SSBS – Cardfight!! Vanguard Episode 20: Hidden Message

SSBS - CFV Ep 20

Plot: It’s the second match of the finals! While Kai steps up for his match, Aichi stews in anxiety as the weight of the tournament piles on his shoulders. He knows Kai will win, leaving the deciding match to him. Self-confidence slowly fades away from Aichi, but Kai sends him a hidden message with this battle. Will Aichi get what Kai is telling him?

Breakdown: This episode is 80% pointless. Even the characters know that Kai will, no question, win his next match, and we, as an audience, know he won’t lose to Mr. Kaboom. And if he did lose to that kabooming ignoramus, I think I’d drop the series along with my faith in humanity.

The only real point of this match is to bring Aichi’s waning self-confidence back up since he now realizes that he’ll be the deciding factor in whether or not they win the tournament.

What’s that, you say? What of Misaki?

Well, dear reader, she’s….refusing to battle. Yes, even though she was the main player in the team and Aichi was just an alternate, and even though she arrived so late the tournament was nearly over by the time she arrived, she vehemently refuses to play the final match when Aichi asks her.

I assume this is for the sake of building him up as a Vanguard fighter, but I’m really failing to see what the point even was of making her the main teammate in the first place. She has been completely without a role here. Also, isn’t she a bit too green herself to be doling out these life lessons like this?

How we even reached the ‘message’ is kinda strange and I’m not sure it makes enough sense. Kai taught Aichi to nut up and battle through………winning a Vanguard battle like Aichi knew he would. Aichi’s realization was that he wants to be as awesome as Kai, and to do that he can’t run from challenges.

So was this just Kai strutting his tail feathers around Aichi? Before his match even started, he said he doesn’t fight against players who run from matches. Considering Aichi’s deep almost obsessive admiration of Kai and his desire to battle him someday, I imagine that’s literally all he had to say to get him to do it.

What I don’t understand is how that gave Aichi confidence. Even when Kai’s match is over, he still says to himself that his skills are nothing compared to Kai’s.

In similar situations, the example being given to the character without confidence is usually by another underdog, or at least someone who’s not the obvious winner. They come back against all odds to win either through sheer determination, skill or hard work. Sometimes, the example in question doesn’t even win. It’s their behavior and attitude in battle that inspires the other character.

Here, we go into the match knowing Kai will win, even Aichi says that straight out, which is why he gets nervous in the first place. Then Kai wins and that somehow turns Aichi’s attitude around.

The one question mark was why Kai was choosing not to guard certain attacks when he easily could’ve, but obviously that was just part of his endgame strategy because again, duh, he’s not going to lose.

I might be a bit harsher on this episode than necessary because I felt a bit cheated. We’ve skipped over several matches that would’ve been interesting to watch in their entirety yet they dedicate an entire episode to Kai vs. Billy Mays and his KABOOM. Coming fresh off the heels of Kamui vs. Nagisa, which was both annoying and redundant in their play styles, and this final is turning into a disappointment.

I’m a bit conflicted on whether I want Aichi to win or lose. Kamui changed the terms of his marriage agreement with Nagisa to needing to win the finals as a whole for it to stick, so that’s on the line, but she’ll probably be a recurring character anyway.

I’d like Aichi to win, but on the other hand, if they do win this tournament this will probably lead to the Nationals, and not too long ago I praised this series for not going too far with their tournaments too quickly. I get that the stakes need to keep going higher for the sake of audience interest, but I always feel like shooting too high too fast causes the realism factor to diminish.

And just to get this out of the way, Morikawa was also putting his annoyingness on high today. That combined with KABOOM made me go into this episode feeling irritated enough.

All in all, I’m not really upset with this episode, I didn’t even find it bad, I was just disappointed. I didn’t expect much from this match to begin with, even Goki would’ve been thoroughly spanked by Kai, but I feel like it was a big waste of time.

