Last time I insisted that it's not what you think. This time... Yeah, it's pretty bad.
A/N: Spoilers for the entire season are in this review.
Yes, I'm still watching this unironically. And I still maintain that the first season is better than most would expect an anime made to sell a card game to be. That season is a great example of how a commercially-driven show can still treat its characters and story with a level of respect, even though it was still quite silly at times. Cardfight has a strange charm, and you'll know right away whether you'll like it or not. Unfortunately, a lot of what made me fall in love with the series is missing or significantly reduced in this sequel, which is honestly a shame.
Based off of Bushiroad's increasingly popular trading card game of the same name, Cardfight Vanguard follows main character Aichi and his friends' continuing adventures in the competitive Cardfight world. The feel of the series is still extremely similar to Yu-Gi-Oh, but adopts some of its more ridiculous practices this season, which I'll get to later. At the beginning of this season, Aichi is approached by a mysterious boy who switches out Aichi's Royal Paladin/Shadow Paladin deck for a new deck clan called Gold Paladin (take a wild guess what had just appeared in stores). He's told that his former clans have been "sealed," and the only way he can get them back is to win the new worldwide Cardfight tournament known as the Asia Circuit. After this encounter, none of his friends can remember the old clans, so Aichi decides to take on the Asia Circuit to get some answers.
From there on out, the show is basically a long tournament arc with more blatant commercial aspects than before. Of course, the entire point of the show has always been to sell cards, but the first season had an emphasis on enjoying the game however you wanted to, as long as you were having fun. Here, the focus is on which card is the strongest, the coolest looking, or has the best attack. The new skill, Limit Break, is portrayed as as stronger than anything from season one (despite real life Cardfight Tournaments proving otherwise) which takes the focus away from strategy and turns it into a damage-points fest. Also, this season pulls my least favorite Yu-Gi-Oh trick; getting new cards from thin air that have just the right ability that the character needed. It is very disappointing to watch after the relatively realistic handling of the game mechanics in the first season.
With the focus now solely on "buy our stuff," the plot and characters suffer a lot as well. Many characters becoming sideline acts even in their own matches; summary fights make up a majority of what is shown if it's not a new card or clan. Kai bows out of the majority of the season, and Ren, the former villain who made a creepy example of Psyqualia, is reduced to an airhead. Misaki is portrayed as useless since her clan doesn't have a Limit Break upgrade, and Kamui's screen time is mostly devoted to fending off the unwanted advances of Nagisa, which gets older far faster than it did in the first season (and that's saying something). The new characters don't fare much better, since they don't have a lot of time to be anything but one note.
The slight exception to this is Leon, but his character seems to exist to justify a number of bad plot decisions, so it's not much better. His backstory is that his ancestors once ruled the world with a sea-based Cardfight clan but they were sealed away. The family lost all its power and were marooned on an island with no wind, which meant they couldn't leave. ...Had they never heard of oars? Actually, the entire existence of this backstory blows a lot of holes in the premise of the show, which isn't something you want for a show meant to sell cards. How do you rule the world with a card game? Are we even closer to Yu-Gi-Oh than I thought, with the cards granting magic powers? What causes a clan to be "sealed," other than generic evil and a new card pack being released in real life? My point is, I shouldn't be wondering about all these things when I'm watching the show unless I'm deliberately trying to make fun of it. The show should not bring this up itself with a badly crafted backstory.
Putting that aside for now, the last few episodes feel like someone on the writing staff suddenly realized that there was a plot still left unresolved, so the tournament is very quickly wrapped up to suddenly introduce an evil that is poised to take over the world. This "evil" was never mentioned or alluded to throughout the season, so it's painted in the broadest of brushstrokes. The final battle takes place in a generic wasteland that was clearly meant to save money so that the card units could be animated properly, but the production values still take a huge blow, looking downright ridiculous at times.
Questions in the same vein as the ones above also crop up thanks to this unexplained plot development. What exactly is the planet Cray? What's it's connection to the world other than the Cardfight game? Why did everyone spontaneously forget about Psyqualia only to remember how it works at the last second? I was willing to accept a lot of what happened in the first season because it was kept relatively simple, implying that Cray is some kind of mirror world that people with Psyqualia can connect to. Here, the lack the world building works against the show, making interesting ideas shallow in retrospect.
As much as I like this show, this season felt like a waste of time. A lot of what changed my mind about the series the first time around is gone or reduced. Fortunately, many Japanese fans as well as the community at large has voiced their disappointment with this season, and going off of the promotional materials for the next season, a lot of changes have been made. I hope that they turn out for the best, because I would hate to see this series continue to take a fall after a great opening.
Images from Crunchyroll.com.