When we last left our duelling heroes, the signers had overcome their differences, united and saved the world from certain destruction. Old rivalries mutually fizzled into friendships, lost characters found their true homes and every plot thread from the beginning was neatly tied in a bow. For all intents and purposes, the ending of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season One was a perfect conclusion to the series as a whole. Given the commercial nature of the franchise however, the show must go on! Can Yusei find another reason to start up his Duel Runner and continue to play card games on motorcycles though?
The short answer is, unfortunately, no. Picking up months after the Dark Signers’ defeat, years of social inequality have come to an end with the construction of the Daedalus Bridge, connecting the once divided New Domino City and Satellite – where we now find our main heroes. Yusei, Jack and Crow spend their days renting an apartment and tinkering with their card-clad bikes in hopes of entering the World Racing Grand Prix, a team turbo duelling tournament.
Despite the obvious set-up, the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s almost feels afraid to commit to the event, with over twenty-five episodes passing between its first mention and the competition actually starting. The interim time is largely spent on smaller episodic stories like Jack trying to hold down a job and Yusei teaching Akiza how to ride a Duel Runner; cute stories that could be entertaining relief during larger arcs, but just come across as delay tactics here. This suspicion is intensified when our new villains start to make their move, which is at a snail’s pace and involves schemes that are frankly bizarre even for Yu-Gi-Oh! – I mean, an army of duelling robots? Frankly, it makes me wonder whether the writers actually knew what their new end-game was and were simply biding time until they figured it out.
If you hadn’t picked up on it already, the pacing is all over the place; some arcs start so abruptly that I even had to check that I wasn’t watching discs out of order! Just when it was looking like the World Racing Grand Prix was upon us, with character introductions and even an opening ceremony, another series of standalone episodes followed, before Yusei found himself plucked from the city and into the faraway, western-themed Crash Town! Now, the Crash Town arc isn’t bad – it’s actually an enjoyable story of redemption, but its placement just strikes me as very unusual.
A plus side to the smaller, standalone episodes however, is that they gave the perfect opportunity to develop some characters who really needed a bit of a push without the distraction of an overarching narrative. It was nice to see Yusei and Akiza able to interact in a more relaxed environment, especially as the series continues to not-so-subtly tease that there may be romantic feelings.
The character who benefits the most from this extra attention though, is easily Jack Atlas. Initially introduced as a duelling celebrity in opposition to Yusei, Jack has since abandoned his glamorous lifestyle to live with his former rival, Crow, in the Satellite. Old habits die hard though and a lot of the series’ funnier moments stem from his struggles with the new reality – such as arguments with Crow over his $30-a-cup coffee habit. Jack is also given plenty of opportunities to show off his more redeeming qualities too; like when he takes responsibility for accidentally jeopardising an undercover investigation by bringing down a gang of smugglers himself. These instances would fuel me to respect Jack more, something Seto Kaiba sorely lacked in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters anime.
From a production standpoint, the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s is largely identical to the first, right down to the occasional card misidentification in 4Kids’ English dub (the only language option on this release). The casting and performance of the voice actors is a strong point, with the exception of Eileen Stevens as the turbo duellist Sherry LeBlanc, whose awful attempt at a French accent sounds more like an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger! (I don’t know who decided that the French sound Austrian either).
It is worth noting that due to 4Kids Entertainment skipping some episodes for a multitude of reasons (commonly attributed to low ratings and a need to push out Yu-Gi-Oh! ZeXal), a total of thirty episodes aren’t included in this release – including the entirety of the final story arc, effectively making this the end of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s in the West (unless you watch the missing episodes in their original Japanese on Crunchyroll).
After a first season that still stands up as one of the best Yu-Gi-Oh! instalments to date, it is disappointing to report that this follow-up doesn’t live up to its predecessor’s legacy. With it struggling so much to find its feet after such a perfect finale, perhaps this serves as an example of why stories shouldn’t exceed their natural lifespan.