A girl wakes up in the middle of a parking lot, and a boy, in a bed of asters at the foot of a tori gate. Cut to a sci-fi chamber with techno-magic happening, where a creepy man announces that the King is ready for another living sacrifice. Another creepy man with stylish stubble laughs maniacally. Back to the girl, who is the Explainer of All Things for this episode. She duly explains things, like how in this world, Neo Kyoto, any player who can defeat the King can have a wish granted, and she has just such a wish. Suddenly, she’s being chased by a sleep-deprived thug, but the boy appears, carrying a bear-shaped bread bun with cream in the middle. This is an important detail because it is the basis of the one joke in the episode: Mr Thug crushes the bear bun until the cream oozes out of its eyes, and the boy observes that the bear is crying. Mourning his loss seems to trigger something in the boy and suddenly he whips out a card that slices the thug’s switchblade in half. I see! This is a card game series! The rest of the episode is taken up with Info Dump Girl, Sakura, explaining things for ten minutes, and the boy, Teruto—who says he has never played before—suddenly hearing voices, seeing visions, and remembering that in fact he is a Build Divide card game playing prodigy whose mission is to beat the King and beat him good. Sakura asks to join forces with Teruto because she too wants to defeat the King, though she lacks the skill on her own. Teruto is the boy who will touch the stars! Back to Creepy Man #1, who is elated that “he has returned”.
I’ll admit, I’ve only ever watched one card game anime before and it was a hot mess that I regret losing part of my life to. I’ll also admit that I can’t follow the game instructions for Risk, let alone the intricacies and nuances of these kinds of card games, so all the info dumping had my eyes glazing over. Or it would have, except that actually the animation was pretty dynamic (not amazing, but engaging—this is LIDENFILM after all), and the music was good at keeping up the energy. It’s the kind of soundtrack I would listen to when working a late night and in need of that extra bit of drive to Get Things Done. Despite all her monologuing, Sakura is sweet in her earnestness, and the moment when Teruto remembers himself and dramatically pulls up his hoodie only to reveal its giant bunny ears was pretty funny, particularly since he seems to take himself so seriously. There is definitely a hint of a star-crossed-lovers vibe going on with them, reinforced by Sakura’s repeated references to stars and Teruto having awoken in a bed of asters, which represent love in Japanese flower language (as well as patience and…um, daintiness.) But neither the characters nor the non-card-game elements of this episode are enough to hold my interest. If card game anime is your thing, maybe there’s something in the mechanics of this game that might catch your attention. But otherwise, the set-up is pretty familiar from the reams of shonen anime already out there, and there was nothing that stood out particularly about this premiere, once Bear Bun passed on. RIP, my friend.