Final Review: Cardfight!! Vanguard

Cardfight!! Vanguard began its 65 episode run in January 2011 and eventually ending in March 2012. It was simulcasted on CrunchyRoll during this period and its sequel has recently began its run in April 2012 under the title Cardfight!! Vanguard: Asia Circuit-hen. Unfortunately, CrunchyRoll is not simulcasting the sequel series. However, don’t let the appearance of this show fool you. It’s from the creators of Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, which did surprisingly well in the season prior to Cardfight!! Vanguard airing. Obviously, there are some immediate Yu-Gi-Oh! vibes with the idea of a “children’s card game” at hand and with Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s recently setting the bar high for proxy battle card fights, can Cardfight!! Vanguard live up to expectations?

To start off, there are a lot of misconceptions about this show. It’s not a show about winning a national tournament, it’s not trying to be Yu-Gi-Oh! or any other card game, etc… but instead it’s a show about friendship and development. Yes, I said the two words that many anime viewers dislike. So what? It doesn’t mean a show is automatically bad. Granted that Cardfight!! Vanguard is not revolutionary or ground-breaking in any sort of way, it does something that most other shows of the same genre fail to do. That is, appropriate development. Generally speaking, the show does an exceptional job at explaining the rules of the game early on and sticks to those rules. There are no tricks or strings attached to this show…well, except the whole Psyqualia incident, but even then that plays little role in this show. It’s a show about how Aichi Sendou, his peers, and his Q4 team grow as Cardfight!! players. Of course, I should note that some of the matches do grow a little boring given the repetitive start-ups to the point where one could effectively repeat it by the time the show is over. However, that further reiterates that strategies do play a bit of a role in this show in a slightly different manner than say Yu-Gi-Oh! where one has access to multitude of spell and trap cards. The lack of card diversity in this game and show, however, does hurt it compared to Yu-Gi-Oh! as some plays are incredibly predictable after some time.

Art and animation wise is likely the weakest aspect of this series. Very poor production quality even for a 480p low budget title. From the same companies that worked on Meitantei Conan, Bakugan, and old-school Lupin III titles, this is a very poor presentation. Character designs are very rough and their base are repetitively used throughout most recurring characters in the show. Animation is poor by TMS where even long-time running titles like Conan and old-school Lupin III puts this 2011-2012 to absolute shame. That said, however, it’s clear the budget mostly went to the monster designs, which are at least above average in quality, not to mention creative to some extent.

OP1 and 2 are by JAM PROJECT. JAM PROJECT is far from a perfect band (see Super Robot Wars -The Inspector-), but it really worked well in this show. Didn’t like the first OP too much but loved the second OP as it fit incredibly well with the mood of the series. ED themes are a mixed bag. Some good, some bad. The Milky Holmes referencing was hilarious in the final ED theme but irrelevant to the overall show. Background music and sound effects were both great for this show. While the listing is small, the show definitely had a clue of when to use what when and where appropriately. Seiyuu cast is pretty bland for this series even for a group that’s composed of nearly inexperienced seiyuus. There was generally lack of emotion across all characters except for a few, in which case was average at best.

Enjoyment? I will say, that I’m probably like most people and thought very negatively about this show when it first began. However, as the show progressed, it definitely improved dramatically to the point where the fights were actually interesting and to some extent suspenseful despite knowing the outcome. It eventually came down to “what was character X going to do to win/lose?” rather than “oh who’s going to win?” type of questions. Keep in mind that this show is meant to bring younger people into playing this new trading card game so older audiences may not necessarily enjoy this as much if viewed from a biased perspective.

Overall, one needs to watch this show with an open mind and disregard the bias of “oh, just another trading card game show.” As I’ve said before, Cardfight!! Vanguard is not a revolutionary or groundbreaking show. It also has (whether it did originally doesn’t matter anymore) no intention of becoming another Yu-Gi-Oh! like title. Whether or not the sequel attempts to follow the path of “being the best fighter” type series is a completely different matter as well. Cardfight!! Vanguard is Cardfight!! Vanguard and it did what it needed to in the 65 episode run it had. Not to mention it did it reasonably for the most part.

Story and Character:

  • Premise (0.5/1): A show that starts off as an ordinary trading card game with no spins, twists, or magic involved, kind of like Yu-Gi-Oh! GX in a way, but doesn’t manage to keep a solid interest. Solid explanation of how the game works.
  • Character Personalities (0.5/1): Protagonist is weak and not very interesting, making it difficult to stay interested in the show early on. Kai on the other hand is the typical arrogant “rival friend” of the show.
  • Character Development (2/2): Strong all around. The show ends up being a coming-of-age title that shows how each and everyone of the important characters growing mentally.
  • Character Usefulness/Presence (2/2): The show keeps the main and primary supporting cast to a minimum making it easy to remember who’s in what role.
  • Pacing: (1/1): Skips over less important fights and goes into detail on more important fights while keeping the length reasonable (usually no more than 2-3 episodes, more often even less)
  • Reasonable/Plausible (1.5/2): The whole “protagonist magically wins” is kept at a grounded level where the protagonist does indeed lose and quite often, thereby bringing out a strong sense of character development. The Psyqualia and “Cray War” was a bit out of left field, but I guess they needed something for why Ren was so good. It kept “damage” to a minimum though by having it play little relevance in the overall series and instead used it more as a soul-searching plot tool.
  • Conclusion (1/1): It was appropriate for the series in bringing the show full circle. A bit overblown with the whole “Parallel War on Cray” but it’s not something I’m really going to hold against the series given how little of a role it played in the bigger picture.
  • Total: 8.5/10

Art and Animation:

  • Backgrounds (0/2): Generic and lacking in detail.
  • Character Designs (1/2): Poor all around. Very repetitive bases used, making many characters look a like despite different physical appearances. Monster designs are good though and creative too despite the relatively small set.
  • Fluidity (2/2): For a low budget show, it at least got this right in a top-notch shape.
  • Visuals/Special Effects/Flashiness (2/2): Same as fluidity.
  • Art and Animation “Expectation” (0/2): TMS can clearly do better than this given their track record.
  • Total: 5/10

Sound and Music:

  • OP/ED/Insert Themes (2/3): OPs were decent, especially OP2. ED themes varied.
  • Background Music (2/2): Strong musical score overall. Many memorable tracks
  • Sound Effects (2/2): Repetitive and simple sound effects made it easy for memorability. Nothing that would really hurt the ears.
  • Seiyuu (1/3): Mediocre all around even for inexperienced seiyuus. Lacking emotion.
  • Total: 7/10

Enjoyment:

  • Amusement (2/2): 6 points of life prevented ridiculous plays, meaning characters had to come up with creative ways to overcome their opponent…or just rely on luck. Works a lot like Magic The Gathering.
  • Weekly/Next Episode Anticipation (1/2): This varied week to week and arc to arc. It depended on how interesting the fights were.
  • Presentation: (2/2): Overall strong. It does require the audience to sit through a moderately long introduction full of material to understand the game mechanics.
  • Re-watchable (0.5/1): It’s a long show, but likely more re-watchable than even the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters (not Season 0) series.
  • Recommendation (1.5/2): Great if you enjoy card game shows or if you have a child side to you. It keeps targeted at children/teens and remains focused on this market. Could have tried to be creative like 5D’s a little with and older character set to appeal to older audiences, but it did what it could.
  • Value (0.5/1): Not really a gem per say but not something that should just be arbitrarily discarded either. It’s something that I’m sure many people overlooked as well given the show’s nature.
  • Total: 7.5/10

Preliminary Score: 5/10

Final Score: 7/10

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