It’s time to link into the Vrains! Yugioh was always known as the big trading card franchise for a long while as even Duel Masters could not keep up but as the years went by it started to lose its ground at the top. Nowadays you could make a fair case for Cardfight Vanguard surpassing it in discussion at least for the shows. That said, Vrains is the end of the old guard in a sense since Sevens is really the start of a whole new direction. Vrains is another great show so Yugioh continues to go strong there. While I do think it ended up being the weakest of the classic Yugioh shows (Aside from Capsule Monsters and the original show) that’s more due to the high bar set by the franchise as opposed to this one lacking in anything. GX, 5Ds, and Arc V still remain at the top by a longshot, then you have classic and then Zexal, then Vrains comes riding through. We’ll see if Sevens can break into this very exclusive group of shows or if it’ll lag behind.
The show here follows Yusaku, whose alter ego is Playmaker. He was involved in an experiment as a kid that traumatized him as well as a lot of other kids and then the incident was buried. Yusaku has some issues with his memory, why he was there in the first place, and also has trust issues now. So he really stays by himself and the only person he truly trusts is Kolter. Yusaku now works as a hacker so he can find out the truth in the world and he’s also an expert duelist on the side. The only leads he has is the group known as the Knights of Hanoi and SOL Technlogies, and an advanced A.I. program (Ignis) named Ai. Will Yusaku be able to put this puzzle back into focus?
So lets talk a bit about the show as a whole first before getting into the arcs and characters. I do like the idea of dueling while on airboards now. It’s a natural piece of progression after being on motorcycles before. Arc V had rollerblades and flying through the arena so it’s only natural that fighting while in the air would be next right? The characters have to watch out for the constant tornadoes but it’s pretty intense. I would say motorcycles is still the best aside from normal dueling but this one is still cool.
The gimmick for Vrains is also considerably better than the one in Arc V where you could just randomly grab cards. Here you get to use a unique skill once per turn and every player has a different unique skill. It’s an interesting mechanic that doesn’t completely take over every duel so it actually feels rather balanced. At the very least I thought it was handled pretty well personally. It’s a visually interesting ability and with the characters already in the air, the whole thing helps to augment the duel without distracting from it.
I also enjoyed the mystery angle in the show with Yusaku trying to find out about his past. If he had full amnesia or something then that would have been annoying but instead it’s about that one specific event which always raises a lot of questions for Yusaku. Why wouldn’t it right? The whole thing seems incredibly suspect so it’s no wonder that he wants to find out exactly what was going on there. It’s a slow boil as you gradually find out the details of the mystery and that’s handled well.
Yusaku also makes for a very fun protagonist with how rude he can be the whole time. Yusaku is very much not a people person and he reminds the case of this a lot with his subtle burns. He’s never sarcastic but he will put a character in their place with a sharp remark at the drop of a hat. Yusaku is a master duelist so he can also quiet other characters down that way. As the series goes on he gets to be a nicer guy and someone who even believes in the power of friendship but he never completely loses his edge. He’s a solid character through and through as well as someone that all of the villains have to respect as a solid threat.
It was also nice to have various factions running around here. You had SOL Technologies and their various duelists and fighters running around. They even hire a bounty hunter at one point. You’ve got Yusaku and his friends on the heroes side and then you have the Knights of Hanoi with their own schemes to hack the world. So at all points in the series there are at least 3 factions running around and I think that’s a good thing because it always means there could be a wild card running around. It helps to keep things from being too static or straight forward.
Naturally the animation is very solid here. Yugioh never goes for looks that are too fancy or anything but it’s all well detailed and I had no issues with how anything looked. The designs and backdrops are always solid as well as the dueling effects. The soundtrack is a little more forgettable than some of the previous Yugioh titles though. I can’t really recall too many of the individual dueling themes and the English version of the theme song at least was rather underwhelming. So on the music side this one doesn’t quite hold up.
