Reviews: Cardfight Vanguard
Season 2 Finale: Episode 104
I thought I'd cover this, as it's easily worth it. The first quarter of this episode is actually amusing, for one major reason. Leon spends his last turn as a Large Ham Chewing The Scenery, and it is GLORIOUS. Not to mention him turning over a Damage by pointing at it. Glory Maelstrom has much better animation this time around, and overall it's really fun to watch him ham it the hell up. Kai also comes hilariously close to Lampshade Hanging Leon's Plot Armor by noting that Leon is 'burdened by fate' so will definitely get a Trigger. Then Aichi gets a predictable sixth Damage Heal and the episode goes downhill. His win with Platina Ezel's Ultimate Break was insanely predictable and insultingly easy, with Leon not even able to muster a token guard against Blaster Blade Spirit and then Platina himself. They couldn't even be bothered to add JAM Project to the thing, instead hoping the generic Gold Paladin theme could carry it. Which it really doesn't. After this, things get really silly. A gate to Cray opens, leading to the salvation of Cray from Void. Which turns out to be black fog. Which Blond Ezel blows away on his own, cementing his Gary Stu status as well as making every inhabitant of Cray carry the Idiot Ball for the second finale in a row. The one good note is Garmore making a pretty blatant 'It'll Be Back', giving hope for Void to be handled competently in future. Ezel and a suddenly good Glory Maelstrom unseal the trapped Clans. After this, Aichi finally reunites with his lost Royal Paladins, and have a heartfelt reunion. Aichi then brings up his promise not to just use Gold Paladins to get Royals back, and through Takuto's PLOT MAGIC, the Royals turn into the 'Liberator' Gold Paladins to appease his wishes. We go back to Earth with Limit Break as the insert just to have us suffer it one more time, and we discover about the Royals to Golds plot convenience. Season end. To sum it up, the one reason to watch this is Leon. It's incredible easy to be Rooting For The Empire given Leon's sympathetic motivation and hammy performance next to Aichi's generic nakama speech and ridiculously easy victory. Void is likewise easily defeated, making the Clans of Cray seem even more pathetic when Ezel oneshots the force. All in all, a terrible end to a bad Filler season. Vanguard can do better.
Coming off of Season 1, Vanguard can be said to have ended on a bit of a low, given the idiocy surrounding the revelations of Psyqualia in Episodes 64 and 65. Then Season 2 started and the plot seemed interesting enough. Aichi loses his Clan, with Royal Paladin, Shadow Paladin and Kagero being sealed and replaced by the Gold Paladins and Narukami. The idea was intriguing and separated Aichi from his comfort zone with everyone else unaware of the existence of the former Clans. It rapidly descended into anything but interesting. The Circuit consisted of three practically identical stages, with tons of Filler Padding in between just to really dull the mind. The plot was dropped for about thirty episodes to allow for repetitive, monotonous, dull circuit stages and episode after episode of Q4 angsting about not being good enough, when what was actually happening was The Worf Effect to advertise Limit Break. Misaki in particular got hit hard by the worfing. The Big Bad, Leon, wasn't even introduced until easily over halfway through the mess, bringing with him a chance for interesting plot which rapidly vanished into the third of the dull circuit stages. Once the fourth stage is finally done, being just as dull and predictable as the previous three, the plot suddenly takes a complete turn to Cray, with the winning teams being told they have been chosen to save Cray from the nihilistic power, Void. Leon predictably pulls a More Hero Than Thou, only for the next episode to change him into Evil All Along in a rather bizarre twist. From there, he beats Kai following the removal of the pointless filler team, SIT, in a game which is painfully insulting with its liberal application of Leon's Plot Armor in the form of Kai being forced to make misplay after misplay. Moreover, Kai's character is utterly destroyed in a horrific sequence where he attempts to compare the gradual extinction of Leon's family and their despair and helplessness at being unable to bring back Aqua Force to save themselves to Aichi's plight. Aichi's plight being losing his trading cards for a few months. Season 2 is a massive letdown. It is painful, dull, repetitive, full of Filler, carrying over the most irritating aspects of Season 1 without the redeeming qualities, destroying characters, and in general just acting as a Merchandise Driven dullfest.
