STOP THAT BLURRY ANIMATION TECHNIQUE NOW!

Anime titles within this category used a nausea-inducing blurry animation techniques that pisses me off. It look like motion interpolation algorithm going SERIOUSLY BAD.

The new main protagonist in this season, Kai.
The new main protagonist in this season, Kai.

Another disastrous HDD crash, where almost all of my anime backlog queues are store, means that there are 6 months between the last post and this one. Of course, a handy amount of procrastination, work and other things like games also contributes to the delay. As mentioned in the previous review, the third anime title for the this blog’s much-delayed ‘Anime of the Year 2014’ would be the 4th season in the Cardfight!! Vanguard series, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Legion Mate-hen.

Story:-
Our main male protagonist from the previous three seasons, has mysteriously disappeared into thin air (relinquishing his main protagonist in the process), and the job of finding him now lies with his main ‘love interest’ from the first season. Forming a crack search-and-rescue team consisting mainly of the former main protagonist’s friends, it turns out that the search effort has been complicated by the fact that the former main protagonist has apparently done a heel turn.

The 4th season of this series is definitely the best one, so far, because of various reasons that will be explained below. The first one is definitely the newly introduced Legion Mate gameplay system. where the players can now pair a Level 3 vanguard card with a Level 2 card to achieve various power-ups and abilities. Visually, Legion Mate system is also more impressive compared to previous seasons’ gameplay upgrades like Limit Break or Break Ride.

But what makes the Legion Mate system stands out is, because due to its Level 2 card summoning mechanic, it mitigates the biggest beef I have with the Cardfight!! Vanguard card game in general: reliance on luck when drawing trigger cards. With the Legion Mate system, players can actually deploy some kind of tactics so that he/she can manipulate card compositions at the top of the card’s deck. This can be easily seen in the card battle in episode 192.

The storyline in this 4th season is also the best one when compared to other titles in the series. One major difference this 4th season has compared to the previous three seasons is that I did not apply the sport genre standard handicap here due to the drastically different storyline than the previous seasons. Plus, as mentioned before, the protagonist’s swap is one of the changes happening here; the character in the first screenshot above is now the main character. The previous main protagonist instead has become the final enemy boss, although one with very little airtime. You may think that the lack of airtime for the former main protagonist is a negative aspect of this anime, but unlike quite very many anime out there, the writer has done a clever trick to mitigate this issue, which I will explain later below.

Another change in the storyline that the writer has done in this fourth season compared to the second and the third one in particular, is that there are no overt ‘save the world’ plot anymore. Of course, there is still two planets to save, but at least this aim is obscured, kinda like the way it was done in the first season. As a recap, in the first season, the main male protagonist then (who is the enemy this time) doesn’t even know he is saving the world at that time. Overall, the storyline is pretty solid from the start all the way to the ending, and the only thing you can take away from this anime in this regard is that the plot is predictable.

There is one thing other anime titles, not limited to the previous three seasons of this series, but others too, can learn from this anime, and that would be how to do post-ending episodes. This anime has two of them, and unlike other titles such as Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru or Kore wa Zombie desu ka?, this anime’s post-ending episodes integrates well with the prior final arc. This is the opposite of the former’s final episode that is so out of place; it ruins an otherwise excellent anime title that has an excellent ending arc. It was in these two episodes that the original main male protagonist got his airtime back, as his character developments winds down for the final time while many (but not all) of the loose ends are being tied up. All is done within a perfectly executed time-jump too.

Character developments in this anime that has already reached 4 seasons and nearly 200 episodes is basically non-existent at best. Only the new main protagonist has any meaningful character development here, which makes him the best character in this anime; the character development is a conventional one too just like what the main antagonist has in the second season. The rest of his search-and-rescue team members actually barely has any, and here is what makes this fourth season great: nearly all of them paid dearly for their stagnant character development in the ending arc. The surly white-haired girl, the spiky-haired middle-school brat and also the current main protagonist’s best friend were all booted out from the final arc right before the final showdown. The less said about the main antagonists for the first and second season, the better. Those two are basically just bystanders in the final arc.

The presentation aspect in this anime is also done very well. The flow of the storyline is excellent from the start to the end, helped by surprisingly well-placed recap scenes virtually in all cases. The pacing is flawless too; the director really knows when to keep a card battle long (like the final showdown) and when not to (like the battle where the spiky-haired brat lose in the final arc). The director seems to already get this figured out after 4 seasons. Finally, the stand trigger card has made its reappearance as shown in the second screenshot above, after being missing for the whole 3rd season. And there are no more deus-ex-machina moments in this fourth season.

