“Regarded as a game, chess is more intellectual than life… or bridge.” – Thomas Hardy
Yu-Gi-Oh! is a rare example of a project that became bigger in another format that differs from the original. Beginning as a manga back in 1996, and later turned into an anime, Yu-Gi-Oh! has since transformed into the world’s most popular trading card game.
The anime adaptations are hard to find. The first anime from 1998 has never been released in English. This is the second adaptation, which is more accurately named Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, and first came out in 2000. Recently however, some of the spin-offs were made available on Crunchyroll.
The premise of this series concerns a collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts called the “Millennium Items”, which were used to play “Shadow Games” which threatened to destroy the world. Centuries later, one of these items, the “Millennium Puzzle” comes into the possession of schoolboy Yugi Mutou. After Yugi solves the puzzle, his body becomes the host of a spirit of a gambler who dubs himself Yami Yugi. Whenever any Yugi’s friends are in trouble, Yugi can take on his Yami Yugi form to challenge wrong-doers to games with great penalties.
The anime begins with Yugi being challenged by a rival, Seto Kaiba, to a trading card game called “Duel Monsters”, which is played using a system that creates virtual versions of the cards being played. Yugi wins, and later becomes the subject of interest to the creator of the game, a man named Pegasus. Pegasus also has one of the Millennium Items, in his case the “Millennium Eye”, which he uses to kidnap the soul of Yugi’s grandfather. In order to win back his grandfather’s soul Yugi and his friends travel to a tournament on Pegasus’s own island, the Duellist Kingdom. Yugi must win the tournament to have any hope of freeing his grandfather.
Let’s start with the plus points. First of all, there are a lot of episodes in this collection, so there is plenty to keep the viewer going: 49 episodes across seven discs. Secondly, while it is a bit old, the animation is of a decent quality. Plus there is the odd moment of humour which does make you laugh. (Although that might have something to do with the unrealistic situations that are created in the show.) For example: none of players seems to be able to keep a believable poker face, everyone spends too much time pontificating about either their moves or how much they are going to beat up their opponent, and at one point there is a televised Duel Monsters game with reportedly 10 million viewers. The real life equivalent would be 10 million people watching Victoria Coren Mitchell playing poker, while all the time she would overreact to whatever card was being played, boasting that the jack of hearts she had just been dealt would clearly lead her to create a royal straight flush, winning the game and grinding everyone else playing into dust.
However, there are a lot of problems with this collection. For starters you can only get this title in dubbed English, and the voice acting is not the best. You get the feeling that these American voice actors could not really get the right intonation when it comes to moments of tension and thus the drama is lacking. Imagine that poker game played by Victoria Coren Mitchell, only instead she would be boasting in a chirpy American accent.
Also, not only is there no original Japanese dub, you cannot get any subtitles at all. In fact, there are no extras in the entire collection. Plus the scene selection is terrible. It seems that they just decided to break the scenes down at points where the American broadcasters had a commercial break.
This is not helped by the fact this release is the of the 4Kids version of the series. As a result many of the character names are Americanised. Yugi’s friends Katsuya Jonouchi, Hiroto Honda and Anzu Mazaki become Joey Wheeler, Tristan Taylor and Tea Gardner in this release. Also, 4Kids mess around with the dub to make it accessible to children, and also cut around with the animation. For example, Hiroto/Tristan comes across a gravestone with his name on it, which in this DVD spells out his Americanised name in a still that has been edited.
While all the edits and changes are annoying, the series itself does have its moments of fun. You could also argue that it has a bit more artistic merit than rival anime at the time such as Pokemon. Pokemon began as a video game, so the manga and anime were always going to be busy promoting it. Yu-Gi-Oh! started off as a manga, then became an anime, and then the game became much bigger and the anime had to incorporate elements of the game. Of course, you could also argue that because the anime then went toward boosting the popularity of the game that Yu-Gi-Oh! sold out. That is a matter for the readers and viewers to decide.
When watching this series, remember that certain expectations regarding its release may need to be lowered due to the way it was adapted by 4Kids. However, many of the other elements do make Yu-Gi-Oh! a fun watch.