The next entry into the genre of “kids playing a kids game that, somehow turns into a ridiculously high stakes real-life battle”.
Aichi Sendou is a timid young boy in his third year of junior high school. The one thing that keeps him going is his trading card Blaster Blade from Cardfight!! Vanguard, a trading card game even though he’s never played the game. Eventually, Aichi ends up at a local card shop named Card Capital. There, Aichi has his first cardfight with Toshiki Kai, an aloof and cold-hearted high schooler who has outstanding abilities and who originally gave Aichi his Blaster Blade when Aichi was little. Aichi wins the fight, and begins to enjoy a fulfilling life as he delves deeper into Vanguard. Aichi’s primary goal throughout the beginning of the series is to become a stronger fighter, so he can once again battle Kai and have him recognize his worth. Aichi eventually places high enough at a local tournament to join with Kai, Misaki Tokura, and Kamui Katsuragi to form Team Quadrifoglio (“Q4” for short). Together, they enter regional and national tournaments to test their skills against fighters from all over Japan.
As the series continues, Aichi and the rest of Q4 take on a lot of other card fighters and develop their own rivalries. They also get caught up in several situations where they have to fight to help the alien world Cray, the world their game is based on. They also have to fight to save the Earth, with Aichi ultimately being the hero that saves the day in most situations. Throughout each of these conflicts, Kai and Aichi’s friendship is a constant through line. The two are often on opposite sides of the conflict, with Aichi or Kai trying to bring the other back from a “dark side” on several different occasions. The series runs through 4 seasons with seasons 2-4 having their own titles:
season 2: Asia Circuit
season 3: Link Joker
season 4: Legion Mate
So the first, and most obvious, question about this is going to be: So how is this different from the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise (or other trading card fighting game anime)? On the surface, the answer to that is that there’s not much difference. You’ve got a team of kids playing a card game. There’s the young doe-eyed kid who used to get bullied but has some mysterious power. The older stoic rival. The token female character who plays with a deck of all girl cards, and a younger kid to round things out. Add in an older role-model character and a supporting cast of familiar archetypes and you’ve got the basic building blocks for these kinds of shows. That being said, I don’t really care about the similarities. If you watch enough anime you’re going to find shows that resemble each other. The important thing is what do they do differently and whatever it is that they do, is it done well?
For Vanguard, the thing that I’m most interested in is the card game itself. Yu-Gi-Oh! had an interesting card game system, but the rules always felt like they were morphing to fit the situation. It was also pretty obvious that the anime decided that rules weren’t really that important to the game as the show progressed. Vanguard seems to have that under control. The game they created has a pretty straight forward rules structure. The rules are actually pretty simple and that makes it harder to kind of “cheat” the system.
That being said, as the show has gone on longer they do seem to randomly add a few new abilities like “cross-riding” and “limit breaks”. Now, I’m no aficionado on this game, so I don’t know if these were rules that were actually in the card game at first or not but the anime definitely just adds them as they go. I’ve been pretty willing to overlook these things though because these new abilities do seem to be dependent on certain cards and the framework of the game is set up such that special abilities are really dependent on the types of cards available to the players. Vanguard does try to add one extra bit to their story by giving Aichi (the main character) some poorly defined power called Psyqualia for a while. Ultimately, Psyqualia is shown to be a linkage between selected card fighters and the planet Cray, the world that the Vanguard monsters are based on. So, of course, this means that the game that’s being played, in some ways, is representative of a real fight between clans of monsters. Overall, this power is little more than a plot device and is basically discarded in later story arcs.
Past the game though, this really is show really has been a lot like other anime in the genre. It’s clearly geared toward selling the card game to it audience (and it appears to be doing a pretty good job) and it actually does a good job of teaching the viewer how to play the game (unlike some other shows in this genre). The story lines are just excuses to have the characters battle with their decks, which, in some ways, are just as much characters in the show as the sentient beings. Every now and then the characters will get new cards or completely change their decks, but there’s just one card battle after the other.
If you really like shows like Yu-Gi-Oh! or Bakkugan, then this would be right up your alley. Otherwise, I’d avoid it. This show is probably going to come in at 160+ episodes before spinning off into a new generation called Cardfight!! Vanguard G. So, if you’re not in it for the long haul it’s not really worth getting started on.