High schooler Yugi Muto has become a champion at Duel Monsters. But behind his mild-mannered exterior lies a secret: since he solved the Millennium puzzle, he has become the host of the spirit of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, the very one who put an end to the Shadow Games that were threatening his world – only to then be sealed away in his turn. Yugi’s sworn rival is Seto Kaiba, the rich young CEO of the powerful KaibaCorp. In spite of his wealth, Kaiba is still dissatisfied; he cannot rest until he has beaten Yugi Muto and won his three legendary God Cards. So when archaeologists in distant Egypt unearth a mysterious mummy (amidst all kinds of terrifying omens) and the Pyramid of Light, awakening an ancient and malevolent spirit awakens: Anubis. When that mummy and the Pyramid of Light from the dig are displayed in the museum in Yugi’s home city, Anubis’s spirit breaks free, determined to get his revenge on the Pharaoh who defeated him. Little does Kaiba realize that he is being manipulated by this ancient force of evil. As Kaiba forces Yugi to duel him, the diminutive champion, his grandpa and his faithful friends are plunged into a struggle between dark and light.
How do you make an entertaining film based off an ongoing manga series that, while being a side story, is not wholly irrelevant to the main plot and still entertains the audience? This has been the challenge to the anime studios since the first Shonen Jump spin-off films appeared back in the day. It’s still a challenge today as the new My Hero Academia film is about to launch in the UK. And Pyramid of Light (2004) from Studio Gallop has the distinction of being the first of three* Yu-Gi-Oh! spin-off films, here given a shiny new Blu-ray release from Manga Entertainment. Pyramid of Light is said to take place between the third and fourth seasons of the TV series Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monster and is loosely based on Kazuki Takahashi’s long-running shonen manga series.
This film grew out of the 4Kids Entertainment version of Yu-Gi-Oh! that we all remember from the early noughties on UK TV (one of the first anime to be broadcast here on daytime TV). But Pyramid of Light was specifically designed and produced for the US market in 2004; a later Japanese version was released the following year. It boasts a US script, the voice actors are the original team, including the redoutable Dan Green as Yugi Muto and his alter ego the Pharaoh, Yami Yugi, and Eric Stuart as his rival Seto Kaiba. The music is composed by a team of seven Americans (and through-composed; it never stops!). Back in the day, 4Kids did rather more than ‘reversion’ the original product, starting by renaming Yugi’s friends as Joey Wheeler, Tristan Taylor, and Téa Gardner rather than Katsuya Jonouchi, Hiroto Honda, and Anzu Mazaki and making the product more accessible to US young viewers. This ‘Westernization’ has continued throughout all the subsequent series and spin-offs. And let’s not forget that Yu-Gi-Oh! has sold tons of games-related merch from cards to video games.
There’s no OP, but instead an Insert Song “You’re Not Me” by Marty Bags (yup, me neither) and one Ending Theme after another while the credits roll: “Fire” by BLAZE;#1: “One Card Short” by James Chatton; #2: “Step Up” by Jean Rodriguez; #3: “Blind Ambition” by Russell Velazquez; #4: “It’s Over” by Fatty Koo; #5: “How Much Longer” by Jen Scaturro.
So, with all that history out of the way, how does Pyramid of Light look today? In spite of the formulaic pattern of Yu-Gi-Oh! episodes, I always had a soft spot for this series, especially the Ancient Egyptian back story. But here we are with a side story that, frankly, adds little to the main narrative while – nevertheless – offering the opportunity to showcase grisly mummies coming to life to terrorize our heroes. And, of course, a spectacular duel in which the two present-day rivals are possessed by two powerful ancient rivals. I’ve seen the word ‘nostalgia’ mentioned by customers on social media and I can only agree. When the Yu-Gi-Oh! TV theme is introduced it induces a pleasant, familiar feeling – just as when, panning through a crowd shot at the beginning, regular characters from Duel Monsters are glimpsed. The trademark trash-talking during a duel is there (it’s always the aggressive opponent who indulges, never Yugi himself) as well as certain iconic Duel Monsters in Yugi and Kaiba’s decks. Everything looks bright and colourful on the digitally remastered Blu-ray and the animation is as fluid as you would expect from a shonen-based film from 2004. But the story pans out predictably; anyone coming to this without having watched the TV series would probably wonder what the fuss was about. Those who know and love Yugi and his friends will pass an enjoyable ninety minutes reliving those typical duel highs and lows that are the series’ trademark.