I don’t like card games. More accurately, I don’t see the appeal of TCGs (trading card games) such as Magic: The Gathering (MTG) at all. Like, you “fight” with cards or something? And all these rules? What the hell? I don’t get it. So why have I been reading this manga about a TCG? Very good question.
Wizard’s Soul ~Holy War of Love~ (Wizard’s Soul ～恋の聖戦～, ウィザーズ ソウル, or Wizard’s Soul ~Koi no Seisen~) is an experiment by Aki Eda (秋★枝), who was casually into MTG and had just gotten the go ahead to draw whatever she wanted after the success of her last work. She decided to make a manga about cute girls who play card games, the rest of the series coming from a combination of consultation with others, trial and error, and life experiences. The result is something that I like a lot.
Aki Eda is probably best known for her manga Bonnouji, a real down-to-earth romance series. If you’re a Touhou fan, then perhaps instead you’ll consider her best known for her yuri doujinshi (fanworks) and for her work as the artist of one of the official manga, Touhou Bougetsushou ~ Silent Sinner in Blue. While Silent Sinner in Blue isn’t, most of her work is romantic so it should come as no surprise that Wizard’s Soul, too, is a romance. It is a romance that takes place in a strange world where for whatever reason a fictional TCG called Wizard’s Soul (WS) has become so insanely popular that it actually affects practically every aspect of one’s life, and the way one plays it demonstrates their “personality”, of a sort. Going by the series’ omake (extra pages within a volume), it seems that Aki Eda was really winging it with this series. That’s why I call it an experiment. It ended at four volumes after two years so I can’t say for sure that the experiment was an objective success, but as a person who really couldn’t care less about the subject matter, I’ve been plenty satisfied with how she handled things.
So in my experience with TCG-based manga, or manga about “alternative gaming” I guess I’d call it, things tend to kinda work like sports do in shounen manga. Essentially, you’ve got your main character and they’re either just the hottest shit ever, or they’re crap and have one special talent that will likely take them to the top. In either case, like most shounen protagonists they possess ambition and a proud desire to win or be the best. Their playstyle is usually exciting and feels like, “yeah, you go hero”. They probably adore the game they play, for that matter. Thus, the main character of Wizard’s Soul is very, very unusual.
The main character, Ichinose Manaka, plays the game of WS ruthlessly and in a distinctly un-fun way should she actually be playing seriously. Similar to other “sports” protagonists she’s extremely strong and skilled at the game, but the way she’s strong and skilled basically just annoys everyone and leaves people feeling miserable. This includes herself. She hates Wizard’s Soul.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The manga doesn’t begin with you knowing this. At the start, Manaka seems to be an innocuous, ditzy part-time clerk at a card store for WS. She plays and loses to children and seems to admire a boy her age who is very good at the game, Sakurai Eita.
It’s all normal enough.
When she gets back home from work one day and starts taking care of her younger sisters (a pair of twins), her dad comes back from a day of trying and failing to get a job, making it immediately clear that Manaka’s family is in dire straights. Her father proceeds to lay on this bit of joyous news which probably made his eldest daughter’s heart stop:
So I’ve got similar experience with this kind of thing, and it’s…accurate, I’d say. You really just don’t know what to say to someone who fell for something that bad. Although here it kind of dampens the “oh fuck, we’re in hellish debt due to a scam” realization with slightly silly faces, unlike in a lot of “you’re in debt, do something nuts!” manga (which are usually comedies) the protagonist here very much treats this seriously and determines that she’s going to have to do some drastic stuff to pull her family out of this mess.
There’s actually a very good and thorough explanation as to why Manaka is so against playing WS, but I’ll still hold off on that for just a bit. At this point, the manga begins to show that in spite of the “cute girls play card games” premise, this series is quite dour and breaches on uncomfortable subjects. It’s not usual uncomfortable subjects, either, but matters like “what to do when you’re a child with a well-meaning but very irresponsible parent, and you’re still kind of too young to do much about it” or “consciously disgracing yourself and burning all bridges in a few days’ time” or even the spectacular “your mother loved you: coping with post traumatic stress disorder”. This thing, it has a heavy atmosphere, making it extremely atypical for the genre. Furthermore as a romance it’s also very weird. On that note…
Manaka determines that the best way to get out of this debt is through WS tournament prize money, but to enter this tournament she needs, basically, a high gamer score from playing and winning in official matches. The tournament she needs to get into is soon and there’s no time to earn points through ordinary means, so she challenges Sakurai to an official match. Sakurai has recently earned enough points to go pro, and the conditions for his losing to her is to fork over all of his points. Knowing that’s a bullshit condition, she tells him the conditions for her loss will be to have her “do whatever he asks”. Basically, she does all this with the understanding that:
- She “sucks” at Wizard’s Soul, at least publicly.
