Ah, Yugioh GX: the original black sheep of the franchise. Even now with it being vindicated by the far more negative (or at least more divisive) reputation of all Yugioh shows Zexal onwards, this is still regularly seen as the weakest of the main timeline, so to speak. Turns out Duel Monsters, GX, and 5Ds all count under one chronology while the rest all take place in their own continuities.
This is the first show in this retrospective where I had no prior experience to the show in question. Sure, I got spoiled on the events of the later seasons years ago, and the memes were everywhere, but I never watched the show until now. Unlike Duel Monsters, 5Ds, and most of Zexal, it wasn’t airing in the 4Kids block via reruns or anything by the time I was introduced to the franchise with 5Ds. Despite not being particularly familiar, there were two things I knew would determine my experience with the show:
- Tolerance to the more slice of life, lackadaisical, and sometimes just downright ridiculous and stupid nature of the show’s first half.
- My ability to adjust to, as well as the show’s ability to handle the mid-series cerebus syndrome shift from a primarily lighthearted tone compared to Duel Monsters, to something perhaps darker and more somber than anything the franchise has seen before.
If I had half a brain when watching Duel Monsters, I would have given general impressions and notes for each season to see how everything compared between seasons so I could give a more in-depth piece about it as opposed to a broad overview of my thoughts on the show as a whole. I’ll be breaking down my opinions on each card before constructing a general overview of the show as a whole for the rest of the retrospective, starting with GX. Note that I will be using the English names (unless they’re a S4 cuaracter cuz that was never dubbed, or I prefer the sub name as I do for certain characters) as they’re what I was first familiarized to. Don’t expect this to change until at least Zexal Second, even if there are some shows prior to that which I would prefer to watch subbed. Also, spoilers inbound. Feel free to take breaks in between reading and read it in parts. Trying to read this 10.8K word behemoth in one go sounds like an exercise in insanity, as I just wrote this over the course of two weeks when I started the first episode and every time I finished a season. You will hate the both of us if you try reading all in one go. I guarantee it, but I digress. On with the show.
This is often considered to be the weakest season of GX for reasons I will get to, and there are some major sticking points with the final quarter in particular. That said, I think I prefer this to even my favorite Duel Monsters arcs, those being Duelist Kingdom and the second part of Domino City Battles (specifically, the 4 episode virtual reality mini-arc). Let’s start with the things I liked before I go into my issues.
First off, I like the cast of GX way more than the cast of Duel Monsters. Sure, I’m not sure any of them here are quite as compelling as Joey or arc 1 Kaiba, but they’re generally way more likable than most of the DM crew. Jaden is a cheeky little shit with a lot of optimism and spunk to him, making him way more entertaining than Yugi ever was (including Atem/Yami Yugi). The mini-arcs he has in the second half of the series are surprisingly compelling as well, especially the first mini character arc he has. In episode 35, after witnessing several examples of what happens when you use to the Shadow Riders in the big arc of the season, he ends up getting challenged to a duel by Kaibaman, where he proceeds to lose which forces him to overcome that fear. These already show more dimensions to his character than Yugi’s from DM, Chazz Princeton aka The Chazz, is a smug, douchey dork who believes his own hype, which is utterly hilarious. This is especially true in the English dub, which I used for the first half of season 1 (more on that later). His arc halfway through the season after he gets expelled is glorious, with him battling 50 people to take over North Academy just to duel Jaden halfway through, and still lose, causing his brothers to disown him after all the pressure they put upon him still resulted in him not meeting their expectations. On top of that, his banter with duel spirits, which started with Ojama Yellow in episode 24, ends up being one of the funniest things in the show when in episode 35, he has to collect a bunch of weak monsters from a cursed well to go to a handicap duel against his brothers who want to take over Duel Academy.
Bastion was also a pleasant guy in the show, with a fun rivalry with Jaden in the second quarter of the season. He’s the most analytical character in the show, as he’s one of the only characters we se do legitimate research on opponents to prepare for duels. This adds a real sense of credibility to the threat he poses as a duelist in the first half as he faces off against Jaden and Chazz. It’s just a shame that he gets utterly shafted in the second half after a loss against one of the Shadow Riders, since he practically disappears for the final quarter despite not being captured like some of the other major characters are. Alexis is also generally likable and capable, and I do like the arc of her trying to find her brother, at least in theory. Syrus and Chumley have some fun banter with Jaden as the first friends he has at the academy, given that they’re Slifer Red buddies, though they otherwise don’t really add much beyond their admittedly decent character episodes. Chumley, in particular, gets a surprisingly heartfelt send-off duel in episode 50, complete with one of the strongest character-defining moments in the series with his duel against Crowler. Speaking of Crowler, this man starts off as a hilarious, bitchy shitlord who can’t catch a break when trying to get Jaden kicked off the academy for being made into a joke. Yet by the second half, it becomes interesting seeing how much he ends up trusting and being impressed by the main characters given that he hated Jaden and all of the Slifer Reds in particular.
I like the more slice-of-life tone of the season’s first half, as it allows the show’s setting to ground itself and its characters with a sense of community and absurdity that really defines GX’s best qualities. More so than even the Duelist Kingdom arc of Duel Monsters, the show just commits to batshit insane ideas and wild character arcs as I’ve described before. Others include facing a guy who tries to intimidate people with fake shadow duels, and a fucking monkey who kidnaps a side character and gets into a duel with Jaden that has her freedom on the line. The English dub works wonders for adding a lot of banter and generally accentuating the absurd nature of the show’s first half as well as for some of the more fillery episodes of the second half. It oozes Saturday Morning Cartoon cheese in the best way possible.
