This is a YuGiOh (YGO) style anime (made by the same people, has the same character archetypes, and even has a few subtle references to that show), meaning it is made just to promote a card game. At the same time it is very different that YuGiOh and in a way tries to deconstruct the formula in order to create a more realistic overall. And guess what, this is exactly what makes it so lame. Although I was never a huge fan of the older franchise but did appreciate the cool presentation. And yes, I did have the motivation to learn how to play the game thanks to the anime. Vanguard on the other hand is far from cool and quickly loses its glamour. There is no better way to explain what I mean than to keep comparing these two anime, showing where one succeeded and the other failed.
1) YGO was the first major card game promoting series and for that it had created a sensation. Afterwards, the novelty faded (since a dumb idea can only work once) and the later seasons, as well as other anime that tried to copy its success, simply didn’t work. And to no surprise Vanguard is not a hit either.
2) YGO and especially its first version which never went overseas, was very dark and creepy. It had all sorts of occult overtones to the point many parents thought it was initiating their kids to Satanism. They obviously watered down the atmosphere with each new season in order to calm down the adults and to increase the age advisory to the point their latest shows seems completely tamed and easy-going. Well unfortunately for them this is exactly what made it so cool to watch. It was full of occult stuff; demons and devils and satanic rituals. The kids loved it as much as the parents hated it. And thus you get Vanguard that is plain childish and boring. No evil charm to it.
3) YGO had a plot where defeat would mean some really scary and creepy stuff. Your body would be shred to pieces, your soul would be trapped in limbo, hell would break loose on Earth, the planet would blow up, evil would rule the universe, and someone would kick a puppy. Vanguard doesn’t have that sort of looming threat as defeat means nothing more than trying to learn from your mistakes and improving along the way. As mature as that sounds, it is far from cool and the target audience is little kids who want cool stuff.
4) Although both shows have a very similar weak/pathetic geek as a protagonist, the one in YGO had a cool dark personality that was taking over his body and unleashing all sorts of awesome powers upon its enemies. Vanguard is nothing like that; the geek remains a geek all the way. Although he also has a sort of dark personality too, it is just a minor side story and it is meant to be scary and hidden away instead of us saying how cool it is. So we are supposed to hope the dork remains a dork and his cool dark powers never come out? Seriously? Lame!
5) Hairstyles! YGO had some really crazy cool ones. Vanguard does not.
6) The monsters of YGO were early on presented as creatures from ancient Egypt or demons from hell who constantly try to get to our world and trash everything. That was cool. The ones in Vanguard are presented like aliens who are at war on their planet but otherwise can’t and don’t want to have anything to do with our planet. Lame!
7) The players of YGO hardly use copies of the same monster in a duel, unless of course they need two or three of the same kind in order to do some cool strategy. In Vanguard they summon the same monsters again and again, as if there are only a few dozen different cards in each deck. This makes it both boring as well as trashing the illusion of each monster being a special individual.
8 ) The monsters in YGO were appearing in battles through holographic projectors and later on in the flesh. In Vanguard, none of those cool things happen. You are supposed to IMAGINE them fighting. I am not kidding you, you are literally supposed to imagine you are on the alien planet, imagine the monsters fighting, imagine them hitting you, and imagine that losing a duel has some sort of serious significance in your life. The only thing I imagine when I am doing that is BULL SHIT! Just show it to us you idiots; this is not literature, it is an animated show for kids.
9) YGO had the very convenient but otherwise cool plot devise of “Heart of the Cards”. Every time you were about to lose, if you had faith in your abilities you would magically draw the only card that could possibly save you in a one in a billion chance. And that would be followed by a very cool display of MY CARDS WILL NOW KICK YOUR ASS! In Vanguard you don’t get that feeling. It’s like you are supposed to draw cards and hope you will trigger a counter BY COMPLETE CHANCE! That is not cool at all. It doesn’t even have a cool name for an otherwise convenient plot device.
