The main male protagonist!
The second review for the year of 2013 is for a 2012 title, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Asia Circuit Hen. This anime is the sequel of Cardfight!! Vanguard, reviewed in this blog some time last year. As a series aired in 2012, this anime is supposed to battle Another for this blog’s ‘Anime of the Year 2012’ title, but the various handicaps this second season has inherited from its predecessor pretty much kills any chances of this anime of doing so. This second season has managed to improve in some parts when compared to the first season, but has regressed in one key element when doing so. To know what part this second season of Cardfight!! Vanguard has managed to screw-up, read the rest of this review. Oh BTW, because the last entry of this blog doesn’t have any pictures, this one instead will have a lot of them.
Rather than wasting precious real estate to casinos, Singapore is better off building Vanguard stadiums instead.
After winning the national championship in the first season, the main male protagonist’s team has disbanded, and he spends the rest of his days moping at the fact that he has lost the love of his life (Kai). Suddenly, out of the blue, a mysterious kid appears, kicked the main male protagonist’s ass in a Vanguard game and stole his valued Vanguard deck, replacing it with a deck foreign to him. The mysterious kid then taunted the hero, saying that he has to win the Vanguard Asia Circuit tournament in order to get his old deck back, using the new deck given to him. Therefore, the main protagonist and his old teammates has to criss-cross the Asia-Pacific region in order to retrieve what has been stolen from him.
Let’s go straight to the major regression this second season of Cardfight Vanguard has, that its predecessor doesn’t. That would be the ‘save the world’ ending arc, which is a completely unexpected turn in plot, and absolutely out of step with the story themes of the first season, and most of the materials in the second. I can understand it if the main male protagonist have to save Planet Cray from devastation (that’s what he does in the first season too), but the ‘save the Earth’ plot in the ending is a step too far. There is nothing wrong, for example, with a final tournament in knock-out or round-robin formats, between the winners of all Vanguard Asia Circuit as the plot of the final arc, which blends seamlessly with prior events in the second season and also the first one.
This pretty much sums up what the game is all about despite what Animax tagline says.
The storyline for this second season, excluding the ending of course, has slightly decreased in quality. But this regression in quality is more than made up by the lack of forced drama scenes and misapplied flashback sequences that plagues the first season. The second season has two beach episodes though, which is still nowhere as good as the gold standard of all anime’s beach episodes. The decrease in quality may have to do with fewer episode count when compared to the first season, more emphasis on tournaments (which makes the ending arc so out of place) and the obviously intentionally-placed throttle on developments for characters that isn’t the main male protagonist.
One of those scenes where a player 'conveniently' get a suitable trigger card at the right moment and the right time.
One thing that the second season has improved upon the first is the gameplay of the Vanguard card game. Make no mistake here; this game still depends hugely on luck when drawing trigger cards to determine the result of a card duel (exactly the opposite). And just like the first season, the writer has used this fact to skillfully manipulates the direction of the storyline. But the addition of extra game modes in Vanguard circuits after the Singapore one makes the card duels in this sequel better than the ones in first season. The notable game mode I really like is the tag battle mode in Hong Kong leg of the circuit. These game modes gives more variety to the card battles, instead of the usual best-of-3 game mode seen exclusively in all tournaments in the first season. These variable game modes also helped this second season of Cardfight Vanguard become better than its predecessor, indirectly, when it comes to story presentation.
With the new game modes seen in the tournament circuits, the already excellent pacing in in-tournament battles in the first season has actually improved in the second season. This is a major surprise to me, because initially I don’t think there are any room for improvement for this anime in this department. This is achieved by getting rid of the usual 3-battles per-round game format with single-battle per-round format that drastically reduced the amount of episodes needed to cover all the 4 tournaments in the Vanguard Asia circuit. Adding to this fact, the pacing of the general storyline also increased, allowing less episodes to be used for them. This may explain how the second season can pack as much action and plot as the first season, in only 39 episodes. For comparison, the first season has 65 of them. The flow of the storyline has also be improved, especially by the lack of the misapplied flashback sequences I mentioned earlier above.
The game modes makes the second season card battles far more interesting though.
But when it comes to character development, I have a very deep feeling that the writer is actively trying to sabotage the character developments of certain characters, especially the main male protagonist’s teammates. The signature feature of the second season is the ‘Limit Break’ technique, where a Level 3 card gets specific stat bonuses, special abilities or other positive features if the player has at least 4 damage inflicted upon him/her. As expected, the main male protagonist gets to use Limit Break from the first leg of the circuit, but his two teammates are a little bit slow on mastering this Limit Break thing.