Unfortunately, there are still some issues I have with the show, the first of which being that some filler or one-off episodes can be a bit weak. I’ve never cared for episodes where some one-off douchebag tries to challenge a major female character to a duel where love or something from a shared past is on the line. It never actually adds anything to the female character’s…character, even if they did try with Alexis in the second one of these episodes. Yes, there’s two of them. No, they’re not very good. The banter is the only thing saving the episode where Blaire enrolls the school as a guy to sneak into Zane’s dorm cuz she loves him, before Jaden catches her and they duel.
A lot of my main issues come with the Shadow Riders arc and Alexis’s plotline with her brother. Atticus being missing was introduced in episode 5, where it starts off strong as she wishes for her brother’s safety wherever he is. It’s not the most compelling idea in the world, but it leads to a decent character moment with Jaden early on and one with a one-off character in episode 21 who initially wanted to get some dirt on the school before witnessing Jaden’s duel made him remember his love for dueling. While his promise to Alexis that he’ll help find Atticus and the others does make for a nice moment, it doesn’t amount to much. 8 episodes later, a brainwashed Atticus is the first Shadow Rider, and he faces Jaden immediately as Alexis watches and the other Slifer guys are held hostage. She doesn’t even know it’s Atticus until he’s already been beaten, removing any potential for drama that could have come with Alexis dueling him and realizing she has to fight and/or free her brother, or her realizing it’s Atticus fighting Jaden. He then spends the next 11 episodes injured and barely able to speak, without much time spent having Alexis really have a moment regarding her brother’s current state of affairs. Then, when she duels Titan in episode 41 after he comes back as a Shadow Rider to fight her and not just kidnap her in episode 6, Atticus goes from barely able to utter a word to giving her several sentences worth of pep talk to give her the edge against Titan. The emotional payoff is gimped, and afterwards, they immediately go back to normal as he’s perfectly healthy and ready to charm a bunch of girls and help Chazz fail to hook up with Alexis. His moments with the cast in the last 11 episodes of the season are nice, but the drama of this plotline never really pays off in a satisfying or emotional way.
The Shadow Riders arc itself has other issues. The antagonists themselves are one of them. Out of everyone we face in the arc, the only remotely interesting ones are Camula and Tanya. Camula’s a vampire who wants to resurrect her species and enact revenge against the humans that drove them to extinction, while Tanya’s just someone who wants to find a strong opponent to be in love with. It’s cool that not everyone we face here is just some evil person who wants to take over the world and be evil cuz bland character motivations, but most of them are forgettable. I do like Don Zaloog and his band of thieves, as they do make for a fun episode where Chazz plays detective, ends up beating the, and then is forced to accept that they’re now chilling with him as duel spirits. However, possessed Atticus, Titan, and the Slifer dorm professor who had so much foreshadowing that it’s ridiculous, make for pretty boring antagonists. The main antagonist is even worse, as he’s just some guy who wants immortality. This is the most boring main antagonist I’ve seen in the franchise so far, even worse than the Big 5 from Duel Monsters.
Even outside of the main antagonist and whatever Shadow Riders appeared in the second half of the arc, this is where the season goes downhill until the arc ends and the last 3 episodes get to save the final quarter. Let’s circle back to Professor Banner, the Duel Alchemy guy and the prof. who represents the Slifer Reds. He had some banter with his dorm in the first half, but was never one of the more entertaining characters. However, now that he’s a Shadow Rider, I have to ask: how was he able to use his key? He was one of the 7 duelists chosen to protect the keys from the shadow riders, with the condition that the keys are used and taken if they lose. How did he manage to use his when it’s confirmed by Don Zaloog and his guys that just inserting them ain’t enough and they can only be activated by defeating a corresponding duelist? Did he arrange someone to beat him offscreen? I doubt it given that after the penultimate shadow rider gets beaten, he conceals his identity to fight everyone who hadn’t lost up to that point. He only fought two guys before Jaden became the only one left, and his key was also used and activated, so…what happened? Speaking of the keys, I don’t like how Chazz losing to Alexis after he and his brother have the stupid idea to take all the keys to get the two into a duel for love after the stuff with Banner, results in all 7 keys being activated. It’s probably one of the most annoying ways a show has introduced a final conflict, which, again, is with some geezer who wants eternal youth and world domination. The idea that there are these God Card retrains that have to be kept underground when their only power is taking the energy of Duel Monsters across the globe (therefore they ain’t shit compared to the specific and brutal power of the God Cards, so why not just rip them in order for them to not be used?) is just…dumb and lame. The Atticus and Alexis plotline also gets wrapped up in this final quarter of the season, and I’ve explained what made that so underwhelming along with how Bastion practically disappears here.
Still, I did have fun with this season. It was particularly refreshing to have the duels be done in 1-2 episodes instead of 2-6, so there doesn’t need to be so much padding within them. The show does have moments where the peanut gallery of any given duel needlessly explains shit or chimes in, which does become an issue past episode 8, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was by the third season of Duel Monsters. I do look forward to seeing what the show does with its characters from here, even if I heard that after this point, they shaft Bastion. Not looking forward to that like I am with how much crazier season 2 gets.
I have a lot to say about season 2, and not a lot of it is positive. Outside of a few duels and particularly bizarre moments, I did not have fun with this season. So much about it frustrated me to the point where if it had the repetitive audience-insulting issues on the level that Duel Monsters had, I’d say it’s around the level of most of that show’s arcs.
