When I watched Cardfight Vanguard for the first time thanks to YouTube advertisements I absolutely loved it. I thought the story was great and well written, I adored the characters and I loved the soundtrack. Yeah, the production values were not that great but least it was tolerable. Cardfight Vanguard Season 1 is one of my favourite anime alongside with Code Geass, Clannad and Slayers. However, I was 14 years old when first watched Cardfight Vanguard and I was still developing my tastes. Fast forward 6 years later in the year 2018 where my tastes in anime had grown, I decided to re-watch Cardfight Vanguard just to see how it holds up as an anime without my late nostalgia for it. After re-watching 65 episodes of Cardfight Vanguard, I have to say this. Cardfight Vanguard Season 1 is a good anime, however, I don’t think that the show is great as I use to as it has a lot of flaws that hurt the show quite a bit. Now with that said and done let’s get started.
The story follows a young timid boy named Aichi Sendou who is a had time socialising with his peers at school. The thing that kept him going in life was his rare card Blaster Blade which he received when he was a kid. It’s an important rare card from “Vanguard”, a card game with the imaginary world of “Planet Cray” as its stage. From the day he reunited with the person who gave him that card “Toshiki Kai”, Aichi’s everyday life began to change.
The story of Cardfight Vanguard is pretty good but at the same time pretty flawed but for let’s talk about the good starting with the first 2 episodes.
This is easily the best first episode I have ever seen in a card game because not only does the show does a fantastic job at establishing the game itself as well it’s characters, world-building and themes but it also a great job at drawing the audience in into the show. I loved how nicely paced where the first cardfight was as it nicely explained all the rules about the game itself making the viewer interested in buying the actual cards itself.
The one thing that this show has over other card game anime is that the show is narratively grounded. Most of the dialogue, characters and even the cardfights were grounded where many scenes of the anime actually happen in real such as communication failure, misplaying, teammates looking out for each other when times at rough to even skill and luck that can put you into a winning side or a losing side.
Out of all the card game anime that I have seen Cardfight Vanguard was the only card game anime that I was really infested in as most of the fights were won/loss by pure skill and luck rather than asspulling and Deus ex machina bullcrap that plagued Yugioh anime since 2000.
Along with the shows, grounded feel comes in the show’s worldbuilding. I don’t mean by city establishments but about the player diving into the hobby of card games where not the show a lot of realistic details such as having people open actual booster packs a tournament setting in a local shop where we spectators and players enjoying the game of Cardfight Vanguard as well a having an official national/regional tournaments that are professional in design and tone. This was easily the one thing that Cardfight Vanguard has over any other card game anime like Yugioh, Selector WIOXSS and Future Card Buddyfight and am glad the show put a lot of effort of making the life as a vanguard player feel very realistic and relatable.
Speaking of realistic Cardfight Vanguard least in season 1 by far the most realistic card game anime to ever exist as from start to finish the anime is very grounded in nature we see the highs and lows of set vanguard player, for example, Aichi, in the beginning, was a timid player who is not that good with game who often makes misplays just like a real new vanguard.
However, the series progresses where after Aichi and the rest of Q4 lose they first nationals as well Kai giving him the motivation to get better Aichi starts to become a more confident fighter. However, due to Psyqualia Aichi starts to have a downward spiral where he almost completely himself as it starts being this cruel to not only his opponents where he completely slaughtered them in a Cardfight but his fellow teammates calling them weaklings.
However, after Kai destroyed his Psyqualia winning spree Aichi starts to reflect off all the bad things he has done while he was consumed by Psyqualia and from there Aichi becomes a much better person where he doesn’t rely on gifted power to win as being a loving caring person.
(End Of Spoilers)
Cardfight Vanguard biggest strength is how the show portrayed it’s realistic portrayal it’s themes that actually happen in real life. Themes of teamwork, commutation, redemption, regret, were beautifully explored in the anime as each of the 4 chararters one of two of these them into they respective chararters arcs that goes on in the story. Unfortunately, Cardfight Vanguard does have some flaws. The second half in pacing and at times quality times was inferior as the soon as Q4 loses the first national tournament the story starts to drag quite a bit where many of the episodes are just a repeat of the first half but with less charm put them for the most part. As much I love seeing Aichi using his Psyqualia to brutally destroy his opponents in cardfights I feel like the other content such as Team Q4 second journey of being the national champions to be pretty lacking until the final 5 of the series.