As a whole, the fourth season is truly a great title to bring the current series to a close. The anime titled ‘Cardfight!! Vanguard G’ seems to be a new series with brand new main characters that takes place after this anime. I for sure will want to watch it in the future.

Character Design:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Voice Acting:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Music:-
In my review of the third season of this series, I’ve mentioned that its 1st OP theme is the best OP/ED theme across all three seasons. Well, the 1st ED theme of this fourth season has just surpassed it in quality. This is one of the two bright spots for this anime in this aspect, because the rest of the OP and ED themes in this anime are just average. The other bright spot for this anime is that the OST has managed to keep up its high standards brought forward from the first season onwards.

Spotted in the wild: A stand trigger card!
Spotted in the wild: A stand trigger card!

Animation/Direction:-
This is where this anime has regressed a lot compared to the previous seasons. For starters, the fourth season still retains the usage of the blurry animation techniques that was deployed in many action scenes in this anime. But the kicker here is the drastic drop of quality in character animations and character compositions, when compared to previous seasons. Jerky animations and deformed characters, especially faces, ruins certain characters especially the surly white-haired girl and the main antagonist of the first season.

General animations are decent though, and so is integration between CGI and 2D animations. The director has really improved in this series’ final season, more than making up to the some messy issues seen in the third season. After all, stand triggers has made their comeback!

Conclusion:-
9 out of 10.
The best Cardfight!! Vanguard title to date, and also the front-runner in this blog’s ‘Anime of the year 2014’ audition so far. I have decided that there will be only 5 titles I will review for the audition, and for penultimate review in the audition, it will be for Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance. I hope it doesn’t suck.

Shortlink: https://wp.me/prgSo-FU

This guy over here know the harsh reality of this game that Animax doesn't want to admit.
This guy over here know the harsh reality of this game that Animax doesn't want to admit.

It has been quite some time since I reviewed a sequel of an existing anime series I reviewed here before, with the third Evangelion movie being the last a year ago. Therefore today I will review the third installment of the Cardfight!! Vanguard series, titled Cardfight!! Vanguard – Link Joker Hen. This anime is arguably is the best installment in the series to date, so let see if the third iteration will be able to overcome the double handicap this series is plagued with.

And even the main male protagonist will slowly admit what this game is all about.
And even the main male protagonist will slowly admit what this game is all about.

Story:-
A year has passed since the start of the first season, and our main male protagonist is now a high-school student, enrolling in the same school as his card game teammate, the beautiful surly white-haired girl I mentioned before in my synopsis of the first season of this anime. Then one of the members of the Ultra-rare idol group transfer into his class and together, they created a Cardfight!! Vanguard club in the school so that they can aim for the nationals.

Cashing in from character builds up from the first and second season, the set up at the start of the anime is solid. New characters from the main male protagonist’s high school plus the possibility of a love triangle, the first half of this anime consists of the plot where the newly formed card-playing card trying to fight their way to the nationals. The first half of the anime is definitely its best part; it is like watching Cross Game, but with card games instead of baseball. And not much different compared to the whole plot of the first season.

Unfortunately, the second half of this anime consists of a ‘save the world’ plot again, just like the final arc of the second season. Unlike in the second season, this season’s ‘save the world’ plot takes up more episodes than it does in the season before it. Quality-wise, the story in this part is better than the one in the second season though, but still there are some issues about this part (and others too) that I will address below. The ending is typically predictable for an anime with these kind of stories, and whatever loose ends that are still left by the time the last episode finished playing may or may not be addressed in the fourth season that is currently airing. I will definitely watch one too in the future.

Quoted for Truth!
Quoted for Truth!

I have already mentioned some of the gameplay changes in this season in my review of the second season, so I will not repeat them here. The only new extra change I have seen after writing the second season’s review is the Quintet Wall, a vanguard-shielding technique that can be used by some of the card types in the series (the decks of the main male protagonist and the blonde Ultra-rare member can do so). I do not really like the fact that this technique are introduced fairly late into the third season, and without any significant deck reshuffling/reconstruction by the owners of the qualifying decks. If the main male protagonist has been able to use this technique in the first place during the first phase of the anime, why he did not use it during the qualification tournament for the nationals? That technique may be able to secure his team a spot in the nationals.

This deux-ex-machina card really does not help this anime one bit. And the user of the card still managed to lose even with that card.
This deux-ex-machina card really does not help this anime one bit. And the user of the card still managed to lose even with that card.

As I have mentioned in my review for the previous two seasons, the card game that underpinned the essence of this series is basically a luck-based game. This has not changed in this season at all. A couple of things to note here. The first one is that the third season employs the ‘deux ex machina’ plot device more gratuitously like the one shown in the screenshot above. This is a weakness in writing because the antagonistic Link Joker deck’s locking system can actually be circumvented reasonably easily (without needing the trigger card drawing luck) with correct tactics. Now if the Link Joker deck has a certain power that the surly white-haired girl’s first deck in the first season has, Link Joker would have become virtually invincible.

