Cardfight!! Vanguard Extra Story -IF- Review


Cardfight Vanguard’s had a very impressive run. Not only did the original series have 4 extremely impressive seasons but when we got another set of installments that took place in the future G verse. After that the series went into reboot mode readapting all of the original arcs but using the manga as a reference this time so there were a lot of changes. That finally leads us to this installment which re-adapts the Legion Mate saga to close things off. This means the next step could be the G remake but whether it’s that or just a completely new adventure I’m sold. Even “If” is a unique adventure in its own right as the plot is so drastically different from the original that it shouldn’t really be called a remake. At this point Cardfight has long since left most franchises in the dust.

The series starts with Kouji as the main character. Following up on his adventures in the last season, he has finally come to terms with his past. He may have deleted a lot of cardfighters but he has put that past him now. Unfortunately his ghosts won’t rest. Suiko shows up one day and tells him to get in the car. He reluctantly does and she explains that the timestream is unraveling. The Tatsunagi family needs him to go inside a book to a parallel universe to set things right. Kouji’s not really on board with this but he isn’t given a choice as the book sucks him in.

In this alternate world Cardfight Vanguard never became a huge thing. Instead there is a dark castle in town that only some can see. Ruling over the castle is Aichi who has somehow become a dark mastermind surrounded by his faithful knights Kourin, Naoki, Shingo, Morikawa, and Miwa. The two heroes who oppose them are Aichi’s sister Emi and her friend Suiko. In this universe they are magical girls who are able to cause their cards to materialize in the real world to fight off Aichi’s minions known as the Jammers. The Jammers want to keep on corrupting the timestream so they go through the past and future as they take control of various characters to force them on an alternate destiny.

Naturally this causes Emi and Shuka to meet up with Kouji and Suiko. They all have the same goals of course but their methods certainly vary. At the end of the day Emi and Shuka really do the hard lifting with the actual duels but since Kouji and Suiko are familiar with how the characters should be acting they are good at spotting the Jammers. The first half of the show is really focused on these day to day adventures as the heroes find a problem and correct it.

The show is quite good at these adventures. It brings in a ton of characters from all of the old arcs which is pretty cool. It really feels like a grand crossover which is neat. Even the very first episode deals with G themes as Kouji has to make sure he gives Chrono a deck. From there things would only get more and more expansive. It’s also a fun way to see what things could have been like had the characters made different decisions in their lives. Some would have become quite successful and rich while others like Shinemon would have just become traumatized by having to make the same foods over and over again. The show isn’t afraid to get pretty out there.

One of the reasons why the show is so much fun though is because of Kouji. He steals every scene he is in. The guy’s been through a lot for sure as he’s been both a hero and villain in the past. You can really understand why at this point he just wants a chance to relax and forget about all of this. Kouji just desperately wants to have a Cardfight with someone but the Jammers always prevent this from happening. It’s a bit of a running gag where Kouji constantly tries to get in a fight but it never actually ends up working out. I’ll give him props for effort though as Kouji tries this a bunch of times.

This season definitely has the most humor out of all the Cardfight shows and it’s all handled so well that I wouldn’t mind them incorporating more of this into the main titles. Kouji is extremely exaggerated in all of his reactions to everything but it works well. He’s also quite talented as during the course of the game we learn that in addition to being a top rate duelist he’s also an expert chef which comes in handy a few times. There’s one episode built around the concept of cooking from the start.

Eru Nakagami gets a big role in that episode which was cool to see. The guy has always wanted magical powers after all so finally getting to flex them on the characters was amazing. He always gets great music to accompany his appearances and knows how to milk the drama. The instant he got involved I knew that things were getting interesting. I would have to put that as one of the better episodes in the season.

It’s just so great to see all of the old characters showing up. Meanwhile Suiko gets a lot of character development here. I suppose it’s about time as Kourin always stole all of the screen time from the main 3 and you could argue that Rekka had a lot of character from the beginning. Suiko is a very by the books character who follows orders so she is never quite as free as the other two. Now’s a chance to see how she adapts on her own. There’s one critical moment where she takes down Kouji with a cheap shot that results in the two of them getting kidnapped so she doesn’t always make the right moves but for the most part she’s a pretty solid character here. It’s easily her best appearance in the series that’s for sure. I’d probably still put Rekka and Kourin ahead of her but this season definitely showed how Suiko should be portrayed.

