Our first cour of SEVENS has wrapped up. Readers beware, MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.
I’ve been surprisingly pleased with the show, and as such I’ve decided to do a weekly review of SEVENS from here on out.
I apologize in advance for any problems with the featured image/text formatting/image formatting etc. I’m not as familiar with our site’s interfaces as the rest of our staff.
This first little review will play catch-up with the background of SEVENS as a show alongside a quick overview everything that’s already aired. Future installments will go more into each new individual episode of SEVENS.
This series will differ a tad from our usual posts as they’ll be a good deal more subjective, as well as being MUCH wordier. Especially this first one. So. Yeah. Wall of text incoming. Major spoilers incoming as well.
The first thing that comes to mind upon coming across SEVENS is an immediate knee-jerk reaction to reject it. But bear with me, once you get past the shock of what’s changed, SEVENS is a show that is very much worth it.
That’s not to say it’s a change that’s easy to get used to. The shift from 5d’s to ZEXAL with a softer artstyle and more vibrant colors was already a shock for many of us in the YGO community.
…And the shift from VRAINS to SEVENS sees even softer art and even brighter colors.
What’s even scarier with SEVENS is the sheer scope of the changes made to the franchise. Not only was VRAINS was the shortest series to date after what appears to have been a very troubled production, it also ended up being Gallop’s last contribution to the series after 20 years of having almost exclusively worked on Yu-Gi-Oh! Couple this with the introduction of the new Rush Duel spinoff game franchise as the focus of SEVENS and the change in art style and it’s no surprise that many of us were worried about the future of the show.
So let’s start with the details of what changed. The animation studio that took up SEVENS is Bridge, a relatively new studio that tends to works on multiple series at any given time in a variety of capacities. Is that a bad thing? Well. Not necessarily. While Bridge IS a fairly new studio, it’s done a fair bit of work on a fairly famous series that those outside of Japan will be familiar with. Said series being Fairy Tail. Yes, Bridge has worked with A-1 Pictures on Fairy Tail.
Of course it isn’t a guarantee of the animation quality for SEVENS, but the fact remains that it’s a studio that’s worked on a pretty big series.
Next is the animation staff. With Gallop no longer spearheading the anime, many of the animators that were once on the series clearly aren’t there anymore. The biggest change you’ll notice is the lack of character designs that are overseen by long time series animators like Hara Kenichi, and as a result SEVENS lacks many of the elements of that distinct “Yu-Gi-Oh!” art style that we’ve grown accustomed to over the last 20 years. Does that mean that the character designs are bad…? Well. Not necessarily. For one, it’s not like the character designers for SEVENS are some random no names. The character designers of SEVENS are none other than Matsushita Hiromi and Tadano Kazuko of Sailor Moon fame, and the simpler art style means that from a production standpoint SEVENS shouldn’t be as difficult to animate.
So all in all, as far as art and animation goes, I think it’s safe to say that the art direction for SEVENS should be considered “different”, not “inferior”. Recent episodes in particular have had great animation, with the CGI of some of the monsters arguably being on par with the fast, dynamic action that we saw back in ZEXAL. Earlier duels do feel a bit “floaty” so to speak, but recent episodes have picked up the pace considerably.
So alright. What about the showrunners? The director, Kondo Nobuhiro, and our main writer, Takeuchi Toshimitsu, are newcomers to the series. That would be cause for concern, but a glance at their portfolio shows that they’ve worked on a number of series before and this isn’t their first time working on an original story. Their biggest work together is on a recent installment of a long running Japanese comedy series, so that should give you a bit of an idea of what kind of energy SEVENS will have. But let’s be honest. The tv industry is pretty fickle. Even somewhat established staff can come up with absolute stinkers. Taking that into account, it’s important to look at a show for its own strengths and merits.
So what IS the writing for SEVENS like? Well. So far? It’s…complicated. The core cast is a bunch of elementary schoolers and this will make some people uncomfortable for more reasons than one. But age means nothing in anime. As characters they may as well be high schoolers and nothing fundemental about the show would change. That’s the kind of show that SEVENS is.
At first glance the writing for SEVENS is certainly “kiddy” with its number of puns, the occasional slapstick, and the sheer absurdity of some of its scenes. But I don’t mean that in a bad way. Some people will say that it appeals to the lowest common denominator and there’s some truth to that. There’s a moment in the series where a character named Hakubutsu Kan, which may as well be the name Muse Eum in English, thinks back to his younger days digging around for fossils with his grandpa, picks up fossilized poop, holds it to his ear, and says he can hear a dinosaur going to the toilet. Cringey puns and toilet humor at their finest. Yay…?