Aichi’s moment of picking himself back up should’ve been handled a lot better. Maybe have Kai go first, then Kamui, then have a brief break where Aichi is freaking out about going into the finals with the victory resting on his shoulders then have Kai talk with him or even have a side-match with him or something. This just wasn’t the way to go, in my opinion.

Rating: 5/10

Next episode….

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SSBS – Cardfight!! Vanguard Episode 3: Welcome to Card Capital


Plot: Aichi’s sister, Emi, has been noticing changes in her brother lately. He’s getting up earlier and coming home from school later. One day, she decides to investigate by following him after school. She first believes that Aichi is getting beaten up regularly by two thug-ish looking guys from his school, but she soon realizes that he’s been playing the card game, Vanguard, with them every afternoon.

Emi secretly watches her brother play a game in Card Capital and realizes that playing this game has made him stand a little taller and be a bit more outgoing. He’s very noticeably happy and excited when he’s playing the game, and Emi is happy for Aichi to have found something that he truly enjoys. She reveals what she’s been doing and cheers him on as he starts up another match.

Breakdown: Something I keep praising about this show is how much I love the laid back atmosphere. So many shounen shows love to shove major drama and world-saving stakes down your throat that sometimes you just want to enjoy the game for what it is. After the first handful of episodes in Yu-Gi-Oh, how long was it before the main characters had a friendly match together with nothing on the line again? How many episodes of Beyblade do they go, at maximum, without some startling revelation or dramatic showdown?

Hearing this might make you think the obvious: “Well, without that stuff, the show would be boring.” Vanguard shows that losing that stuff does not a boring show make.

This episode starts off very filler-y. We’re introduced to Aichi’s little sister, Emi, who is one of most tolerable and likable little sister characters I’ve seen in anime in a while. A good chunk of the episode is her having delusions that Aichi is about to get beat up by Morikawa and Izaki. However, even the filler-y aspect 1) is not filler-y because it technically has a point and 2) is pretty funny.

When she finally gets to the card shop, it’s a bit surreal. The main focus is really not too heavy on the match itself. It’s equal parts Emi’s reactions to watching her brother and the match.

Keep that in mind – she’s watching her brother play, not so much watching the match. She doesn’t really understand what’s going on anyway, but she’s far more interested in Aichi’s change in demeanor when he’s playing.

The scenes in which she’s analyzing Aichi’s behavior were a great breath of fresh air. I feel like nearly any other show’s little sister character (Outside of Shizuka from Yu-Gi-Oh, but she’s older than Emi) would probably mock her brother, either internally or otherwise, for being so invested in a card game. But what does Emi do? She’s glad that her brother has found something that makes him involved, happy and little more confident. She even actively starts cheering him on.

In this simple little episode, in which a character I’ve never seen before comes to a revelation I never knew mattered, I felt more emotional response than I have in a long time of watching shounen gaming anime. I am endlessly impressed by how much I’m enjoying this show. I really hope this series keeps its momentum, because I’d hate to have to deal with the same shounen schlock from a really good show.

Speaking of Yu-Gi-Oh, this episode reminded me a bit of a plotline in Yu-Gi-Oh. Well, a very small plotline. In the earlier episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh, Jounouchi is chastised by Yugi for having a deck filled with beasts and absolutely no trap or magic cards to his name. Like many novices, Jounouchi thought card games were all about power and that having cards for support or strategy were pointless.

Here, Morikawa has that same issue. While he’s doing a little better than Jounouchi used to do in his rookie days, Morikawa has loaded his deck with Grade 3 monsters, which can’t be summoned unless they’re built upon Grades 0-2 monsters. This also means he has practically no drive triggers or lower level monsters for support or defense. Like Shin notes, his deck is riddled with balance issues. When we watch him fight Aichi, his balance issues are highlighted while simultaneously showing the audience that one of the reasons why Aichi’s deck is so good is because his deck is extremely well balanced.

