The Great Yugioh Retrospective Part 1: Duel Monsters

Welcome to the first part of my Yugioh Retrospective, where I look at a franchise from my childhood to see how familiar entries hold up upon revisit, and how the shows I’ve never seen from it stack up to a first and only viewing. This is…a long process that will undoubtedly take years, especially since this will not be the only thing I devote my attention to. There’s like, 6 140+ episode shows to tackle; there’s no way in hell I’m doing everything in one go. In fact, this took about 10 months, though I could have been done in less than 2 weeks if I didn’t take a huge break to focus on other things, which is only slightly indicative of my thoughts on this show. Without further ado, here’s a link to the hub, and let’s get this show on the road.

Ah, the original major Yugioh title, the one credited for starting it all when it was basically just a pseudo-sequel to season 0, both of which I believe were adapted from the same manga. Yugioh Duel Monsters is a trainwreck that violates its own rules so consistently that I wonder why it bothers making any at all, let alone altering them with each arc if in said arcs, they’re never gonna abide by them consistently. Sure, in the first 40 episodes, they didn’t exactly establish a lot of the modern rules regarding hand sizes, monster summonings, and other things you’d see today, but both there and in Battle City where a lot of rules the game would follow from then on come into play, they just keep breaking everything. In the first arc, it was kinda fun just to see what kind of ridiculous thing the show could come up with to break the game or make stupid asspulls. However, after dozens or over 100 episodes, it all really starts to wear thin.

The antagonists are generally complete morons, and whenever the show tries to make any of them sympathetic, it doesn’t pan out. The show also has this peanut gallery problem where everyone just makes needless commentary after every turn a player makes. The players themselves do more than enough redundant explaining of their cards and the game state in each match, so it makes the need for Yugi’s friends or Yugi himself (depending on who is dueling at the time) to shut the fuck up all the stronger. They never stop monologuing about information we already know, chiming in for no good reason, or flashing back to previous events several times an episode when sometimes we go back to mere minutes prior. The show has multiple characters doing multiple things at the same time, so almost every time there is a duel, they keep interrupting it to check on what everyone else is doing. This happens regardless of if we need to know what they’re up to or if it’s relevant. These issues all make every duel and every arc drag on and on and on, while being incredibly poorly-written. Sure, you could say that trying to logic Yugioh is a mistake, but frankly, it’s still trying to take itself seriously enough to try to seem compelling. On top of that, sometimes, part of the fun is just seeing how everything breaks and becomes ridiculous in the first arc before it all just grows tiresome by the Noah arc 100 episodes into the show. You might say that picking apart every time something doesn’t make sense in the show outside of big revelations, plot points, and character actions, is just nitpicking. However, they all just stack up, and stuff like Gozaburo’s plan at the end of Noah’s arc (heh) or Joey just deciding not to go to his sister’s surgery after he gets beat up by some thugs who took a card of his, come up a lot. It’s even worse in the filler arcs, as they generally lack a lot of the ridiculous fun factor of the first arc (sans that time everyone was in a virtual reality game for 4 rushed episodes) or much of the pathos that Joey’s drive to get the money for his sister’s surgery has.

Yugi Mutou is an incredibly boring “nice guy” protagonist with little to him. The spirit of the Millennium Puzzle who is basically a taller Yugi, isn’t much better but he’s the only one who gets shit done between the two because Yugi rarely duels by himself, and usually only duels when he takes over for the other self. Their ways of communication are also inconsistent between seasons. Joey is…a strange one. I like his motivation in the first season to get to the top of the Duelist Kingdom tournament to get the prize money to spend on his sister’s eye surgery. Afterwards, he kinda just becomes a bumbling moron who is only good for when we need an emotional moment between him and his sister or him and Yugi, which don’t come that often Battle City onwards. This is especially apparent in his relationship with Mai, where he keeps being a jackass or buffoon for no real reason. It does eventually lead to an interesting motivation to take Marik down out of both a sense of revenge for what he did to Mai, and guilt for not being able to set the record straight beforehand as well as for being helpless. However, the show drills that into the ground so hard, along with everything else the characters refuse to shut the fuck up about, that it loses some of its impact. The friendly rivalry and promise he made with Yugi this time around is also weaker, but it is helped along by the Mai situation following the end of the Battle City ark. This is the best character in the show and I still have several complaints. Jesus Christ.

I don’t exactly have much to say about exposition machine and “Yugi” spammer Tea, or Tristan who is generally kinda there cuz more friends = more emotional support, and basically just become a peanut gallery outside of maybe a couple of shitty duels. They can have some fun chemistry sometimes, but that and nostalgia are all most of these characters have going for them. They might actually be the worst when it comes to repeating information and chiming in ad nauseam.

