Welcome to Anime Roundtable, where the CC Anime writers get together and discuss a certain topic around a table that may or may not be round or even exist. This time our topic of discussion is ‘the evolution of card games anime’.
Luke: The card-games anime genre is one that we have seen come in many different shapes and forms. It all began with the series Yu-Gi-Oh which popularized the genre and concept of card-battling anime series. Since then the genre has evolved in a multitude of different ways, giving birth to some of the most compelling and intriguing anime series we have seen in quite some time. At their core, card games anime often feel similar to the typical shonen anime, more often than not sports anime in particular. But with the unique twist of card game battles there is a lot of possibilities available to create intriguing match ups and complex situations. The genre has evolved insurmountably since its rise to prominence and with the recent release of Cardfight Vanguard from Hanabee Entertainment, it is a topic worth exploring. What exactly is it about card games anime that has made them so popular and what are some of the more successful evolutions the genre has seen so far?
Frank: You’re exactly right when you compare card game anime series to that of the typical shonen series, they’re practically the same; needing a particular card and pulling the card from the deck as soon as the threat of losing arrives is something we see almost too much… So why exactly do we continue to follow these shows? I’ve got an answer for you, well, somewhat of an answer: I believe it is because these types of series/franchises (because that’s exactly what they become) make people feel more like the characters within the series than any other piece of merchandise or outward thinking can. We all relate to certain characters, our favourite characters are sometimes exactly who we are or who we want to be, but it is hard to be like Goku. You could over eat or act like a bumbling idiot but you can’t turn into a super saiyan and fight aliens. What you CAN do is pull a Blue-Eyes White Dragon from your deck at a crucial time and immediately feel like Kaiba (Yu-Gi-Oh) or a Blaster Blade and feel like Aichi (Cardfight Vanguard). On a personal level, it is my ability to be engulfed by a show that keeps me following it so I can only assume it is like that for others.
Luke: I agree with you there Frank and I think what you mentioned about being relatable does tie in with the merchandise that these series tend to spawn. You can go down to the shops and pick up a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards or some Vanguard cards, these things exist in real life. That is one hell of a killer hook, the game you see playing out on screen, you can do that too. All the little kids that watch these shonen series wish they could be like their heroes and with card games anime they can. Sure you can look at it with a cynic’s eye and say that these series exist only to push merchandise but I think regardless of that, there is a level of resonance that these series have with viewers that transcends that.
It brings me back to the sports anime genre actually. I think there was a turning point where the card games genre became a off shoot of that genre and became its own thing entirely, somewhere along the pipeline of evolution. The reason being that being good at sports is an entirely different thing to being good at card games. Not everyone is going to be able to slam dunk like Kagami (Kuroko’s Basketball) and not everyone is going to be able to throw a killer fast ball like Eijun (Ace of Diamond) but they can play cards. That universality is part of what makes this genre so special and the way the genre has evolved over time seems to be leaning towards that even more so. Look at Cardfight Vanguard for example, by and large it is a pretty down to earth and realistic approach to the card games genre, it doesn’t over do it on the crazy elements common in shonen and keeps things grounded for the most part. Just about everything you see in Cardfight Vanguard you could emulate in real life, obviously excluding psychic powers unless you are talented as such, but you get my point.
Frank: Let’s be entirely honest though; these types of shows do make a great deal of their money through merchandising and any big, money making company knows that you stick to what works which means more shows, more merchandise, more money. The thing people are overlooking (apart from what we’ve already detailed) is the fact that somebody had to come up with the game system for the series, despite the fact that Yugi seems to do whatever the hell he wants while playing a match, there are rules that the characters (and us playing in real-life) have to follow. Whether or not these gaming “mechanics” were thought up by a traditional and highly successful manga artist like Kazuki Takahashi (creator of Yu-Gi-Oh) or a team of scientists specialising in card games that swell the part of a child’s brain that controls addiction is fairly irrelevant. At the end of the day, these games are quite intelligent and play fantastically, they even somewhat separate themselves from the shows they were once attached to simply because they are good enough as just card games to stand on their own two feet. The way I see it: There are many layers within series like this that people do not see, what they do see is what is on the very surface and sometimes that’s just not enough to fully enjoy something.
Luke: There definitely is a lot to absorb with card games anime. I think one of the things that Cardfight Vanguard does right is that it lays out a detailed set of rules from the very get go and along with Aichi the show’s protagonist we learn the game and how it’s played. Compare that the Yu-Gi-Oh where the rule book was thrown out the window more times than High School DxD had fan-service. I think that is arguably the most notable evolution the genre has made since its early days. These games are better defined and they are becoming more simple yet simultaneously capable of great complexity.
Now I don’t want to turn this into an article about Cardfight Vanguard versus Yu-Gi-Oh but I think that the differences between the two make for a great representation of the growth of the genre. Yu-Gi-Oh revels in its over the top children’s card game, indulging in supernatural elements that at times take greater prominence than the card game itself. With Cardfight Vanguard however the main focus is always on the game. We see it played out turn for turn, the rules are always adhered to and the explanations are simple and concise. If you think back to Yu-Gi-Oh you had guys summoning countless monsters in one turn, using trap cards whenever and at times it all got a bit too much to follow. I think this turn towards more straight forward card game systems is an improvement for the genre as a whole. On top of that it makes it more fun for the viewer to be able to follow along and actually think of plays before they even happen on screen. It is just something that Yu-Gi-Oh never had. What do you think of this direction for the genre?
Frank: My belief, Luke, is that these series’ are no longer just directed at younger audiences. While there are an abundance of childish scenes and silly pieces of dialogue that suggest the show is directed at children, I don’t believe that is entirely the case. The card-playing audience has grown, it has evolved, it is bigger and better than ever and I don’t think their focus is on the supernatural elements present in series’ like Yu-Gi-Oh. Instead, audiences want realistic and explanatory shows possibly to help them construct their own decks, strategies and overall ways of playing. Me being a person who does NOT play card games as much as I used to, I can’t exactly say I understand the appeal of a card game anime to an older audience but the other side of me, being an open-minded individual, could theorize that watching an informative show rather than an extravagant one that bends all the rules is much more practical.
You have to remember: Even though it is just a game, it’s an intelligent one that begs players to think smart, think quick and think strategically, all of which are not things that typical kids can do. What keeps children around are the visuals of two monsters clashing in battle, what keeps the older people around is the strategy and the smarts. That is why I think the sub-genre has evolved past the use of over-exaggeration and silly talks of being banished to the “Shadow Realm”. Yu-Gi-Oh is still a running franchise, it still uses such tactics to captivate young audiences, one of the latest seasons of the anime has every card game take place on a racing motorcycle BUT I’ve seen a decline in the popularity of Yu-Gi-Oh and, guess what? A rise in the popularity of Cardfight Vanguard one of the more down to earth examples of a card game anime. Quite an interesting thought.
Luke: It definitely is becoming a far broader genre than it once was. There is so much to take away from these kinds of series regardless of what age you may be. The Bushiroad brand in particular is really leading the charge for this generation with Cardfight Vanguard still ongoing and a brand new series called Future Card Buddyfight having launched in both Japanese and English simultaneously. It goes to show just how popular the Bushiroad brand is becoming globally and the rising popularity for Vanguard is the thing spurring on this change.
I do want to mention some odd balls in the evolution of the genre over the years. Some real surprises like Chihayafuru and Bakugan. Chihayafuru is of course not a game featuring magical beasts or monsters but rather a poetry based card game. It is something completely different but definitely fits in the genre. There is really nothing else quite like this series and it goes to show how deep the genre has become in terms of content. As for Bakugan it is another interesting series but this one unlike Chihayafuru takes the card game concept into a more magical direction, it is more Yu-Gi-Oh-esque than it is Vanguard and it even has a unique ball gimmick to boot.There is so much variety in this genre and it has given birth to so many unique and captivating series.
At the end of the day though the evolution of card games is one that isn’t so easy to track. Just like each card drawn, what comes next is unpredictable. This genre started so small but has become a monolithic genre across the globe with millions watching and playing with these colourful little cards. They have captured people’s imaginations all around the world and as the genre continues to grow, I don’t think there is any chance of it stopping.
Be sure to sound off in the comments section below with your thoughts on this roundtable discussion. You can pick up the the Cardfight Vanguard anime from Hanabee Entertainment on their official website here. Also for more information on the Bushiroad branded card games such as Cardfight Vanguard, Weiss Schwarz and Future Card Buddyfight, check out their official website here.