This time, the plot kicks off immediately, so instead of having 26 (well, 21) episodes of one major story arc, we have an entire arc that wavers between being at the foreground and the background depending on the episode. The Light of Destruction takes over people and they start a cult called the Society of Light so they can brainwash people and destroy the world. Sounds ridiculous and fun. There are some memey moments regarding Chazz being brainwashed, him brainwashing people, and the final episode that gets insanely trippy. Unfortunately, what sounds like a more fun arc than the Shadow Riders gets ruined by…a lot of things.
I don’t like the new characters or anything they do with the returning non-Jaden or Crowler characters, not a single one of them. Napoleon/Bonaparte is just a lamer Crowler who works with and against Crowler depending on the episode in the first half. Ed Phoenix is just an angst lord who does almost nothing in the second of the second half anyway and just serves to be a vengeful foil to Jaden in the first 15 episodes before standing there and talking for 30 fucking episodes before getting his revenge and subsequently getting jobbed by a corrupted verison of his friend, Saiou. He’s a whiny dude who shittalks people while doing nothing when he isn’t trying to get his revenge or go “fuck you, Jaden, the D is better than E Heroes cuz I’m BROODING and you’re just there having fun”. It takes far too long for him to be interesting, let alone likable.
Tyranno is basically Bastion’s replacement “Ra Yellow with a friendly rivalry/rapport to Jaden and/or his friends” and I hate him. He’s alright in the introduction episode as a bully just looking for people who aren’t totally fake, but then quickly becomes part of Jaden’s posse as the guy constantly feuding with Syrus over who gets to be Jaden’s BFF. Syrus is fucking annoying as is and outside of his one duel early on to get him into Ra Yellow and prove he can overcome his inadequacies, he’s just a coward who shits on first years and tries to run away from duels, making the effect of his big duel early in the first quarter of S2 pointless. They’re bad enough alone, so imagine their nonstop bickering over who gets to be Jaden’s main bitch, which seemingly gets resolved early on only for it to amount to nothing as the fued for the rest of the fucking season until the plot kicks into overdrive in the last 9 episodes. Outside of turning into a hologram dino to help stop a death satelite in the final episode, Tyranno is worthless. Syrus is still worthless. I’d say the latter is the worst of the main GX characters, except for the fact that Tyranno is listed as one as well, making it genuinely difficult to figure out who I dislike more between these fuckers.
Oh God, Bastion. What did they do to you?! Outside of 1 duel, you’re completely irrelevant for the season, as for the first 30 episodes, you’re either part of the peanut gallery, or someone used for gags about how you no longer matter. You are about as wasted as Alexis’s brother, Atticus is this season. I can almost understand why you develop a need to be noticed for your strength, though throwing your duel with Chazz just to join the evil society you were one prepared play away from stopping is just…infuriating. Seriously, they couldn’t just make it so Chazz’s new deck was so strong you couldn’t win? It would fit better with the turn to being “brainwashed”, as you don’t really become brainwashed like everyone else. You just go on about how still no one gives a fuck about you until you break, run around naked, and go on about “science” as you disappear from the season entirely by episode 43. One of the most likable and capable characters in the show reduced to this. I don’t know what’s worse: what the show did to Bastion or what it did to Zane.
Zane’s arc is probably less infuriating, but certainly more nonsensical. After losing once to Ed, he suddenly just becomes a fucking loser and laughing stock one episode later, losing duels left and right for…no reason besides “we need him to go through negative development somehow”. If his loss somehow caused some internal turmoil that made him play his deck suboptimally, that would have been something to explore, that way you could sell me on why he becomes a disgraced wash-up who goes through shock therapy during underground dueling to unlock his heel persona. Instead they do nothing and then have Zane idioitically state that everyone has abandoned him so that in the middle of a duel, he becomes a rutheless person who sends people to hospitals and tortures his little brother in their duel with a smile on his face. There’s no actual pacing to this asinine character arc. They just start and stop his development whenever they see fit with large episode gaps in between. There’s no logic to it as I’ve discussed. It’s just a hateful desecration of a beloved characters just to force the shitheel Syrus to have a conflict that amounts to literally nothing as their duel has no effect on either the plot or any of the characters before Zane does nothing outside of one scene of walking away for the rest of the season. As much as I dislike the new characters, the character derailment on display is what I hate the most about this second arc.
There are also a lot of just random episodes where Jaden battles someone to continue embelishing his ideology onto other people during the GeneX tournament that happens 3/5 into the season when we instead could see other characters taking any kind of active role. Oh wait, Chazz got brainwashed early on, Alexis did too, Bastion threw away everything, and the “I luv Jaden” duo has no place doing anything so they just become part of the peanut gallery for the entire second half outside of one duel with Zane and a couple gags the two Ra Yellow morons have. There are some cute moments in a couple of filler episodes, but otherwise, the GeneX arc is largely a drag. It’s also by this point that I start really noticing an issue that hadn’t been prevalent since I dropped Duel Monsters. A lot of the duels have this formula of “Jaden blindly attacks into a face-down trap card or monster effect before getting promptly fucked up because of it” for the first turn, and “Jaden pulls a card out of nowhere that will never be seen in the arc again” to save the day like with Skyscraper 2 for the duel with the fake Ra thief, Neos Force for the duel with the reaper guy, and Hero – Reflector Ray for the duel with a brainwashed prince. There are examples before and after these, and moments where Jaden just uses a card we never see again to advance the gamestate. A lot of duels become rather dull because of this. Another reason they become boring is because whenever Saiou duels, he has this gimmick of his cards spinning until he or his opponent tells it to stop facing up or facing down. Most of the time, characters just don’t bother trying to have good timing when calling, resulting in them getting boned. However, in the last few episodes, the Saiou possessed by the Light of Destruction just says “nahk, I call all the shots now” outside of one moment where he calls it wrong that way the writers don’t have Jaden lose the climactic duel of the season. I couldn’t care less about this plot, the characters who have been possessed, or the Light that just wants to destroy cuz “that’s the nature of the universe”.
