What Tag Team GX means for artwork of the Pokemon TCG
It’s April 21st, 2017 in Japan, only a few years before Tag Team GX cards are introduced. Dawn has just broken on the release day of the fourth Sun and Moon expansion, SM2+, “Facing a New Trial”.
By this point, the format of the Sun and Moon era is well established. The latest GX Pokémon of each set took the forms of Regular GX, Full Art GX and the “rainbow” Hyper Rare GX. As is normal for a new era, it was a completely different direction from XY before it and, perhaps surprisingly, the art of these new GX cards were all digitally designed by the company 5Ban Graphics.
This had perhaps gone unnoticed until this point. It was of course a new era, and with so many new concepts, new mechanics and of course, new Pokémon, the artwork was quite possible the last thing on the minds of players and collectors alike. And then, on the same day as SM2+, came the release of a reminder. “The Best of XY”.
This wasn’t just a light expression of what we had come to expect from the XY era – this was an all-out showcase of everything XY was capable of. In comparison, the Sun and Moon era really just couldn’t compete. The Best of XY gave us some of the greatest artworks to date, with the likes of TOKIYA’s Shaymin EX locked in battle with Mega Rayquaza and Hasuno’s menacing Yveltal EX with Xerneas elegantly watching on in the background. These were outstanding designs with character by established artists given the creative freedom to express the Pokémon as they wish. It looked like these cards could come alive at any moment and maybe in the end, taken for granted.
This was nothing new for XY. Dynamic designs of the secret rare EX Pokémon were amongst the most sought-after cards of each and every set for that very reason. The era was littered with them, and it was a little unforeseen that Pokémon took a step back from this as the TCG moved into the Sun and Moon era.
Full Arts without inspiration
This is by no mean an indictment on 5Ban Graphics, of course. For the most part, the regular GXs they have produced are consistently excellent. It’s just the rarer versions of these cards, where we come to expect so much, that a bit of magic was missing. Again, the design for the Full Art and Hyper Rare Pokémon were exactly what Pokémon wanted (and probably needed) in order to produce the cards into the style they envisioned. However, this style also only ever brought with it plain, type-dependent backgrounds – something out of the artists control that seriously impairs the beauty of the cards. The Best of XY brought with it a stark realisation that these designs were lacking somewhat.
The computer generated Pokémon become predictable, and to some, boring. The Pokémon never seemed to be very animated and were often left crying out for some personality. The rarest versions of the Pokémon in these sets were the “Rainbow” Hyper Rares – something that should have be special. It was evident in the very first Sun and Moon Base Set released in English that this was not going to be the case, as we were given no less than eight Pokémon and sixteen uninspiring Super Rare versions. Every Pokémon included received the “highest” rarity status of Hyper Rare – a simple rainbow whitewash of the static Full Art before it. It wasn’t much to write home about, but with this being the first set, the novelty of it all probably obscured a problem that was to become extremely evident in a matter of months.
And the months did go by using the same format. Apart from the odd Full Art Pokémon where the background colour appeared reasonably striking, there were no artistic Pokémon masterpieces to marvel all. In fact, many began to anticipate the reveal of the Full Art “SR” Supporters more than anything else in the set, as they were designed by the “pen-to-paper” artists given the opportunity to delve into their imagination and articulate their ideas in the form of energetic and industrious characters. Even the backgrounds were exceptional. It’s something that the actual Pokémon longed for.
Enter Tag Team GX
It was at the 2018 Pokémon World Championships in August that we got our first glimpse of the brand-new Tag Team GX mechanic with Pikachu & Zekrom GX. Two Pokémon teaming up on one GX card, extensive HP, immense attacks, three prizes for knocking it out and, most importantly, designed by Mitsuhiro Arita. Check out our opening of the SM9 Tag Bolt Trainer Box here:[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCti_Lvks64[/embedyt]
A new rarity
This was the first time in the Sun and Moon era a GX card had not been designed by 5Ban Graphics or PLANETA (another digital art supplier for the TCG), but it wasn’t until we got closer to the release of December’s SM9 Tag Bolt set in Japan that we realised just what the debut of Tag Team GX could mean for the future of the TCG artwork.
