The Spring 2021 Preview Guide
Cardfight!! Vanguard overDress
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Vanguard overDress ?
What is this?
Yu-yu is a boy living in Kanazawa, Kaga Province. He is 15 years old and in his third year of junior high school. He has the ability to sense the feeling of others, but he is troubled by the fact that he cannot say no when asked. One day, Yu-yu could no longer stand going along with his sister's hobby, so he ran away from home. The one who saves him is Megumi Okura. Megumi invites Yu-yu to a nighttime amusement park called "Wonder Hill" where her friends hang out. At the amusement park, Yu-yu meets Megumi, Zakusa Ishikame, and Tomari Seto, members of "Team Blackout," a group that meets to play Vanguard every night.
How was the first episode?
“In which card battles are the least interesting part of this card battle anime.”
I was more than a little surprised by how strongly this episode began. We're immediately introduced to Yu-yu, a main character suffering from a problem that many children (as well as adults) can relate to: the difficulty of saying no, especially to family. (This problem is doubly true in a Japanese context where you are taught to be accommodating in order to preserve social harmony.)
Reaching his breaking point (and unable to voice his discomfort), Yu-yu flees his sisters and ends up wandering through town despite being fully cross-dressed. This leads to his next encounter, one that Japanese women are all too familiar with: a pickup artist. Hit on by a man many years older—and one that has no problems grabbing Yu-yu's arm to prevent his escape—Yu-yu is trapped with no way out. It's a bit telling that, among all the other people in the area, the only one to help Yu-yu is Megumi, a girl who has obviously dealt with similar problems before.
It's almost shocking that Megumi is not reprimanded at all for her violent actions—i.e., dishing out a swift kick to the balls—later in the story. In Japan, common sense is to run away from such a situation, as violence risks escalating the conflict. It's surprisingly progressive for an anime aimed largely at children to advocate standing up for yourself to the point of violence when faced with sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, while the first part of the episode is thematically strong with a good moral lesson, the entire episode derails once the card game aspect comes into play. The card battle we witness feels like watching two guys in a card shop playing a card game you don't know the rules to—only with a lot more trash talking and musings on seemingly irrelevant personal philosophies.
This isn't Yu-Gi-Oh! where they over-dramatically explain each card, move, and its implications. Nor is it Wixoss, where something far more important than a simple card game is taking place and personal drama oozes out of every turn. And worse still, unlike Yu-Gi-Oh! and Wixoss, there isn't a visual component where the monsters come alive and battle it out. It's just two guys drawing and placing cards on a table while taking verbal jabs at each other.
Then, the show suddenly turns metaphorical (or perhaps metaphysical) for the final attack of the card game with one character combining with his monster and smashing his opponent in what seems to be a football arena. It's bright and flashy, but I have no idea why I was supposed to care about what I was seeing. Yu-yu may have been caught up in the action, but this card battle left me with no interest to continue watching this anime.
In sum, when your anime is literally about people playing a card game—and exists solely to make people want to buy and play that card game—said card game should not be the most boring part of your show.
I admit it, I was completely put off by the opening of this episode, where a plainly uncomfortable and unhappy boy is forced to cross-dress by his sisters, who then want to take pictures and videos of him without his consent. It's hardly the most important part of the story, but I have an incredibly low tolerance for bullying, and that's what this was. Yu-yu seems to think that the whole thing is his fault for not saying no, but he really does, even if that's not the explicit word he uses. In all fairness, this does seem to be setting Yu-yu up for a TCG-based Cinderella story of sorts, where he gets to go to the ball, er, TCG fight at the creepy old amusement park and escape the clutches of his sisters.
In any event, the highlight here is probably the character designs by CLAMP, because otherwise this is a fairly straightforward attempt to continue to make anime series based on people playing trading card games. Everyone's look hearkens back to a slightly earlier period of CLAMP's art, and while there are definitely some familiar-looking designs, they're all really appealing and have a variety of interesting costumes, which is important not just for the frilly outfit Yu-yu's in, but because part of the thrill of playing Vanguard is getting dressed up for the show. And it is a show – the players have taken over an abandoned amusement park (which must have still been creepy in its heyday), strung up lights, and created an arena for themselves. That's a fun idea, and it has the thrill of taking place somewhere at least mildly illicit (although one member of the group is a cop, so maybe not) and appealingly decayed. It just makes the whole game feel more special, like a TCG-based version of Zilpha Keatly Snyder's classic The Egypt Game.
Things fall apart when we look at the episode in terms of story and the card fight. Yu-yu spends most of the episode being uncomfortable and awkward, first because of his sisters and later because he keeps getting hit on by a sleazy guy, not to mention his new friend Megumi thinking he's a girl and happy to have made a “girl” friend. The card battle, unlike many other similar shows, is primarily shown simply as two guys playing cards; there is a shift to making things look like an actual physical fight towards the end, but for the most part it's just slapping cards down and picking them up, which isn't all that exciting. Attempts to narrate the fight only make it worse – the announcer is so damn annoying that I actually yelled at her to shut up, and I'm not a talk-to-the-TV kind of person. But what's worse is really the decision to make the card fights mostly just playing cards, which seems like it could run the very real risk of alienating the intended younger audience; I know I wouldn't have sat still for that in elementary or middle school. This is pretty to look at, but not so much fun to watch.
Up front, I am a total newbie to the Cardfight!! Vanguard series. I recognize the name, and can assume from there that it's built around a collectible card game, but other than that I am fumbling in the dark. And if you are like me, then this ostensibly newbie-friendly entry will largely leave you still stumbling through the ether, but now with even more questions about what this apparently storied and long-running franchise has been like all this time.
Because yes, this is seemingly a brand new cast of characters in a new setting, and there's nothing here to suggest any familiarity with past seasons is necessary to figure out who's who and what's what. Yu-yu is an anxious young boy who can't say “no” to anyone, and his overbearing sisters dress him up in girls' clothes for fun – and he of course spends the rest of the episode in that getup with everyone mistaking him for a girl until the tired comedic reveal at the very end. The rest of our cast are supposedly very good at the central card game, and they get all decked out in cool costumes before going to play in an abandoned amusement park. All of this is fairly understandable in the idiosyncratic world of card game anime, and while decidedly low-tech compared to where the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise has wound up, it's all pretty legible if you can suspend your disbelief far enough to roll with it.
The problem, however, is that this show absolutely expects you to know how the holy hell the card game works. There are no explanations for anything, there's no commentary from the side cast to tell us how well or poorly the climactic card game is being played, and it all moves so quickly and mundanely that it almost feels like somebody left the episode on 2x speed without realizing. The whole thing crescendos in a big, loud, extravagantly animated battle between two players in the guise of their monster cards, and while it looks really neat in isolation it also left me more confused than ever. The result is a sensation probably similar to making a caveman watch Double Dare: leave it on long enough and one might start to piece together the basic gist, but it'll be an altogether baffling experience that leaves more questions than answers.
In a sense it kind of feels unfair to pass any real judgment on this premiere. I am just so diametrically not its audience that it seems akin to critiquing a book written in a language I can't read. But if nothing else I can judge the parts of the episode that aren't esoteric trading card rules, and in that capacity this show is perfectly mediocre. The characters are likable enough but not terribly memorable. Production values are fine and soar during the aforementioned duel scene, and character designs are solid if generic. For established fans I can't speak to whether this will be an invigorating or disappointing debut, but as a neophyte I can only beg for a life raft and a rule book.
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