For a prime example of just how elaborately interconnected and cross-platform some multimedia projects can become – particularly, in Japan! – you needn’t look any further than the activities of Bushiroad, which is surely one of the most quickly expanding media phenomena out there, both in its home country and internationally.
Best known perhaps as a purveyor of card battle games, for which they regularly hold official tournament events all around the world, they have also made major incursions into the worlds of anime and manga, video games, music and nearly any other medium which might promote their various properties. In particular, the Bushiroad Music division has had an increasingly huge role in their operations; and that will be the main focus of this article as well. Not attempting any kind of a detailed overview, we’ll be looking primarily at two of their best-known franchises: Cardfight!! Vanguard and BanG Dream!
Cardfight!! Vanguard was the first major undertaking from Bushiroad, and remains their flagship franchise. The card game launched in February of 2010 in Japan, followed by an English release three months later and a serialized manga beginning in November that year, with arguably the game’s most important promotional vehicle of all launching at the start of 2011 — the ongoing Cardfight!! Vanguard anime.
Put simply, a Vanguard card deck is comprised of character units who belong to one particular clan native to the planet Cray. Players select a clan based purely on their own preference, and call the individual units to fight for them, with the central unit also referred to the ‘Vanguard.’ Players are in a sense calling upon these units to personally represent them in the game. As events are supposed to take place on Cray, each player is said to be inhabiting their unit as an astral body — by using the power of their imagination to “Ride The Vanguard!!”
Much is made of the idea that it’s imagination that affects the outcomes of the game — and by extension, the lives of the players themselves, as they grow stronger and come to terms with various challenges. But it takes quite some time before the characters of the anime come to believe that Cray is anything more than just an imaginary game planet…! Of course, it’s revealed later on that the planet and all of its denizens are in fact very real, and closely linked through mysterious forces with planet Earth!!
Cardfight!! Vanguard Promo feat. DAIGO (of the band BREAKERZ)
Bushiroad was quick to get English versions of the anime into the public eye — just as they were with the card game itself — by posting full translated episodes on the show’s official YouTube channel, most in both dubbed and subtitled formats. (Although the first 65-episode season has since become region-locked in certain countries.)
It’s divided into two distinct phases: the main/original Cardfight!! Vanguard series, and the Vanguard G series — which takes place several years afterward, and follows mainly different characters — before a reboot of the original series commences in 2018. (This reboot is our primary focus here.) It breaks down further into twelve separate seasons, at the time of this writing — with a new one scheduled to start in May 2020.
There are four seasons within the original run, then five “G” seasons, and (at present) three newer ones… However, you could be forgiven for thinking there were only three before the “G” series, since the fourth (Cardfight!! Vanguard Legion Mate) is totally absent from the official channel. The narrative twist for that particular series is the sudden disappearance of the main protagonist; that might also account for its lack of popularity. It’s omitted entirely from the reboot series, which basically gives us a streamlined and abbreviated look at events from the first and third installments of the original (with the entire second season condensed into just one episode!). I’ve seen it variously referred to as Cardfight!! Vanguard V, Cardfight!! Vanguard DX, and Cardfight!! Vanguard Prime — so, you can take your pick of those assorted names…!
The story unfolds at a very natural pace, escalating only very gradually to the point where the fate of entire worlds depend on the result of a card game… but it does get there, eventually! There is plenty to keep your interest along the way, aside from the storyline and the emerging mythology of planet Cray. The show also features a very likable group of characters, who are interesting to follow in their own right. Even those who start off kind of questionable or ill-intentioned usually turn out okay, or even genuinely admirable, once they work through their particular issues — which are usually helped along by the game in some way, or by their fellow Vanguard players (since that’s what the show is about, of course).
The two central characters (Aichi Sendou in the main series, and Chrono Shindou in the “G” offshoot) start their journey into the game a bit hesitantly, and as utter novices; although each has a connection to it in their past and a destiny to become pivotal. That’s saying a lot here — since the force of ‘destiny’ is actually a concrete thing on the planet Cray, being so integrally linked to our planet, despite their advanced science.
The first suggestions of unusual occurrences in our world come with the phenomenon called ‘psyqualia,’ a rare ability which some players experience as a sort of psychic link with the cards, sometimes to the point where they can almost seem to control the entire flow of the game… What they are really linking to however, is not the cards themselves, but the actual units on planet Cray!!
Aichi is one of those who gradually acquires this ability, which turns out to be not entirely a good thing, as we see later on… It’s interesting to watch his transformation, as he grows tremendously throughout the story — from a timid loner to a confident and helpful beacon of hope for all those around him. And likewise, we see some dramatic developments with some of the other figures in the story as well.