- Thus, Sakurai will believe he can’t lose.
- Sakurai likes her and will therefore accept her conditions under the assumption that this is some kind of roundabout way to confess her love.
- She completely knows his deck up and down, so she can prepare for it.
- He doesn’t know hers.
- He doesn’t know her true playstyle, either.
- She knows his.
Essentially, Manaka hustles the fuck out of Sakurai and completely trounces him in a 3-0 sweep, taking all his points. This actually means even more than just the initial feelings of embarrassment and betrayal, in fact it seems particularly shitty of Manaka once you know the full breadth of this act’s implications, but this alone effectively shatters any chance of romance between Manaka and Sakurai within one chapter. So much for that.
So, I thought this was pretty fuckin’ awesome.
Manaka basically decides to go full determinator knowing that the best way to save her family is to take matters into her own hands, even if it means throwing away a love interest. She pretty much knows that there’d be no way that Sakurai would let her have his points to play in a tournament when he’s under the assumption that she sucks, and she knows that if she told him the truth of matters he’d just want to fight for her instead. If he did that, he could lose, and Manaka needs to win. She has confidence in herself, but not in him, plain and simple (even if it sounds mean). She also doesn’t want him to know her horribly shameful family situation and I can’t blame her for that one bit. She lets a few people know the truth (her close friends and her boss), but those aren’t love interests and getting some of that off your chest is a real necessity so as not to lose one’s mind. Anyway, her actions are not cold, they’re just purely “necessary”, and it’s really interesting how this act of interpersonal strategy is a showcase of some of her real ability and skill with playing cards: observation, analysis, prediction, guesswork, bluffs, and baiting.
And on that note, I can talk about Manaka’s TCG playstyle.
Manaka actually has three playstyles/decks: “permission”, “mill”, and “control” — they’re all decks that require a lot of consideration and thinking on the part of the player, who must try to get into the head of their opponent and figure out the best way to tear them apart while keeping their own self out of harm’s way. They also all tend to be rather tedious styles; extremely “practical” or “safe” to the point that you can get stuff like the first pages of this article: shutting down your opponent and whittling them for TWENTY (20) turns straight, with just a little bit of damage each time. Oh sure, you COULD go for bigger damage and a shorter overall play, but there’s risk in that and the thing of these playstyles is trying to take as little risk as possible. Typically in matches Manaka plays, at the end she’ll have several unused cards on the “playing field”, as it were, indicating that she had contingency plans in case things didn’t go the right way for this plan or that.
As in any card game, luck of the draw does come into play, but the level of preparation and forethought necessary for her decks is actually a bit scary (like putting in cards that are unpopular/seemingly shit but serve a specific purpose totally necessary to some long strategy). Here’s some small explanations of how the decks work:
- Permission – A deck with cards focusing on countering whatever your opponent does, tit for tat. Effective play doesn’t allow your opponent to do anything, basically.
- Mill – A deck with cards focusing on removing cards from your opponent’s hand and deck, “milling” either of cards. One win state for this is milling until there are no cards left in your opponent’s deck, leaving them unable to play and thus automatically forfeiting.
- Control – A deck with cards focusing on controlling your opponent, such as controlling their creatures to your own ends. In a playstyle sense, this also applies to controlling how your opponent plays (like setting up a strategy that will get them to want to play certain cards at certain times; cards ultimately advantageous to you). Self-explanatory, really. A very villainous-seeming deck.
Note: Wizard’s Soul plays under very similar rules to Magic: The Gathering.
You may have noticed that I am writing as if I think I know what I’m talking about, despite opening this review with “I don’t like card games”. How astute of you! Indeed one of Wizard’s Soul‘s biggest strengths, in my opinion, is how it makes card games understandable on a fundamental level, even to someone like me who was totally uninterested. The real thing to TCGs isn’t the imaginary fights you have with armies of fantasy creatures, or believing in the heart of the cards, or flashy play (although there is one player in Wizard’s Soul who is totally flashy, and she’s great): it’s strategy. TCGs are strategy games that you play with cards. They combine the bluffing of standard 52-card games (such as poker) with the planning of something like chess and have the added bonus of pretty art on small pieces of paper (and maybe lore if you’re into that). I’m surprised to say that I think the combination yields something really interesting.
There are two major reasons why Wizard’s Soul changed my tune on TCGs. One was that it wasn’t “dramatic” about the playing of cards itself. Characters in the series play a TCG. Monsters do not pop out of the cards, there are no holograms, magic doesn’t fly about when certain cards are played; they just play cards — at most you’ll see the pictures that are displayed on cards used as backgrounds to panels. With that, I had to focus on the playing of the game itself. Other series perhaps get too far away from the game their supposed to be playing for the sake of being “cool”. I’ll admit, sometimes it’s quite cool indeed but it doesn’t help me understand the game any better. On that note, the second major reason I reconsidered these games was due to one aspect of the manga’s “experimental” nature: how Aki Eda went at the games themselves with “mood” in mind first instead of rules.
This might sound like it contradicts with my first reason: if the focus is on “feeling” but not rules, and I’m looking for “understanding the game”, how exactly is that supposed to gel? Well, like I implied at the start of the review the rules of TCGs were a big turnoff to me, in a real world sense. By demonstrating the “flow” of a game (seeing how certain plays make the characters feel; what excites them, what shocks them), explaining the concepts of strategies, and showing juuuust enough of the game itself with a little bit of rule explanation (which is doled out over time instead of suddenly all at once), I came to understand “oh, it’s like an RTS“. I’m not huge into real-time strategy games, but I do really enjoy watching them as they’re played by pros, so once I “got” it I was like, “ohh… OOOHHHhh…” Strategy games are quite stimulating to the brain, I think. I find it really admirable how players demonstrate intellectual and clever skill by reading their opponents’ movements ahead of time, and actual skill by showing they can play the game itself well — navigating all those rules that I struggle with to produce hard-fought, satisfying victories. It seems like TCGs can produce a similarly exciting and uplifting feeling, so of course I’m interested now. Wizard’s Soul made that click for me — I even feel like I at least now know the basics of some strategies, and what makes a good strategy good.
Now I think that’s enough about card games. Back to the story that I can actually talk about: it’s revealed very early on why exactly Manaka hates Wizard’s Soul and despises her playstyle. It turns out all her strategies came from her mother, an absolute genius at the game but also a woman that Manaka practically only remembers as “hospitalized”. She died before the events of the series to an unspecified illness, but apparently all her life she spent lots of time hospitalized. While hospitalized, she preoccupied herself most with playing WS, and playing to win. Of course, she wanted to share that with her daughter, so she did. Of course, her play was always un-fun and awful, though, and she constantly drilled that very same play into Manaka’s head. Manaka does not hate her mom for this, and it’s not like there’s a cheesy “because she’s my mom no matter what!” to justify that. She does recognize that her mom loved her dearly and just wanted to pass on something valuable to her child before she left this world (and in this setting, little is more valuable than WS), she just went about it rather scarily and poorly since she’s not really “used” to parenting or even regular human interaction, having been hospitalized so long and so often (it’s a wonder her husband managed to get with her).
Here is the real reason playing the game now only brings about an awful feeling in Manaka. She loved her mom, really, but her mom had a twisted philosophy. It could have been a coping mechanism or a genuine belief, but she felt that the more she suffered the more “lucky” she could be in a game. Combine this with WS’s all-encompassing nature in this specific setting and Manaka’s mother suddenly becomes an intensely dreadful and sad figure. When Manaka was a child and heard this, she determined that no matter what she would defeat her mother in a game, thus proving that philosophy to be nonsense.
Yeah that didn’t work out. Her mother died before she ever got the chance to beat her, therefore proving the philosophy “right” and essentially letting her daughter know that she had given up on life. From all of this, Manaka got dramatically better at Wizard’s Soul in her attempts to trounce a genius at the game, but she has absolutely no desire to use those skills she earned ordinarily. This is both because those skills are irritating to play against and because using those playstyles reminds her of her futile struggle to save her mom from death and depression.
Without kidding around, I’m pretty sure that her experiences with her mother gave Manaka some form of PTSD, seeing as she fought to save a loved one only to watch her slowly die, and every interaction between them was a total beatdown. Of course she hates Wizard’s Soul. The flashbacks to Manaka’s mother are very effective, and any emotion in the series is, in my opinion, conveyed extremely well. I at least never felt like “this is ridiculous” from any of the reactions to matches or moments with Manaka’s mom in the series. That’s impressive seeing as the setting is so absurd.
Anyway, it’s clear that Manaka loves her family a whole lot, even her late and scary mother. This genuine love combined with her strictly practical, totally self-sacrificial mindset make her a very compelling character to me. For example, it turns out that in this crazy world that loves card games so much, a high amount of points earned from official WS matches can actually give you a bonus standing in school (I guess it demonstrates complex thinking prowess or something). Manaka knew that Sakurai kind of needed that bonus since his grades in school weren’t great. Nonetheless, she threw him under the bus because her family is more important than whether or not the boy she likes gets into a decent school. She was also fully aware that her reputation would consequently go into the gutter because Sakurai, as a good-looking, card-playing boy, is fairly popular and to pull the rug out from under him like that is pretty much only going to earn her enemies.
She even goes along with a fangirl’s plan to shame her publicly in a match at school simply to get it out of the way and show the kind of annoying, play-to-win strategies she uses. She knows it will make people frown upon her even more, but now is really not the time for getting caught up in drama; there’s a family to rescue. At the least she recovers some of Sakurai’s reputation by showing that he did in fact lose legitimately, not that she used her feminine wiles or something to get him to fork over points/he managed to lose to a girl who loses to kids. This keeps his being known for skilled play intact. And on that note, as we near this review’s end, back to Sakurai…
Not long after she whooped his ass, Sakurai had this to think.
I found this to be a fuckin’ fantastic development, especially seeing as Sakurai’s initial reaction to Manaka’s victory was childish. Although he doesn’t actually know her home situation, Sakurai finds himself attracted to Manaka for being a huge badass at Wizard’s Soul. This is both hilarious and delightful. Shortly thereafter he begins admiring from afar her during her tournament matches.
The tournament is the core of the manga and I, of course, won’t really talk about it; I’ll just say I really like how the matches play out — it’s actually really exciting and engaging. I particularly enjoyed how Manaka’s match with the flashy player went down (I agree with the scanlator on how it concluded). While this series is a “romance”, it seems like the romance is actually decided from chapter 1 in spite of the dramatic parting they have at the end of it. Thus, the manga is actually mostly about Manaka and her issues, as well as card games, and you know what? I love it. I love this manga. It’s one of my top 10 favorites. I’d put in on my 3×3, but I think what’s already on it represents me well enough. This manga made me interested in something I would otherwise never be interested in, and did so in an intriguing package full of unusual aspects. Wizard’s Soul was an experiment, and to me it’s a success.
The manga finishes with the end of the tournament in volume 4, and going by how long most of the chapters are and the general direction of the series I think it’s likely that the ending is actually quite good (at least not rushed). I’m not sure Aki Eda wanted it over in four volumes or instead wanted a full series about Manaka perhaps reluctantly or actually getting into card games, but given how loose the series is with the game itself, it’s probably okay to end it in that relatively “short” amount of time, tell the story that needs to be told, and dust off your hands. That way, you can avoid complicating the fictional game. I kind of wish I had another series like it, though, in this same sort of style, but I get the feeling I won’t be finding such a thing any time soon.
My final note is that, like I mentioned in Golden Kamuy, the TL notes in Wizard’s Soul ~Holy War of Love~ are incredible. They’re usually very lengthy and cover a whole lot, often in an amusing manner. The manga itself was helpful with TCG basics, but the translation notes add more information like further explanation on concepts/rules, or comparisons to Magic: The Gathering. Regarding Wizard’s Soul itself; I’m not sure how much someone actually into card games would like it; like I don’t play them so I don’t know if things happening in the games will tick you off. I wouldn’t highly recommend this manga since it’s so darn strange and thus I don’t see it having wide appeal/it may be too experimental for some, but hey, I encourage you to give it a try.
You may purchase Wizard’s Soul from Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan. That’s about all; I hope you check it out. Thanks for reading, see you next time with another manga that has great TL notes.