Good and Bad
I started watching this series to scout out the shiny new card game. What I came out from, 65 episodes later, was something that was... pleasant. Not wonderful, but good. What was good? The card games were realistic. Though some situations were contrived in a way to drive the plot, this can be expected. I must make the tired old comparison here to Yugioh. In Yugioh, the rules of the game were different from what you bought in the shop, and odd, supernatural situations often shook the game up further. Vanguard has... none of this, apart from two examples: one, a psychic power PSYqualia that makes the user incredibly lucky and savvy at the game, which is fine as a plot device and is generally presented as a bad thing; two, special rules in some of the season two matches, but those are stated to be exceptions. The villain is a Stop Having Fun Guy that everyone can all hate together, and the mentor group are all very likeable, with a good attitude to the game. Drama surfaces quite often, feels justified by the events of the plot. There's even a lovely Shout Out to Super Robot anime like the Brave Series in episode 18 of the second season. And the bad? The supporting cast. I wish we could be just rid of Nagisa, Katsumi, and Kamui's two friends and the inordinate amount of padding they cause. Far, far too often is the plot derailed for Nagisa to chase Kamui around, or Katsumi to start mooning over Kourin. Hell, Kamui himself gets especially annoying when time is spent on his crush on Emi. It doesn't serve the plot and simply pisses off those who are trying to follow said plot. Also rather disconcerting is the inconsistency between the first and sewcond seasons. Most of the drama and plot of the later half of the first season revolved around PSYqualia, which was always an obstacle in the way of Aichi. Come the second season, after it's been defeated, it's back, and... nobody seems to remember it! Not even the three people most involved with it last time around - Aichi, Kai, and Ren seem to have any recollection of its destructive influence anymore. If you can overlook these faults, though, this is a solid anime for anyone looking to research the Trading Card Game, or even just for some light fun centred around a tabletop game.
An Underrated Game Changer
Fundamental to the show’s success is its excellent characterization. The varying philosophies of each prominent Vanguard fighter is delienated, providing insights on what Vanguard means to them at crucial junctures in the story. It can be said that what defines the protagonist’s team is how different they are from one another. Before the external threat is introduced , the members’ clashing ideologies thus create tension from within. It is insufficient to determinedly improve themselves as fighters and it is made clear that the self-improvement necessary to put these differences aside is imperative in advancing in the Vanguard world. Once we care about the characters, it is easier to pay attention to the game mechanics, especially for non-players. The writers appear to follow two guiding principles: firstly, to only depict cardfights which contribute to the narrative’s development and a comprehensive understanding of the game and secondly, to include players of varying skill levels.The wide range of perspectives and players represented thus functions to promote the game to a broad demographic and convinces the audience on why Vanguard plays a major role in the characters’ lives. The emergence of the supernatural elements seem antithetical to the established sense of realism in earlier episodes. However, I would like to point out that even mid-way through the series ( approximately Ep 34 out of 65), the writers still made the creative decision to have the audience get to know the characters in what some view as “filler” episodes rather than relentlessly raise the stakes. The more we care for these kids, the more we are genuinely unsettled when an unknown force inevitably sneaks up on them and threaten their happy, peaceful lives. Furthermore, as the supernatural only comes into play near the show’s climax, it is thus less a thematic formality and more of a dramatic device to reinforce the mythic tradition of the protagonist’s monomyth. Unlike other protagonists of the sub-genre who merely undertake the role of in-verse mythical supermen, he is hence elevated to the position of an archetypal hero comparable to others in narratives across all genres and cultures. Therefore, in fulfilling conventions beyond those stipulated in its sub-genre, we can arguably say that the fantastical in CFV has the positive effect of making it transcendent.