But…shows like Rick and Morty also get away with toilet humor and silly names all the time. So let’s give the show the benefit of the doubt for just a second here. What you need to consider about this little poop joke is how it’s used to utterly deface the cliche of what would normally be a very heartwarming memory of a kid hearing the ocean in a seashell. That’s where the brilliance of the scene lies, and I’m sorry for spoiling it and everything else that I’ll spoil throughout this post. The punchline of the scene isn’t that it’s a poop joke, it’s that the show has the sheer audacity to pervert a heartwarming cliche with something as dumb as poop joke. And it does it with an absolutely straight face, selling the scene as if absolutely nothing is wrong.
This is SEVENS in a nutshell. What appears to be very simple child friendly, lazy jokes actually turn out to be a series of surrealist jabs at society and entertainment. Take the basic premise of the show for instance.
Our protagonist, Ohdo Yuga, creates Rush Duels because existing duels in the world of SEVENS are essentially boring adult-only events. This sounds like a child’s temper tantrum at first glance, but if you take a long hard look at competitive card games you come to realize EXACTLY what that plot thread is criticizing. Think about the countless complaints of unhealthy card interactions that lock out your opponent from playing the game, or the toxic environment that much of competitive gaming has when it comes to newer players, ESPECIALLY children, and the plot thread of Yuga creating his own offshoot of the game becomes a meta commentary on how warped the actual game has become.
But even more important is the Goha corporation that sells said card game to the masses of Yuga’s world. In the world of SEVENS, everything related to dueling is controlled by a totalitarian mega-corporation that controls every aspect of everyday life. Their youtube equivalent is owned by Goha. Their dining industry is owned by Goha. Their SCHOOLS are owned by Goha. Every aspect of Yuga’s city is owned by Goha in a totalitarian dystopia constantly patrolled by drones that won’t even let you trade cards without Goha’s permission. The world of SEVENS is a Facebook-owned dystopia that most its residents consider NORMAL.
Scroll up and take another look at the SEVENS promotional art before coming back. Behind the bright colors and blue sky is a tower with an oversized G. Goha Corp. The imagery of Big Brother looking down on you is smack dab in plain sight in some of the very first material for the show, and it’s absolutely stupid looking, if not utterly unremarkable. It’s a dystopian nightmare hiding in plain sight, presented in a way that makes your brain subconsciously gloss over the details.
That’s where much of the brilliance of SEVENS comes in. Hidden behind the vibrant smiling colors, groan inducing jokes, and laid back normality of the show is a level of depth you don’t expect from this genre.
Most of its episodes feature some sort of social commentary. The Goha 7th Elementary Newspaper Club, for instance, starts out as a biased yellow journalist newspaper that slanders the name of Yuga and company. The episode where Yuga duels Menzaburo, a kid who wants to create a sort of “Ramen Duel”, is set around the backdrop of a local foodie stop set in a dying market district that’s slowly being choked out by Goha’s AI-powered fast food mega restaurants with a blink-and-you’ll miss it glimpse of…something.
The episode with Kan, meanwhile, initially features him as a corrupt academic who’s lost his way and is solely looking for monetary gain, and the most recent episodes with Roa features some VERY crafty scheming that involves using one’s personal fame to push propaganda.
Not all of SEVENS will have themes that are as familiar for the west though. Two episodes in particular involving Atachi Mimi will be lost on viewers who aren’t as well versed in Japanese pop culture. Mimi is a 37-year-old Goha executive who infiltrates Yuga’s school as a spy, using her child-like appearance to pass as an elementary schooler. Mimi as a character is very much a symbol of those born during Japan’s economic heyday, which much of the jokes about her involving anachronisms from the 80’s and 90’s. Even her personal deck is a major callback to the nightlife of Japan during the 80’s and 90’s, with tongue-in-cheek jokes that are… Let’s just say that they’re jokes that only adults would understand, and would be very much inappropriate for children.
Meanwhile, her son, Yoshio, is an elementary schooler who has an infatuation with TV shows set in post-apocalyptic wastelands, with his deck being appropriately themed around the same concept.
This seems like a very random quirk at first, what if I told you that post-apocalyptic settings were popular in Japan during the 90’s to early 00’s? Yoshio, the child of the 90’s, is the son of Mimi, the woman of the 80’s. So it turns out that even the two seemingly random episodes about mother and son are social commentary in their own way. But what’s really important here is how said commentary doesn’t QUITE reduce the characters to simple stereotypes.
As much as the depiction of Mimi’s character as a giant anachronism and Yoshio’s Mad Max LARPing is taken to silly extremes, the show also takes the characters seriously in their own right. Mimi’s episode has a monologue on her struggles to be seen as the adult that she actually is and her efforts to climb up the ranks of Goha, whilst her deck is depicted as a yearning for her younger days in what appears to be some sort of mid life crisis. Even the most stereotypical character in SEVENS has a reasoning behind their signature gag, and that’s assuming they don’t have character interactions that flesh them out further.