Now I suppose the question is what keeps Vrains from beating the other Yugioh shows. Well, I do think the soundtrack and animation play a part as it doesn’t look or sound as good as any of the others. While it’s not a major deal in the grand scheme of things, it’s still an important factor when you’re going up against elite titles. Faster music would have been good and the animation just didn’t get as out there as you would expect. GX and 5Ds for example came out ages ago but the animation still holds up even better I would say, especially in some of the biggest duels. I don’t even have to go into the soundtrack since those were amazing.
The cast is also a bit weaker overall. There aren’t a whole lot of Vrain characters that I would say are really high tier. One character who eventually got high tier didn’t reach that point in the final season. This was Ai as he was annoying for around the first 100 episodes before finally getting good. For the most part the characters just didn’t reach the next level though and as a result you had less heart pumping duels. The climax of each arc would get fairly intense but I would say that it could take a little while to get to that point.
Now all of these points are speaking relative to the other titles. This is still an 8 star title so you can tell that it is great all around. When you look at the show by itself, I wouldn’t consider these to be true weak points as the show still handles them well. It’s just the little things that can keep you from reaching the top and shattering all of the limits. It’s also difficult following a title like Arc V which was the big crossover saga for all of the series. That may be why this one intentionally tried to be a little more low key and about the mystery/world instead of always being about the duels. At least early on it’s going more in that direction which isn’t even a bad idea. It’s pretty enjoyable to see Yusaku playing detective and to see where that goes.
Now I’d say that’s a pretty good time to start jumping into the story arcs and talking about the characters a bit. The show had 120 episodes so as you can probably imagine, there was a whole lot going on here at all times. It makes for a great adventure and the longer you go the better. So if you’re 100+ episodes and an 8? Well that means you’re in for a treat because that’s a lot of content for greatness. If you’re 100+ but a 7 or lower then that’s still pretty good but it isn’t nearly as mind-blowing or anything like that.
The first part of the season’s more about the introductions. So while Yusaku is on his quest to find the answers, he gets to meet up with a lot of characters both friend or foe. Those who enjoy Link Vrains and those who want to see it go down. The Knights of Hanoi have taken a very drastic approach in this endeavor as they seek to completely delete it which will keep A.I. from taking over the planet. See, part of their concern is that humanity relies on the A.I. too much and so if they ever revolt, the world could be in trouble. While this may seem a little drastic, the show does give them some ammo here.
See, everything in this world relies on A.I. From entertainment to schoolwork, to hobbies, and normal work. Everything is connected with the sci-fi elements at this point. The Knights of Hanoi have seen firsthand how dangerous this can be and so they aim to nip this in the bud. It will of course be a huge inconvenience to everyone who uses Link Vrains but at least it’s not like they’re trying to blow up the planet or anything. It makes for a very interesting goal on the villains part. Then in a way SOL Technologies would be the good guys since they control Link Vrains but they have so many secrets and shadowy figures that it’s not like you can trust them either. At the end of the day Yusaku can only really rely on himself.
That said, I do think SOL Technologies could have done a little better with their council of elders. Those guys talk a really tough game but at the end of the day they can barely fight. You never see them actually running to the frontlines or anything like that. SOL has the money to buy a bunch of bounty hunters and such but I would have liked to have seen these guys getting in some action too. Now that would have been a lot of fun.
As mentioned earlier, Kolter is Yusaku’s main friend and he’s not bad. Hostage situations do force him into some tricky calls later on in the series but for the most part he’s dependable. I just wish he could duel a little better so that he could actively help Yusaku instead of always being on the sidelines. He helps out with the coding and all but dueling is the best way because you can just get right in there without any delay. He and Yusaku also have some good conversations on hot dogs and whether they’re a sandwich or not. I always thought those conversations were pretty cool.
Then there’s Ai. Well, I’ll talk about him a bit more again for the final arc but for the majority of the series I didn’t really care for him. Each Yugioh series always needs a mascot/advisor to the main character. The one in the classic Yugioh is Yami Yugi of course and he’s really serious but then sometimes you may have someone like Astral where you can’t trust him all that much and he’s not a great character. Ai is more on that level as he talks tough but is proven to be wrong every time. His confidence is never warranted and he just holds Yusaku back so there’s no way for me to like him much. It’s not until the final saga that he suddenly becomes a pretty good character.