Now, is there anything I liked this season? Yes. Despite my angry ramblings, I find it difficult to really say I hate this arc. There are other aspects of the writing that blow, but for now, let’s list some things I like. The duel that Syrus has early in the season, while effectively invalidated, at least made for a nice character growth moment at the time. Chazz is fun as always, and his two big duels (the one where he trounces a shit-talking punk and the one where Jaden snaps him out of his brainwashing) are the most entertaining matches of the season. I do like how Jaden manages to impart how Heroes are meant to make people happy and inspired, reminding Ed of why his dad made Hero cards in the first place. The episode where he starts acquring Neos cards after talking to Aqua Dolphin is trippy and fun. I like how Jaden finds himself being serious more often this season, showing that even past the episode 15-16 rematch duel with Ed, he does continue to have some solid development this season as a consistently likable character. Crowler has some nice moments when he stands up for the Ra dorm that Bonapart has been trying to destroy (even though Crowler largely went along with it for the most part beforehand) and when he gets motivated by Jaden to set a better example for the Duel Academy students with dueling Pegasus. I like when Pegasus and Chumley return for a bit cuz I actually missed seeing him thanks to the new characters all being terrible.
That’s about it. I heard the existing characters sans Jaden are gonna get wasted even further, so let’s hope the main antagonist and what happens to Jaden in season 3 makes up for that. Otherwise, I don’t have much hope for this show anymore. A lot of the fun cheese and general likability of the show is gone, so I guess this might be why they went with the Cerebus shift. It was their plan all along, I suppose.
Two steps forward and one step back, eh? In all fairness, this is probably the best season of GX up to this point, but that doesn’t exactly say much when it’s only real competition is a season that largely went downhill in its final quarter before bouncing back with a great last 3 episodes. Perhaps I’m feeling a bit burned by the last two episodes of the season, meaning this season has the worst finale of the 3 so far (regardless of if I count the recap that was episode 156).
My relationship with GX is rather complicated, if you haven’t noticed.
Let’s start with the interesting positives, cuz there’s a lot of good this season did, even if the execution was inelegant at best. I really like the newcomers this time around. Axel (O’Brien) is an entertainingly pragmatic and level-headed mercenary with a fucking duel disk gun that shoots volcanic monsters as if he wasn’t cool enough by himself. His mercenary backstory is also pretty entertaining and I like his deck. I should test it out one day. His mini arcs of remembering what his father faught him about valuing one’s life even as a hired mercenary and later overcoming his fear of the Supreme King after the man kills Tim in front of him were also neat. Jim Cook himself is another likable character with a crazy gimmick. He’s friends with a crocodile named Karen (or Shirley in the dub) and has an Eye of Orichalcum that allows him to have a more spiritual connection and purpose regarding friends. He’s not the most dramatic character, but he’s one of the more entertaining newcomers. Johan is basically what would happen if in the process of cloning Jaden, they decided to make him more duty-bound regarding duel spirits to differenciate the two. That’s fine. I like Jaden, so having someone like him around is an alright thing, even if that really becomes a double-edge sword for reasons I’ll touch on soon.
Adrian Gecko starts off as an interestingly cold guy, unfazed by anyone after being temporarily abandoned and left to die as a kid. He’s actually willing to risk the lives of dozens of students just to fuck with Cobra and his plan, and later risks the main cast’s lives just to get to Cobra in secret before they do. He’s also consider the kindest and most virtuous person despite all of this and his conscious decision to sacrifice his love, Echo, to become king in the second half of the show. It’s all for his motivation to have a world without conflict and strife, that Charles zi Britannia type shit from Geass R2. He becomes less interesting by this point, especially when he laughs up how he’s leaving people to die in another dimension just so he can betray Yubel after they promised him power. Cobra is the initial antagonist of the season, and I find his motivation of wanting to bring back his adopted son at any cost somewhat interesting. He also has a major hardass presence as soon as he sets foot on Duel Academy. They compltely fuck things up by cutting to him laughing about how “everything is according to plan and everyone will have their duel energy sucked by my devices” every single episode when most of the time it’s redundant. That makes it harder to treat him as a sympathetic villain. Yubel makes it easier when after starting Adrian’s start of darkness and witnessing Cobra lose to Jaden, they make their first appearance by putting Cobra into an altered memory trance where he walks with his adopted son just to fall off a helipad and into his death. Yubel is perhaps one of the most fucked up characters in the franchise, being a spiteful sadomasochist who has rationalized pain and suffering as a form of love, wishing to enact all of that agony tenfold onto Jaden for abandoning and forgetting about them for so many years. This is perhaps the most interesting a Yugioh antagonist has ever been, although there are a lot of issues I have with Yubel despite this that I’ll cover later.
