The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
BUILD-DIVIDE -#000000- CODE BLACK
How would you rate episode 1 of
BUILD-DIVIDE -#000000- CODE BLACK ?
What is this?
In "New Kyoto," the next king is decided through one's skills at a card game, Build Divide. It's said that players who defeat the king will have their wish granted. Teruhito Kurabe vows to defeat the king for a certain purpose, and is led by a mysterious girl, Sakura Banka.
How was the first episode?
Way back when I was regularly covering the WIXOSS anime (remember those? Don't worry, neither does anyone else), I often complained about how arbitrary and dull the card battles felt, because the rules of the game were completely meaningless to anyone that didn't already play WIXOSS. “What these trading card game anime really ought to do,” I said, naïve and unbroken by time as I was, “is either abandon the literal card game conceit entirely, or teach us all the rules so we can follow along!” Well, here comes BUILD-DIVIDE -#000000- CODE BLACK's to answer the call at last. In addition to handily winning the title for most tryhard title of the season, Build-Divide is here to make damned sure that we all know the rules for its incredibly serious children's card game, and to make sure I choke on my words in the process.
Honestly, though, where do I even go from here? We get the barest minimum amount of exposition in this premiere's opening scenes—there's a city with a capital-K “King” who will grant your greatest wish if you win enough games of Build-Divide, the hip new card game that the people are dying to play. I mean that literally, too, because right after Sakura runs into the enigmatic Teruto, I'm pretty sure Teruto uses his deck of cards to murder a man over a squished piece of bread. This is never again brought up by the show.
Instead, the rest of the premiere consists of Sakura teaching Teruto how to play Build-Divide. No, really, that's it. Sakura explains the decks' card limits, what territory cards do, how to activate different card types and keep track of health points; the works! They play the game. Teruto does some super badass hero guy card plays, which somehow result in him wearing one of the Top 3 Goofiest Outfits I have ever seen this side of a Tetsuya Nomura joint. Teruto wins. Sakura is impressed. That's the episode.
Now, I know I literally asked for this. I demanded to be clued into the rules of the mysterious, wish-granting trading card game, because I was silly enough to think that it would somehow make for a more entertaining show. Why did I think that stretching the confusing nonsense of a cartoon card game out to the length of a full episode would be better? I have no idea. 2016 was a different time, man. I was still a boy, an inexperienced little fool with so much to learn about all the ways that Japanese cartoons could be bad. I know better now, though.
For people who can actually play the card game, Build-Divide might have some merit as a flashy tutorial and glorified commercial. Since I will literally never play a single game of Build-Divide for as long as I live, this anime has nothing to offer but confusion. Both because I still don't know how to play the freaking game, and because I'm pretty sure these kids murdered a man over a piece of bread, and I guess that's just a normal thing for this world!? I'll stick to the latest Magic: The Gathering release, thank you very much. It's got werewolves.
After all these years and the dozens upon dozens of card battle anime out there, I feel you have to have something really special about yours if you choose to make one. It can be something visually stunning, thematically compelling, or even something just over-the-top crazy like the ever-famous “card games on motorcycles.” What you can't simply have is yet another “play a card game tournament to topple some big bad evil guy.”
...Well, I mean, you can, but I certainly won't be staying around to watch it.
It's a shame because this episode starts off rather well with good ambiance and a solid score to back it up. Then we have a fight in an alleyway showing that what the cards summon are more than holograms, which is a cool twist. If the cards are actually magical/sci-fi weapons that can be wielded outside of an official match, then it makes a lot of sense why people would be collecting them.
Then we get the introduction to our hero, Teruto—where he straight up kills a man for stepping on his dinner (well, that and pulling a knife on him). The "main character with amnesia" trope is so ridiculously overused at this point; it's basically just a lazy way of making the protagonist both inexplicably strong and the audience's viewpoint character—you know, the person who will ask all the stupid questions on what should be common knowledge within the fictional world. At least in Build-Divide the amnesia angle is both temporary and serves a different purpose. In this case, it's so that Sakura can teach Teruto how to play the card game—you know, despite the fact that he is already a master at it.
The majority of the episode is really just a tutorial on the basics of how to play the game. Of course, it's so rushed that you're unlikely to understand what's happening—especially if you've never played a collectible card game before—outside of some flashy attacks that cause the player's life points disappear one after another. Oh, and of course, right as Teruto is about to lose, he gets his memories back, puts on a costume that I assume is supposed to look badass (it doesn't), and turns the tables on Sakura to win.
