I had a nightmare like this once.

The series opens with a battle between two monsters, where a football ogre tries to tackle a man riding on a dragon in the midst of a lightning storm in a wasteland. Predictably, this doesn’t go well and somehow results in the pair’s faces turning human so they can sling insults at one another. The dragon-top knight transforms into an even more generic fantasy dragon and breathes fire on the football ogre leading us to…reality.

 

That’s right, believe it or not, the mystical battle I just described didn’t actually take place. It was actually just two guys playing a card game in a nondescript game store in Japan, called Card Kingdom. Making matters even more ridiculous from the start, neither one of these characters is the protagonist. Toshiki Kai (the smug one with the obligatory dragon obsession) will turn out to be our protagonist’s rival, and the coach of team football ogre, Katsumi Morikawa, will prove to be a comic relief cheerleader character.

 

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Kai’s friend Miwa declares him the champion of the store, and informs us that Kai has had a notable run of undefeated games since he’s come back to town. We also learn that Kai is looking for a challenge. Something to get him “fired up” (I guess he REALLY likes Cardfight! Vanguard).

 

On a side note to anyone who’s curious, I’m watching a subtitled version of Cardfight! Vanguard, dubbed in the original Japanese. I tend to watch animes through start-to-finish in whatever format I start watching them in, and I discovered subtitled CF!V first.

 

Then we get this gem through a voiceover, “With hundreds of millions of people around the world playing card games, they’ve naturally become a part of our daily lives. Cardfight! Vanguard is the card game that gets most of our attention now.”

 

Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? I’m all for bookending a show or a film with a significant quote, especially a pilot episode! But all this pseudo-profundity tells us is that Cardfight! Vanguard is a card game! Thanks for the heads up, I never would have put that together from all the card games being played.

 

Next we join a history class already in progress where the teacher is comparing armies as if they were Cardfight! Vanguard cards. Japanese school system at work, I guess. It’s finally time to meet our protagonist, Sendou Aichi! The teacher then asks Aichi how he would survive in the Sengoku period.

 

So, what are our hero’s first words? Something about fighting to the bitter end, against all odds? Maybe something about strong allies and teamwork? Nope, “I would make sure I always had a line of retreat behind me”.

 

It’s going to be a long series.

 

Aichi’s classmates mock him pretty loudly and pretty openly, but Aichi barely notices. He pulls a Vanguard card from his pocket: Blaster Blade. As he daydreams that he doesn’t suck quite so hard, Morikawa (the loser from our earlier Cardfight!) notices Aichi’s card “a legendary, powerful, rare card!” the Japanese have a real talent for understatement, don’t you think?

 

Who needs a strong lead character, anyway?

After school, Morikawa and his even more generic comedic relief lackey confront Aichi about Cardfight! Vanguard. Aichi says he has never played a game, which seems to be enough justification for Morikawa to steal his Blaster Blade card. That’s not really fair, “steal” implies some sort of competence. Morikawa takes the card from Aichi’s hand and just sort of walks away. Good thing Aichi trips on nothing or else he might have been able to retrieve the card.

 

So Morikawa manages to overcome Kai’s reluctance to have a rematch (actually Kai tells him, “you suck at Vanguard”) by wagering the stolen Blaster Blade card. The resulting cardfight predictably ends with Morikawa as the loser. Aichi shows up just in time to see his precious card handed over to Kai. He asks for it back, but having won the card in a cardfight, Kai will only give it up the same way, so Aichi throws down the gauntlet.

 

“But wait,” you’re surely asking yourself, “didn’t Aichi say that he had never cardfought before?” Well, apparently he made a deck just for his Blaster Blade card, he’s just never played before because…well I have no idea why, really, but it’s the effort that counts. Also, kudos to you for both using and conjugating cardfight! as a verb.

 

Aichi’s challenge is somehow so shocking that even two people who have never met him, Miwa and Misaki the shopkeeper, are stunned!

 

I hope you’re ready for some cardfight action, because here’s out first real taste of the game. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I’ll give you a general sense of the action, who’s winning, character interactions and the like.

 

Kai agrees to explain the rules to Aichi, and also lends him his Blaster Blade so that his deck has the right  number of cards. He kicks off his explanation of the game with the “story” behind it:

 

“Picture it in your mind. The two of us have appeared on a planet similar to Earth called Cray, in spirit form. There are only two powers given to us weak forms…One power, called ‘call’, is to summon the creatures that live on this planet, called ‘units’. The units we can summon are the ones in our deck…And then there is the second power which we are given: the ability to possess units with our spirits, called ‘ride’. The units we possess are called our ‘Vanguards’. ”

 

I think that’s Japanese monologue for, “get ready to picture some cartoon violence in your mind!”

 

Kai goes first, to help explain the rules. He upgrades his Vanguard from a winged lizard thing to a jack-o-lantern David Bowie. He also summons a scantily clad imp boy to his rear guard. Since it is his first turn, he’s not allowed to attack.

 

Aichi upgrades his Vanguard from a sissy trumpet angel to an androgynous book-carrying karate man (upgrade might not be the right word), as well as adding a bat-wing-eared dog to his rear guard. He attacks and causes the first point of damage.

 

Not pictured: Jack-O-Lantern Bowie's bulge. Thank god.

On his turn, Kai exchanges jack-o-lantern Bowie for a knight standing on top of a dragon. He’s definitely not riding it…which is odd. He also summons another copy of jack-o-lantern Bowie to his front line, because you clearly need David Bowie’s help to win a cardfight! Kai attacks with each of his new Units, but Aichi’s defense leaves the score tied at one damage each.

 

Aichi now trades up that karate man for a blindfolded samurai. Seriously, the longer this fight goes on, the worse these units sound! Aichi also calls a new karate man to his front line and supports it with a pink poodle in the rear guard. I swear they picked the game terms to sound inappropriate in English. Aichi launches two attacks but only one gets through.

 

Kai summons two different dudes riding on wyverns, then launches three attacks: Aichi blocks the first by throwing a poodle at Halloween Bowie. Team “Two Very Similar Wyverns” attack together, giving them some sort of nonsensical wyvern bonus letting them deal a second damage to Aichi. Finally, standing-room-only dragon attacks and…makes up a new rule: A Drive triggers!

 

In CF!V, when you attack you draw a card, and if it has a symbol in the corner you get a bonus. Kai has drawn a guy with a really big spear, which has a yellow symbol in its corner. This is a “Critical Trigger”, which boosts your guy’s power and lets them do an extra damage, bringing Aichi to four damage while Kai is still at two.

 

Just in case you thought this show was madness.

As an aside, this is a particularly ridiculous moment in the pilot. Kai, in a bout of inexplicable psychological card bullying says to Aichi (who has obviously had a physical response to taking damage in a card game), “You were able to picture it, I see. Yes, this is Vanguard!” I want to see this take off as an internet meme, that somehow ties in the movie 300. Hey I can’t do all the work, you figure it out! I bet it’s sweet, though.

 

Aichi draws the card for his turn and laughs, making everyone think he’s having a mental breakdown from taking so much damage in a children’s card game. Instead, Aichi and Kai reveal that they have met before. In fact, Kai gave Aichi his prized, rare, powerful, reduced fat Blaster Blade! Being a card game anime, Aichi also happens to have drawn this plot significant card at just the right

moment!

 

Aichi rides his Blaster Blade and….and…wait the pilot is a cliffhanger? What a ripoff! Well I guess there has been a lot of information to process, what with all of this picturing in your mind. Rest your imaginations and join me next time for the exciting conclusion to a card game being played in a store after school!

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