The living proof of what the card game is all about.
The living proof of what the card game is all about.

Another thing I noticed about the gameplay in the third season is the lack of Persona Blast usage and that I have never seen any of the characters draw a stand trigger card during the battles in the ‘save the world’ story arc. And maybe in the ‘go to the nationals’ arc too. I can understand not using the Persona Blast tactic, which is a powerful tactic used in the first season, when alternatives like Break Ride exists. Persona Blast could have made for a more variety in tactics though, so it is a shame to not see it at all in the third season. I wonder what kind of skill can be triggered when two ‘reversed’ cards are used in a Persona Blast, I can only imagine that would make for an awesome augmentation for/of the locking system.

The lack of stand trigger cards baffles me though, that at the end of this season, I actually thought that stand trigger cards has actually been removed from the gameplay. But after watching a couple of episodes from the still running fourth season, it seems that that isn’t the case. I wonder if the characters in this third season actually removed them from their deck composition, which for me is suboptimal for tactics variation.

Character developments in the third installment of this series is at least better than in the previous one; no more character sabotaging by not letting any characters not being able to use new techniques that this season has provided. But in this season where almost all the recurring characters has matured; heck, the main male protagonist is now the strongest in the planet, character developments for those recurring characters are largely restricted to upgrades in their decks. The new characters, mainly from the main male protagonist school, are merely the protagonist’s sidekick at best in the card game club, and their character development reflects that too.

There is also a mystery I really want solved: During the ‘save the world’ arc, where has the biggest fan of Ultra-rare’s blonde member has gone to? Did he got ‘reversed’? Or did he fought the force of evil with his sidekick that has also gone missing while his idol herself is getting ‘reversed’? Or more likely, the writer just forgot about him? Character management really takes a nose-dive here in the third season. Not to mention the extremely large plot hole in the scene below.

Did the writer ever consider the huge plot hole this event will cause when writing this scene?
Did the writer ever consider the huge plot hole this event will cause when writing this scene?

Character Design:-
Largely, my comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies. The surly white-haired girl sure has become hotter after cutting her hair to shoulder length.

Voice Acting:-
My comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

The tsundere of the series. What will happen if a tsundere character acquire 'yandere characteristics' as a result of being 'reversed'? Protip: Nasty things coming the way of the main male protagonist.
The tsundere of the series. What will happen if a tsundere character acquire 'yandere characteristics' as a result of being 'reversed'? Protip: Nasty things coming the way of the main male protagonist.

Music:-
The first OP theme of the third season of this series is the best ever so far across all three seasons, although this definitely will change in the fourth season. The other two OP themes are quite OK too. The first ED theme is also good, but not for the next two ED themes. The OST is still good just like in the previous two seasons.

The suprisingly cute main antagonist of this season.
The suprisingly cute main antagonist of this season.

Voice Acting:-
Despite the additions of new characters, my comment for this section in the first season’s review still applies.

Animation/Direction:-
The usage of blurry animation technique just like the first two seasons mean one point will be docked from the final evaluation. The animation quality in this season mirrors what is seen in the second season instead of the atrocious one in the first season. The director’s performance has really regressed though this season, with missing characters, missing cards and missing techniques.

One season too late for you to do this.
One season too late for you to do this.

Conclusion:-
6 out of 10.
If not for the aforementioned handicaps, this anime would have had the same score as the current ‘Anime of the Year 2013’ holder Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru, although the latter would still win though. The currently running fourth season would have a hard time matching this third season in terms of quality because it does not have a strong start like this one.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-DC

The main male protagonist.
The main male protagonist.

This blog ‘Anime of the year 2013’ audition ends today with this entry, and there is no need to wait for 5 months unlike the last one. Here in advance, I want to congratulate Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru for winning the audition even with a non-perfect score of 9 out of 10. This is because Strike The Blood, the final entry of the audition, is nowhere near the modest hype it has on the Internet. This is easily the worst entry in the audition, and you will know why below.

Story:-
Continuing from a story arc that probably will be made into a money-spinning OVA or movie, the main male protagonist started his first year in high school. As he returned from extra studying sessions, he was followed by a strange girl who doesn’t know that her cover has been blown. After confronting her and makes her go away, he witnessed her assaulting two random civilians. He then decided to ensure the rule of law is being upheld and then delivered the appropriate justice to the stalker girl.

For the synopsis above, I adapted the one from what I have used for my Bakemonogatari review more than 3 years ago. Comparisons between the two will be inevitable, after all these two has many similarities; from the nature of the vampiristic main male protagonists, the futuristic settings, their harem aspects and many more.