Before we cover the main lad himself, let’s talk about how some of the returning characters were handled. Bastion comes back in a much more favorable positon than last season. They kept the “I’m a scientist now” deal that he rambled about while naked near the final act of the 2nd season, and actually made it so he was looking into the many dimensions this universe has (more on that later). He winds up in the first dimension our characters are teleported to and while he initially doesn’t have a deck anymore, he still acts as a sort of leader when a duel zombie outbreak occurs in the second quarter of the season. It’s nice to see him take this active position and not worry about “muh strength and popularity” like last time. He doesn’t get any official duels, but he does help out with the zombies even after he retains one of his decks offscreen. His sendoff where he decides to stay with Tanya (who is back for a while in the second half of the season) so they can help those living in the other dimensions is also miles more respectable than what season 2 left him with. Hell, he even winds up with his Amazoness monmmy gf from the first season. Zane feels like the writers realized that maybe they were a bit extreme with him in S2 so they wanted to reel him back to a position nebulously combining his S1 and 2 selves. They thinly explain this with “all these underground duels and collar shocks took a real toal on my heart” which wasn’t even remotely foreshadowed by S2 after that travesty of a plotline amounted to nothing of value. He at least gets a badass death duel with Yubel who posesses Johan in the second half of the show offscreen. It’s also fun seeing him and Ed team up to become antiheroes who interrogate some of the bad guys and help Axel reach the Supreme King in the third quarter of the season.
Chazz is the same as ever but he does get a cool standoff with a bunch of duel zombies before becoming the first real victim. Alexis, much like Bastion and O’Brien, takes a more tactical leadership role in dealing with the zombie outbreak. Tyranno is actually tolerable but also whatever now that he isn’t bickering with Syrus about who is Jaden’s main bitch. Atticus continues to just be a waste of a character to the point where I wonder why he’s even in the second half to begin with. The 4 just get a negative trait vaguely or directly corresponding to them amplified by dark forces before being sactificed in episode 135, with Syrus managing to be the only survivor of the 5 hit with this as he wasn’t captured. The season still does nothing of value with the twerp, and sorta waive away the doubt he has amplified by just making him an observer for most of S3 before be breaks free of his doubt. They didn’t do these characters quite as dirty as I was expecting, but I still have problems.
Finally, we have the guy the season focuses on dismantling: Jaden. Previous seasons saw him get a bit more serious in major duels as they progressed, with late S2 Jaden being more likely to get angry than chill, cheeky S1 Jaden. They were already planting the seeds for his development in subtle ways, so now the show decided to break him entirely. He’s essentially forced to realize that he has a responsibility to his friends and anyone who places their hopes on him when he duels. He’s forced to learn that his shounen hero stubbornness and recklessness has consequences when all of his friends die (but not really) because of him in 136 and he becomes an evil king for 7 episodes. He slowly becomes angrier, more ruthless, and eventually, a sorrowful wreck that has to let go of his guilt or at least persevere in spite of it. The moment he actively wants someone dead for the first time in 136 is an electrifying moment. They do gimp some of this by constantly reiterating how much he wants to save Jesse and later how much he guilt he has and doesn’t wanna play polymerization cuz of his time as the Supreme King and how a lot of his friends died even before that. Still, it’s nice to see them delve deep into what makes him tick as a person and systematically destroy him for a while.
As for the negatives (beyond how some characters were handled) a lot of them creep up in the latter half of the season, despite that half also having a lot of the best moments. Firstly, and I know this existed in the first half of the season as well, but I noticed cards being changed more this time around, and the show bending its rules to allow things to happen. Neo Spacian Gran Mole earlier still had Jaden take damage calc when crashing it into an opponent’s mon so the effect would send the monsters to the players’ hands. Now, no damage is taken. When Axel faces the Supreme King, the latter activates a monster effect that will rid Axel of his remaining life points during the standby phase. Axel activates a card to force a tie, which could only happen in the main phase, but GX couldn’t figure out a way to have them tie so that Axel died breaking Jaden out of his Supreme King personality. Also, the last quarter of the season started really having Jaden just pull cards out of nowhere to grant him a win or at least make sure he doesn’t lose a duel. The final duel with Yubel might be the worst offender in the entire series. The show always has cards be made to counter any specific threat a duelist faces in any given duel, but moments like these, where he uses a card we never see again (either in the arc or the show as a whole) were not as prevalent in the start of the season compared to the end of it, let alone compared to say, S2. It feels very Duel Monsters-like to have such an issue. This is the sequel to it so I guess some negative traits had to carry over.
Speaking of Duel Monsters issues, the show really cannot trust its audience to process everything naturally when shit hits the fan. I like the tone and a lot of what the show is going for, but it’s undermined when we have characters constantly give inner or outer monologues about what they are doing or what’s troubling them (needing to save Johan, being unable to play polymerization cuz guilt, feeling guilt over what happened to friends and innocents, etc.). The peanut gallery problem that GX has been struggling with a good bit less than Duel Monsters becomes a bit more eye-rolling when Ojama fucking Yellow is with Shou to give commentary on the big, dramatic duel between mentally warped Yubel and emotionally disturbed Jaden given that Ojamas are comedic relief by nature and don’t have much beyond that. I’m fine with the Ojamas when they’re interacting with Chazz, but when he disappears (and only two of them disappear with him for some reason) in episode 135 and Ojama is tagging along with Syrus, his antics and commentary get old.