Whilst the regular Tag Team GXs were all designed by the legendary Mitsuhiro Arita, with SM9 came a brand new “SR” rarity for these cards (alongside the usual Full Art and Hyper Rare variations from 5Ban Graphics). A rarity that gave licence to some of the popular Pokémon TCG artists to run wild. And it does not disappoint as Tag Bolt focused exclusively on Tag Team GX Pokémon, each with their very own story to tell. Pikachu & Zekrom, Wailord & Magikarp, Gengar & Mimikyu, Venusaur & Celebi, Eevee & Snorlax and Latios & Latias are the six brand new cards that all hit the Tag Team jackpot.
An unlikely friendship
I don’t speak metaphorically when I say that these cards tell a story. The regular GX cards by Arita depict the pair all Tag Teamed up and ready to battle, but how did these unlikely allies come to be, exactly? Well, this is where the new “SR” cards come into their own and even surpass that of their XY era predecessors. With an astonishing glow and subtly stunning texturing, whilst the regular Tag Team GX is ready to battle, the “SR” is almost like a still taken from their very first meeting.
Take Venusaur & Celebi for example. The stunning design by Shin Nagasawa is set in the forest and shows Celebi descending from the sky and encountering Venusaur for the first time. It is said that these two united to protect the forest, and it really shows!
Telling a story
The story behind Midori Harada’s Gengar & Mimikyu is clearer cut, as Pokémon released an official comic strip to accompany the cards release. In the story we see Mimikyu looking longingly out the window at a Pikachu and Pichu playing outside. Mimikyu just wants to play too, and Gengar decides to help! As depicted in the card, the Ghost-type duo sneak outside together to approach Pikachu and Pichu, but they get startled and run off! Gengar then tells Mimikyu not to worry, as they can now be friends with each other! Who knew Pokémon cards could be so emotional?
Even fan-favourites Tomokazu Komiya and OOYAMA have excelled at the chance to impress their unique styles on these new full art Pokémon as they take on Eevee & Snorlax and Wailord & Magikarp respectively. This doesn’t mean that the likes of Kawayoo’s Pikachu & Zekrom or Sanosuke Sakuma’s Latios & Latias are any less extraordinary as each card is as magnificent as it is fascinating in its own way. And it’s continued in January’s subset, SM9A.
SM9A, the recently released Night Unison set in Japan, continues the trend of spectacular “SR” artwork. Greninja & Zoroark are both relaxing in tree as imagined by Kodama, whilst Atsuko Nishida’s Gardevoir & Sylveon seem to be bonding over an exquisite field of flowers. These four Tag Team Pokémon are the cards to have been subject to breath taking “SR” variants this time, and with the likes of Charizard & Reshiram GX and Lucario & Melmetal GX on the way, who knows how incredible the art will become? It’s a complete breath of fresh air for the artwork of Sun and Moon.
A bright future
Using a different artist for each card has given a unique art style to every Pokémon portrayed so far, and this is just the beginning of the incredible story-telling artwork Tag Team GX cards have reintroduced into the TCG. Whether you’re a fan of the new mechanic or not, it is undeniable that the general artwork is head and shoulders above that of the Sun and Moon era so far and has injected fresh interest for collectors. We can’t wait to see how each artist interpret future Pokémon or how special they can be. They will certainly prove very popular amongst the best Pokémon card shops in Osaka!
You can also check out our SM9 Tag Bolt Booster Box Opening right here:[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw1K3DD0MT4[/embedyt]
Be sure to keep an eye on the channel for the imminent opening of SM9A, Night Unison! Thanks for reading.
A special thanks to @PrimalLugia for the header image