Image source: アニメ「遊☆戯☆王」公式 on Twitter
Long gone are the days of Egyptian themes and aesthetics in Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters. It’s time for a modern VR take of the franchise in Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters follows Yugi Mutou and his alternate ego Yami Yugi as they card battle through multiple challenges. But, a strange mystery surrounds Yami Yugi that’s slowly revealed throughout the series. Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains follows Yusaku Fujiki as he uncovers the secret of a mysterious AI program sought out by the company SOL Technology and the hacker group The Knights of Hanoi.
As a person who hasn’t watched Yu-Gi-Oh! since 2003, going from Duel Monsters to Vrains is an interesting experience. When Vrains started on May 10, 2017, the first thing that ran through my mind was, “Where are the Egyptian themes.” It was very odd seeing how the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise has changed so dramatically in fifteen years. To think, one of the core ideas of Duel Monsters is missing and replaced with our modern ideas of VR technology, that jump is mind-boggling. But, when sitting down and thinking about how the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise has changed, the new ideas in Vrains are interesting. It’s a take on our modern sensibilities of VR technology and issues the come from a highly connected world thanks to the internet. Things such as hacking, online personalities a la YouTube, to even bigger questions like AI programs. Thus, jumping from a series that dealt with ancient Egypt in Duel Monsters to the highly technological themes Vrains is entertaining.
Image source: アニメ「遊☆戯☆王」公式 on Twitter
Even the evolution of the card game has made watching Vrains a fascinating experience. Very simple concepts such as trap, magic, and monsters cards are still a staple of the series, but now with so many different ways to summon a monster card and new variants of the rules, keeping up with a duel takes a bit of mental gymnastics.
Yet, on a visual level, what the duels offer in the first episode of Vrains is exciting. It’s no longer two characters standing a few meters away from each other with the now iconic duel disk systems in hand like in Duel Monsters. Instead the characters in Vrains duel in a virtual world riding surfboards. This adds a lot of movement to the once static duels of yesteryear and surprisingly keeps the engagement of an episode rather high. It’s delightfully wonderful for people who’ve been away from Yu-Gi-Oh! for a long time.
Despite the changes to the franchise, there are still familiar aspects to Vrains for old guard fans—namely, the dual personality of the protagonist. In Duel Monsters, we are treated to a story about a boy with a dual personality. True, the alternate ego came out during the card and other games, but the relationship between the two personalities in Duel Monsters is a driving force in the series and makes it compelling to watch. Vrains has done something similar, but with a modern understanding of online vs. offline personalities.
This alone makes Vrains interesting because the story centers on how Yusaku keeps his identity hidden from those around him. Yet, we can even take a step further. Every character who duels in Vrains has a split personality. Seeing this on such a large scale, as opposed to one character, is something I would have never expected from the franchise and I can’t wait to see what happens going forward. Like, what if one of the characters is a troll duelist in the VR space, but is really just a lonely person in the real world.
Old guard fans of Duel Monsters might find the jump to Vrains a bit daunting because many of the old themes and aesthetics are no longer in the series and the card game rules have changed dramatically. However, the dual personality aspect is still present in Vrains. It’s a nice throwback to the original premise of the franchise and like the change in the card game and themes, a great new outlook on the ideas. I rather like seeing franchises grow and explore new and different ideas than stay in the same place and Vrains does this. In fact, I’m kind of excited to see where the series will take us with its technological themes.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains is not currently streaming. Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters is streaming on Crunchyroll.