Then we get to the final few episodes. I do need to backtrack a bit to really get to the meat of why I don’t like the last 2 episodes of the season. Bastion reveals that there are 12 dimensions and that Yubel wants to use Super Polymerization to fuse them into one just so they can be with Jaden. I was cool with the whole jumping between dimensions thing. I was cool with the Supreme King subplot where evil Jaden rules a dimension and leaves destruction in his wake (even if they don’t really show any more of what happened to the survivors at the prison camp once Jaden is freed given that his army wasn’t shown to have made it there). I was even willing to tolerate Yubel being influenced by light space rays while the Neo-Spacians were influenced by the good dark space rays (even though the former wouldn’t exactly be necessary as Yubel rationalizing years of isolation and pain as love due to being into space and then burning up upon reentry was already enough). However, learning that there are 8 more dimensions out there (since counting the dimension where the school tends to be, we’ve seen 3 so far and Yubel sends the “dead” to a hellish one we learn about in episode 153 to make that 4) that just won’t be explored already stretches it when we could have just had these 4 dimensions we know about. Well, we could have had 3 we knew about and then the reveal of one more. On top of that, why would that make it so Yubel was with Jaden all alone? There’s still life in some of these dimensions if the non-evil duel spirits saying they were swept from their dimension to the one where the Dark World and other evil duel spirits are is anything to go by. Wouldn’t that just pull absolutely everyone, including the one where all the regular humans are, into one space? Does Yubel expect themself or Supreme King Jaden to kill them all or something?
If this wasn’t enough, episode 155 reveals that Yubel and Jaden are just reincarnations from a previous life in what were probably the middle ages where Yubel volunteered to turn into the form we’re acquainted with just to be Jaden’s bodyguard, and the two swore to love each other always. I know Atem from Duel Monsters was a case of a spirit unable to truly rest until the very end of the show and Yugi & Seto were so similar to their ancient Egyptian counterparts that it was a prophecy sort of deal. I don’t know what the excuse is this time beyond explaining the symbolism behind Yubel’s card designs and adding more to their twisted love for Jaden motivation that wasn’t exactly needed. A malevolent spirit violently protective of Jaden before getting sent to space in a botched attempt at reformation that just made them rationalize pain and suffering as a form of love before trying to reunite the pair through pain and suffering was already enough. Keep the 4 dimensions, keep most of what we know about this third season. We did not need all of what I just bitched about. Yubel’s a decent enough villain without this shit that just makes the penultimate episode a mess. Then, the finale is a recap where a week later, everyone misses and reminisces about Jaden before he shows up in front of Syrus in the last minute after seemingly combatting the Light of Destruction with Yubel as they promised to do at the end of 155. Fucking really? The season started with a recap, and it ended on one instead of making it a proper epilogue where everyone is afected by Jaden’s absense while he and Yubel go on a swashbuckling space adventure. Sure it would have been pretty weird, but:
A. It’s fucking Yugioh, of course it’s weird.
B. It would have been way more fun.
C. It would have been more emotional like the preview for 156 was advertising.
The resolution between Jaden and Yubel is also not what I would have hoped for. I would have been fine if we had Yubel effectively coming to terms with the fact that they were just rationalizing agony and resentment in the form of “love” towards the end of the duel. They could have realized that regardless of the fact that they and Jaden are now stuck together via Super Poly that they were wrong at the end of the day cuz tormenting the one you love is fucked up and there’s room for Jaden to still have friends. Given YGO logic, this is the best we probably could have done if the show didn’t want to just condemn Yubel. Instead, we get the shitty backstory and Jaden apologizes to Yubel for forgetting the promise. All is forgiven and the two head out to fight the evil light with the only thing Yubel has regarding any semblance of fault being them saying “I’ve now been filled with your love and power” after the two are fused together and have a hug. How is Jaden at fault when Yubel hurt so many people and his parents did what they could to make Yubel stop tormenting him? How was he supposed to know he was a reincarnation and that they had a promise? Sure, Jaden had his own faults that this season’s antagonist, especially Yubel, exploited, but none of them revolve around this! Yubel doesn’t even apologize or admit fault or anything? It’s honestly a trainwreck of a conclusion. Why did I say this was the best season again?
Also, unless you’re watching episodes or clips where Adrian Gecko is making fun of Yugioh and anime tropes, we don’t speak of the dub for season 3. While the first two seasons are best watched in a mix of dub or sub depending on the episode given that the dub accentuates the cheesy qualities of the first two seasons, I’ll let you figure out how well that translates to a season that starts off about as dark as the final stretch of season 2 and primarily gets even more ruthless over time. It ain’t pretty, and neither is the editing in places. We ain’t chillin out with the crew in the school yard no more.
It took a while to reach the best season of the show. I don’t just mean it in that it took 2 weeks to make it to season 4. I also mean it in that the first 8 episodes of season 4 weren’t that good. The early batch of episodes got progressively worse to the point where episodes 7 and 8 I felt were actively bad and S4 was starting to look like it could potentially be the worst season of GX. I’m glad that wasn’t the case, but on that note, let’s start with the issues cuz a lot of them are located in those first 8 episodes.
