Picture it in your mind. An anime series based around what is quite possibly the most generic card game of all time. A protagonist who’s so weak he is routinely defeated by a loud-mouthed middle schooler. A title with absolutely no concept of proper grammar.

At least the Japanese understand that nobody wants to watch a show that's literally just about card games..

Welcome to Cardfight! Vanguard. This is the most recent of all the terrible series that I’ve become enamored with. It is the story of

a boy (Aichi Sendou) who is so unpopular, so socially awkward that learning to play a children’s card game actually increases his social standing in high school.

This is his journey of discovery about how to play and how to believe in himself. His main motivation is to get close to the one who got him interested in the game in the first place, Toshiki Kai. Aichi’s main problem is that Kai is a serious loner and generally refuses to play against anyone who isn’t a pro at Cardfight! Vanguard. Well, strictly speaking his problem is that he’s new to the game and not very good and so Kai ignores him so hard it probably leaves him with a burning sensation.

Now, you may asking why I have chosen to start my journey through bad television with CF!V (Note: I assume that the exclamation point must be very important since it is misplaced, so even as an acronym I’ll labor to include it).

Well, for one, it is the series I’ve been watching most recently so it’s already fresh in my mind and a little bit easier to write about. Secondly, Cardfight! Vanguard has an interesting structure. It handles basic concepts of playing card games on an episode by episode basis, making it a handy educational tool for anyone reading this who hopes one day to graduate to understanding a game like Yu-Gi-Oh!

Don’t worry dear readers, there WILL be Yu-Gi-Oh!

But that’s a matter for another day. The card game du jour is Cardfight! Vanguard! Now the CF!V pilot spends a lot of time straight-up explaining the rules of the game, since the protagonist doesn’t actually know the rules of the game in the beginning. I’d rather not devote too much space to explaining the rules along with the episode, since I’m not trying to write the great American Cardfight! novel. As a result, I’m going to go over the basics of the game here, and hopefully you’ll be able to follow along starting from the very first episode.

Here’s basically how it works: You get six circles to put your monsters in (though they call them “units”). The blue one in the middle’s for your vanguard, that one represents you, the other five are your “rear guard”. Seriously, you put your units in the rear guard. Who picks the names? You’re limited in what units you can play by how impressive your current vanguard is, but you can play any number from your hand on your turn.

Clearly a circle is the best shape to place your rectangular playing cards on!

Unlike most card games, there is only one type of card: Units. Of course they do come in different shapes and sizes with different abilities, but you’re not going to get a lot of variety here. Units (both in your hand and on the table) are the chief resource of the game, though there’s also the soul and your damage cards, but I’m sure I’ll touch on those in more detail when some character pulls them out of their…um…deck box.

Ultimately, your goal is to successfully attack their Vanguard six times, which normally means six unlocked attacks. However, when you attack you check the top card of your deck for a driver trigger, in its upper right hand corner, then add it to your hand. Drive Triggers can make your attack more powerful and speed up this process.

I don’t want to delve too far into spoiler territory, since some of the main characters don’t really get involved for a few episodes, but since the title sequence freezes on a shot of the four main protagonists, I think I’m in the clear about discussing them.

Sendou Aichi – As I’ve already mentioned, Aichi is the protagonist of the series, and as protagonists go….he’s pretty poor. He gets picked on openly by his classmates, and arguably his teachers, plus he doesn’t even have enough courage to play a card game. On that note, this series is, somewhat predictably, all about the game Cardfight! Vanguard, and at the start of the series he’s never even played a game of it! The only reason he has a deck at all is because the single greatest moment of his life is when a guy who hates

Just out of frame is Aichi's notebook, where he's written "Toshiki Kai" dozens of times surrounded by hearts.

him gave him a card.

And that card he was given changed his whole life! It gave him an outlet to forget about the relentless bullying, it decided what type of Cardfight! Vanguard deck he would play, and I’m pretty sure it’s his best friend. Speaking of his deck, Aichi plays with the Royal Paladin strategy, it consists mostly of generic fantasy knights who have a slight focus on calling out units from your deck to fill your field (aka the power of friendship).

Toshiki Kai – Kai is the rival of just about every other character on the show. The fact that he’s forsaken almost all social contact in the name of Cardfight! Vanguard has made him unreasonably good at the game, and everyone seems to resent him for it. He’s also a master of the fake out redemption, which is one of my favorite parts of his character. When someone needs a pep-talk really badly, sometimes he will step in and make that character realize just how little he respects them and then simply walk off.

Kai’s weapon of choice is his Kagerō deck (I had to copy and paste that accent, so don’t expect me to ever use it again). Basically the Kagero theme is to use a bunch of dragons, dragon-like creatures and things that like dragons to destroy all of your opponent’s rear guard. So he uses generic fantasy dragons to destroy all of your friends in the rear guard (aka the power of sociopathology).

Kamui Katuragi – Kamui is an arrogant middle school kid who has somehow amassed a posse. Granted, it’s a posse of two people, and half their purpose is to explain what’s happening in the cardfight! to anyone who doesn’t understand, but it’s still baffling.

It should also be noted that the other half of the posse’s purpose (more specifically, the purpose of one of the two posse members, whose name I don’t care to remember) is to talk like a crappy rapper and try excessively hard to make acronyms out of everything that someone else just said. I don’t know who thought that would be funny, but I hate them.

With that aside…aside, I should mention that Kamui’s deck of choice is the Nova Grapplers. The Nova Grapplers aren’t very interesting, since they don’t seem to have a cohesive idea to them like pretty much all of the other deck types. They’re everything from dragons to superheroes to robots and everything in between. They do have some of the best names though, but we’ll get to that later.

Misaki Tokura – Misaki has a peculiar backstory that I enjoy for some morbid reason, but I don’t want to spoil it here since it gets pretty much an entire episode at one point. Basically she’s the cashier at the card shop where much of the show takes place, and she doesn’t like to socialize. Working in a card store has given her essentially perfect recall for all existing cards and their effects but she, like Aichi, hasn’t really played when the series begins.

The protagonists of Cardfight! Vanguard playing Hollywood Triangles or something.

Her deck’s theme is the Oracle Think Tank, which not only has the best name of any that I’ve covered so far, but also contains all of

my favorite cards, but again we’ll get to that later. Oracle Think Tank’s general strategy is to manipulate the cards of your deck to get what you need on top of your deck or onto the table. They’re good at drawing cards, getting rid of bad cards and they give you bonuses for having several cards in hand.

Well that should cover it for our heroes…and Kai, hopefully you’ve learned a little something about this world where punctuation and social skills don’t mean anything. More importantly, though I hope you join me next week as I delve deeper into this nonsense.

Stand up, Vanguard!