Now Zaizen is a high quality character. At first he may seem like your classic government worker type villain who can’t fight and just sends goons after Yusaku but there’s a lot more to him than that. One of his motivations for getting to the top is so that he can protect his sister Skye and he even tries to prevent her from dueling for that reason since it can get rather dangerous. He does take it too far but you can get at least why he has that general view. Then when it’s crunch time he actually is able to duel. Sometimes Zaizen does take the easy way out and just follows the company line, but otherwise he will stand up for himself which is always what you want to see.
He looks into SOL Technologies on his own as well and gets a lot of character development. Ultimately I wouldn’t call him a hero but he was one of the most interesting characters in the whole show. Then you have Emma aka Ghost Gal who he would hire to get info sometimes. She’s sort of like a bounty hunter who will do missions for the right price. Typically she leans more on the side of being a hero and doing the right kind of tasks but I wouldn’t say exclusively. Ultimately if you’re willing to pay then she is willing to help out. She can duel very well too so she can take care of herself when a mission goes sideways. She brings a nice dynamic to the series.
Next up is The Gore but I never ended up liking this guy. He’s your classic strong but not very smart guy. There’s a nice touch to his character with how he fights so that the orphans can have someone to look up to. I think if that was played up then he could have been really good but he gets entranced by the darkness several times. It feels like he was always being a traitor and it’s not like he’s an expert duelist either. If his character had gone in a different direction then it could have worked but not like this.
As for the villains, lets start off with the leader Varis. He has a personal vendetta against all Ignis because he believes that they go too far. He doesn’t necessarily have a problem with A.I. and technology itself but since the Ignis have a will of their own they become too dangerous. He really thinks that this level of technology should not be around and so he tries to eliminate them and make a mess of Link Vrains. He has a very solid backstory here to set up this goal and his confidence is always high.
In a lot of ways he will definitely remind you of Kaiba. The two of them have a lot of similarities as characters and are both top of their field. Even by the end of the series Varis still has some edge to him. There’s one fight that he ends up throwing near the end of the series that I found to be a little cheesy though. I get that he wanted to end the cycle of violence but I would have liked him to have stayed the course and gone off to destroy the Ignis anyway. That would have been the ideal scenario for me.
Then you have Specter who I like to think of as the right hand man. The Varis group doesn’t necessarily have full rankings like that but this guy always proved himself to be the most capable fighter. His fight with Skye was really a highlight in the series as it was one of those battles that subverted your expectations several times. His backstory was surprisingly emotional and he just made for an excellent all around fighter. The guy is one of those villains who loves taunting his opponents and he puts this to great effect. The characters just have no idea how to deal with him since he throws them so far off their game.
Then you have Dr. Kogami who is a mysterious scientist who ends up having a big role later on. He’s overshadowed by the other two villains for me but this guy wasn’t bad. He has grand ambitions and has quite a few “All according to plan” moments so I’ll give him that. Maybe if his deck had more of a shiny gimmick to it that would have helped him be even more memorable.
I mentioned her before, but of course we can’t go on without talking about Skye. She plays a big role here as the main heroine and has to balance being a celebrity in Vrains while not letting her brother realize that she even uses the system. That makes for a difficult balance of course but she pulls it off. I liked Skye well enough even if she probably could have used a few more wins in the dueling world. After a while you realize that none of Yusaku’s friends can hold their own (Until Soul Burner arrives) so he really has to pick up the slack for everyone. Ultimately you can always count on Skye to do her best in helping out though.
Now we enter the meat of the first arc which is that Varis and the Knights of Hanoi have constructed a tower. Each duelist they defeat is destroyed and put into the tower. If it isn’t stopped quickly then all of Link Vrains will be taken down for good. Yusaku will have to rely on his friends to help him here but when they are soundly defeated then it’s up to him as expected. Seriously the friends do their best to help but often times they don’t really help much in the grand scheme of things. Yusaku has to do the heavy lifting at all times.