In the first leg of the circuit at Singapore, only the main male protagonist is able to use Limit Break, while his other two teammates doesn’t. Okay I said, this is only the first leg, surely the other two will follow suit and use Limit Break in the next tournament. Then the South Korea leg comes and goes, and only the main male protagonist is using the Limit Break technique while the other two doesn’t. Okay I said, after being schooled by opponents that uses Limit Break in Seoul, surely they will follow the lead of their group leader and then use Limit Break in the next tournament.
Then the Hong Kong leg comes and goes, and yet they still doesn’t use the Limit Break technique, although they are now capable of beating opponents that uses the technique, even without using it. It was here then I started to wonder what the hell the writer is thinking. In anime titles like this, especially in sports titles, characters in those titles usually learned from their mistakes and improved in the next tournament. This doesn’t happen here at all. In fact, if the character development strategies seen in the first season is used in this second season, all three members of Team Q4 should have been able to use Limit Break already by the time the Hong Kong leg plays out.
The second season could have been better with a more radical match-ups though. How about Aichi vs. Asaka and Misaki vs. Ren?
Then after the defeat in in the final at Hong Kong, all three members of the Team Q4 received a new card each, and then participates in the final leg of the circuit that is held in Japan. Okay I said, surely this time, with new cards for everyone, the main male protagonist’s sidekicks will be using Limit Break in the do-or-die tournament. You know what happened? Only one of them (the brat with spiky hair) actually used Limit Break, and the other one (surly white-haired girl) doesn’t, as Team Q4 finally wins the last leg of the circuit. Wooooah, I said, the last person’s Limit Break must have been saved for the final Royal Rumble free-for-all tournament with the winners of Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong legs of the circuit. Surely, that’s what will happen, right?
But no, the awful ‘save the world’ final arc comes after that, where the main male protagonist does most of the fighting while his teammates donned up some pom-poms cheering him at the sidelines. You will never see the Limit Break technique of his white-haired teammate even after the final episode stopped playing. What a messed up character development strategies this anime has, which is nearly up there with the abomination that is the ending arc.
A pivotal moment in the whole series: A love confession at the end of the cape!
But in the third season of Cardfight!! Vanguard, that is airing right now, I have glimpsed a few new exciting features that should make the third season better than its two predecessors. In the third season, the main male protagonist enrolls in the same high school as his white-haired teammate. Not only that, the blonde member of the crappiest idol group in anime history also transfers into his class. I never thought she and the main male protagonist are of the same age; that would explain the strange attraction of him by her throughout 104 episodes of the first and second season (in retrospect, she is extremely important plot device used by the writer to advance the main male protagonist’s character). In the new high school era for the main male protagonist, if the writer wants to write in romance elements, like for example, a love triangle between the main male protagonist, his classmate and his white-haired senior, all I want to say is: YES PLEASE!
And God no, please no more of ‘save the world’ plot again.
If this brat is of the same lineage as Lee Kuan Yew, then Singapore is doomed if you ask me.
Not only that, the third season completely do away with character development problem in the second season that I mentioned above. The third season’s signature feature is the ‘Break Ride’ technique, when you chain two Level 3 cards in the Vanguard position to obtain +10000 attack power, which can be made more devastating when combined with the Limit Break technique. In the third season, not only that the main male protagonist can already use it, but the new character in the third season that is new to the card game can actually use it too! Even only after a few episodes, the third season sure has lots of promise.
As long as there are no more ‘save the world’ plot
My commentary of the still running third season of Cardfight!! Vanguard is included in this review of the second season, because for the first time in years, I have decided to watch this anime on a weekly basis. I will not write anything more about the third season after today, until the last episode of the third season finished playing (hopefully it is sometime in 2013).
Quoted For Truth!
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.
While the OST is still as good as ever, just the way it is in the first season, the same thing cannot be said for this second season’s OP/ED themes. The second season only has one good themes, which is the 2nd ED theme. This is so unlike the first season that has many good OP/ED themes.
The second season still have their own share of freaky Vanguard teams.
Just like the first season, the blurry animation technique is being used, so one point will be docked from the final evaluation. The animation quality has improved from what I have seen in the first season; no more PowerPoint slideshows for character animations. General animations is still good; no improvements but no regressions either. The director can be credited with the tightening of pacing in in-game battles, but not for allowing the ending to be the way it is now.
5 out of 10. Still the same score as the first season. Hopefully, the third season can improve on this.
The overriding ambition of the main male protagonist, which ends up unfulfilled.