The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 89 – Cardfight!! Vanguard

Cardfight Vanguard

Last week’s column covered the anime of Yu-Gi-Oh!, a series which spawned the world’s biggest trading card game. This week we cover another anime related to trading card games, but not in a good way, for this week’s column is one of those rare occasions where I cover a series that I personally hate.

Cardfight!! Vanguard began as an anime in 2011 and is currently in its fifth TV series. There is also a manga and the aforementioned trading card game connected to the series. But whereas Yu-Gi-Oh! began as a manga, and then the anime and the trading card game were based on it, in the case of Cardfight!! Vanguard the anime, manga and game were all created at the same time, and were all designed to promote each other, so from the very start this series has been criticised for being too commercial – which it is.

In the anime, people are obsessed with playing Cardfight!! Vanguard (imagine that). The lead character, a timid boy named Aichi Sendou, doesn’t play the game but he owns a very rare card which he treasures. Some other students bully Aichi into giving his card to them, but then Aichi is able to win his card back after it is taken by an expert player named Toshiki Kai, who actually gave him the card in the first place when Aichi was a young boy. The series follows Aichi’s passion for the game and sees him taking part in various tournaments with Toshiki and other friends. Later on in the first series Aichi seems to gain strange psychic abilities, and then later series expand to cover a larger sci-fi scenario.

There are several problems I have with Cardfight!! Vanguard. As stated, the main one is the commercialism. The entire series is designed to promote this game, and while I am not that much of a gamer, Cardfight!! Vanguard does come across as being inferior to Yu-Gi-Oh!, partly because of the setting. Cardfight!! Vanguard is set on an alien planet called Cray. When a trading card game forces you into having to imaging you are on a different planet, you do end up thinking that the makers are trying too hard to make it more exciting than it actually is.

The strange thing is that you do not get this sort of feeling when you play video games or when watching an anime based on a video game. If you play a video game based on an alien world, the said world is there on the screen. You can engross yourself in it in a way much better than any trading card game could do. Also, part of the problem with anime based on trading card games in general is that for most of the time you are watching people playing these games, whereas in video game anime then tend to just follow the plot of the game.

Put it this way. When you watch Pokémon (No. 25), what you see on screen is two people using their weird and wonderful Pokémon to battle each other. You do not see the characters on Nintendo’s playing the game itself. To reference my favourite line from an anime about a fictional-turned-real video game Sword Art Online (No. 34): “There’s nothing more boring than watching someone else play an RPG.”

There are people who like playing Cardfight!! Vanguard, and if you are one of them then good luck to you, but the game is not for me and the anime promoting it is just crass. You get the feeling everything you watch it someone has put in subliminal advertising secretly saying: “BUY THIS GAME!” But seeing as that all they ever really do in this anime is play this game, they don’t need to bother.

Cardfight!! Vanguard is available to stream via Crunchyroll.