Seto Kaiba steals the show with how determined and douchey he is, at least in the Duelist Kingdom arc. His brother, Mokuba, is whatever, and kidnap fodder for the entire series, but Seto is a large and in charge bastard through and through, In the first arc in particular, he isn’t a fucking moron either, so he just remains one of the best characters in the show, even when he threatens to potentially commit suicide if Yugi beats him before he can rescue Mokuba. His arrogance and stupidity do surface in the most annoying ways immediately afterwards though, so being the best character isn’t exactly an achievement. I don’t have much to say on the extremely large pool of side characters either, as they’re either boring like Duke (the antagonist of his small arc before becoming part of Yugi’s friend circle/peanut gallery) or just insufferable like Rebecca. The villains are incredibly stupid as well outside of Peagusus, who has a boringly OP power and somehow still loses, but at least has some presence without being an idiot like Marik. They’re not threatening just because the show has to contort itself to make them win, and they’re not compelling beyond the unearned threat they pose as primarily one-note villains, either. It just makes fights with them incredibly boring, and the general plots revolving around them equally uninteresting.

Studio Gallop is responsible for the show’s visuals, and they’re not exactly great. The series is primarily a slideshow, where we have maybe a few moments of characters running, monsters being summoned, or attacks being given to make up 90% of the show’s actual animation. Sometimes the summoning or attack sequences can be pretty sick, like when Seto summons Blue-Eyes white dragon to blast a satellite up in space, or when Yugi uses the magic cylinder to try to redirect the attack of one of the God cards (which, along with boss monsters in general, always exist to have a bajillion bullshit asspull effects to break the game’s rules and make the bad guys seem overpowered). However, the show is primarily static or panning shots. There are also a lot of errors regarding the visuals of the cards, sometimes cuz the writing is changing the nature of cards for no reason, and sometimes because of what seem to be visual oversights. These and a lot of off-model moments (not all cuz sometimes they’re extremely noticeable) may be “blink and you’ll miss it” moments, but they can be rather prevalent.

The music was done by Shinkichi Mitsumune of FLCL and Utena fame. It’s a pretty good OST with a lot of pleasant and energetic pieces for duels such as “My Turn” “My Turn YU – GI COURAGEOUS MIX”, and “Duel of Friendship”. We also have somber tracks like “Bond of Friendship” and “Cloudiness”. There are also several dramatic pieces, like the grandiose “Yugi’s theme” and “God’s Anger”. They do feel overplayed, but that’s the nature of having an OST for a 200+ episode show that unveils less and less new tracks with each arc. Still, there are plenty of tracks to enjoy, and they’re catchy in a way where I would actually enjoy having them pop up in my head and never leave. I also like every OP and ED except for the third one for each, with my favorites being “Shuffle” and “Ano hi no Gogo” by Masami Okui, “EYES” by Yuuichi Ikusawa, and”Overlap” by Kimeru (OP 2, ED 2, ED 5, and OP 5). A lot of them are equally as energetic, memorable, and emotional the best OST tracks in the show, and even the ones I didn’t mention range from decent to pretty good. There’s quite a lot of quality music to go around.

That said, great music, hype moments, and some decent character chemistry can’t keep me around forever. The show’s consistently and increasingly terrible writing regarding its rules, villains, plots, and other aforementioned issues eventually had me weary until the end of the Noah arc broke me. While the second half of season 3 was a bit more entertaining and emotional in places, I just wanted to get it over with and move onto another series. Nostalgia was beaten out by aggravation and bad writing, so I stopped caring. It’s a shame since barring a few low moments, I did have a lot of fun in the first major arc, one of the filler arcs, and the Battle City arc when it got going around the tile Joey dueled the Esper brothers up until they got on the Kaiba blimp. It’s a shame I found the show more consistently difficult to enjoy since around episode 80 as there are some moments that really did get me all teared-up, and I can see many others enjoying the ludicrous moments of the first 80 episodes, give or take a couple filler arcs and weaker episodes. If you don’t care about or notice these issues, and are willing to let nostalgia carry you through 224 episodes, then maybe you’ll have fun with the characters and music. If not, try the first arc and see how much fun you have with how dumb the show is. If by the end, you enjoyed enough to feel confident, go ahead even if the entertainment factor becomes a lot more inconsistent afterwards. If that doesn’t sound promising, then I wouldn’t recommend this beyond a brief revisit of the first arc or a couple of nostalgic highlights via casual group viewings of the dub.

A lot of people say this is one of, if not the best entry in the franchise, so needless to say, I’m worried about the rest of the TV entries. I’m gonna cover season 0 before I do GX (as I arguably should have done so before even touching Duel Monsters). I just hope I’ll end up completing one of these, especially the longer ones.

EDIT: Nevermind. Finding a decent quality upload of Season 0 anywhere has proved too difficult, so I’m moving onto GX.

Also, it sucks that the Rebecca introduction episode, the virtual world game arc, and the Dungeon Dice Monsters are all listed under “Domino City Battles”, so I’ll be listing each part individually in the arc ranking.

Arc ranking: Duelist Kingdom>Domino City Battles part 2>Battle City part 2>Battle City part 1>Domino City Battles part 3>Virtual World aka Noah arc>Domino City Battles part 1

Episodes lasted: 143/224

Score: 4/10YGO Part 1 Duel Monsters

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