My heart is a mess right now. Here I am sobbing once again during the finale, but this time it’s because of the epic feels. The final moments between Ai and Yuusaku was so intimately beautiful, so satisfying, my heart can’t can’t take it, I’m just drowning in my own tears. Just when I thought I couldn’t cry even harder, Ai calls Yuusaku by his name. Fuck, that really got to me. God damn it I love these two so much, and they have both come so far! I knew we were in for a tragic end, but it doesn’t lessen the pain. The duel between them was so touching, and the talk about the importance of their bond and the way they are shaped and how they evolve and overcome the obstacles they have to face. Damnit all, Ai truly meant it when he said he was ready to surrender, AND IT’S NOT FAIR TO BE SO PRECIOUS IN SUCH TRAGIC CIRCUMSTANCES! You’re making even harder for all of us! And gods, don’t even get my started when Yuusaku told Ai what his name meant. Damnit, here comes the waterworks again. I absolutely loved that they always intended to use his name in such a profound way, rather than simply being used as a pun because of his initial form as an “eye”.
“Ai’, means ‘to love people.”
Ai had the path to victory, but he didn’t take it. He didn’t want to make a choice. He also revealed he never fought Yuusaku in the simulations, but rather it was because Yuusaku was trying to protect him, he ended up getting killed. Although they didn’t show it last week, I did have some suspicions that Ai was the reason for the war (as source of conflict for power) which would result Yuusaku’s death. This further sheds light onto the reasons why Ai felt he needed to disappear. He loves Yuusaku dearly, he is his best-friend and most trusted partner, and he doesn’t want to be the reason for his death. It is such a cruel, tragic and heart wrenching predicament. The worst part about this is the fact in a way, Lightning may have lost, but ultimately he had succeeded in at least one of his objectives: Breaking Ai’s heart. You could almost hear Lightning laughing gleefully as he had successfully manipulated him onto this path of self-destruction. Had he not left that so-called “gift” to him, perhaps life would have continued, blissfully ignorance of whatever the future may hold. However, if the simulations Ai had seen were to come true true, it would only further cement that fact Yuusaku and Ai were never going to have happy ending, so as long as he continued to exist.
WAY TO CRUSH OUR HEARTS!!!!!
This also adds a whole new perspective as to why Ai suddenly extended the offer for Yuusaku to become on with him. In a way, that was the extreme alternative to protect him, all while without having to separate. Ugh, this makes me tears up just processing it. Excuse me, I need a moment to collect myself.
While I am quite happy with how Ai’s and Yuusaku’s story was resolved, I have to admit, it slightly irked me to see that Yuusaku disappeared and embarked on a journey without really telling anyone about it. And for the past three months, nobody has since him since. The reason why I find it a bit frustrating is because Yuusaku isolated himself again. While it could be reasoned to not wanting to trouble anyone with his own quest to find a way to recover Ai, it just saddens me that he chooses to do this alone. Luckily, the last cut certainly implies that he does in some way or another, still exist and is waiting to be found. Whether or not he possesses the data to remember Yuusaku remains unclear, but it’s nice to at least end it with the glimmer of hope that they will one day be reunited.
On that note, since Yuusaku did not interact with anyone else in the epilogue it was interesting to see everyone else has gone about their lives. Jin has made huge progress in his recovery and is now working with Kusanagi at the food truck, which has also become Aoi’s latest hang out spot. Her brother Akira has become SOL Technology’s new CEO (jeez, this guy keeps on getting crazy promotions) and Link VRAINS has evolved yet again. As result Takeru, who has returned to his home town is able to access it from there, and this time has brought along his girlfriend (they are totes dating, you cannot tell me otherwise, let me be my headcanon damnit THEY ARE SO FREAKING CUTE. LOOK AT THAT BLUSH!). Gosh, they are so adorable together, it’s a darn shame we didn’t get to see them interact more throughout the show. I am sure she could have been such a charming character! …But I digress.