Then of course you have Emi and Shuka who have big roles here. Shuka is a character with suspicious origins as she hides quite a few secrets for a while. Naturally the show can’t let this one go without some fun moments so there will be times where she looks like a horror character with her eyes glowing. Naturally you get the feeling the show is going for some red herrings here but it works well. I like that the show was really going for all genres. Shuka definitely made some big mistakes here and I would say that she is completely to blame for them. Coming clean from the start would have probably helped out a lot. At the end of the day though I would put her in the good character range here. She always speaks her mind and has more bravery points than Emi and is always there to protect her.

Emi being one of the main characters was definitely a switch from the rest of the series. Usually she is a minor supporting character at best so seeing her take such a prominent role was pretty cool I must admit. I also like the fact that she is wearing Aichi’s original gear too. She is doing all that she can to save Aichi and while Emi does waver in her goals at times, it makes sense. From her perspective Aichi’s never been involved in Cardfight so even though everyone says he is distorted, that isn’t necessarily the case for her version. Of course either way she needs to shut down the castle to stop Aichi from being a super villain though so that’ll need to happen regardless.

Emi’s personality here is pretty similar to the original series although she tends to throw insults around a lot more even if they are in a passive way. It’s a fun addition to her character though so I approve. Between her, Suiko, and Kouji they have a pretty great dynamic. Kouji may talk tough but he’s always ready to defend and help them out when needed. Emi also does get a duel near the end so she was training up her dueling abilities. It’d be neat if she and Shuka would be supporting characters in some future seasons. I guess she wouldn’t have powers anymore but who knows, anything is possible with imagination in this series so maybe she would have them unlocked.

Aichi is quite different from the classic version as well. Usually he is super polite and always willing to go the extra mile to help someone. How did he go from that to being a world conqueror who is fully ready to murder everyone in his way including his friends and sister? Well, we get some background to this via a flashback later on. How believable the transition is will probably vary. It’s interesting because it is totally played off as this still being Aichi. He’s not being mind controlled or anything. If anything he just cracked because he learned a little too much about the future. Takuto should be ashamed at his performance here but the scene was really cool because it felt like such a horror moment.

The animation got rather dark and Aichi even had a super sinister expression on his face. Effectively Aichi turned to the darkness as a form of self sacrifice to an extent to help someone out. He goes as far as to say the person he is helping has no say in the matter though so it goes back to the old question of “If you’re helping someone out and know that they will be better off, does it matter if they don’t want it?” For example, if you can see the future and know that someone’s going to be in a fatal plane crash the next day. Once peaceful means have failed, would you be able to go as far as to kidnap the person or sabotage the plane prior to taking off so that nobody is hurt? In the present everyone will be upset at you including your friend who would never find out the truth so it’s not like they would know better. In this case Aichi is preventing a possible future from occurring so the more drastically he tries to prevent it, the more likely it is that nobody would ever forgive him.

It’s a pretty interesting dynamic here for sure. That said, I do think Aichi loses his credibility here when he starts actively trying to murder people though. Put it this way, he may prevent the timeline he thought was coming to pass but this one is getting far worse. Effectively the person he was helping escape their future is going to have an awful time here. So Aichi really lose sight of his true goals and completely cracked. For most of the series he was relatively restrained. I would say for at least half of the series he handled things really well as nobody got hurt and he saved lives. He just ended up going too far and started messing up which is common for villains. The morality of reshaping time to make things better is a debate for another day but for now all I’ll say is that I wouldn’t fault Aichi for that. It’s only once he started taking things too far that things went off the rails.

The animation throughout the series is excellent by the way. The character designs are on point and all of the attacks are sharp. I wouldn’t say the real time battles are always quite as high end but I don’t think the show was really focusing on the fights. If they were really top notch that probably would have taken the show to the next level. Still, it was all very consistent. Naturally the writing was also exceptional as well. It’s just very witty and it makes all of the episodes a real blast from start to finish.

Then we’ve got the soundtrack which is naturally excellent. A lot of the classic themes are back from V including Kouji’s excellent Deletor theme. Now that’s always a tune you’re ready to hear as he gets ready to start dealing damage to his opponents. The theme song for the series is also pretty catchy. The real standout would be the ending for the second half of the series though. It’s really fast paced and just makes for a super action packed theme that you won’t be forgetting anytime soon. It was a good way to note the shift in tone between arcs as the series would change quite a bit.

Speaking of which, now’s a good time to discuss the second half of the series. Things take a very different approach here. The first half was really a comedy most of the time with a lot of crazy scenarios that Kouji and Suiko were put into. Well, Aichi and his Knights have decided to take the offensive in the second half of the series and the first thing they did was eliminate Kouji by throwing him out of the planet. The new main character now is Kai. He finds out that his life isn’t quite correct since his parents are now alive. The sad thing for him is that his life truly is perfect but now he’s going to have to find out what’s going on.

