-Post contains spoilers-
This is why counting is important, kids.
Playmaker continues his duel against Go this week. I’ll be the first to say that this segment of the duel was much more entertaining than the first, partially due to some really entertaining animation sequences inside the wrestling arena. While the animation inside Link VRAINS is still fairly stale, the show seems to recognize this and tries to make up for it with these alternate settings that go along with characters’ decks. It doesn’t totally make up for it, as these are sure to lose their entertainment value soon too, but it works for the time being. I actually laughed when Decode Talker stood over Great Ogre and beckoned it to come back for more. So VRAINS is doing something right. (It would have been nice for them to implement more wrestling moves in the arena. But oh well.)
And that’s the other reason why the second half of the duel was better. It was just fun. We are forced to sit through Playmaker’s mutual Link summoning sequence, which takes up way too much time, but the end result is an all-out brawl between two monsters of equal power who can each protect from destruction. It’s about the manliest way for the two monsters to duke it out, fitting Go’s personality. It’s obvious Playmaker has something up his sleeve, but you can’t help but get excited seeing the two monsters go at it over and over again. Kind of a shame that Playmaker turns out to be a better entertainer than someone who is renowned for entertainment.
It turns out that what he has up his sleeve was simply a greater comprehension than Go of basic algebra. Go tells Playmaker to attack as many times as he wants, as he plans to use Great Ogre’s protection effect. But the flaw in that plan is that he only has two other monsters to use for the effect, and he clearly knew that Decode Talker could attack more than twice. Go seems shocked when he realizes he is out of tribute fodder, but I’m pretty sure anyone who passed second grade math realized what was happening before he did. The children who look up to Go are probably smarter than he is. Is he smarter than a 5th grader? No. No he isn’t.
Back to Playmaker’s mutual Link summoning. This would have been a great place for the show to take a moment and explain how mutual Links work since we’ve hardly received any information on how the Link markers function. However, the show just assumes everyone has read the rule book and is familiar with the updated game mechanics. It’s not a huge deal considering most viewers don’t care about the specifics of a duel (like how people still fawn over Duel Monsters despite it having the loosest set of rules ever), but it still could have benefited the series overall by getting the explanation out of the way once and for all so that everyone can follow along with the action.
Both Go and Playmaker get some development through the duel, though its dubiously executed at best. Playmaker reveals he’s having fun in the duel and ignores a chance to escape Link VRAINS. For all the fun he says he’s having, he sure doesn’t act like it. He does smile for once, but other than that he’s still his stoic self. Yusei, the franchise’s other hardened protagonist, had his eyes lighten up whenever he was enjoying a duel. Playmaker’s expression remains as hollow as ever, and there’s no real sense of joy emanating off him. He keeps talking about all these driving emotions for him – rage, satisfaction, happiness – but he never displays any of them. I get that he’s reserved and anti-social, but I think that’s being played up a bit too much. I don’t know if Revolver stole his emotions or something (maybe he did and I totally overlooked that plot point) but Yusaku risks becoming the blandest aspect of the show.
Go, on the other hand, softens up and accepts his loss with a laugh. For someone who was so determined to prove himself over Playmaker, he lets go of that drive fairly easily. Playmaker did little to force Go to re-examine himself and his motivations, but somehow Go still comes out of the duel a changed man, even before he receives his round of applause from his fans. Go’s realization that he does not have to always win to be considered a champion is sweet, but I do hope his fierce determination didn’t just dissolve. It was pretty much his defining trait, so for it to vanish so quickly is not exactly credible.
Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS rebounds somewhat from a less-than-stellar episode. It’s not operating at maximum power yet, but I still have hope that it will get there after it trudges through some more exposition. If the show wants to continue trying to develop its characters as it has been, it’s going to need to pull a little more weight in providing more substantial reasons for development. Go and Playmaker both have a lot of potential, but right now they’re being ping-ponged around by the writers without much consideration for their unique dynamics.