Along with team Q4 second journey being less exciting compared to the first comes in the show predictably where almost every single cardfight in the second half seemed to have thick plot armour at various times competently ruins cardgames. I won’t any of the cardfights as it will to big spoiler territory but all I say that I was a bit I was a bit upset when a more grounded card game anime such as this has deiced to take the predictable route that was for the most part not fun. This is stuff that I expect from Future Card Buddyfight and sure that show was a bit predictable but least that show was self-aware of itself plus team Balle du Soleil journey of winning the ABC and Gaen Cup were not a chore to watch compare to this.
The biggest problem that I had with Cardfight Vanguard season 1 is Ren as well the poorly executed Psyqualia elements. Ren himself was a decent villain at as he simply to gather many skilled cardfighters under his leadership in Team Asteroid, however, thanks to a terrible line that Ren said in one episode he quickly devolved into this generic power-hungry villain who simply wanted to take over the world using his Psyqualia. It was a shame because I kinda liked him as a character.
As for the Psyqualia elements it was okay in the beginning but the further the show progresses the less sense it make thanks to show subpar build up of it as it just came out of nowhere especially in the last 3 episodes as the show tried to make Psyqualia more epic than it actually is but failed due to shotty directing as the show barely truly shows the true existence of Psyqualia enough for the viewer to care.
Overall despite the flaws that I mentioned, I thought the story of Cardfight Vanguard to above average. It may have a lot of good things but at the same time, it has quite a bit of mediocre things that at various points hurts the show.
When it comes to the characters in Cardfight Vanguard I thought there were solid for the most part.First up we have Aichi I’m going, to be honest with you I really liked him a lot.
Until Cardfight Vanguard all the card game protagonist he doesn’t suffer from card game protagonist syndrome where they all overpowered and lucky throughout most of the game Aichi is a card game protagonist where he actually loses his matches quite a lot especially in the beginning as just a fairly vanguard player who has still had yet to truly come out from his shell. His character development and progression were very satisfying to watch as he is this weak kid who gets bullied and picks on for a living to this more confident person who is not improving his social skills but he also capable of fighting against the strongest players in the country. This is a card game anime done right as I getting tired of seeing theses overpowered card game protagonist simply winning by either getting too lucky or by a contrived Deus ex machina that the plot magically decided to pull out off its ass. Overall Aichi is a great character that I enjoyed from start to finish.
Next, we have Kai and am going to be real honest I don’t really care for him all the much especially in the beginning. He’s not a bad character but the way he’s portrayed in the plot was very cliche and boring. He’s your typical overpowered character who lucksakes his way to victory where he hardly loses a cardfight. I may have a spot soft for overpowered characters in anime as along the set is self-aware of his overpowered as well be an interesting/ likeable character but Kai, for most of the shows run, is neither of these two things and as a result, Kai is a pretty weak character substance wise. However, I will give Kai this in the final 2 fifths of the show he becomes a much better character where more sympathetic as well having strong character development where he starts caring for his teammates. Despite that, he was a pretty decent character but at the same time, he could have been a lot better.