Just like Bakemonogatari, this anime has a storyline that spanned multiple arcs. I think there are 6 of them. All of them are decent enough in quality, especially the first two arcs and also the final one. When the final episode finished playing, there are so many loose ends left, and the final arc itself is written to accommodate a second season that I have not heard about yet. If you only strictly consider the qualities of the plotline alone, this anime will not lose at all to Bakemonogatari.

The single biggest reason why this anime is the worst entry in the audition is definitely the main male protagonist. In hindsight, I should have seen this coming much earlier. Actually, within the first five minutes of watching this series, the very first complaint I have is how incompatible the the main male protagonist’s voice acting gig is compared to his supposed age. This should be put on the voice acting section below, but the main male protagonist has a voice of a person at least 10 years older than his age.

The main male protagonist is basically a cross of his counterparts from Infinite Stratos and B gata H kei, with those two anime’s main male protagonists’ weaknesses amplified to the max inside the vampire of this series. His negative beta mannerisms, combined with the nagging voice acting qualities of his, gets to me quite a few times, especially with his dealings with the main female protagonist. Here I wish the vampire of Bakemonogatari replaced the one in this anime, because that would have made this anime much better.

The main female protagonist of this anime is actually a very good character, far outshining her opposite number. I dare say she is better than her counterpart in Bakemonogatari too, although not as good as her peer in B gata H kei. She only has the misfortune of being paired with a weak nearly-impotent main male protagonist, and this caused her character to go out of control a few times in the course of the anime. A true immortal vampire like the one from Bakemonogatari would have cut her down a few sizes and put her in her place.

The presentation aspects of this anime is quite problematic too. Sometimes the flow of the storyline is jerky, like in the third arc in the transition between the event where the white-haired girl giving cats away to other people and the event where the main male protagonist finds out that the white-haired girl is an angel-killing machine. Plus in the same arc, the writer failed to connect cleanly the pre-event at the start of the arc and the night-time event at the deserted island where main male protagonist finally meets the other white-haired girl. This problem doesn't happen at all times though, because this doesn’t exist in the first and last arcs for example.

The pacing of the storyline is OK though, it is even better than what is seen in Kakumeiki Valvrave, mainly due to its more consistent pacing. Character developments in this anime are done well too, even for the main male protagonist with its typical action hero development strategy. Of course, the best character in this anime is still the main female protagonist, who herself has her own flawless character development strategy. For many of the characters, especially the main male protagonist, there are plenty of room left for future character developments. Now all we need to wait for is a second season, of which there are no news about it at the time of writing.

Character Design:-
Character designs in this anime is good, at least better than what is seen in Kakumeiki Valvrave. But a certain issue that I will mention further below ruined this anime somewhat in this regard. Black hair is quite common here in the future version of Earth, balancing out the non-insignificant number of characters with white/silver hairs.

Voice Acting:-
As I mentioned above, the voice acting gig for the main male protagonist does not really match the character being portrayed. If this anime get a second season, the director must fire the current voice actor for the main male protagonist and replace him with any of the voice actors that played the main male protagonists in Bakemonogatari, Hataraku Maou-sama, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou amongst others. If the current voice actor is retained, the director has to tell him that he is voicing a teenage high school boy, not an adult.

As for the rest of the characters, voice acting gigs for them are mainly good and flawless, and that’s it. There are no outstanding gigs here at all, to counteract the effects of the poor voice acting gig of the main male protagonist. At least no one of them should be replaced though if a second season comes out.

Music:-
The OST of this anime is good, but only the 2nd OP theme is something I will put on my portable media player. Quite the same as Kakumeiki Kalvrave too.

This anime has excellent production values.
This anime has excellent production values.

Animation/Direction:-
This animation used the blurry animation technique in many of its actions scenes, therefore a point will be docked from its final evaluation. While the animation quality is decent, character composition can be awful quite a lot of times as shown in the picture above. Integration of 2D animation and CGI are not seamless, causing some scenes to look very plasticky.

Choreography of action scenes is decent, probably held back by incompetence of the main male protagonist when it comes to fighting and overdependence on his familiars. The director has done a decent job here, almost flawless except for the weak presentation aspect mentioned above (and also the main male protagonist voice actor).

Conclusion:-
5 out of 10.
The blurry animation technique really doesn’t help this anime’s case here. Therefore Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru is now this blog’s ‘Anime of the Year 2013’ title holder, and will be listed at the sidebar of this blog. Plus, I have heard that it will have a second season too, of which I will definitely watch for its main male protagonist alone.

Shortlink: http://wp.me/prgSo-CW