Ryoken and his fellow Hanoi Knights buddies gotten a bigger boat. They are the “observers” of Link VRAINS to make sure no funny business happens. We didn’t hear Pandor say anything this episode, so I guess she decided she will stick around and help out.
And finally we of course got to see Yuusaku doing his search and Ai mysteriously appearing, confused. Gotta say, that was one hell of a way to end it. Admittedly it was a bit abrupt to my liking, but I’ll take it since it indicates they will be eventually reunion. [SOBS]
Goodness, what a great and crazy ride this has been! It certainly felt like they learned a lesson to some degree from the travesty that became of Yu-Gi-Oh ARC-V. Instead of having an insane amount of characters and the dreadful cameos from the past, this time they stuck with an extremely contained set of characters, and also had an incredible set of villains that puts ARC-V’s to shame.
However, it is terribly unfortunate that even though they worked with a smaller cast, only a handful of them had been granted the opportunity for good character growth. And to make matters worse, with the exception of Yuusaku, Ai and Kusanagi trio, and Flame and Takeru as a duo, up until the very end, the cast barely interacted with each other. As result, they really didn’t have a true relationship with one another besides coming together for a common cause.
And this is one of my biggest criticism with this series. They sort of dug themselves into this hole by failing to present better opportunities for the characters to properly socialize with one another. You can’t tell me they are “friends” when they pretty much stuck to their own respective circles for pretty much the entirety of the series. Hell, with the exception of maybe two occasions, (one each with Yuusaku and Takeru, and the other, Yuusaku and Aoi), we never actually got to see them get to know each other, period- I MEAN, AOI WAS LEFT IN THE DARK ABOUT YUUSAKU’S TRUE IDENTITY UNTIL VIRTUALLY THE END OF THE SHOW! Actually the most ridiculous thing about this, is how not once did we get to see everyone be in the same place at the same time to hang out and just chat. The only times we did was when they were able to fight Ai. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. That’s why it’s really hard for me to believe in their friendships with one another since they were never given the chance to properly nurture it to fruition.
However when it comes to true friendship, there are only three in my books: Ai and Yuusaku, Kusanagi and Yuusaku and Flame and Takeru. That’s it.
It goes without saying that the strongest and most authentic bond in this series is between: Ai and Yuusaku. The two of them had undergone tremendous growth that led us to this heart-wrenching finale. They learned from each other, Ai evolved from someone who fought for his own survival, to somebody who was willing to give up his own life in hopes that he could advert the tragic fate that seemed to be in store of his beloved best friend. Yuusaku went from the lone wolf to someone who was more open to working with others, and formed a unique and irreplaceable friendship with Ai. That’s why he refuses to give up in searching for a way to bring him back.
Kusanagi and Yuusaku isn’t as showy and obvious, but the quiet support of Kusanagi simply looking out for him and having a friendship that exists in the real world is something I really appreciated.
Flame and Takeru were probably second fair pair of buddies. Flame’s wit and charm meshed with Takeru’s personality always made their interaction so much fun to watch. My favourite thing about their bond was how Flame served as someone to help guide Takeru through some of his most difficult times when it comes to facing his trauma.
Then comes down to the character’s respective growth. Again, Yuusaku and Ai both has the strongest and best development of all the characters in the entire series (and thank god for that). But when it comes to the others, they weren’t as lucky.
Aoi had a real rough one. It took her a long time to finally be properly involved in the fights rather than being caught up in a mess and turned into a victim. Sadly, even though she somehow was able to undergo incredibly strong development, she ended up being sabotaged by the writer (yet again) because either she had to be a ‘necessary sacrifice’ all over again, or it was already far too late into the series for her to actually get involved properly any further. Don’t even get me started on her terrible record for the duels. She has put up some amazing fights, and much to my dismay she lost the majority of them. It’s a darn shame, because I really liked her character development.