Another notable aspect of the show is the music, which frankly is the main reason for this article’s existence. The BGM (background music) score is quite captivating in its own way, but it is the cavalcade of hits which make up the Cardfight!! Vanguard opening and ending theme songs that are the main attraction here! They sometimes involve the music composers group Elements Garden — known mainly as a producer of songs for anime and games — along with numerous established Jpop/Jrock and idol acts. But the most noteworthy trend recently, as Bushiroad continues to expand its activities with its own music division, is definitely crossovers with other Bushiroad franchises. And the most significant of their music-based multimedia endeavors is BanG Dream!.
Before going any further, I present the following video — it’s the first opening from the 2018 Cardfight!! Vanguard reboot, featuring the song “Legendary,” performed by the group Roselia. The somewhat morose-looking fellow with the bluish hair is our lead protagonist Aichi Sendou, but pretty much all of the major characters from this part of the story can also be glimpsed in it somewhere.
Cardfight!! Vanguard 2018 OPENING – “Legendary” by Roselia
(Unfortunately Misaki, my favorite character, is only visible here for literally a split second — and even then, only in her Vanguard form(!) – around the 40-second mark… blink, and you’ll miss her!)
That opening wasn’t the first time Roselia contributed a song to the Vanguard universe… They also provided an end theme to the fifth and final season of the preceding Cardfight!! Vanguard G series. And in case you’re wondering — yes, the blue-haired guy shown in the video below is Aichi once again… a bit older now, as many of the key figures from the original series do indeed drift back into the story.
So here is Roselia’s equally great number “HEROIC ADVENT,” as featured in that particular end sequence… one which you should definitely play LOUD!!
Cardfight!! Vanguard G Z ENDING — “HEROIC ADVENT” by Roselia
Roselia is one of the five main bands that kicked off the BanG Dream! project, a large-scale undertaking from Bushiroad which brings the idea of ‘multimedia’ to a whole new level. (A sixth appeared in the second season of the anime as well.)
The anime was conceived as a three season show, but it experienced a delay between Seasons One and Two when production was transferred to the Sanzigen animation studio, which is partly owned by Bushiroad. However, most of the content from this franchise actually falls outside of the main anime, which was made abundantly clear with the proliferation of other media during the delay… and indeed, it was quite the impressive feat they pulled off, I have to say!
To sum up briefly, the name BanG Dream! (sometimes referred to as ‘Bandori’) is an amalgamation of “Girls Band Dream!”, with the added connotation of ‘shooting for a dream.’ The story follows a number of high school girls who form various bands. Two groups are of primary importance, the only two even covered in the first season, in fact: Poppin’ Party and Roselia, who are almost opposites. At the start of the Second Season we jump a year ahead in the story, and three other bands have also become fixtures on the scene as well. (Season Three picks up right where Two leaves off, so no big gaps in the story this time.)
As mentioned, there’s plenty of other media rounding things out. Perhaps the main item for many people is the massively popular Girls Band Party! (sometimes referred to as ‘Garupa’) video game. It’s a rhythm style game where you tap out moves on beat with the songs, a combination of originals and anime covers by all the different bands, with cut-scenes of character interactions, to provide more story elements. It’s available to download and play for free, with paid bonus content if you wish to expand it further.
There’s also a couple of different series of short comical animated episodes on YouTube, a serialized manga in Bushiroad’s monthly magazine, many physical music releases — numerous CD singles, and some full albums — from the various groups, plus broadcasts of the Bandori! TV show featuring talk, games and general silliness from the female seiyuu (voice actors). And it certainly doesn’t stop there!!
I haven’t mentioned one of the outstanding aspects that really sets this project apart — and that’s the fact that the seiyuu who voice the two primary groups (and the newer one as well, whom we’ll get to in due course) also play the same musical instruments as the characters, and perform full-scale concerts as the bands themselves in real life!!
With all these things working in tandem, plus the ton of accompanying merchandising and the occasional crossover with other Bushiroad properties such as Cardfight!! Vanguard, it amounts to quite the media juggernaut…!
BanG Dream! 2nd Season OPENING (with game insert) — “Kizuna Music♪” by Poppin’Party
BanG Dream! 2nd Season OPENING (with game insert) — “Brave Jewel” by Roselia
Most of the story centers on Poppin’ Party, a new and inexperienced group of girls just starting their musical career who sport a generally poppy and light-hearted sound (as their name would suggest). Roselia, on the other hand, is a more veteran group that everyone looks up to in the scene; they have a darker and heavier, almost Gothic leaning vibe, with their name being just what it seems — a combination of the two flowers, ‘rose’ and ‘camelia.’ Their leader is Yukina Minato (played by Aina Aiba), known to be an ultra-perfectionist when it comes to her music. She’s nice, but sometimes has a harsh and blunt way of speaking, which can make her seem a bit cold and intimidating… even when she’s just trying to be helpful. (Suffice it to say she is largely the reverse of the impulsive and slightly bubble-headed Kasumi, the lead girl of Poppin Party!)