It’s one of those things where if he never found out that things were different then he would be okay but as soon as it became known to him it meant that he had to act. Unlike Kouji, Kai is able to merge with the cards that are summoned so whenever Emi and Shuka fight, Kai is able to directly get into the action as well. Usually he will merge with Blaster Blade who could definitely use the power boost here since he tends to lose a whole lot in the series.

Kai’s definitely a fun main character. I wouldn’t say that he is able to match up to Kouji of course but it’s always great to see him getting a starring role. Kai is definitely one of the best Cardfight characters after all and a top duelist. It’s also fitting that the series gets a lot more serious and emotional once he shows up since that’s Kai’s whole thing. We get a lot of flashbacks during this half as we learn the origins of Shuka, this version of Aichi, Kai, and a lot more.

Kourin is one of the big characters of this half as well. Things never tend to work out very well for her. In the first continuity she was manipulated by Takuto the whole time and had to sacrifice everything to serve him. In this series she was forced to part with her memories and couldn’t get them back again. Despite all of this she is always willing to defend Aichi which is exactly what she is doing now. No matter how far into the darkness he goes, Kourin is quick to follow him. As a result she has mastered her abilities to a higher degree than most.

Kourin can bend reality, time travel on a whim, merge with one of the strongest monsters in the planet, and even mess with someone’s mind. Her abilities don’t seem to have much of a limit which is pretty interesting. Of course in general I wouldn’t say the series puts a lot of thought into the abilities. Even Suiko and Emi seem to be able to do all of that when they want to but rarely do. Everyone here seems to have a lot of fantastic abilities so I guess it’s no wonder that nobody wants to bother with an ordinary Cardfight. Why bother settling everything with cards when you can just blast them out of existence right? It’s always been a meme that this was the case so it was pretty cool to actually see it get acknowledged here.

Kourin gets the short end of the stick every time so I was definitely rooting for her to win or at least get a happier ending this time. The other knights get less of a role but usually at least get a pair of episodes. Naoki for example was a pretty solid opponent. He’s definitely someone who’s always got Aichi’s back at well but once his memories are back he’s not the kind of guy who would keep following orders without questioning them. I did enjoy the twist on what his end game plan was though. It was a pretty interesting one. Meanwhile we have Shingo but that guy is far less interesting. Even this season couldn’t really change that for me. Morikawa loses so quickly you can forget he’s even in the show. Miwa gets a sizable role and looks pretty good. He takes a while to make his move but definitely did more than most so you have to give him some credit there. At least he had his suspicions early on.

Then you have Nome who is effectively Takuto’s replacement for monitoring the universes. I don’t think the guy did a very good job at all. He underestimated the book and at the end he’s ready to just run away instead of solving the issue. He’s certainly no hero which I suppose is pretty clear from the start but I don’t even think he can duel nearly as well as Takuto. For those reasons I would definitely have to give the guy a thumbs down.

Aside from Kouji and Suiko, Ren and Rekka were also sent in to fix the disturbances. There is a twist about this though so lets just say they didn’t do a great job. The heroes should be pretty mad at Ren for sure. At least he was having a lot of fun with his costume as a tribute to Tuxedo Mask though. The show pokes a lot of fun at his character to be sure but he does step in to help when the threat gets really serious. Otherwise he’s content to just troll everyone. Rekka also has a lot of fun with her own gig. She vanishes for large portions of the show though and doesn’t get to help out quite as much as the others.

As for the show’s ending, I suppose it’s pretty satisfying but still not perfect for one character who seemingly can’t win in any timeline. The characters all get their closure though. I do wish that they would all retain their memories of the season though as a little thing I never like is when the characters just forget. I think they should remember and be forced to acknowledge these events forever since it helps make the adventure mean more. Ah well, maybe next time I suppose. I guess with this, this version of the series may be over now. We’ll see what the next timeline brings.

Overall, Vanguard If was definitely an excellent way to celebrate all the characters over the years. It was a very different kind of Cardfight show to the point where it was really like a comedy/parody of the whole thing and it was executed excellently. Kouji was a stellar pick to be the main character here and the show did a really nice job with Emi, Shuka, and Suiko as well. The 4 of them had a great dynamic going which you may not have expected at first. Low key I also thought the show’s decision to have a character narrate each opening was great as well. The dialogue was handled super well along with one of the show’s original themes created for If. That music would make any scene entertaining and mixed in with the fun dialogue it was perfect. Since this show functions more as a spinoff it’s a good launch point if you’re not really into card games and duels so you just want a magical girl show. With all the timelines and flashbacks going on you should be nice and confused and can make this feel like a mystery title. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next show in this series.

Overall 8/10

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