Then there is Takeru, who had the opposite problem: Lots of airtime, and yet his development felt nonexistent or at least incredibly shallow. Asides from overcoming his past, trauma and guilt, I sincerely had wished they spent more time fleshing him out properly, such his guilt about what had tragically turned out to be his last interaction with is parents, something I had wished they had touched on much earlier. Another reason why he didn’t appeal to me much was definitely because of his lackluster duels. Goodness, for a guy whose’ theme is fire, many of his duels didn’t feel exciting at all, and when they were we were all like “FINALLY!”. They seem to have always lacked that “oomf” that makes a duel fun for me to watch. In fact they were so forgettable, unlike other duels, they are nothing more than faint blur in my memories.
And it’s not that I dislike him— mind you I do think he is a precious cinnamon roll, but I never found myself truly invested in him. He kind of always felt more like an “extra”, specifically made to accommodate Yuusaku and Flame. Ironically, it is is Flame who is my third most beloved character of this series, and it was only with him that Takeru’s character became a bit more fun to watch because the two of them had good chemistry with each other.
Of course they individual growth weren’t all bad, but they weren’t great either. Ryoken comes to mind of how far he has come. Lost Incident whistle-blower, ruthless leader of the Hanoi Knights who will do anything at all cost to complete his objective of purging the Ignis. Well he turned out to be an interesting dude. Complicated, but intriguing all the same. There were times when he was an idiot for failing to look at the bigger picture of how his actions will instigate the very prophecy he and the Hanoi Knights were fighting to prevent. But like Takeru he didn’t really hold my interest too much. I did at least consider him to be a pretty badass character. Took him a while to come around, but when he did it was worth it for most part.
We also can’t forget about Onizuka. Besides the dumbass who calls himself Brave Max, despite Onizuka being probably the second most unpopular character in this series, he had undergone a fairly intriguing take of development. It was because of that it really took me a long time to figure out just what they were trying to do with him, especially when his character would just keep on getting worse and worse when he lost sight of himself and became obsessed with obtaining power by whatever means. But one of the benefits that came out of that was serving as a contrast to Aoi’s development, who had undergone a similar humiliation of losing (and morE), and yet she was able to become stronger and a better person rather than for the worse.
Then we have Kusanagi, Akira, Emma, Spectre and the Hanoi Knights all had very minimal development (though to be fair, among them all, Emma probably had the most after being screwed over by Revolver). Jin basically was a damsel in distress for the entire series, so he wasn’t able to ever grow outside of that. At least the kid is set free I guess.
And finally, the last of the bunch: The Ignis and Bohman.
Aside from Ai, character development wasn’t really the focus for the Ignis. It was more about what they thought about Humans, and what was going to become of them. And God damn it, if it weren’t for Lightning, perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided altogether. Even though we had longed and hoped for the Ignis to have somehow be saved, tragically they were gone for good. As much as it pains me to lose such wonderful characters like Flame, Aqua and Earth, the payoff was absolutely worth it. The execution of these Ignis demise was far better than what had transpired in ARC-V, that (when you think about it) just so happened to have really similar circumstances! Of the bunch, I would say Flame and Earth had the most tragic death, as they perished in such an unexpected manner. Ai, at the very least, we had time to mentally prepare for (not that it made it any easier).
Although I despise Lightning, I absolutely love him, as a villain. He was exactly what we needed, an antagonist who is incredibly intelligent, has a clear motive, manipulative and solid foundation of the reasons behind his horrific actions. He was deliciously evil, played every underhanded card in the book, and even continued to have an impact, even after his demise. Windy and Bohman were great sidekicks for him, both being creepy and intimidating in their own rights.
