So, feeling a little drained after watching the "Asia Circuit" series in the space of 3 days, I decided that the best way of having a rest from watching Cardfight!! Vanguard was to..... watch a movie based on the same thing.....
Just a warning before you read on, this review/recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the film and don't want the storyline completely ruined, go watch it first.
This 2012 "Movie" (although like many Japanese movies based on popular TV shows, it is actually more of a TV special than a cinema piece) was made following the success of the first TV anime series.
Unlike the anime series however, this is a live action presentation, and, oddly, the actual card game is simply used as a springboard to tell a story, rather than being a critical part of the storyline overall.
That's not to say this is a bad film, but it certainly isn't a good one either.
The storyline goes as follows:
Hiroki is a shy young boy who is bullied a lot at school. One day, he is attacked by a gang of bullies and attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger called "Daigo" (translates roughly as "great power", played by the Japanese musician/voice actor of the same name, who is playing an exaggerated version of himself). Daigo, in an attempt to save the boy, and impress an attractive teacher from Hirokis school, ends up getting himself beaten up by the kids, however, after the bullies run away, he finds out that Hirokis teacher, Maria, is worried about him, so Daigo takes it upon himself to help the boy come out of his shell.
Daigo gets himself appointed as a "Special teacher" at the school Hiroki attends, by saying he is a "Genius" and a graduate of Harvard University (although the diploma/certificate he shows to prove his credentials is from the "HarvardA university", and is obviously fake), and embarks on a campaign to cheer Hiroki up and get him to do something other than sulk.
As it turns out, Hiroki is a fairly depressed kid, as he is regularly left home alone by his workaholic father, and his mother died some years previously, which deeply affected Hiroki emotionally. To make matters worse, Hirokis father, on the rare occasion when he does actually see and speak to him, is very dismissive of Hiroki's hobby, which is playing the CCG "Cardfight!! Vanguard", dismissing it as a stupid waste of time and not the activity of a man.
Daigo finds that Hirokis passion for Vanguard helps him gain confidence, and that Hiroki is pretty good at the game, so he encourages him to challenge the lead bully, Teru, to a game, Hiroki reluctantly does, and suffers a humiliating defeat.
Daigo however, doesn't give up, he learns as much as he can about the game and then offers Hiroki encouragement in pursuing his hobby, even though Hirokis father is still disinterested and abusive to his son about it.
Daigo, along with Maria, encourage Hiroki to enter a Vanguard team tournament, in order to prove his worth and get revenge on Teru for his bullying by beating him in fair competition. The first few rounds go well, and "Team Hiroki" manage to get through to the finals against "Team Teru", which will be held the following day, however disaster strikes when Maria (who is also pretty good at the game herself) is injured in an accident, and is left unable to play in the finals. Daigo approaches Hirokis father to replace her, but again he is dismissive, and Hiroki is angered by his fathers uncaring attitude. Via a flashback sequence, we learn that Hirokis mother was the one who bought Hiroki his first Vanguard starter deck, and regularly played the game with him, even when she was in hospital dying from some unspecified illness. Hiroki says that his father was never there for him, or his mother, and that he has never once shown any emotion over the mothers death.
The tournament comes, and Hirokis father attends, at first though pleading that he cannot participate because he is busy with work, but is eventually persuaded to put work second, just for once.
The final gets underway, with Hirokis father going first, using the deck that Hirokis mother built, he is defeated.
Daigo goes next, and manages to beat Terus "Special Teacher", who throughout the film has shown himself to be a bit of a sadist and spent his time teaching Teru to be the same, which causes the teacher to make a childish outburst before fleeing the building screaming like a child because he lost.
Finally, Hiroki plays against Teru, and, after a very tense match, Hiroki again loses, meaning Teru is awarded the prize for overall winner, however, Hiroki earns Terus respect and friendship by showing he can stand up for himself, Hiroki also learns that unlike what he had previously thought, his father did visit his mother shortly before she died, where they discussed Hiroki and how his mothers illness was affecting him, but he was unable to show his emotion because he dealt with his wife's death by throwing himself into his work rather than confront what had happened.
After father and son are reconciled, Daigo announces that Hiroki no longer needs him, as he has learned everything he needs to, but just as he leaves, Hiroki challenges him to a game of Vanguard....
This film is very, very Japanese, and was never really intended for consumption by non-Japanese audiences, so is somewhat difficult to watch in places unless you at least have a basic understanding of Japanese custom and culture.
I do like that the film takes place in the "real world", and not the "Anime world", with the characters being believable and not over the top anime stereotypes, and quite simply, the story boils down to one of an emotionally scarred boy reconnecting with his cold and distant father over a shared interest.
The fact that this interest is Cardfight!! Vanguard is purely incidental and only included for marketing reasons, hell, Hirokis passion could have been for playing chess, creative writing or even freestyle disco dancing, it wouldn't have mattered in the slightest.
I also like how during the scenes where the game is being played it is portrayed as the game would be played in real life, without all of the anime trappings of holographic characters, burning justice backgrounds and so on, and I also like how the game play scenes are kept brief, showing only "important" parts of play and the match outcomes.Similarly, I also like how they didn't go down the route of portraying the game as a worldwide phenomenon, with thousands of fans watching games in ridiculously oversized stadiums, instead portraying the game as it really is, namely small groups of people getting together to play a game as a hobby, and not as a lifestyle choice. Finally, I like how the film is expressly NOT used as a marketing vehicle for selling cards to viewers, as although cardfight cards are shown, very few of them are specifically named, and none are really described as being "ultimate awesome unbeatable" etc etc.
The film does not benefit from its short run time of 80 minutes, as the scenes in which Hirokis back story are filled in are somewhat rushed, and in some cases a little bit non-sequitur, also, Daigos being there and backstory isnt explored at all, but that can be excused being as that he plays the role of "mysterious stranger/mentor", as explaining his background would remove some of his mystery.
On the subject of Daigo, it is rather strange by western cultural standards for a strange man to take such an interest in the life of a child he barely knows, however this is a fairly standard trope in Japanese entertainment (hence "mysterious stranger/mentor") but it is not without any kind of equivalent in western fiction, Doctor Who being the first one that springs to mind.
I think this film suffers badly from the limited budget and poor writing imposed on it by being a niche TV special.
So all in all, "Stand up!, Vanguard!" isn't a bad film, it isn't a good one either, and certainly wouldn't be recommended to those who are looking to get a taster of the Cardfight universe.