There are a lot of hype duels throughout the tower experience as you’d expect. The three highlights are Yusaku vs Varis, Skye vs Specter, and then Specter vs Yusaku. As I mentioned earlier, Specter is just a master of mental manipulation and I was really impressed with him the whole time. Initially I figured he was going to be more of a throwaway villain who was not going to be ready to fight in the big leagues like this but he proved me wrong. This guy was absolutely ready to swing for the fences.
As for Varis, well the series was hyping up his duel with Yusaku for a very long time and it lived up to it. Technically they had several duels but this was the big one to end the arc so it was extra special. A few other villains also appeared here who were reasonably solid even if they couldn’t top the big two. One was Faust and he’s a bit of a genius although all of the villains are to an extent. He has a solid duel and makes his presence known. After this season he would continue to appear but he doesn’t get to duel nearly as much. He’s more of a supporting character.
Finally there is Baira and she came up with a solid computer glitch that can damage you even in the real world when you duel in Link Vrains. That was no small feat and she made for another solid villain to go up against. Then you’ve got one hero I hadn’t talked about yet in Shima. This is the comic relief character of the series and so I don’t have many positive things to say about him. Comic relief characters can be cool of course but the first step is that they need to be funny and Shima never was. He just tries too hard in his scenes and he’s not even a good duelist. That’s a bad sign in a show about dueling.
Now with season 2 we enter the main arcs of the series. The planet that the Ignis lived on has been destroyed and so now they are appearing on Earth. Some of the Ignis wish to conquer it while others want to take a peaceful approach. Lightning ends up being the ring leader here and he quickly gets Windy on board. Then he uses the cyborg Bohman and his brother Harlin to back him up. Even the Ignis who were on the fence like Earth have to take a stand and the Knights of Hanoi aren’t making it easy to convince them of a peaceful solution since they vow to destroy all the Ignis either way. Yusaku will have to try for peace but is that even possible?
Lightning even ran simulations which showed that eventually war would break out between the Ignis and humans which would cause everyone to die. He ran this simulation numerous times and it always ended up the same way which is why he decided to make the first move. I do like that this does at least give a good reason for why he turned evil like this. If you see that in the future everyone ends up dying every time, then you would probably feel really tempted to attack.
Lightning also just made for a really solid villain. He’s easily the most memorable of the Ignis for that reason and is an exceptional duelist all the way through. Then you have Windy who is also a solid villain. I would say that he doesn’t quite keep up with Lightning in part because he had to be convinced and isn’t a true leader in that sense. Still, Windy does his share of damage and doesn’t crack when he is nearly destroyed by the humans. This was definitely another villain that the heroes had to watch out for.
Earth was my least favorite member of the Ignis. He decided to stay on the fence and also didn’t confess to Aqua quickly enough. He tends to take forever to make a point and ultimately gets captured. His fate is the darkest by far among the Ignis and it’s probably the darkest scene in the series to be honest. You definitely feel bad for him and at the same time it really makes Lightning’s point on why the humans can’t be trusted. There will always be some of them around who will show up to try and destroy the Ignis. This was just the latest example of that.
Then there is Aqua and she’s nice enough but unfortunately her dueling skills aren’t quite on the same level s the others. She’s more of a pacifist but at least is more determined than Earth was. Aqua ends up having a good bond with Skye and does her best to help out. At least she did choose a side instead of staying in the middle so I give her props for that.
Finally we have Flame and I liked him well enough although I expected better out of both him and Soulburner. On their initial appearance it felt like they were going to be the cool rival character to give Yusaku a run for his money and then it never happened. It helps that Soulburner’s human alter ego just isn’t as cool as you would expect. Part of the point is that he’s actually not a super cool dude in the real world but I would have switched that so he was cool in both realms. Would have just worked better right? As for Flame, he does a good job of backing Soulburner up but it felt like he didn’t have a ton of personality most of the time.