As for the Story Arcs, most noticeably VRAINS didn’t have major transitions, and (correct me if I am wrong) for the first time ever, no official tournaments. I found this to be particularly interesting because by doing so, it prevented bringing in extra characters that otherwise wouldn’t really help drive the plot forward. So instead we were given streak of battles (every one of them had something at stake) that would follow right after the other. Truthfully, there were times when pace of what sometimes felt like there just wasn’t time to breathe made it exhausting to follow. Luckily, that didn’t happen too often.
The first major arc was the Hanoi Knights Arc. It did a good job of covering a lot of things because of the way they all tied together. It started off with Yuusaku “capturing” Ai to use as a hostage to lure out the Hanoi Knights, and eventually uncovering the truth of the Lost Incident, fuelled by his desire for revenge and justice for him and the other victims who gone through the same horrors he did.
The second major arc which immediately followed was The Ignis War. This was without a doubt the peak of the series (and my favourite arc), driven by the incredibly well written villains that I loved to hate. It was brutal and cruel but damn it, it was so well done, I loved every second of it!
And finally the aftermath of the Ignis War, where Ai disappeared and set the stage to motivate Yuusaku to destroy him. Even though it was apparent we were close to the end, there was a part of me that was hoping it wasn’t. But before long I realized that there was not going to be a Pandor rebellion of the sorts (despite how creepy she looks in the Opening), but instead Ai and Yuusaku’s story was likely either going to have a tragic or bittersweet end— and we got a bit of both.
Yu-Gi-Oh VRAINS had a fairly rough start due to the sudden change in staff (as of Episode 14: Hosoda, Masahiro was no longer the Director and was replaced by Asano Katsuya) and struggling with the shortage of animators. However the change seemed to have been exactly what was needed at the time, as it felt like there was a number of improvement made in the series ever since Episode 14, and for the better, such as the transparency of the situation, and taking a risk to resort using recap episodes to provide more production time. The series had a grand total of seven recaps (Episode 13, 21, 29, 38 (Shortage of Animators), 59, 83, 103 (hybrid, 5mins of new content). I’d be lying if the recaps didn’t frustrate me a bit, but it was a tradeoff I was willing to make if it meant better quality for the series as a whole. Not to mention, I always appreciated the effort of trying to make it humourous as much as they could, and finding ways to mix it with new content so it wouldn’t feel like a total waste of time.
That being said, knowing how many episodes were sacrificed for that makes me wonder what kind of other development we could have possibly played out. Perhaps a bit more time for character growth or group interactions? Well, no use about thinking about it now. But on the flip-side of things, this also forced them to keep up the tempo of the plot. Of course there were some times when it did feel rushed, but more often than not, I didn’t find it to be the case. I am also glad they didn’t unnecessarily drag out the series, nor did the ending feel rushed. Although it ended sooner than most of us had initially anticipated, and felt like it was probably planned to be 120 episodes (25 episodes shorter than usual), especially since they clearly needed more time in the beginning of the series. Hopefully now, since they ended earlier than usual, they will have a bit more breathing room to not rush the production of the next series.
Final Verdict: 7/10
While Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS was certainly far from perfect, and there were still a lot of things I would have liked to have seen them expand on further, I am so happy to say I really enjoyed covering this series. I am also incredibly relieved and thankful it didn’t turn into a dumpster fire like the last one did (God, that was awful!). Instead, the tears I cried today was because of my favourite character, Ai’s demise, and the bond between him and Yuusaku. These two are such a great duo, and they never ceased to make me laugh and cry when they work and fought together, or against each other. Their partnership, bond and character development made it such a rewarding journey to be on. That alone is enough to motivate me to watch this show all over again the future.
If you are interested in checking out a Yu-Gi-Oh series, even though it’s not the best one of them all, I still would recommend this one just because of how good the relationship is between Yuusaku and Ai, and how fantastic the villains were. It also so happens to be one of the shorter ones as well. Of course there are better ones such as YGO 5DS (which is my top recommendation and remains my all time favourite YGO series to date.)
Thanks for being a part of this journey, and I hope to be back to cover the next installment in 2020!