NOTICE: This review will cover the entire franchise as I won’t bother making different ones for practically the exact same thing: CARD GAME ADVERTISEMENT!
- Animation is done by Gallop, a minor studio whose best works include this one and most of Rurouni Kenshin.
- Directed by Sugishima Kunihisa. I liked what he did in Speed Grapher but all his other works are completely lame (Tekken, Nabari no Ou, Bayblade).
- Based on the manga by some guy who was paid to advertise the game. Other than that, he never had another of his works adapted.
VALUE SECTION: 8/10 [Must… buy… cards…]
Analysis: Historical Value 3/3, Rewatchability 2/3, Memorability 3/4
YuGiOh is famous (or infamous, if you prefer) as the most successful game promoting anime of all times. It is mysterious and cool enough to lure thousands of kids into buying cards and other affiliated works, as well as a nice introduction to the basics of Satanism. It is also hated enough to get its own abridged show.
The trend didn’t start as soon as the game hit the streets. It took many years of proper filtering and expansion, and only after the remake of the original was brought overseas in the eve of the 21st century, while the first version was buried and everybody pretended like it never existed. The reason for that is simple. The original show was mostly kiddie horror around death games with low production values, episodic structure and above all NOT OVERABUNDANT PRODUCT PLACEMENT! Thus the need to lighten the mood as well as throw in more story and card references, the result of which is the show we all know in the west.
ART SECTION: 4/10 [Screw the rules; I have green hair!]
Analysis: General Artwork 1/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 0/2, Visual Effects 1/2
The franchise was never strong in production values. In fact, it is quite cheap. Animation is kept to minimum, leaving the characters almost always frozen with their mouths flapping monotonously. Coloring is nothing but basic lighter or darker chunks of layers on each side of the characters, making them look like plastic toys. And characters themselves have very basic body forms, with EXTREMELY weird spiky hairstyles. Of course they always dress them in leather and chains to look like pimps and drug dealers so the toddlers watching this can easily be swayed to find all that awesome. But to hell with all the rest; the best part is reserved for the cards and the monsters popping out of them with cheap albeit cool visual effects. Gotta promote the game; remember?
SOUND SECTION: 7/10 [In America!]
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
The music themes are like the visuals; generic albeit cool. I actually found them very memorable, probably because of too much repeat, yet I will never sing or hum them for any reason.
STORY SECTION: 4/10 [What? A plan that doesn’t involve card games? Are you crazy?]
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 1/2
Story wise, there isn’t much; it always is about some poor excuse to have people playing duels with cards. There is scenario development, there is a mystery, there are revelations and there is a conclusion. But all of the above are presented in an entirely forced and unrealistic way. And by the end of the day, they don’t really matter. Although there is an actual story, which is far more complex than in any other game-advertising series, it all comes down to playing card games.
The original series was practically episodic but then they decided to make it seem more important by throwing in the salvation of the world by ancient demons and academies teaching card games and motorcycle races and whatever, it is all there for the cool factor and the product placement. It all looks eye catchy for the victims… err, the target audience I mean, since most of the times you are made to think that if they lose a single duel, they will be killed in a most horrible and gory way, like being sliced in half, buried alive by rubble, drowning while chained, turning into a mindless zombie and many, many more freakish things like that… Or have their souls trapped in the Shadow Realm, as the dub chose to censor it so it won’t sound mortified as it would sound satanic. Great improvement there 4kids; dying is bad but being sent to hell is entirely different. Still, it doesn’t take more than 5 seconds to realize how retarded it all becomes when you realize nobody in this series can do the slightest thing without playing the game, even when it is a piece of cake to do it without it. By the way, a piece of cake in this series is probably a spell card healing 2000 life points for every fairy on the field.
Anyways, the story is practically the hero getting out of bed and having a card duel with his caretaker. If he loses, he will suffer a million deaths. If he wins, he will have breakfast. Then he goes to school where the only study we ever see him doing is playing card games with his buddies. If he loses, he will have bad scores in tests for the next 10 reincarnations. If he wins, he won’t be bullied anymore by some delinquent. Then something happens and the universe is in peril by demons/aliens/mad motorcycle riders and he needs to save the day by playing a harmless children’s card game with them. Repeat a million times with slight variations and you have yourself 4 seasons of hundreds of episodes each. All done with low expenses in production and with minimal effort given to make sense of all that, the rewards of which is millions of kids running to the closest card shop in order to randomly win that cool monster they just saw on the episode in one of the dozens of booster packs they bought with their parents’ hard earned money.
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10 [Attention duelists! My hair says you will play Duel Monsters.]
Analysis: Presence 2/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 0/2, Catharsis 1/2
The characters remain stale cardboards throughout the series. Yes, Yugi is cool, Jowy is funny and Kaiba with Bakura are insane trendy adversaries. Beyond that, they are shallow and simplistic, who can’t say three sentences without making a card reference. You know, something like “Wow, that girl is so beautiful! Almost as much as my precious Dark Magician Girl card. Yes, the one I sleep with every night.”
There is a huge cast of characters, which changes its secondary ones every now and then. Each one has a really vague backdrop story and a quirk as an excuse for personality. They are either silly or cool in all; but get tiring when you see them acting the same no matter how many episodes pass. Their actions are also quite illogical and their motives are paper-thin most of the times.
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 2/10 [Look! A pair of breasts, attached to a woman.]
Analysis: Art 0/1, Sound 1/2, Story 1/3, Characters 0/4
You know what? I wasn’t annoyed that much by the stupidity of the plot or the shameless product placement. It was mostly the constant deception of its own formula that was getting to my nerves.
For example, you are not really learning the rules of the game by watching the series. Most cards have abilities that only work in the anime, the life points are different, some spell cards aren’t even allowed to be used in normal matches because they are too imba, and for Pete’s sake for a long period of time you could summon the most powerful monsters without any tribute or restriction at all.
Furthermore, all the opponents in this series cheat on the rules all the time. They always find some cheap way to draw cards out of their sleeves or spy on their opponent’s hand against the rules. What is this game telling you, that cheating is fun and easy?
The heroes of course win despite all that by cheating themselves with the most imba power of them all called “Heart of the Cards”. That roughly translates to “I got the only card that could save me in the nick of time because I have the scriptwriter in my pocket; despite the fact I had never put it in my deck and will never see it again for the rest of the show”. That is all too cheap and you mostly think it is all luck and cheating and not actual strategy used to win in most duels.
Watching other game-based anime, like Hikaru no Go or Kaiji, you don’t feel that because it is not easy to cheat there without an ingenious plan or there is very little room for the luck factor. That is what makes them far more enjoyable than this show.
Going further, this game is such an easy way to initiate someone in demonology. I mean, it has to do with losing your soul and paying tribute to demons by sacrificing something living, so they can come and serve you by taking away the lives of your enemies, the reward of which is fame and power. Isn’t that all too satanic for a kid’s show? It’s not even trying to be educational or cathartic as it practically expects you to give your money to buy the game. I may be overreacting but the messages are there and the target audience is people who still mimic everything they see.
Plus, the game itself, even when played normally and without cheating, is mostly based on luck rather than strategy. It is nowhere near the tactical level of Magic the Gathering or Five Rings. I got bored of it fast.
-The Heart of the Cards was with you today. – Wasn’t it just darn luck? – Same thing.
And don’t forget to check out Yu Gi Oh! Abridged , the most hilarious parody of a series ever made.