Cardfight!! Vanguard – Looking back at something still going forward

All right, get ready for another long post (Shocker, right?). While I could easily do more building toy reviews, I’m going to try and tackle some other subjects. This time I’ll be talking about Cardfight!! Vanguard, the first card game I quit that didn’t die on its own. Most of this will just be me talking about my experiences with the game such as how I got into it, what got me out, likes/dislikes, etc. It’s been a long time coming for me to talk about card games so why not one I’ve given up on because it gave up on me? And what better time to post this than on my favorite character’s birthday, November 1st? Or it would’ve been November 1st if the plot didn’t cause delays. Belated as it may be, here it is now.

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The Anime

I’ll start with the show because the few episodes I saw at the time got me interested in the game. It didn’t have the invincible main character like similar shows. He undeservedly wins in the first episode because of plot but he otherwise did not start out good and he’s allowed to lose. Most of the show was grounded in reality with the characters going to the shop, making friends, practicing to become better, and playing in tournaments. I thought this was a nice change of pace from what we’re used to in Yu-Gi-Oh! It felt more welcoming and relatable where in other shows they’d be establishing plot and bad guys already. Unfortunately, magical powers did come in and it got pretty stupid. I liked some of the themes explored but execution was questionable and I had a better time watching rivalries play out than the nonsensical plot. Let’s not forget product placement. The first episode tells you that Cardfight!! Vanguard is so popular that all other card games are irrelevant. Right… Also, there are episodes that promote real life product by having the shop owner character hold them out and say their actual names while characters play a game with them. That gets irritating but at least it’s better than Yu-Gi-Oh! where I still can’t get some of the cards I’ve seen over ten years ago. These are shows meant to sell cards. Why can’t I get the cards you’re showing me? Tired of this Lego Green Lantern syndrome. To my knowledge, with the exception of less than ten, every card you’ve seen in the Vanguard show has been released and I appreciate that. This first season was okay. It was really nice seeing them follow the actual rules. With a few exceptions you can learn elements of play and deck strategies for use in real life. I cannot understand why every Yu-Gi-Oh! anime still refuses to do this. It makes absolutely no sense and all it does is confuse kids into playing incorrectly. Do they want kids to make fools of themselves? I’ll mention that while saying a chant when playing your main card is cool and shows the bond between player and ace, they totally ripped this off from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s. Vanguard at least has multiple chants for the same card but it felt bad seeing them take that from a mostly better show. I’d probably take the best of Yu-Gi-Oh! or 5D’s over the best of this but I think it was a solid try.

If you haven’t done a search on Cardfight!! Vanguard birthdays yet, my favorite character is Tokura Misaki. It wasn’t hard for me to pick her as my favorite. She isn’t whiny or a wimp and when she’s emo she has a legitimate reason for it. She’s also stoic, protective, and doesn’t take your crap. Her parents died in a car crash when she was a kid the night before they taught her to play. She develops an eidetic memory where she can recall all events in her life and things in general. This helps immensely when playing Vanguard because she can count cards and remember card effects along with what makes it into her opponent’s hand. She even learned how to play just because she runs the shop and hears/watches others play. I think it’s badass that she has a real skill instead of mutant powers or winning just because. When she plays, she’s reminded of her parents’ death and she once quit the team because she didn’t want to recall her sadness. The deck she uses was given to her by her parents which happens to complement her perfect memory well. Beyond that, her purpose in the show is to support her team through tournaments and overcome her rivalries. Something else I really appreciate is that she’s a competent female which is rare in such shows. Yu-Gi-Oh! just doesn’t want to have one with the exception of Aki and they couldn’t even keep her consistent.

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Special thanks to “friend whose name will not be said for safety” for getting me the autographed card. A shame Bushiroad was so adamant about not having Misaki’s voice actress Kitta Izumi sign cards or I’d have had her sign an Amaterasu. First time I’ve heard of such restrictions, especially since I’m supporting your product. Not allowing signed cards in tournaments is one thing but not allowing them to be signed makes no sense. While I’d have liked to meet her too, this was a very cool thing to have as a fan.