You can get a quick look at all of the individual members Of Roselia introducing themselves in the following video:
Introducing Roselia from BanG Dream! Girls Band Party!
They also have a couple of short animated music videos as well…!
Roselia — “BLACK SHOUT” Music Video
Roselia — “Neo-Aspect” Music Video
Most of their other video appearances outside of the anime and game are with the live flesh and blood members, making them one of the most perfect examples of ‘2.5D’ pop stars — going fully in both directions at once, but still somewhat blurring the line between real and make-believe at the same time… something which Japan tends to be quite adept at.
There are DVD/Blu-Ray releases of their concert performances (with some of these BanG Dream! concerts even appearing on movie theater screens), plus they’ve been broadcast in various formats on television, and some individual clips from them have been online as well.
Unfortunately, even on the official YouTube channel those videos don’t always stick around indefinitely! You can probably locate some of them elsewhere if you look around, but here are a couple of fairly current official performance videos featuring the real girls doing their thing.
Roselia — “R” from 「BanG Dream! 7th☆LIVE」 Event
Roselia — “BRAVE JEWEL” from 「NO GIRL NO CRY」 Event (DAY 1)
Given the Bushiroad company’s main claim to fame, there is of course one more major aspect to the spectrum of available multimedia — card games!
The members of all six BanG Dream! groups have been added to the collectable card lines of the Weiss Schwartz game, which features sets based on a variety of different anime, for which one can assemble a deck from different packs of cards related to a chosen series. More simply though, you could opt to get a starting trial deck instead (and change out the starting cards later) — not unlike the situation with the various unit clans in Cardfight!! Vanguard, in fact.
There are a couple of booster sets (available as multi-pack boxes, which is how most people purchase them) featuring a mixture of different groups and members. Each of the main performing groups also has a specific trial deck… so, if you want to get a dedicated Roselia Weiss Schwatz deck, you can definitely do that!
Something a bit newer, which very much relates to everything we’ve been looking at, comes to us from the lead vocalist of Roselia. Released as a single under her own name, this song by Aina Aiba is much more electronic in nature — very slick, but still hard and edgy-sounding, and what could quite rightfully be called a ‘banger’ of a track! “Lead The Way!” is also the opening theme song from the very recent season of Cardfight!! Vanguard, the Shinemon Arc, following the character Shin Nitta (the green-haired manager of the Card Capital card shop) nearly a decade before to the main story. Here it is.
Cardfight!! Vanguard Shinemon OPENING — “Lead the Way!” by Aina Aiba
Aina Aiba – “Lead The Way” Music Video (Short Version)
I’m not sure what Roselia has planned after the third season of Bang Dream! reaches its end — whether it will continue on, gradually taper off, or even come to a sudden stop?! It’s hard to know for certain; but, since the video game is still very popular, it might make sense for it to continue for a while… We might just have to wait and see.
Cardfight!! Vanguard Promo — Trial Decks Aichi + Kai – feat. DAIGO (+ Roselia’s “Legendary”)
Before closing off, for those who haven’t seen the show but may be looking to sample an episode of Cardfight!! Vanguard, I would definitely recommend episode 04, “Misaki’s Secret!!”… She actually has two secrets, you could say:
- What special mental ability does she possess, which could give her an extreme advantage in playing this game?
- Why does she seem to have no interest in playing Vanguard, herself — even though she actually works in a Vanguard card shop?
With the arrival of the pure-hearted Aichi on the scene, things are ready to change for her… with the answers to all of this suddenly becoming clear.
Naturally, I’m more inclined to suggest the subtitled version so that you can experience Misaki in her full glory, with her actual original voice (and likewise, for the other characters), so here it is.
Cardfight!! Vanguard — Episode 04 — Misaki’s Secret!!
Most of the full seasons (well, one and four notwithstanding!) are available on YouTube in either English dubbed or subbed versions on the official channel for Cardfight!! Vanguard, making them easy to find if you want to check them out.
In Part II, we take a look at the newest of the BanG Dream! music groups, RAISE A SUILEN. And, we’ll see what else is ‘in the cards’ as we go along!
John MacMaster lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His last article for us was Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols.