Cardfight VanguardYuri YoshidaAimiAtsuko Enomoto
Cardfight!! Vanguard Gaiden: If
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2020: C
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2020
Writer/director: Itsuro Kawasaki
Actor: Aimi, Atsuko Enomoto, Mamoru Miyano, Yuri Yoshida
Keywords: Cardfight Vanguard, anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 25 episodes
Website category: Anime 2020
Review date: 20 September 2022
Cardfight Vanguard Gaiden If
I'm the wrong person to be watching Cardfight!! Vanguard. It's a merchandise-driven show about trading card game battles. The game exists. It's been running since 2010 and everyone in its multiple spin-off anime plays it, wants to play it and/or only ever thinks about playing it. I decided years ago that the only way to watch Cardfight!! Vanguard is to fast-forward through all the card-fighting.
In short, my opinion is suspect. I'm so far from being this show's target audience that they shouldn't even be thinking about me. I'm also guaranteed to miss any the references to the show's lore.
That said, though, I quite enjoyed the first episode of this particular Cardfight!! Vanguard series, so I gave it a whirl. This was a mistake, but a mildly interesting one and if nothing else I'm impressed by the franchise's willingness to tell stories like this.
It's a multiple alt-universe show. A villain from the main series (Kouji Ibuki) gets sent into the future to undo his own mistake and meets up with a former side character (Suiko) and the main show's protagonist's little sister (Emi Sendou) who in this universe can transform into a magical girl. History is being disrupted by crazed monsters called Jamas. Did we ever learn what those were? Well, never mind. Every week, our extremely mismatched heroes find themselves in a new pisstake of existing Vanguard lore. Oh, and Ibuki is great at playing Vanguard but rubbish at everything else, which is ironic since no one else is interested in cardfighting and Ibuki always gets trashed when he tries to turn a situation into a card fight.
This is amusing. Ibuki is played by Mamoru Miyano, who's one of the few Japanese voice actors I recognise. Osamu Dazai in Bungo Stray Dogs, Taichi Mashima in Chihayafuru, Koutarou Tatsumi in Zombieland Saga... he's always good to listen to and occasionally made me laugh. I'm sure I'd have enjoyed the parodies of earlier shows more had I been familiar with the originals, but even so I laughed at the likes of ep.9. (In regular series continuity, Gouki Daimonji is the leader of Team Handsome and considers himself to be Captain Pirate. This version is an effeminate loser and crybaby who's universally assumed to be gay, while his cute little sister has had a personality transplant in the opposite direction to become abrasive and rugged.)
The series is inconsistent. There are episodes where I snoozed a bit, reflecting that I'd have preferred a straight magical girl show. I'm also not a fan of the theme song.
About halfway through, though, the show grows a plot and becomes less interesting. There are some baddies who don't want anyone to play Vanguard. I'm cheering for the baddies, then... but in fact there's no real difference between the baddies and the goodies. They're alt-universe versions of each other, or something. Characters can switch camps and it's hard to see what difference this makes. Furthermore, it's all just a big pile of alt-universes, so "death" just means returning to your home universe and victory will mean restoring yet another universe.
There are some mildly interesting motivations. Aichi's reason for not-very-evil is quite impressive in how blindly self-centred it manages to make what's ostensibly altruism.
The cast are pretty bland. Vanguard, ultimately, yields hollow shells of characterisation. Ibuki is fun and the show's a lot stronger when he's around. (Which isn't always the case.) I liked Emi and her magical girl friend, who manage to create something moving in the final episode. Suiko I also liked. So, in other words, the core cast I like are the regulars from the show's first half. Later non-villainous arrivals, though, unfortunately tend to be defined largely in terms of their attitudes to Vanguard. I don't care. I'm not interested.
As I said, I'm the wrong person to be watching this show.
Is this series good? Not really, but I'm glad I gave it a whirl. Thankfully, it has very little card-fighting. It's imaginative, anyway, and it's cool that the Cardfight!! Vanguard franchise has enough playfulness and self-awareness to do something like this.