The Real Appeal of Yu-Gi-Oh!

Image from Wikipedia

The nostalgia bomb hits hard and fast for Yu-Gi-Oh fans this week. Today is the day that its fifth film opens in Japan, and this one is harkening back to the good old days. According to Anime News Network, the film boasts the original slate of characters, Yugi Moto and Seto Kaiba returning as the leads. Even better, the original cast of Japanese voice actors will return to breathe life back into their characters.

As for the story itself, details are still tight. We know this takes place a year after the Manga’s conclusion, and that a figure named Aigami is creeping on Yugi and his buddies something awful. But low and behold, Seto Kaiba ain’t having none of that and challenges him to a duel over Yugi’s Millennium Puzzle. We don’t know why any of this is happening, or if it’s going to include all the recent additions to the card game, but I am warm and happy inside to see so many familiar characters.

The people can get so excited for this franchise’s fifth film installment is a testament of  its power. How has it survived so long on a premise so silly? Is it the marketing genius of reinventing the card game each show? How about the mass distribution of the 4kids show, even with the awful dub? Both likely contributors, but I believe the real kicker here is in the details. The real secret to Yu-Gi-Oh’s lies not in its main story mechanic but in the framing device, the silver coated picture frame surrounding it. It’s a show that requires some suspension of disbelief to enjoy, but it’s not hard to keep the fire burning once you’re in.

It all starts with keeping things tense with perpetual high stakes. There are no casual games in Yugioh: every game has the fate of either one person or the world on its shoulders. Best Friend Jonouchi is dueling so he can buy his sister an eye operation; Yugi has to beat the game’s creator to save his grandfather’s soul, and Kaiba has to duel to rescue his baby brother multiple times. Every time the monsters come out someone has something to lose and something to gain, making each game feel important. It’s hyper-unrealistic, but it keeps the tension high and moves the plot forward smoothly most of the time.

But, what’s hilarious, is that this show plays this absolutely straight. As genius comedian Litttekuriboh has pointed out several times, this whole thing relies on each character’s lives being inseparable from a children’s card game, a concept that should produce laughs on principle. But the show has no shame in making Duel Monsters an integral part of the character’s lives, to the point where each game lost is a personal loss. It actually adds a strange layer of sympathy to them, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the earnestness of the tension.

But none of this would matter if all the characters are flat. These guys (and girls) are written better than a show like this deserves, with only minor roles fall into the caricature trap. Most of the villains in the show have a surprising amount of layers, with sympathetic reasons for the terrible things they do. Be it Pegasus wanting to resurrect his wife, or Noah Kaiba wanting to escape a virtual prison, you did feel a little bit for the baddies. Furthermore, the cast of “heroes” had their fair share of complications and aspirations as well. They weren’t sporting Marvel Hero levels of depth, and a fair share of their problems were superficial on the surface, but they weren’t flat pieces of paper on screen either. You might not have noticed if you only watched the dub, but the original show was sporting some praise-worthy writing.

Letting yourself get caught up in the madness of this show is fun when you’re a kid, and still pretty fun as an adult. If you suspend your disbelief, the excitement of the show will easily get to you, and the ride will be entertaining from start to finish. In short, the show works because it’s mostly harmless (barring the occasional dark patch) and adores its premise to no end. Here’s to hoping the new film has a similar feeling, with the long-awaited return of some very well-loved faces.

Were you a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan? Have a favorite episode? Did you duel? Feel free to leave a comment below. Don’t forget to like and follow for more posts  like this every Saturday, and don’t forget to check out my other posts including Why I love Weird Anime and the dangers of long running animes.

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