The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 88 – Yu-Gi-Oh!


Some anime series have had impacts in other fields. This week we look at a series which began as a manga comic and was later adapted as an anime, but it is best known for spawning the biggest trading card game in the entire world.

If you go to any comic book convention, whether it be a gigantic expo, a local con or a perhaps a small gathering of people, you will probably find some people playing Yu-Gi-Oh! (literally “Game King”) which began in its manga form between 1996 and 2004, and has resulted in many different anime series and manga spin-offs – most of which are now intertwined with and heavily promote the game. Annoyingly, many of these anime are not available to buy or watch in English. The original series, a 27-part series released in 1998 has never been available.

Thus the better known series is the follow-up to it, which is known as Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, which is the name of the trading card game played by the characters in the game. This incarnation of the anime ran for over 200 episodes between 2000 and 2004. Frustratingly however you can only watch it dubbed in English, with certain elements of the plot and characters heavily Americanised. But remember, this is a series which lead to one of the most popular games ever made, so perhaps there is more to it than it first seems.

In the world of Yu-Gi-Oh! there is a series of Ancient Egyptian artefacts known as the “Millennium Items”, which were once used to play the “Shadow Games” that threatened to destroy the world. These items are now mostly scattered across the globe. One of these is the Millennium Puzzle, and this puzzle is solved by an easily-bullied schoolboy called Yugi Mutou. The downside of solving the puzzle however is that his body now plays host to a strange spirit with the personality of a gambler. This personality is dubbed “Yami Yugi”.

Whenever Yugi or his friends are in any trouble the Yami Yugi persona takes over, challenging wrongdoers to duels. Normally this takes the form of playing a trading card game called “Duel Monsters”. Over the course of the series Yugi both tries to help his friends, including his own grandfather who runs a gaming shop, as well as trying to solve the mystery of the Millennium Items and the Shadow Games.

As stated earlier, there are a few problems with Yu-Gi-Oh! – chief amongst which is that you cannot watch this in the original Japanese. You can watch it translated in English, and even then it has been adapted to suit American audiences. Many of the main characters have their Japanese names replaced with English ones. For example, Yugi’s main friends are called Katsuya Jonouchi, Hiroto Honda and Anzu Mazaki in Japanese; but in the English releases their names become Joey Wheeler, Tristan Taylor and Tea Gardner respectively. Even certain scenes in which their names are written have been replaced to depict the English names.

It was licensed by a company called 4Kids, who also licensed Pokémon (No. 25) and briefly One Piece (No. 6), and have always been seen as controversial due to the way they were seen by many people as interfering with anime. In 2011 4Kids got into trouble with the original Japanese TV studio and channel, Nihon Ad Systems and TV Tokyo, which lead to a copyright dispute regarding Yu-Gi-Oh! and eventually 4Kids having to file for bankruptcy.

There are other problems too: the characters often overreact to just about everything. Either they are boasting how the card they have just drawn will result in their bringing victory, or there are panicking like mad because they are worried they are about to lose. Some elements of the plot are also bizarre. For example you will sometimes see the characters watching people play Duel Monsters on TV, to an audience of 10 million people, which is bizarre. Put this way: the real life equivalent would be 10 million people watching Victoria Coren Mitchell playing poker live, while all the time she would fail to pull off a successful poker face because she would be exclaiming to everyone around, in a chirpy American accent, that the jack of hearts she had just been dealt would result in her creating a royal straight flush, which would lead to her grinding all her foes into the dust.

There are some plus points to the series of course. The series and the DVD collections are very large, so you get quite a bit for your money. While the series is old the animation is still pretty good quality. Also, you could argued that it does have a bit more artistic merit than other series connected to the world of real-life gaming.

The anime version of Pokémon is primarily based on the original video game. Yu-Gi-Oh! began as a manga, with the anime and trading card game coming along later. Obviously the trading card game has become so large that the more recent anime and manga are mainly designed to promote the game. Many manga volumes are now sold with extra cards to play with. As a result you have two different viewpoints: you can argue that Yu-Gi-Oh! has some artistic merit to it because of what are seen as more noble origins; or you can claim it sold out to promote the game. It all depends on who you ask.

Whatever you think however, no-one can deny that this series lead to a massively popular game. One that is played by hundreds of people across the globe.

Yu-Gi-Oh! is currently being released on DVD by Manga Entertainment. The “Duel Monsters” can be streamed on Netflix, and other spin-off series such as “Yu-Gi-Oh! GX” and “Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s” being streamed on Crunchyroll.