Brilliant Stars Has The Best Pokemon TCG Art Ever

As Sword & Shield: Brilliant Stars starts creeping out into general circulation, you're going to see a lot of Pokemon TCG fans talk about things like the new VSTAR Pokemon being a refreshing new inclusion to the game. You may even see a few people bang on about cards like Magma Basin or Lumineon V being powerhouses in the new metagame.

But there is one thing that might be overlooked: Brilliant Stars' art is potentially the best art any Pokemon expansion has ever had. Ever. For a game that sometimes muddles along with lacklustre illustrations, The Pokemon Company has seemingly gone all-out this time to make Brilliant Stars look as fantastic as it plays.

Pokemon art can be very polarising. Sometimes a card might look exquisite, like the sleepy Tyranitar V from Battle Styles or the unnecessarily horny Tsareena from Darkness Ablaze that our resident Tsareena Simp Stacey Henley described as "my mangosteen queen".

Other times though, the art can be rough. Whether it's the offputting 3D renders, the overuse of a soft glow outline to hide how little the Pokemon fits into its environment, or the dull, concept-art-filled trainer cards, it often feels as if the game's entire art budget is blown on a handful of choice cards.

That's why Brilliant Stars feels like such a breath of fresh air: full of vibrant, animated, and energetic art, it manages to balance out the few times it seems to slip back into older habits. Just look at the detail and perspective on Honchkrow V, the anime-esque intensity of Charizard V, and the dreamy colours of Lumineon V. Even the usually-rubbish 3D art feels less obtrusive here, thanks to a trend towards softer edges and slightly less saturated colours on cards like Zamazenta V and Wormadam.

Trainer cards have always been the weakest cards artistically – after all, in a world of magical animals channelling elemental forces, how do you make Some Guy In A Café interesting? But Brilliant Stars does a lot of work in two areas to make the humans of the Pokemon world just as integral a part of it as the Pokemon themselves.

First, the trainer card art itself. Other than a few, like Gloria and Barry, just being concept art on a random backdrop, cards like Boss's Orders, Cynthia's Ambition, Acerola's Premonition, and Galar Friends exude personality and style. Trainers like Cyrus and Cynthia are supposed to be cool, and now they're finally getting the presence in the TCG they deserve.

The second is in the 'Trainer Gallery', a subset of cards that show Pokemon working alongside trainers famously associated with them. For instance, the Eevee card features Bill, Dusknoir has Johto's Morty, and Karen is shown alongside Umbreon V and Umbreon VMAX. While the partnership between Pokemon and humans has been a core theme of the game for decades now, the TCG's never managed to find a good enough balance to explore that idea until Brilliant Stars.

It's not just the choice pulls and flashy rares that are special, though. The bread and butter commons, uncommons and rares that make the bulk of Brilliant Stars are full of stunning art unlike anything we've seen in older expansions. While you'd typically skim over the commons when opening a booster pack, I found myself lingering on them more than once just to take in the art.

Particular highlights for me are Weavile's night-time skyscraper, Klinklang's sharp lines and bold colours, and Magmortar and Electivire depicting different views of the same battle. From Natsu Sato evoking the old Ken Sugimori colouring style to Yuka Morii's iconic clay models, there's a sense of artistic playfulness and freedom to Brilliant Stars that we haven't seen pulled off this flawlessly before.

This isn't a massive overhaul of Pokemon's in presentation – there are a few dud cards here (just what is going on with Sigilyph?), just as there are stunning cards in any other expansion. But when you look at Brilliant Stars as a whole and compare it to older sets like the Sword & Shield Base set, there's a sense of quiet confidence in its art we've never seen before.

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