I feel like the writers’ room lately has been something like this:
“Hey, remember that side antagonist who kept gunning for Playmaker and the Ignis?”
“What if we make him…”
“Blood Shepherd is the only relevant character. Got it.”
As appreciative as I am of the continued break from Playmaker and Soulburner (which we inevitably have to return to at some point), it’s bizarre just how much focus Kengo (Blood Shepherd) is getting. This is his third focus episode in a row, and next week will be the fourth. It’s not like in Arc-V where we had a few Sora episodes back-to-back, because in that instance the plot was actually taking off and Sora happened to be at the center of it. No, that show’s plot moved it, in a good way. In VRAINS, it feels more like the characters are being moved around a gameboard as needed instead of organically moving on their own. Case in point with Blood Shepherd? These last few episodes could have easily been padded out more, with Kengo’s development taking place over a more extended period. But now it just more or less feels he’s making somewhat random actions in accordance with plot demands. None of them necessarily go against his character, but they feel hollow without the appropriate build-up. That said, I still find the current state of the show infinitely better than a couple months ago where Playmaker and Soulburner were just tagging out and dueling the enemy of the week each time.
At this point, everyone is gunning for Blood Shepherd though. Playmaker, Ghost Girl, Soulburner, and Blue Maiden want him to join them to take down Lightning and Windy. Revolver wants Blood Shepherd to help destroy all of the Ignis. And Lightning decides to remove Blood Shepherd from the playing field before he becomes a problem. Now, I can’t say I honestly see why it matters if Blood Shepherd actually works with anyone or not. In the end, he’s not going to be a better duelist simply by joining up with anyone (no, power-ups in this franchise come from deus ex machina plot armor shenanigans), he’s still set on destroying Lightning and Windy, and he’ll be no more of a threat now than later (at least from the viewpoint of someone within the show’s universe, since WE all know characters increase in power over time). So really, I don’t get why it matters. It’s all going to turn out the same way regardless who Blood Shepherd cozies up with.
But, be all that as it may, Blood Shepherd accepts an invitation from Lightning, and the two begin a duel with their consciousnesses on the line (I guess Lightning wasn’t going to bother trying to use the data storm on him?). Lightning allows the peanut gallery to spectate, and I can’t help but feel Lightning anticipates an attempt at dealing with all of them somehow in the aftermath of this duel. He did say he wants to make the place a grave, after all. Perhaps for more than just Kengo. Revolver and Spectre arrive to watch as well, and I’m curious as to whether or not Revolver will act in accordance with his character — searching for Windy to destroy him while he’s in a weakened state and while Lightning is distracted. But that’s for next episode, if it happens at all, which I truly hope it does since it would give characters more to do than just standing around.
At the end of the day, though, we all know how this duel is going to turn out. Every villain besides Lightning has lost already, minus Haru, if he even duels. Kengo doesn’t have plot armor. He’s recently undergone a character arc, albeit a fairly meaningless one. He’s up against the presumed (but probably not) final boss. And the whole gang is there to witness him. Yeah, not looking so hot for him. Especially since the last time anything of note was on the line (Ghost Girl’s Link VRAINS account), the penalty was not followed through on. So, in the interest of making sure threats actually mean something, Kengo’s pretty much gotta “die” here. Again, quotation marks, because this is Yu-Gi-Oh!, home of very limited permanent deaths.
But, for the time being, Blood Shepherd is putting up a decent fight. He ends with a rather unimpressive field, but his trap card manages to take out Judgment Arrows before it can wipe his life points out. Guess he can’t hate Revolver too much after receiving that tip, eh? I’ll say that despite this episode continuing with snappy plays, Lightning’s deck is just boring to watch since it’s purely link combos, and the combos happen so quickly that I really couldn’t tell you how we got to the end point. Uh, Jin threw some cards on the ground a few times and they turned into more cards. That’s about as much as I got. I would rewatch to understand more clearly, but frankly I just don’t care. Link spam to me will never be interesting, especially not in an anime duel. Blood Shepherd more or less did the same thing, but at least we kind of already know how he gets from Point A to Point B. (Side question, why is anyone at all surprised anymore when people summon their ace turn 1?)
The animation is more or less in top form this episode. Lines are crisp and background character models aren’t skewed as often. All in all, things just look good. And it’s helped by the aesthetic touch of Lightning’s field spell, one of the few field spells in VRAINS to actually change the scenery. Seriously, we need more of this. Lack of interesting backgrounds is one of the aspects that’s made this show feel all-around lazier than its predecessors. (The random wild west setting for Revolver vs Blood Shepherd notwithstanding)
Kengo’s Bizzarre Adventure will likely come to a close next week, but I do hope he at least leaves a lasting impression. Maybe in the form of real-life Drone cards? I’ll continue to dream.