I didn’t acknowledge the asinine Cyber Style dojo bit from S2 that the Principal was the headmaster of when Zane challenged him in order to get the Cyber Darks but apparently that and Zane’s shitty plotline are now relevant again. It’s just an excuse to have Zane be back and to tie up the absolute trainwrecks that have been his and Syrus’s character arcs. I don’t know why Syrus let himself go back to being an Obelisk Blue at the start of the season as in S3 he gave that up cuz he didn’t feel like he earned it yet and S3 didn’t progress his character arc of learning to have more confidence in himself as he grew as a duelist. Zane’s heart condition is still at risk and someone from the Psycho style dojo (cuz Psycho Shocker aka Jinzo) just enters the show despite there never being any traces of other dueling dojos and styles because they couldn’t think of a decent way of finishing Syrus’s character arc. I hate this fucking character and I’m glad he has almost no screen time after this.
A few characters just disappear without any real explanation. Jim vanishes from the show after his death (but not really) in S3 and I don’t remember seeing him head back to his school at the start of the first episode like Axel and Jesse did, though those two come back to help Jaden with the main plot while Jim doesn’t. Hell, in the penultimate episode when everyone sans Jaden is at the post-Graduation party, Axel and Jesse pay a visit while Jim is nowhere to be seen. You’d think he’d also be there considering he had arguably a closer connection to the main characters than the other two did. Jaden never harnesses the Supreme King powers or personality again outside of arguably tapping into his memories of his time as said king in episode 178. Yubel doesn’t bother resurfacing from Jaden until episode 177 for the duel with the final boss of the show. This is a shame since I like the banter the two have, and would have liked to have seen more for it to really be established that Yubel has gained a bit of sass after fusing with Jaden and finding herself reformed (offscreen in the case of the latter). She only exists for the last 4 episodes, and it would have been fun to see her interact with Jaden throughout season 4, especially in the 2 episodes where he’s partnered up with Alexis during tag duels. There’s a whole host of missed opportunities to see a progressively less violent and evil Yubel have useful banter with and directly help out with Jaden rather than just letting him use their powers to avoid brainwashing while the cheeky bastard just sits in Jaden’s soul doing nothing but getting cozy, I suppose. There’s a character arc in there something that could have paid off with them letting themself get banished just so Jaden would have an out to Darkness’s big play towards the end of the final major duel of the series.
Speaking of which, those episodes speak to a problem I have with Jaden this season. It takes a while for them to really nail depressed Jaden this season. While him being more distant to his friends out of fear of getting them hurt in whatever catastrophe may befall them in the rest of their final year at the academy, there’s a few problems. For one, he was a bit too optimistic at the end of S3 for some of what that season went for to really land. On top of that, early this season, Jaden’s a bit unbalanced in terms of being a stoic asshole unwilling to think about things from his friends perspective despite that being one of the main reasons his friends “died” back in season 3. Maybe if he were a bit more somber and serious (yet still hopeful in his final interactions) at the end of S3, I could see this linking up better, but as it stands, it takes a while to really nail how they wanted to characterize him as a somewhat more jaded yet mature version of who he was prior to S3. I also just find the tag episodes kind of annoying, even if it’s neat to see more of Alexis kinda crushing on Jaden which we haven’t really seen since S2. It also helps with her plotline of deciding exactly what she wants to do in the future, though otherwise she doesn’t have much interesting to do this season. She’s still a better character than say, Tea was in Duel Monsters, but it’s sad to see a decent major female character be underutilized by yet another Yugioh show. I would say the same for Blair who in S3 became someone who kinda had a thing for Martin before he and Bonapart left at the start of S4 and Blair went back to crushing on Jaden. However, I never cared about her in the first place, so I’m glad that after that pair of episodes, she isn’t relevant anymore.
I’m ambivalent on the Darkness plot and about Fujiwara. The Light and Darkness stuff has always been kinda silly but is interesting that they both want some kind of lifeless state for the universe but in completely different ways. The Light wants destruction of everything cuz that’s apparently the nature of the universe, while Darkness (who was the first shadow rider after controlling Atticus in S1) feels that the truth of the universe is nothingness which is the way for everyone to escape pain and become one being of emptiness where no conflict or hopelessness or emotion will take place. This is basically a darker version of what Adrian Gecko from S3 wanted, and it makes for a serviceable final antagonist considering it’s a wrap-up season where everyone is uncertain of and trying to reach their futures. It also gives Atticus an actual purpose this season, even if I don’t care for how his tie with a somewhat Darkness controlled Fubuki was rewound so that Jaden and Jesse could duel him after he beat Atticus cuz “I saw the darkness in your heart, I can see the future and/or rewind time” I suppose. I’m also indifferent on the return of Saiyou, his sister, and the chairman who was the antagonist of S1. I never really cared about them in their respective seasons or the duel Saiyou has with Jaden to save his sister at the expense of Jaden getting thrown into Darkness.
However, I did say this was the best season of GX, so I guess I should go over why that is. I like the final destination for Jaden’s character arc, that being the slightly more responsible and jaded action hero version of his S1 and S2 self. He just doesn’t want his friends to suffer from these insane events anymore, and on top of that, he spends the bulk of the season having lost the passion for dueling. While I wasn’t a big fan of the tag episodes, I liked how even early on in the season, there was still a spark of optimism and fun left in him that could be brought back out during dueling before all of his duels in the second half outside of the final two episodes are plot-focused. His journey throughout the series could have been told better where it counted, but he’s still a likable character who is hard not to feel for in these last two seasons. What little banter we do get between him and Yubel is entertaining, and the same goes for their interactions with Axel and Jesse.