Sadly, those positives only apply to the first season. While the friendship stuff carries over, the writers pooped all over Misaki’s character in the second season. Most of the beginning had her lose constantly which reeked of higher-ups dictating that they have to push new cards to sell. For this purpose they have to make her deck seem bad. At this point in real life, her deck was still competitive so while what she switched into was just okay, I hated that they made her lose so much just to push new cards. Disgusting… While they give her the garbage excuse of changing her deck so she can win for her friends, that she abandoned the deck her parents left her was just awful. I don’t think Batman would leave behind the deck his dead parents left him. He’d find a way or he’d find the writers and tell them who he is. The main character also happens to have a new deck at the beginning due to plot bs but of course it’s a good deck and there’s no indication his previous deck is now bad. That’s fair… It was sad to see my favorite character lose so much and not even in good games, you knew she was going to get trashed. Her skill was still there. It’s not like she got worse at the game. She just didn’t have the new cards the company wanted us to buy. Anyway, I’ll admit that I didn’t sit through the whole season. There’s some good stuff like tag team games but the plot was stupid, horrible new characters were introduced, and it lost a lot of the charm the first season had.

The third season seemed to go back to the first’s roots. The beginning involved the main characters trying to get a Vanguard club started at their school. No powers for the most part so it was nice seeing them play without world-ending stakes again. I feel like Vanguard’s at its best when they’re just living their lives and playing for fun. Once they put crap plot into it, it takes me out of it. Anyway, Misaki cuts her hair short and unfortunately she completely swapped decks. She wasn’t even playing Oracle Think Tank anymore. She plays Genesis now for no reason but to push new cards. A new character I liked was Naoki. He was very endearing and you can’t help but root for him. I like that he gets to call Misaki “onna-banchou” because of the way she acts and looks but she doesn’t really care. I question sometimes why characters can wear variant uniforms. Isn’t the point of a uniform to make everyone look uniform? I like her look with her ankle-length skirt but she doesn’t even bother to tie her tie. She isn’t really a banchou or a delinquent so I don’t know what’s up with this. No one really questions why Yusuke in Yu Yu Hakusho has a green uniform either. I guess in his case, the staff has bigger problems to worry about. Just an observation I had. I have to mention one of the best episodes I’ve seen in this series, 136. It doesn’t have Misaki in it but it’s got my other favorite, Usui Yuri. Her first appearance had her beating Misaki’s logic and calculations with faith in her deck. It’s interesting seeing Misaki rely on probability and lose with a reasonable move when she would’ve won if she relied on luck. I like that her play philosophy conflicts with Misaki’s making them good rivals. In 136, we get more new cards > old cards but we also see flashbacks to where she met another of my favorites, Kenji, who she fell in love with. It was nice seeing these two meet, become friends, and gradually make their way to winning a championship. This episode really got me because I like both of them and I didn’t want Yuri to lose. Due to plot, Kenji’s evil now and easily wins with his new cards turning Yuri evil too. Oh nooooo… See, we need more of this. You have good characters we’re invested in. Use them for something. I skipped around the season because it just got really stupid and unnecessarily tedious. Most of the season was good guys turning bad because of… stuff and the still good guys turning them back by challenging them to a card game. It’s better than season two but that’s not saying much.

Season four’s where it started to lose me. Watched almost none of it though it was nice to see the main character written out of the way so other characters get a chance to shine. Did they? Not really. Also annoying how they kept saying “mate” in English because one of the new mechanics was called Legion Mate. You’ll get stupid dialogue like “I fight because he’s my friend, my mate”. Ugh… I know you’re trying to push your crap guys but nobody thought this sounded stupid? Shortly after, I completely gave up on the show. The new season which just started airing gave Misaki her long hair back and it’s been said she’ll use Oracle Think Tank. I guess the deck she plays is dependent on whether she has long or short hair? Still, I think it’s a more than welcome change to finally have a new cast. It’s a time skip but hopefully the old mains don’t come back in to hog the spotlight or if they do the writers are unbiased about it and use Misaki or their plethora of likeable side characters. I do like that we have older Kamui as a main but the previous true mains need to just get out.

Beyond the show I also enjoyed Mini Vanguard (or MiniVan…) which was a bunch of shorts where the characters are super deformed and do parodies, jokes, etc. Was looking forward to these more than the actual show. Definitely liked seeing Amaterasu talk and be a character. It was very nice to see chibi Amaterasu get a card too.

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Once again, special thanks to “friend whose name will not be said for safety” for getting my card autographed by the Mini Vanguard manga artist Quily and getting me that neat postcard. Pretty cool that the characters have their original main card’s item of choice. That’s one way these shorts are cool with all the nods to things fans would pick up on. The Amaterasu card having Secretary Angel in the back is a reference to her actually being her secretary. Good on Quily for adding her in. The flavor text also references Amaterasu’s lore where at some point she had to go now. Her planet needs her. Funny that the flavor text just calls it a business trip when it was actually during wartime.