This episode really brought to light how great the dubbing is. It’s nothing astounding or anything, but everyone sounds and acts like a real person. Morikawa, voiced by Lucas Gilbertson, was particularly well done in this episode. The writing is also much better than your average shounen gaming anime fare. I was laughing out loud at several lines. TMS did a great job with this series.

The only thing that bothered me was, every time Emi (age 12) was noticed by other students of Aichi’s age (15), they all kept assuming she was either waiting for a boy from the Junior High or that she’s Aichi’s girlfriend. Was a little weird is all, especially considering Morikawa and Izaki made this assumption after she said that Aichi was coming home late. Why doesn’t anyone jump to ‘little sister’?

Rating: 8.5/10

Next time, Aichi vs. Misaki! Whoo girls can play card games!

….Previous Episode

Episode One-Derland: Cardfight!! Vanguard

Plot: Trading card games have become incredibly popular over the years, and there’s one game that stands as the most popular – Cardfight!! Vanguard. A boy named Kai is the best around, but finds he’s bored with battling even the supposedly toughest players in town.

A very shy and timid boy named Aichi truly loves the game, but he’s never really battled before. He just likes the cards. One day, his most prized card, Blaster Blade, gets stolen by a bully and then lost on an ante battle to Kai. Aichi challenges him for at least the chance to win him back. Graciously, Kai lets Aichi borrow Blaster Blade since he’s new to the game and even explains the rules as they battle. But is Aichi’s bond with Blaster Blade enough to defeat Kai?

Breakdown: Shounen gaming anime. So we meet again. Like I’ve mentioned before, I sure do have a soft spot in my heart for shounen gaming anime and I’m glad to say that this is one of the better anime in recent memory. Why? Because they take it easy.

Sure, the monsters do show up as actual creatures and implement real attacks, but the thing is that all of the battles, so far anyway, are merely in their imaginations. Now, you might be thinking ‘Wow, that sounds really…..stupid.’ And it’s understandable that you would think that, but consider any time that you’ve played a trading card game such as this. A lot of people do the same thing. It’s just illustrated for the audience here.

As I was saying, they take it easy. At least so far. The game is just a cool game. They have fun with it, but they’re not going over the top or going bonkers with ‘the world rests on our ability to play a card game’ stuff. The worst that happens is that Aichi gets beaten up for a rare card, and, in my experience with Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards back in the day, that’s, sadly, not unrealistic.

They also do a pretty great job introducing the characters. Kai’s a very skilled player and a stoic character, but he’s definitely not an ass like most characters in his archetype tend to be. He has mercy, he enjoys the game and he helps people out. He has a couple assy moments, but they’re not that bad and one of those moments turns out to maybe not be assy.

Aichi is also likable since he’s not the big loud undefeated newcomer that usually is the main character trope in these shows. However, he might have the stink of ‘prodigy newcomer’ on him. He really loves the cards and seemingly is very interested in playing the game, he just has trouble making the connections to actually battle people.

Even the bully in this situation, Morikawa, wasn’t over the top Muahahaha villain-esque bully. He was an idiot brute who uses brute force to try and reclaim whatever honor he thinks he has.

The only bad character so far to me is Taishi. He’s Kai’s ‘friend’ and really his only role in this episode is to make fun of people and crack jokes that aren’t funny.

Since Aichi is (seemingly?) a complete newbie to the game, they do a very thorough job explaining the game to the audience without shoving exposition in our faces. It’s also really not a complicated game at all, and I’d like to give it a try some time.

The art is obviously pretty simplistic and none of the character designs stand out well, but the animation isn’t too shabby, especially for this genre.

The music’s alright and fitting, though the OP and ED really haven’t hooked onto me. Broken Engrish abounds, too.

Final verdict:


Congrats, we have another Shounen Step-By-Step contender! This show seems to be off to a great start. I really love when shounen gaming anime just have fun for the love of the game, and I really hope it keeps up.

Update: Shounen Step-By-Step started!

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