But what’s REALLY astounding about these first 13 episodes of SEVENS is how the “hidden in plain sight” nature of the show’s commentary extends to its plot arcs. Everything is meshed together in a clever series of red herrings, macguffins, and Chekov’s guns. So far SEVENS has been structured in such a way that every episode in the first batch of thirteen plays into the big climax of the cour with Yuga vs. Roa, with foreshadowing hidden in plain sight as seemingly irrelevant details. At the same time, what often appears to be an obvious cliche set up often turns out to be clever misdirection that plays with the viewer’s expectations.
Take for instance, the Hologram Man that Yuga duels in episode 1 to install Rush Duels into Goha’s systems. At first glance the Hologram Man and his strange ruins give off an obvious air of the occult, leading the viewers to assume that there’s something supernatural at play that gives him the power to override Goha’s networks when he installs Rush Duels in Duel Disks everywhere. Yuga’s reaction to the Hologram Man is also your standard Shonen protagonist fare.
A mysterious figure and an upbeat protagonist. Nothing to see here, right? Except. That’s not quite the case.
When Yuga defeats the Hologram Man, a door seemingly is opened to some unknown realm, further emphasizing the notion of some supernatural power. But in the following episode, it turns out that this door is…nothing but a hologram that leads straight into a concrete wall. There’s no supernatural gateway nonsense going on here. Whatever the Hologram Man did to mess with Goha, it’s not supernatural. The standard shonen logic is further flipped on their head upon reaching the climax of the cour, with the show revealing that Yuga’s lack of surprise is because knows the Hologram Man from when he was younger.
Not only that, Yuga’s signature Sevens Road Magician is something the Hologram Man gave to Yuga all those years ago. This plot thread doesn’t end here, though. It ties into the duel itself through a clever propaganda campaign on Roa’s part in which he claims that Sevens Road is an unsanctioned card in front of the audience, who then swarms Goha with inquiries over whether or not Sevens Road is real. And as Rush Duels are “technically” part of Goha’s duel systems, Goha Corp rules that given that the authenticity of Sevens Road cannot be confirmed, and thus Yuga have the card will receive a game loss if he’s confirmed to be in possession of the card, in a shockingly down to earth series of events. Where this differs from real life and its deck checks, however, is that Yuga’s loss will only occur if Sevens Road can be confirmed to be in his deck through the process of drawing.
So everything’s fine. Yuga just doesn’t need to draw the single copy of his boss monster in his 40 card deck, right? Except…This is Rush Duels. You draw until you have 5 cards every turn, and draw one card if you have more than 5. Roa takes full advantage of this ruleset to force Yuga to draw and discard as many cards as possible, essentially destroying his deck to increase the probability of drawing Sevens Road. In a single episode the series manages to take a number of events that are taken for granted, flip them on their head, and write a scenario in which a rule shark uses Yuga’s own offshoot ruleset against him to get the judges to disqualify him.
Luckily for Yuga, the Hologram Man reappears right as he draws Sevens Road, clearing up the whole situation. It’s revealed that the Hologram Man’s name is Otis, and while it’s true that he made the Sevens Road cards, he did it as…part of Goha’s R&D? It turns out Sevens Road Magician, and the rest of the Sevens Road cards, are Goha-sanctioned officially legal cards. It’s just that Roa had his band members hack Goha’s systems to block access to the data of Sevens Road, access which Otis promptly restores with the snap of a finger. This somewhat explains Otis and his ability to meddle with Goha’s security, it’s very likely that Otis helped BUILD the security in the first place. Of course, now the question becomes why Otis would be messing with Goha if he’s a Goha employee.
Personally? I think it might have to do with the name. Another one of our writers, Ark(yes, THAT NeoArkadia) linked me to a wikipedia article for one of the 72 demons of Solomon, Botis, who…you guessed it, is sometimes referred to as “Otis” in texts. What’s interesting is that the demon Otis holds the position of “President” in some iterations. While the definition of president in this particular case might be different from the modern sense of the term, it brings up an interesting possibility. If Otis is ACTUALLY the Goha President, it would further explain why he has so much control over Goha’s systems. It would also imply some sort of inter-company politics if not outright mutiny, and assuming that this little conspiracy theory holds up, it would be a very interesting meta parallel to how the powers behind Yu-Gi-Oh! went and made a new game meant to address many of the complaints of traditional Yu-Gi-Oh! and its experience, while at the same time many of the powers behind traditional Yu-Gi-Oh! have been less than accepting of SEVENS and Rush Duels. We’ll have to see how this one holds up though.
Going back to the “hidden in plain sight” nature of the plot structure, however, it’s not just Yuga who gets the benefit of these narrative tricks. Overarching details also tend to be hidden in the interactions of other members of the cast.