The Card Game

Now I’ll go into the card game relative to the anime seasons. I got into the game because I had a friend who played and I liked the show. My friend got me some packs where I got lucky with good cards which was nice. Soon after I bought a bunch of packs for the first time where I pulled CEO Amaterasu (My favorite card), Battle Sisters Cocoa (Second favorite), Chocolat, and Mocha. While a playset in this game is four, this was enough motivation for me to build Oracle Think Tank which is the same deck Misaki plays. That was convenient. Problem is that in the first set, you couldn’t make a full Oracle Think Tank deck. So I did what I could splashing in cards from other clans for the time being while getting all the relevant Think Tank cards. This game was incredibly fun and can get so tense. There’s a great excitement when you need to flip the right card to get your win and it you get it. It has a pretty easy learning curve and rarely felt broken. To be fair, I wasn’t using all the ideal cards, just the combination I felt to be the best I could do at the time. I didn’t do too bad and really, that’s all I can ask for. I had a blast playing the game and it wasn’t hard to get good at it.

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The original Oracle Think Tank dream team – A boss card who is literally a CEO running a company that has a division of combat nuns, each with a unique fighting style. Oh, Japan…

I think around season two was when the English releases for the game got stupid. We got the first and second set, then they gave us the sixth set. This was lame because I needed the third set to finally have a legitimate Oracle Think Tank deck. Some speculation for why this happened was because Bushiroad, the company that makes the game created a ridiculously unfair card in set five and wanted to hold off on it for their English releases. Yeah, still don’t get it. If that was the issue, then skip five after three and four. Why bring six in so early? Luckily we got set three right after and on the first day I wasted $80 on packs trying to get the Tsukuyomi forms, two of which are RRR (I hate you Bushiroad), the equivalent of Ultra Rare in Yu-Gi-Oh! I got garbage but I had a friend pick a final pack and it had the SP version of the final Tsukuyomi. SP is a variant of rare and higher cards in the set. These have unique foil patterns with raised textures you can feel and they can be worth a lot due to their low pull rate. It burned spending so much for nothing but this card made me break even. It was also my first SP ever and it happened to be the exact card I wanted. Good end to a day of crappy packs. After set three we got set seven… makes sense. As time went on I was more or less able to create my ideal deck. I was Misaki-ing through tournaments and it was just great to finally have an Oracle Think Tank deck that stayed competitive for a while. It’s so nice when you can play the same deck as your favorite character and it does well. What’s your excuse, Yu-Gi-Oh!?

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Chicken finds girl, girl rides chicken, DNA Digivolve into… well, makes more sense than Shakkoumon.

Somewhere during season three is where I dropped out. While the show pooped all over the still competitive Tsukuyomi deck, around the end of season three is where I saw the warning signs. The first was upcoming cards which seemed to get more and more broken and unfair. Payoffs for little or no effort along with not supporting certain clans and decks but the lack of support was nothing new. Power creep is inevitable but this was taking it to a level I’ve not seen before in such short periods. This is Yu-Gi-Oh! level bad. Due to reasons unknown, Bushiroad didn’t seem to have any intention of having English releases catch up to Japan which I think was the plan when they first started. This was a problem because thanks to the internet we know the sets ahead of time when they come out in Japan. When we first hear of new cards we get excited about what’s to come. Unfortunately, because there aren’t simultaneous releases or even close enough releases like Yu-Gi-Oh!, by the time those cards get “Englished”, the ones you were excited for are outclassed by better cards Japan just got so nobody cares anymore. I can’t think of a reason not to do simultaneous releases, especially when they know their game’s a hit. Once again, I guess they just don’t want to make too much money.

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We’ve had two Naruto attacks with Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, why not Susano’o now? Let’s have Amaterasu Mega Evolve too.

The other thing that stood out to me was how the new cards were so against splashing other clans in. Nearly every effect now requires you to be playing the card’s clan. This I didn’t understand because Bushiroad is essentially punishing you for trying to be creative and mixing clans. If it weren’t for non-exclusive effects I wouldn’t have even had a deck back in the first set. What happened here? I’ll tell you. Deck building in this game has always been pretty linear with the exception of sets one and two. Once some clans got enough support there isn’t much in the way of putting your own twist to the deck. You more or less built the deck as Bushiroad dictates. Very rarely can you innovate, especially when effects became clan-exclusive. If you’ve played this game enough you’ll also see that every clan has “clones” or cards that do the same thing. That’s less effort and creativity on the designers since every clan/theme has X and Y which you have to play. Skill still matters but that’s just in play. Bushiroad wants you to spend money the way they want and get the cards they want you to get. Another issue was the introduction of the Lord ability. This mostly appeared on “boss” units. This ability makes it so your boss can’t attack unless all your guys are from the same clan. At this point they’re telling you you can’t even play out-of-clan cards and TRY to get their effects off. They couldn’t use this waste of space for a relevant effect? Why is this necessary? We were already limited when building decks. What, did we not have enough restrictions?