All in all, I was bored by this episode. It feels like any number of card battle anime I've watched before. There's nothing about it that makes me want to continue watching or give the card game a try. Hard pass from me.
BUILD-DIVIDE -#000000- CODE BLACK is based on a card game that came out two days ago, so there is absolutely no denying its status as a marketing tool. If you went in completely blind without any knowledge whatsoever, you'd still be able to tell that this is primarily a commercial. How would you know? Well, you'd probably notice that the majority of the episode is a card battle between two characters, with one patiently explaining the rules as they play.
There's a bit of setup and worldbuilding – a girl staring at the stars singing “Twinkle Twinkle,” an evil castle with a close-up on a pair of boobs a necklace, a boy who stops a punk and then cries about him stepping on a bear-shaped bread bun. The bear even looks like it's crying as cream filling leaks out of its eyes, which was actually pretty funny and the highlight of the episode. But then the girl, Sakura, takes the boy, Teruto, to play the game five minutes into the episode, and then we literally get 20 minutes of watching them play while she narrates the rules, like the whole episode is a tutorial instead of the introduction of a story.
To me, who has never played a CCG in her life, it was utterly incomprehensible. I did not understand or care about the mechanics, and there was no other kind of dialogue. No trash-talking, no brash boasting, no prayers to “the heart of the cards” or what have you. Just holograms of the pretty girls that seem to make up the majority of the cards. There weren't even any cute monsters to draw me in. I did not understand for a single goddamn second what was happening; maybe if I had an interest in playing someday I would have developed some inkling of the rules, but to me it was all jargon.
Luckily, I watched this episode with my husband, who likes CCGs and was able to bring in some much-needed perspective. He told me that if you have a base familiarity with the underlying mechanics most of these games use, it's actually pretty easy to follow. That doesn't make the episode fun or interesting, and he said that he didn't really feel enticed into picking the game up or interested in what was happening. Then he tried to convince me to play Magic again. Jared, for the last time, I will not play Magic and if you keep asking I will divorce you.
(No I won't, I love that nerd too much.)
So yeah. It's a commercial, and like most commercials, it's not remotely engaging if you're not interested in buying what they're selling. The animation is mediocre, the story is rote and half-hearted. At least the music is pretty good.
One of my recurring complaints about Card Game shows is that they're routinely gibberish to anybody who isn't already familiar with their central game. But I understand why that's such a common complaint: having an entire scene, or even a whole episode, dedicated to just explaining how a trading card game works is about the least interesting thing you could put to screen. It would be tantamount to watching an animated instructional video for how to operate a forklift, or to properly maintain the soft-serve machine at a fast-food restaurant; technically functional but egregious anti-entertainment nonetheless.
So anyway Build Divide spends an entire episode explaining how to play the titular card game.
Ok technically it just shows us a card game in action, but one of the two players spends half the match with total amnesia and still needs to have every basic tenet of the game explained to him step-by-step for minutes on end. Here's how the energy system works. Here's the life points system and its quirks that make it entirely pointless. Here's a big power move that makes your opponent's turn last five god damn minutes like those really terrible Magic the Gathering decks that grind matches to a screeching, tiresome halt. And the kicker is it still moves so quickly, and has so much untranslated card text, that I still couldn't tell you why half of what happens in this episode occurs. I can garner that Territory cards are ridiculously powerful compared to other summons, and that the entire function of a card graveyard is tossed out the window by one of them already, but special abilities and effects just zoom past without any elaboration, so the result still feels like watching a game of Olympic Calvinball.
Then there's the story, as it were. On paper it's the same as any other card game show – big competition to earn a chance to play the biggest, bestest player in the meta, which takes place in a high-tech city with hologram cards to make the matches visually interesting. In practice, it's just as silly, but now for adults! So instead of bright, pointy-haired kids we have mopey teenagers in stupid as hell outfits like our hero's red-and-black bunny ear hoodie, and everything is presented with a foreboding atmosphere that falls apart the moment you see the image of a giant trading card hovering in the air. Part of me wants to think that silliness is on purpose, and this is just the end result of trying to appeal to a generation of adults raised on Yu-Gi-Oh! or something, but I doubt it. The sheer dissonance is at least good for a laugh, but otherwise this is an easy pass for combining the worst of both worlds.
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