In the not too distant future, card games have become incredibly popular, and the hottest of them all is Vanguard. Card shops all over offer not just cards for sale, but places for players to meet and play. For timid Aichi, Vanguard is something more. It holds cherished memories in a card given to him and the hope of meeting someone again. When that special card is taken, he will have to stand up and fight to get it back.
Cardfight!! Vanguard, volumes 1-2
By Akira Itou
Vertical, Inc., April, June 2014. ISBN: 978-1-939130-41-9 / 978-1-939130-42-6
220 / 180 pgs., $10.95 USD
Cardfight!! Vanguard is part of a media franchise that includes a trading card game, anime, and manga, all three of which are now available in the US. The manga, written and drawn by Akira Itou, who also created the Yu-Gi-Oh! R manga, shares characters and cards from the game and anime but stands alone as its own entity.
Aichi Sendou is a timid, reserved high school boy. He has never stood up for himself and is ridiculed and bullied by his classmates, until the one thing he holds dear, a Vanguard card, is taken from him by his classmate Morikawa. In order to get it back, he has to play the strongest Vanguard player at the local card shop, Kai. Aichi has a deck prepared, even though he’s never played before. Kai walks him through his first match, and Aichi proves to have a knack for the game, beating Kai and winning his card back. His confidence increased, Aichi begins meeting and playing different people in order to become a better and stronger player.
Cardfight!! Vanguard is in many ways like other trading card game-based media. It features a timid protagonist who gains confidence and friends through the mutual gameplay of a certain card game that has cards and themed decks he can relate to. For this series, it’s Aichi Sendou. He starts out introverted, but when he finally plays a game, it builds his confidence and he starts playing more people, creating a small circle at the local card shop Card Capitol: Kai, his friend from the past; Kai’s friend Miwa; Kamiu, a boy who came to the shop looking to play strong players; Misaki, a girl who works part-time at the shop but never showed an interest in playing until Aichi started coming; and Morikawa, the bully who turns friend.
One of the things I like about Cardfight!! Vanguard is that even though the circle of friends is fairly standard for the genre, they are different enough to be interesting. Actually, Aichi isn’t too different, he just comes off as really likable. His affable personality and earnest desire to play make him a good protagonist. Even though he ends up having a special affinity for the cards, he’s not unique. Kai is the jaded veteran player who finds a passion to play again with Aichi, and Miwa is the amiable friend who is actually very loyal to Kai. Misaki might seem like the token female, but she actually has a lot of skill with the cards, so she is more than a cheerleader. Morikawa starts out more concerned about being the strongest player, but through Aichi he starts to appreciate the companionship more. Kamiu starts out as comedy relief but becomes the link to the first story arc with the rogue gang of players, the Foo Fighters.
These first two volumes do a good job of introducing the main characters as well as the adversaries for the first arc. Aichi and his friends are all about playing the game and having fun. Whoever is strongest isn’t important. Making friends and inspiring others is. The Foo Fighter gang is only concerned with strength and power; the members create an experience that lets the players feel the “pain” of their Vanguards when they are beaten, to point of making them faint from it. Even though the Foo Fighter gang comes off as malicious, they do honor the rules of the game, and they may even be redeemable. The card game battles are embellished with the players becoming their Vanguards and participating in the battles, though it all happens in the player’s mind. Imagining the playing field and the cards in action is emphasized over gimmicks like holograms or VR worlds.
Vertical’s edition of the first volume includes several pages about how to play Vanguard as well as the background story of the game and its factions. It also expands on the explanation of gameplay that occurs within the story. Special editions of the first volume can also come with a starter pack for those interested in playing the game.
Cardfight!! Vanguard follows a tradition of trading card game media, but it does so without becoming too derivative. Itou takes the best of games like Yu-Gi-Oh! and puts them into a world that is just as fun and entertaining. What I really like about Cardfight!! Vanguard, and many of these trading card game stories, is that the emphasis is on having fun and making friends, and not the competition. It is so easy to make the story about becoming the best, which this one still does, just not exclusively. Vertical’s first foray into all ages action is off to a great start.