There’s also the issue of the higher level and even some shop tournaments using a best-of-one format. This means you only get one game per opponent. If you’ve played this game before, you’d know this is absurd. Games can end in minutes. The same could be said of Yu-Gi-Oh! but you get best-of-three there. This is the last game that should implement best-of-one. Good players are getting punished for bad hands or their opponent being too lucky. It’s not even that they brought a bad deck. Despite all the skill they have, all the time they spent at the beach doing card-drawing motions, they only get one try. I know that there aren’t guarantees and bad days happen but just one try? Granted, other games use best-of-one but those are justified. Games like Score’s Dragon Ball Z and Fullmetal Alchemist were designed to have long games that could take a while to play. This… not really. The way it’s set up, you can go three wins and one loss which in any other game is usually fantastic but here you might not make it to top cut. You lose twice? Get out because that’s a rule. Imagine spending gas and time driving to one of these and getting robbed like that. Personally this is a really stupid format for this game and the only reasons for it is so the Bushiroad people can go home earlier and save money. Sure, two-day events are expensive and taxing for everyone but I feel like you’d get a lot more people if you got rid of best-of-one. This game could easily handle best-of-three with an acceptable amount of matches going to time. My friends from other games didn’t believe me when I told them this was how competitive Vanguard worked. Not one person thought this was a good idea and that alone was enough for them to not play. And yet like so many other things, enough people buy into it and attend so Bushiroad doesn’t have to change a darn thing.

With no sign of my deck theme getting any support and it gradually being unable to contend with other decks which also constantly get outclassed and require forced replacements, the game mutated from what it once was and I just couldn’t follow it anymore. This is not a cheap game and unlike Yu-Gi-Oh! where your staples and Extra Deck carry over to any other decks you build, you can’t do that here. You want a new deck? Have to start from scratch for the most part. They took the Yu-Gi-Oh! business model of making broken cards to force competitive players to buy into it but then making broken-er cards which forces them to switch decks if they want to stay competitive but on a bigger level. It’s a shame because Bushiroad seems to have lost their way. You can tell their attitude has changed drastically when the game first started. This might be the old man in me talking but those were better days. It was just so much more relaxed and every deck had a semi-fair chance at winning. Nowadays, that’s still possible but you have to be very lucky. The power creep has gotten way out of hand where it used to be reasonable or potentially dealt with. I’ve stopped keeping up with Vanguard but I’m still sort of collecting. I want to try and finish the earlier sets because there’s a lot of nostalgic value to them. I also want to get the remaining SP variants for Oracle Think Tank I don’t have now that their value has tanked. They’re my buddies after all.

In conclusion, Cardfight!! Vanguard had a great start with both the card game and anime. It just kept getting worse as time went on. Season one had a fine run and was solid for what it was but future seasons were made as though they didn’t know they would keep going so we got a lot of bs plot and character destruction. The philosophies the card game once had seemed to have been overtaken by greed. I feel bad because this game probably had one of the best starting sets I’ve seen. For the most part, it wasn’t full of garbage and it knew where it was going unlike other games that take a few sets to find their ground. It was a blast to play such a simple but exciting game. At this point, I don’t see my issues improving at all. If people are still buying, there’s no reason to stop what they’re doing. This game is far younger than Naruto or Score’s Dragon Ball card games but I was sad to see it go downhill so fast. As I said at the beginning, this is the first card game I’ve played that I quit. Every other one died from eventual lack of interest or stupid decisions by companies. Still, I’ll always have fond memories of the game and cherish my favorite cards that’ve been with me for my time playing it.

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2 thoughts on “Cardfight!! Vanguard – Looking back at something still going forward

    • It surprised me how competent they made Misaki unlike the “good” Yu-Gi-Oh! females where we’re supposed to think they’re good, someone says they’re good, and all their wins are offscreen. The Vanguard anime actually shows why Misaki’s good. Perhaps not the deepest character in fiction, but passable for a show like this.

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