For instance, it’s made clear to the viewers that something is suspicious about Romin from the very first episode. When Yuga uses a lie detector to try and ask Romin about her secrets, the machine explodes, seemingly failing as many of Yuga’s inventions are implied to do early on in the show. However, when the scale of what Romin has been hiding becomes clear to the viewer in later episodes, it makes you wonder if maybe his lie detector exploded because it did its job TOO WELL and couldn’t handle everything it found.
Similarly, the preview for the episode in which Romin duels Gakuto implies that she undergoes some form of mind control, only for it to be revealed in the actual episode that she just simply gets VERY cranky when she’s hungry. The real brilliance here isn’t that the show plays upon the viewer’s expectation of a brainwashing plot and flips it on its head, it’s that the show’s been foreshadowing this little twist without drawing any attention. Upon closer inspection you’ll find that Romin can occasionally be seen drinking or eating things in scenes where she otherwise doesn’t need to.
Even the implication that Roa is blackmailing Romin with some sinister secret is also turned on its head when Yuga casually mentions Romin’s “big secret” at the end of episode 13. The punchline here, is that said “secret” is already alluded to in an earlier episode where Romin visibly freaks out. Specifically when Rook brings up the idea of getting her to sing to promote Rush Duels. Yes, dear viewers, our little pop idol is a tone deaf singer. That’s why she’s the guitarist. There’s no sinister conspiracy here, she’s just embarrassingly bad at singing, and…the show already tells you that LONG before Yuga brings it up. They just also casually use that secret to make you think Roa is blackmailing her with something sinister.
But what about the side characters? Clearly they’re not going to have the same level of plot detail, right? Well. About that.
Mimi’s son Yoshio first appears in the episode which immediately follows Mimi’s debut, but his character is already alluded to in the previous episode. The first mention of Yoshio is in a monologue where Mimi thinks about her son and his favorite dish, spaghetti napolitan. At first glance , this appears to be just another one of her anachronisms. But this little anachronism is is followed up in the episode with a phone call she receives while she’s pre-occupied with Yuga, where she tells the person on the other side of the phone to just reheat what’s in the fridge. Cue the following episode, where Yoshio goes all Mad Max because his mama’s been snapping at him lately and even said she wouldn’t make his favorite dish if he participates in those vile Rush Duels.
Similarly, Menzaburo makes a passing mention of his friends in his debut episode. He’s obviously a bit character so his friends will never appear right? Well. It turns out the friends appear in the episode where Romin goes on her little hunger tantrum, having been hired by Roa to set up a food stand with the explicit purpose of making Romin crankier. Let that sink in for a moment. The side characters to a side character were used to help execute the plot thread regarding a key character trait of one of the main cast.
Even the episode with Hakubutsu Kan ties into the duel with Roa. The episode ends with the cast finding markings hidden at the site of their first duel, which when overlapped in a certain way point to the signature emblem of Roa and Romin’s concert where the climax of the arc occurs. Yoshio and the Goha 7th Elementary Newspaper Club play a key role in finding and delivering the video footage that reveals Otis is a Goha employee, thus saving Yuga from a game loss, and Mimi’s position as a Goha executive plays a key role in the confirmation of information regarding Sevens Road. That’s a surprising amount of interaction for what appear to be monster of the week one-time bit parts.
The real kicker though? This first arc with Roa and Otis ends with an ominous red light featuring the reflection of a yet unknown individual.
Ring any bells? No? Scroll up to that picture with the cute girls in Goha’s AI restaurant. Recognize anything? Yes, my friends, the sinister-looking super AI at the core of Goha’s dining operations, is now being implied to be a major plot point in upcoming episodes of SEVENS. The staff just casually introduced what may be a major plot device in an episode about a dying ramen joint, with the most mundane dialogue you can possibly imagine. It was obviously an evil robot eye from the moment it was revealed. But the important thing to note here is how little attention the show gave it. The show deliberately leads you to question whether or not the eye was ever relevant, only to hit you over the head with it just about when you’ve forgotten it even exists.
All in all, SEVENS so far has been very well written, if albeit somewhat surreal in its comedic absurdity. Between using the cheery absurdity of a children’s show to dish out on-point social commentary, using viewer habits and narrative misdirection to hide its punchlines, and twists that make perfect sense in retrospect but are not quite as obvious on first glance, SEVENS has been a show that constantly keeps you on your toes and jogs your memory with the most bizarre epiphanies. And to top it off, every episode so far has been plot relevant in some way or form, with nearly every character returning for the big finale of the first arc to make one contribution or another. Despite the myriad of worrying first impressions, SEVENS has managed to pull off one of the strongest, if not, dare I say it, THE strongest opening arcs of any Yu-Gi-Oh! series to date.