Infected WIXOSS and Selector Spread WIXOSS. For a non-spoiler look at the series, check out our review of the first season.]

However, as we learn over the first season, it is far darker and more sinister than that. Should a girl lose three times, she not only loses her right to play the card game but also gets an “anti-wish” as punishment that ensures her original wish can never come true. But more than that, winning is a punishment in its own right. A winner finds herself swapped with her magical girl avatar—trapped inside a trading card until she can deceive some other poor girl into winning and subsequently steal her body.

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Selector Spread WIXOSS begins at a low point for our heroes. Ruko, who had hoped to sacrifice herself and then wish that all players of the game be returned to their original bodies, has failed completely and lost her magical girl partner Tama in the process. Her friend Yuzuki won enough battles and is now trapped in a card while their other friend Hitoe is now Yuzuki’s owner. And lastly, the villain of the first season, the idol Iona, has achieved her wish—to become Ruko’s new magical girl partner.

With one friend missing, another magically imprisoned, and no solutions to either dilemma apparent, there is a lot of suffering among the young female cast of Selector Spread WIXOSS. However, this suffering serves a point beyond pleasing the emotional sadists of the viewing audience: It is a tool for examining the anime's main themes.

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Yuzuki's situation is used to explore the loneliness of imprisonment. Inside the card, her entire world is a small black room with only a single window to look out on the real world. While she can talk with any “selector”—i.e., a player of the game—she is unable to interact with normal people, including her loved ones. Moreover, leaving her prison in the card world is unthinkable as doing so would require her to take over Hitoe’s body and thus force Hitoe to take her place in the card. While her friends may try to empathize, Yuzuki's situation is very much a lonely one. No matter how close her friends may be physically, there is always a literal barrier between them. Yuzuki has been robbed of her freedom and her fate is completely out of her hands.

Freedom—or more correctly, the lack of it—is another major theme in Selector Spread WIXOSS. As bad as life is for Yuzuki, her former magical girl Hanayo is trapped in a different, yet no less torturous hell. While Hayano is now in control of Yuzuki’s body, her every waking moment must be spent trying to achieve Yuzuki’s wish. Should Hanayo fail to bring the wish to fruition, she will simply cease to exist.

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So even though Hanayo is free from the card, she is just as trapped in the real world as she was in her prison—perhaps even more so. She and all the other former magical girls we see are literal slaves to the wishes of others. Once a bastion of hope for each of these girls, the wishes have been perverted into an unbreakable chain around another girl's neck.

Wishes—namely how they can be twisted into sources of torture and imprisonment—are the third major theme in Selector Spread WIXOSS. Those playing the game believe that magic is the only way to have their wishes granted. They suffer emotionally with every loss—fearing that soon they will lose any chance of ever getting their utmost desires.

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The pain is even greater for those who win enough to potentially have their wishes granted yet, at the same time, lose their real world lives as their magical girl partners take over their bodies and go about granting said wishes.

The girls who have made it out of their cards are likewise unable to pursue their own wishes and are instead trapped into fulfilling someone else’s wish while neglecting their own.

The purpose of the punishment “anti-wishes” is to give similar suffering to those girls who lose too many times—to lock away those who are truly free in metaphorical cages by denying them their greatest dreams.

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Thus, everyone involved in the game is suffering—those who are striving for their wishes, those who have won, those freed from their cards, and those who have lost. And brilliantly, while the characters' constant emotional pain is used to explore the various themes of the anime, it acts as the show's pivotal plot point as well.

At its heart, Selector Spread WIXOSS is a Japanese horror story like The Grudge. In traditional Japanese horror stories, a strong emotion or hatred can curse an object or place—causing the supernatural to occur. In this case, the source of the curse is one young girl’s horrible life of being locked alone in a room, growing up unloved, and forbidden from interacting with the outside world. The card game is the twisted result of her hatred and envy for all those allowed freedom, choices, companionship, and dreams made real. All those involved in the game come to know at least one aspect of her suffering.

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The series is structured like a Japanese horror story as well. The main characters are each “cursed” and begin exploring the surrounding mystery. Then they encounter other victims—learning a bit more from each person. Slowly, they are able to piece together the point of the game and eventually the reasons behind its creation. The series is paced perfectly for this story telling framework and each episode leaves you feeling like they are progressing towards their goal even as more immediate obstacles appear one after another to impede them.

Selector Spread WIXOSS is an incredibly dark psychological thriller—not something you'd likely expect from an anime ostensibly about cute girls playing a collectible card game. However, it is not the “darkness” in and of itself which makes the anime so captivating. Rather it is how the “darkness” is used not only as the means by which to explore themes of loneliness, imprisonment, and unfulfilled wishes but also as an intricate part of the overall plot. Selector Spread WIXOSS is simply a tightly built anime from top to bottom that makes the absolute most of its framework to tell a truly excellent tale.

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Selector Spread WIXOSS aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be viewed for free and with English subtitles in the US on Funimation and Hulu.

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To contact the author of this post, write to BiggestinJapan@gmail.com or find him on Twitter @BiggestinJapan.