Just once I want a Yu-Gi-Oh! series to adequately explain where people get new cards from. In GX, they bought packs and sometimes were blessed by OG Pegasus, and in 5D’s, cards came from … stone tablets from space. Ahem. But since then, we’ve had few explanations for how characters actually acquire new monsters, aside from Storm Access. Why does Blue Girl have a fusion, why did Aqua’s monster randomly support Earth’s deck, and why does it seem like everyone in this show just now opened up their first pack of Duelist Genesis and slapped a random tuner in their deck?
This wasn’t such a big issue when it was just the occasional upgrade. Playmaker got a ritual and fusion, Soulburner and Aoi showed off fusions, and Revolver synchro summoned. But all at once we have Ghost Girl and Blood Shepherd synchroing, Go synchroing and fusing, and it all just starts to become eyeroll-inducing after a while. It’s cool to see decks and strategies evolve, but when every character basically gets the same upgrade at the same time, it feels like blatant shoehorning. This is a card game anime that wants to sell cards, so something like this is largely expected. Still, from a narrative perspective, it would be nice if this advancement could be handled with a little more subtlety.
That aside, VRAINS has largely been on an upward trajectory recently. This is in part due to the show’s recent focus on its supporting cast. When Playmaker and Soulburner are not involved, the show is able to ramp up the tension more, as no one else has the same level of plot armor they do. With Go and Earth, and now Ghost Girl and Blood Shepherd, there were indicators as to the winner and loser, but it still could have ultimately swung either way. Not to mention we’ve gotten to explore several subplots recently, like Go’s AI implant, SOL Technologies’ actions, and the absolute retconning of Aoi and Emma’s backstories. Despite the show trying to sell Playmaker and Soulburner as serious, no-nonsense duelists, the fact of the matter is they aren’t compelling on their own. They have very focused, very streamlined goals that don’t deviate. The other characters, however, freely waver on their motivations and can better explore alternate paths. I’ve touched on how this show has totally shot itself in the foot by ignoring narrative branches in the past, and I’ve also talked about how Aoi’s wavering was actually a negative quality of the show for a while. So really, examining alternate narrative branches can be a positive or negative, depending on how it’s handled. Thankfully, right now things seem to be handled fairly well, if one can ignore how out of the blue the backstories of Miyu and Blood Shepherd are.
As mentioned, this episode’s duel features Ghost Girl finally duking it out against Blood Shepherd, with the loser’s account being deleted. Pretty high stakes for a supporting character duel, which is already something of a red flag. The duel itself is a good one, though both duelists continue the show’s trend of bogging down gameplay with drawn out combos, something I really wouldn’t expect Altergeist to be guilty of. Still, it’s a fairly back and forth duel, even if by the end of turn 2 we already can pinpoint who is going to win. Konami’s gotta sell Drones somehow, right? (Konami, please actually print Drones. Please and thank you.) It’s a shame Ghost Girl loses yet again, though. She almost feels like this show’s Sawatari — one of the best duelists but someone who always gets screwed over by plot.
Anyway, when Ghost Girl loses, she pulls out her ace in the hole: emotional resonance. Earlier in the episode, she revealed that she and Blood Shepherd are actually siblings. While the show has teased a deeper relationship between the two for a while, I’m not entirely sure things were built up enough for this sort of reveal. But whatever the case, it works fine for the intended purposes. We now have another subplot to tackle at a later date, and Ghost Girl avoids having her account deleted by appealing to what little heart Blood Shepherd has left. Unfortunately, this does lend some problem to the issue of stakes. Whenever the stakes are high in a duel, rarely are those stakes actually acted upon. At least in the case of supporting characters. (Go vs Earth was fairly necessary for the intended plot direction, and the ramifications of that duel can easily be undone later, despite what Revolver says.) The show can’t shy away from penalties often. Otherwise, they’ll entirely lose their meaning. (Looking at you, Shokugeki no Soma.)
The final tidbit of important info is the teaming up of Miyu and Blue Girl, who undergoes her own magical girl transformation to mature into Blue Maiden. I can’t help but have mixed feelings. On one hand, I love that Blue Maiden is relevant finally. This franchise has a terrible history of completely writing out its female cast around this point in the episode counts, so seeing Blue Maiden gain some importance is a welcome development. That said, Miyu feels like an afterthought concocted as a desperate move by the writers to develop a reason for Blue Maiden to team up with Aqua. And with how all over the place Aoi’s character development has been, it almost seems like the staff is trying to make up for a lack of meaningful character development by providing an aesthetic development. It could be argued that Aoi’s avatars each represent her own character growth. But really, her development before now seemed to go wherever the writing staff needed it to go, not where any sort of natural progression would take it. So, while I like the new design (even though Blue Maiden looks like she’s in her late twenties or early thirties now), it’s frustrating that it is almost a cop-out used in lieu of an actual meaningful character arc. Aoi witnessed Earth’s demise and now she’s here. I guess that’s something.