Now we have my favourite character in the show Misaki. Out of all the characters in the show, she’s the most developed of the bunch. She has a tragic backstory where she lost her parents in a car accident whereafter that car incident she became socially withdrawn to others especially to vanguard where it only brings out her worst memories that cause her physical pain. However, as the series progresses she starts to be more sociable where during the cardfight against a newcomer Emi aka Aichi’s little sister she’s stars to realise how fun vanguard really is as a game. I also feel like she was the most constantly relatable character in the show where her character flaws were better executed than Kai and Kamui as the show goes a great job at making us the viewer about all of her issues that she has to overcome. Her final fight in season 1 is the perfect example of this as she finally grows as a character who is not playing Vanguard. Awesome character well-done Busihiroad. Finally, we have Kamui and I have a love/hate relationship with this character. In the first half, he was stereotypical bro character who supports and cares for the protagonist well being. He was also pretty annoying as well he is the main cause of the bad comedy as well a contrived love junior love triangle that barely went anyway. While I didn’t like him in the first half he due to his bratty Beauvoir the second half completely redeems him where not only he becomes a more mature kid but he a nicely told redemption character arc he completely redeem himself of all the actions that did in the first half such as arguing with Kai and leaving the team when the team needed him the most. This was one of the things I liked about this season. They took a character that would be in people character shitlist and did a 180 where he later transformed him a much likeable and relatable character who has character flaws. I really liked how the show closes his character arc where despite him losing the match against Tetsu in a final couple of episodes he proved that he has the right to play in a national level alongside with his teammates.
The rest of the characters of Cardfight Vanguard were sadly pretty forgetful. Apart from Miwa, and at times Emi who were interesting and enjoyable, the side characters were not all that interesting as they feel like character stereotypes that we have seen before in card game animes in the past not to mention some of the side characters in the show were pretty annoying. Cough Nagisa and Katsumi.
Overall the characters in Cardfight Vanguard were good but not great.
Now we get to the weakest part of Cardfight Vanguard the visuals. Am going to be dead honest with you guys the visuals in Cardfight Vanguard were pretty lacklustre. The character designs may look good and appealing but that’s not my problem with Cardfight Vanguard visuals am talking about the animation. Now I understand that card game anime was meant to be low budget as they meant to advertise the cards but I feel Cardfight Vanguard abuses it’s low budget to a point where many of the scenes of the show are still frames, recycled footage and stiff movement. The saddest part about is that this show came out in 2011.
The soundtrack is awesome as most of the songs were very rememberable and iconic.
Some of my favourite tracks include Rens, power,Kai’s Theme, Kamui’s theme, Misaka;’s Theme, Despair, Battle of Psyqualia and Kai determination. On top of having a rememberable soundtrack, I really adored how the tracks were directed in the anime as gives many key scenes from the anime more impact making the key scenes more rememberable. The soundtrack was so good I downloaded all the songs on my computer and I actually play some of the tracks when I am cardfighting with friends.
The first opening theme Vanguard” by JAM Project (eps 1-33) is a pretty good song that fits the lighthearted strip tone of the first half.
The second opening theme. Believe in my existence” by JAM Project (eps 34-65) is in my top 30 favourite anime openings of all time.
The ending themes, on the other hand, were not memorable minus ending 1 and 3.
Now for sub vs dub. The sub from what I heard was pretty good but nothing too special. The dub is actually good. Yeah, it may start off cheesy where certain characters sounded a bit stiff but as the series progresses the characters improved to a point where gotten used to the roles. My favourite performance in the dub was Roger Rhodes as Ren, James Beach as Aichi and Carol Anne Day as Misaki. Unfortunately, thanks to Bushiroad awful business move the first season of Cardfight Vanguard has been blocked in countries such as USA/UK and some other places in the world however if want to watch it dubbed go to 9anime as it has the same dub that was released in 2012/2013.
So after 6 years since my first watch of Cardfight Vanguard what do I think of it. Well, I think Cardfight Vanguard Season 1 has held up nicely over the years. It had some good intriguing theme exploration, the plot despite being predictable in the end was solid and the main characters were nicely developed. It, unfortunately, has some problems though. The comedy is unfunny, the side characters apart from Miwa and at times Emi were pretty forgetful, the second half pacing wise was inferior to the first half and the production values were pretty lacklustre. Despite these flaws, I still find the first season of Cardfight Vanguard to be a pretty satisfying watch that I enjoyed.
If you’re looking for a card game anime that is grounded and easy to watch then I recommend Cardfight Vanguard Season 1. It may not be perfect but it’s a pretty solid show that you should check out.
Final Score 8/10
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