Duel Links rules? In my anime?
Episode 2 of VRAINS introduces a new kind of dueling called speed dueling. Well, new to anyone who has yet to download the Duel Links app or play a Duel Terminal. This duel format involves the use of only 3 zones each for spell/traps and monsters (RIP pendulums). In addition, Main Phase 2 does not exist and players start with one less card than usual. Players also can activate a Skill once per duel, the gimmick equivalent of Action Cards and Speed Spells. Players can activate a seemingly random deus ex machina skill whenever they want during the duel. Yusaku’s opponent, for example, uses it to draw 2 cards, whereas Yusaku uses it in a fashion much more befitting a protagonist: pulling cards out of thin air. (At least he doesn’t change the card he draws. I’m looking at you, Yuma.) Last, there are obstacles to watch out for. As the duel takes place on surfboard-type devices atop a purple digital stream known as a Data Storm, players must maneuver (surf) around anything in the path of the Data Storm. Taking too much physical damage will result in mental damage back in the real world. Yeah, these Speed Duels seem totally safe. We should definitely engage in them all the time.
(Speaking of dying in real life if you die inside Link VRAINS, are we just going to ignore the like dozens of people who got absolutely demolished by Cracking Dragon last episode? Yes? Cool? Okay.)
Yes, in this episode we finally get some dueling action. A full episode’s worth, actually. Yusaku squares off against a man who is sure to be the first of many grunts of Hanoi. It’s interesting that this first duel is actually against a random antagonist instead of a named character, setting this premier duel apart from the other series. The duel itself is written fairly well, especially by recent standards, but if you’re someone who watched Arc-V, then it was probably pretty predictable how Yusaku was going to overcome Cracking Dragon’s oppressive effects.
While it’s still nice to see that VRAINS appears to be focusing on plot instead of drawn-out character expositions, it’s still a little tiring how bland Yusaku’s opponent is compared to some of our past first duels. It’s the first duel of the series, and while there is decent enough tension, that the opposing duelist possesses the stereotypical personality of every faceless anime grunt ever reduces the impact of what otherwise was a pretty starting solid duel. Don’t get me wrong – his dialogue and actions were all fine and worked for the purpose of adding an antagonistic force to the duel. It’s just that he was pretty plain overall. Thinking back, Ushio and Cronos might not have been too different upon their introductions either, but at least they had future potential whereas I’d wager we’ll probably never see this guy again. I hope we do so even he can develop, but it seems unlikely.
Yusaku doesn’t help add much flair to the duel either, but his no-nonsense personality is actually a breath of fresh air compared to the near-constant goofiness of Yuma and Yuya. His interactions with Ignis are also more interesting than past partnerships. Not only do the two not get along, but they also directly antagonize each other to further their own goals. Yusaku is confident enough in his own ability that he chooses to ignore Ignis, similar to Yuma with Astral. The main difference is that Yusaku is a genuinely capable duelist, which makes his stubbornness turn into arrogance, a trait we really have yet to see in a Yu-Gi-Oh! protagonist. I’m excited to see his development play out in regards to this character flaw.
What does add to the duel is the presence of an unstable Data Storm whirlwind, which rips through Link VRAINS and destroys (read: deletes) pretty much everything with which it comes into contact. Which leads to the question: why doesn’t it delete the duelists when they come into contact with it? I would have preferred an explanation, but this might be one of those things that just has to be brushed aside for the sake of moving the story along.
The animation is more consistent this week, but since most everything takes place in a singular duel setting, there’s not much to compare to the previous episode’s scenes. Most of the episode is pretty crisp with well-defined outlines, as per usual. It all culminates in pretty sleek summoning and attack scenes for Decode Talker, Yusaku’s link monster (link monsters being sort of like synchro monsters in how they are summoned). There’s one noticeable quality drop right before Yusaku starts the Link Summon process, but that’s forgivable considering how quick and distanced the shot was. Unfortunately, the buildings in the background of the duel are on a sort of loop, so we keep cycling through the same scenery over and over. Whether that’s an animation shortcut or simply an aspect of Link VRAINS’ setting isn’t certain, but I suspect it’s the former.
I’m being a little nitpicky here, but it seems weird that there was no noise when the Data Storm was destroying the buildings in Link VRAINS. When Cracking Dragon crashed into a building, we were treated to the sounds of glass shattering along with an explosion. But the Data Storm was oddly silent, like a black hole. If it was supposed to make the scene eerie, it really didn’t work. We’ve all been brainwashed by Michael Bay. We NEED explosion sounds all the time to feel satisfied. Speaking of sound, the music was pretty good throughout, considering the early music in these series tends to be a little on the plain side. I will say that the song playing when the opposing duelist activates his skill didn’t seem to fit at all. It was way too upbeat considering that the scene was supposed to be pretty tense. Yusaku might be about to die. Let’s play something joyous and hopeful. Kay.
It looks like next week we’ll be looking more at Revolver, so we’ll still have to wait to learn more about Go and Blue Angel. That just means more plot, though, so I’m all for it. This was a pretty solid episode with a decent first duel for the series. Nothing has pushed this series too high yet, but if it can at least operate at this sort of quality on a regular basis, its future looks bright.
(By the way, VRAINS stands for Virtual Reality Artificial Intelligence Network System. The more you know.)
Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS - Episode 2
- Yusaku and Ignis' relationship
- Monsters and cards look nice for the most part
- Blue Angel not being a bystander
- Flawed real-life damage concept
- Generic overconfident opponent
- Yusaku's three reasons for fighting are a poor excuse for backstory