He’s a good guy and he can hurl some insults but that’s about it. At least Soulburner has some good rage moments when it comes time to deal with his backstory or fighting against Varis. So there would be full episodes where Soulburner actually was really cool. It doesn’t happen all of the time but when it happens that’s definitely cool at least. Now it’s time for the 4 villains in this arc. First up is Jin and sure he’s being manipulated the whole time but that means he is still showing up as a villain here.
He just didn’t end up being nearly as cool as he could have been as a result. The guy has no willpower and is really just a puppet to be used the whole time. Considering how long it took Kolter to find him, it would have been nice if Jin was more helpful. Maybe give him one big duel before he gets brainwashed. Then you have Bohman who gets brainwashed a lot as well. The guy is given different memories each time just to mess with him. The reason Bohman is cooler though is because at least he can duel really effectively.
He gets stronger in each duel and by the end he even learns how to have goals of his own. He has some really solid duels throughout and you just grew to like the guy. Bohman is a great example of a fun villain. Not saying you’ll be rooting for him or anything like that but like Lightning he at least has a fairly good thought process on what he’s doing.
Then there is his brother Harlin. That guy’s more on the emotional side for the villain as he has a hard time really appreciating Bohman until it starts to be too late. Harlin’s confidence well exceeds his overall dueling ability so he doesn’t stand out quite as much. He’s decent but you just won’t be putting him above any of the other big villains. Finally you’ve got Shepherd who is a bounty hunter and a nice wild card to throw onto the field. You definitely don’t want to underestimate this guy and he even got Yusaku into a sticky situation several times. He also can’t stand A.I. like Varis and that makes him another good character to have around. He’ll attack both heroes and villains depending on the job and I like those kind of characters. Shepherd will do whatever it takes to fulfill his own ambitions.
Finally we’ve reached the final arc which is rather short but very impactful. It raises a lot of good questions and it also what made Ai go to being a fairly high tier character. So the season starts off with Ai making a big choice. He realizes that the Ignis were right and declares war on humanity. He will take them all out and just needs to obtain the two card keys from SOL Technologies. After Ai obtains the first one, the heroes know that he is serious about this. Somehow he has become a world class duelist with exceptional cards though so defeating Ai won’t be easy. Pretty much every available character is rounded up to stop Ai but will they really be enough to defeat him? With Yusaku being shaken up at the revelation, it won’t be easy this time.
The whole A.I. vs humanity angle is something that the show goes into quite a lot as I discussed earlier in the main Ignis arc. It’s really an interesting plot and I like it when the show goes into this. The humans are always attacking them after all but it was still very surprising to see Ai going to the other side. He usually just gets beaten up by everybody but still bounces back with a smile. It turns out that he was looking at things a lot more seriously than he let on. He probably should have talked with Yusaku before going out on his own though. Ai ends up being very impulsive when it matters.
It would normally be hard to take him seriously though which is where the show did an excellent job with his character. He gets a whole new design and actually looks really good. Now he is a fighter that the heroes can’t afford to underestimate at all. Doing so could cost the planet. Naturally there are a lot of twists and turns here as well as infighting with the heroes. After all, the season is still close to 20 episodes so it’s not like the whole thing could just be the Ai duels. Fortunately the other duels are still a blast as well. This was a fitting way to end the series and it was really hype as a climax.
The ending of the series is very final and does feel like a good way to wrap things up. There is one scene in the final episode that definitely helps to give it a good buff. It’s the kind of scene that I enjoy having there as a positive twist at any rate. So that’s the story of Yugioh Vrains and it’s a good one. Of course I didn’t go into details on some of the twists and turns here so you can get into it on your own. That way they’ll really have a lot of bite and substance to them. There’s no way you walk away from the series with any feeling other than just being happy and thrilled.
Overall, Yugioh Vrains is definitely a great series. I would recommend it to any anime fan, whether they’re someone who is already into Yugioh or someone looking for a good show. Either way it’s easy to follow and a good enough starting place for any future Yugioh fan. As I wrote above it’s a great show that’s well balanced in all areas. It’s also emotional that this is effectively the end of the traditional Yugioh shows. We’ll see if Sevens is able to top it as the start of the next gen or not. Either way you won’t be forgetting Vrains anytime soon.