10) As a follow up to the above, the very Vanguard game is hardly as exciting as YGO. In YGO you were made to think you were using a strategy since the very beginning. For example, trap cards you set from your hand would remain hidden on the battlefield so the opponent would have no way to guess how you are planning to own his ass. And at any time you have clear knowledge of how you plan to activate those said cards or the opponent could through various means cancel them before they are activated. This was creating both a sense of control as well as building tension to see how the whole thing will play out. Well you hardly get this in Vanguard because you can’t plan ahead your strategy. Every time you attack or defend, you draw cards and just HOPE they will give you triggers. That’s right; there is no way to know if it works or not. This makes the whole thing to feel very random and chaotic.
There are of course some elements that make Vanguard a lot more mature than YGO and I will mention them here as means to give it the credit it deserves.
1) Vanguard is not about winning but about learning from your mistakes. Thus the protagonist is losing many, many times throughout the show. Although this is hardly as cool as in the SUPER AWESOME YAMI YUGI WHO NEVER LOSES at the same time you see how he is supposed to improve along the way by trying new strategies and cards.
2) Vanguard has actually some capable female players in it. Unlike in YGO where they are used mostly as fan service and are completely useless in card games, over here you get some seriously good gals who know how to kick ass. That makes it more respectable to the female audience.
3) Vanguard is following the rules of the real game correctly. That is, no mambo-jumbo stuff that does not happen when you play the real game. Let’s be honest, YGO was barely following the proper rules and was just making up stuff just for the sake of coolness.
4) The whole show is JUST about card games. Not about saving the world by playing a children’s card game. Sounds lame, but also more realistic at the same time. The characters are trying to get better, in courage, planning, social life, wisdom, awareness, and lots of other stuff by playing this game. Ok, they of course overdo it in the way this is supposed to work but it is otherwise shown properly.
And despite the above positive remarks, the show is still not as good. As sad as it sounds, the target audience will not be inspired to go buy the game if it looks so real. If little kids watch a protagonist who loses half the time, they will think the game sucks. If they see good female players in it, they will think it’s gay. They won’t care much if the rules are presented properly as they would if the battles are cool. And no, the battles are not cool because you are not trying to save the world with a bunch of cards. It is plain entertainment 101 here and an anime is supposed to be entertaining first and educational second.
Ok, let me now talk a bit about more abstract stuff that I felt about this anime. First of all, I hardly liked Vanguard as a game. I did bother to go learn it but it far from exciting. You are not given the feeling of epicness coming out of it, since most of the time you are replacing monsters instead of feeling you are empowering them to something better. You don’t have 8000 AWESOME LIFE POINTS, you just have 6 cards of life. No matter how powerful your attack is, you only normally inflict 1 card worth of damage. You don’t set traps to use in a later round but draw cards the moment you attack or defend and HOPE you will get a trigger. You can’t mix cards from different clans very well because synergy is overused to the point the number of strategies you can use is limited. Even the number of available cards felt very small but that had to do with YGO airing several years after its release instead of what Vanguard did, when the game was still new and with a small amount of different cards.
I also am too old now to get into the whole card game madness as easily as I did about a decade ago. It was so easy to do so back when I only had Pokemon, YGO or Digimon to watch or play but after all these years the constant sequels and spin-offs have saturated the genre to the point I don’t care much. Even when Vanguard tried to change the formula, I still didn’t feel it was doing much to improve it past its nasty trappings. In fact, it felt worse than before.
And for last I say… IMAGINE??? Really now. IMAGINE??? People don’t watch anime to imagine anything. They watch to be handed over a concept they are supposed to take at face value or analyze with what they feel or know. Vanguard doesn’t do any of those things. The rules are set out clearly, the concept is way too simple, there is nothing to think or feel about it. It… just… is.
… And it’s for kids. It doesn’t have emo lolis, incest, lesbians, gore, or whatever other crap sells a billion bucks these days and makes people to consider them mature and thought provoking (I am joking but it’s sadly true for most). So no, there is nothing to see here. It is way too saturated and way too simple and way too real for its own good. Not recommended.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: General Artwork 1/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 1/2
SOUND SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 2/4, Sound Effects 2/3
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 1/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 1/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10
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