Image source: アニメ「遊☆戯☆王」公式‏ on Twitter

Behind all the card gaming in Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains, the series takes a crack at an extremely philosophical question: What are “life” and “free will”?

Our hero Yusaku Fujiki has beaten the mysterious Duelist named Revolver only to discover a little bit about his own past. Revolver also left another parting gift for Yusaku: the information that his partner A.I., called Ignis, is a program with free will and is alive. But, Yusaku ponders if that’s even possible for an A.I. program.

Since the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains, it’s alluded there’s more to the character Ignis than is let on. After all, why would Yusaku work so hard to keep him in his possession and why would the company SOL Technologies and the nefarious hacker group Knights of Hanoi want him so much? We’ve slowly started to see why: Ignis is no ordinary A.I. program and is in fact alive. But, is this even possible? It’s a question you’d think a franchise like Yu-Gi-Oh! wouldn’t address and the series has done an interesting job providing us with some thoughts about the subject.

While it’s clear Ignis is different than every other A.I. see in the series, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a living being. But, there are subtle hints strewn about that make us think otherwise. The most telling are the scenes where Ignis is interacting with Yusaku’s cleaning robot. We’ve seen the robot itself has rudimentary A.I. and can think and act on a basic level. But, in the end, the robot can really only follow the commands it’s given. Yet, Ignis offers the robot the chance to improve itself if it listens to him. Ignis is doing two distinct things by making that proposition. First, Ignis is using the robot to free himself from captivity by bargaining. The fact Ignis is cognizant of his captivity, wants freedom, and rationalizes it shows us he’s a thinking creature and has his own free will.

Image source: アニメ「遊☆戯☆王」公式‏ on Twitter

Second, Ignis is telling the robot there’s more to its mundane existence and learning from him will allow the robot to ascend to a higher plane of being. In other words, Ignis is providing the robot a chance to learn free will. The mere fact Ignis recognizes there is a thing such as free will is amazing. It demonstrates that he doesn’t want to be constrained by the boundaries levied on him and wants more out of his life.

Image source: アニメ「遊☆戯☆王」公式‏ on Twitter

The definitive piece establishing that Ignis is, in fact, alive and has free will is shown in the 12th episode. It’s a small part of the episode, but Ignis faces and existential moment: the prospect he’ll die. Let that sink in for a moment. We’re seeing an A.I. program understand something isn’t right and that it’s about the “fall asleep.” While it could be said Ignis is powering down, the purpose of the narrative in the 12th episode is to erase him. It’s a sobering moment in the series. Even though Ignis is an A.I. program, that doesn’t mean he wants to die. And for him to come to the realization he can die and doesn’t want to is stunning; he’s showing signs of self-preservation. If Ignis isn’t a living being he likely wouldn’t care if he is being erased or not. So, to see him wonder if this is the end really solidifies the fact he is a living creature.

It’s bold Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains is tackling the theme of what constitutes a living being. And to show it through the A.I. program Ignis is inspired writing because we generally don’t see A.I. as living beings yet.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Vrains is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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