One might be forgiven for forgetting that VRAINS is in fact a Yu-Gi-Oh! series since two of the first three episodes do not feature any dueling of note. VRAINS is focusing more on setup and development than dueling for now. Whether this is a good or bad thing remains to be seen, but this episode isn’t quite as engrossing as the series’ premiere non-dueling episode. There’s a lot of bouncing around between characters and plotlines that result in an episode that feels scattered.
Charisma duelist and fame hog Go Onizuka is upset with Playmaker for taking over the news. He’s out to take him down and turn the spotlight back on himself. Apparently his ego is known far and wide, as Zaizen approaches him with an offer for him to hunt down Playmaker in Link VRAINS. It’s an interesting conversation, as Yu-Gi-Oh!’s history would predict Go accepting the offer, but the two end up not seeing eye to eye. Zaizen’s cool demeanor during the talk comes off somewhat weird. Considering the power he wields and what is at stake, one would assume him to show some sign of frustration at this obstacle. Perhaps he has other ways of convincing Go to fight on his behalf that he has not yet revealed. For now, his plan is to reduce regulations within Link VRAINS in order to protect profits while luring out Playmaker. It’s a plan just as solid as Reiji Akaba’s plan to form the Lancers. In other words, it’s practically gaseous. His superiors wish to temporarily take down Link VRAINS to work on safety protocol, but Zaizen does not want to hurt profits by doing so. The problem is if safety is not addressed, he could be looking at plummeting stocks/profits if anyone is seriously injured. You know, like those people who were charred to a crisp in the first episode. The ones that were never addressed. Someone please remind me why SOL isn’t bankrupt from that.
The other charisma duelist, Blue Angel, isn’t necessarily on friendly terms with Playmaker either, despite the two saving each other during his duel against Hanoi. She confronts Playmaker at the duel’s conclusion, demanding that he turn himself in. I assume because he’s a hacker, but on what authority Blue Angel is demanding that remains to be seen. She’s in the background for now as we first take a look at Go. Speaking of Go, is the yellow on his head his hair? Is it a hat? I must know these things.
Yusaku and Shoichi manage to unlock some of Ignis’ memories, which were apparently lost when it was almost devoured by Hanoi prior to current events. It’s similar to Astral and Atem, but the fact that Yusaku is actually able to access these memories fairly early on in the series hopefully means we won’t have to be left in the dark for dozens upon dozens of episodes as has been standard. Unfortunately for Yusaku, his tinkering around in Ignis’ memories alerts Revolver to his presence, and he rushes outside the hi-tech hot dog van hideout only to be spotted by our current antagonist as the guy flies through the air. I’m still not certain how that worked. It’s another instance of the series being unclear on the divide between what’s digital and what’s not, but perhaps it was more so a digital manifestation that Yusaku was able to sense. It’s a shame it took Shoichi so long to exit the van for some reason, as the scene might have been clearer otherwise.
Revolver himself receives some focus as well, showing off his apparently disabled father as both a driving force and potential weak spot. The fact that he’s getting development this early on might hint at him becoming more of an anti-hero as the series progresses, but right now he holds the honor of series antagonist. Something to note is that he shares a similarity with Yusaku, as both of them have a (moderately obnoxious) habit of listing off what’s on their mind in threes. It was a bizarre character trait when Yusaku did it; now it’s becoming more of a contrived plot device. There’s clearly more linking them than just speech patterns, but it’s a shame there couldn’t have been anything more interesting for them to share than this.
Something VRAINS is doing better than other series is showing off more of the public. Instead of focusing solely on the main characters, we get to see how the general populace reacts to both the Data Storm and Playmaker’s celebrity status. This helps the series by providing a more all-encompassing atmosphere, something we didn’t really get to see much of in other series, though this could be something that dies out after the series exits exposition territory. Despite this overall being a positive aspect of the series, the organization of the scenes showing the public is squeezed between scenes of more important characters. We get to see some hooligans attempt to surf the Data Storm and watch reporters search for Playmaker while dealing with copycats, all while Yusaku deciphers Ignis’ data, Go deals with his stolen glory, Ignis plots an escape, Zaizen recruits individuals to hunt down Playmaker, and Revolver waits for Playmaker to make a move. That’s a lot to squeeze into an episode, and the transitions from scene to scene are jarring and seemingly random. We go from a suicide bomber getting eaten to a pigeon and frog discussing lag. It’s as if the production team tried to rotate between important and mundane scenes without really trying to sew the threads together. A few work, but others just make the episode feel bloated. It’s nice that VRAINS is providing all this setup so early on, but this much jumping around can easily derail tension if it continues for too long.
There’s not much to say about the animation this week. It’s surprising how much effort the design team is putting into what appear to be throwaway characters, as most of them look fairly distinct even if they lack the details of more major characters. Crowd shots are still fairly generic, but more singular shots of random characters show some time going into the design process. It’s another nice touch that helps VRAINS feel like a series with a wider scope than past installments, though this could easily be thrown out the window once viewers are more familiar with how the world works. It was also nice to see a non-static crowd when Naoki cheered for Playmaker’s victory at the beginning of the episode, even if it was just a simple looped animation. Zaizen and Yusaku both appear a little off model at times, both when looking upwards, but it’s nothing major.
While I was wrong about what would be the focus of this week’s episode, I can almost guarantee we’ll see Go in action next time, possibly facing off against Playmaker. That is, if one of them takes care of Knights of Hanoi Grunt #2 (or is it #3) first. I’m excited to start learning more about our cast. Character interactions are mostly engaging, and Ignis continues to be a refreshing personality for a protagonist’s partner. Anyway, while we learn about Go in the next episode, these plot threads will hopefully start coming together in a more seamless way. VRAINS’ primary strength and primary weakness are both currently that it’s focusing on story development above all else. It just has to find a groove that works better for what it wants to show.
Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS - Episode 3
- Decent world-building for a Yu-Gi-Oh! series
- Avoidance of some common franchise tropes
- Story isn't sacrificed for dueling
- Classes at Yusaku's school are actually informative
- Intensely jarring tonal shifts
- Unaddressed damage from previous episodes
- Avatar styles too dissimilar
- Zaizen's plan is counterproductive
- Ignis inexplicably being more than an eyeball
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