I like how Axel serves as a badass informant this season before having a pretty somber duel with Trueman that exposes his backstory thanks to Trueman transforming into the image of Axel’s father solely to remind him of a haunting moment of his past. The reveal that he didn’t actually let his mother die and his father managed to rescue her is nice, and when Trueman pays them a visit after devouring their son in darkness, it’s perhaps the most genuinely chilling and evil moment in the entire series. If not, it’s at least up there with some of the worst shit Yubel pulled in S3. Jesse returning to help Jaden after darkness starts to affect him also makes for an interesting moment, as does their duel with Fujiwara. There may not be much other than “Jaden but more duty-bound” but the two get a cool moment where it seems like Jesse is brainwashed, only for the two to pull a power play even if the majority of the duel on their end is just them playing gimmicky cards designed for this one “battle royale” match only.
That should be the last I speak of the major plot in S4 since as I said, despite some cool moments, the main plot is not what made S4 the best season of the show despite it being probably the most solidly handled one of all 4 seasons. Instead, the season proves what I said back in S1 when I stated that GX is at its best when it comes to fun and/or touching character-driven episodes. Season 3 was essentially one big character-driven plot, and the combination of the best aspect and one of the worst aspects of GX made that season more of a mixed bag than I wish it was. Season 4 comes in with some of the best episodes in the entire series, starting with the Ojamanjoume episodes. It’s funny how Chazz the Manjoume has been progressively letting his ego go despite being a glorious shithead throughout, culminating in the ultimate humiliation character known as Ojamanjoume. I like how despite this, the act ends up weaponizing his character development against him and Ed when he otherwise would have beaten Judai and not cost Ed the pro leagues (temporarily) since he did not know that his manager forcing him to throw it was a plot against Ed. It was also neat seeing him become Ed’s overworked assistant and seeing him slowly learn to stay on top of things before the manager guy Ed turned down made this plot against them. They both still get a decent ending befitting the arc and befitting the Chazz himself where he trusts Ojama Yellow to perform the finishing blow on Ed, calling him his ace monster, and playing a card so that Ojama could have some attack points to snag the win. I do wish he did a little more in the second half of the season, but I still enjoy what we had here.
Then the Crowler episode happened, and I was honestly close to tearing up. The bastard has come a long way since the first half of season 1 where he was this stuck-up scheming jackass who wanted to get rid of Jaden by any means possible. He’s been a delight to watch across each season no matter where he is on the character arc to being more of a decent guy and professor who warmed up to his students. Seeing him constantly tearing up and coming up with ways to keep the seniors from graduating because he didn’t want to say goodbye was wonderfully bittersweet. The duel between him and Jaden might honestly be my favorite duel in the show, too. Even after getting everyone to turn on him and deciding to call Jaden a list of names we haven’t heard him dish out since early season 2, the dude can’t help but break down and reveal that he just doesn’t want everyone to go. He’s come to love these fuckers more than I have, and that causes a temporary schism where the seniors still wanna graduate but the underclassmen start cheering for him to beat Jaden just so everone can stay. It culminates in both sides cheering both duelists on as it turns into a magnificent callback to episode 1 that just lets everyone think back to all those years ago before Jaden wins exactly as he did before despite all the cards the two got to show off between now and then. Even in the penultimate episode, Crowler was crying since he didn’t wanna say goodbye and let everyone graduate in the graduation ceremony so he had to be escorted out.
The funny thing about episode 179 is that Tyranno does the exact same thing in his speech to the seniors. He’s become such a likable tough guy energetic dork this season, and I feel like this is what the writers were going for but only really nailed in these last 24 episodes. With Jaden being more distant and eventually leaving, he’s taken it upon himself to lead the Ra dorm now that Bastion left the show with Tanya back in S3. I like how he organizes the tag duel event and works with Rei on both that and getting pictures of all the seniors, and this moment towards the end was probably my favorite scene from the guy outside of that glorious nuke scene from the first half of S3. The last two episodes are just one big sendoff to everyone as the seniors have that party after graduating and Jaden leaves without saying goodbye before being guided to a duel with Yugi. Said duel is another fun one where the two get to show off everything they’ve got across the two shows and Jaden even shows off a few cards I don’t think I’ve seen since S1. I know some fans were a bit disappointed by them bringing Yami back for blatant fanservice when we could have had post-DM Yugi duel Jaden in this one space that GX Yugi somehow made for them. I am sorta fine with Jaden dueling post-S3 pre-S4/5 Yugi as a way for the Kuriboh haired guy to get his passion for dueling back 100% before setting off on a new journey? Is this all fanservice? Definitely. Do I care? No. It’s fun. GX is best when it’s just trying to be fun or do things with its characters. I also find the choice to use pre-S5 Yugi interesting as someone who knows full well what happens in Duel Monsters S4 and 5 but dropped it at the end of S3. I also find it amusing that Jaden misplayed when he otherwise could have won the duel. When he played the card that would send 3 Neo-Spacians from the deck to compete with 3 of the opponent’s cards with the trio with less attack points being sent to the graveyard so he could set up the graveyard for his explosive play, he should have picked Air Hummingbird instead of Gran Mole before he got his materials in the graveyard to do a triple contact fusion. That woulda lead to Storm Neos instead of Magma Neos, wiping out Yugi’s backrow and giving Jaden the victory on a silver platter. Alas, we can’t have someone other than a Guardian player in S4 beat Yugi legitimately, so the writers had this guy do a fucking misplay just to the duel could end ambiguously (leaning more towards Yugi winning). Once a goober, always a goober, eh, Jaden?
All I can do now is to speak about the audiovisuals and wrap this behemoth up, so let’s do exactly that. Studio Gallop returned to work on this show, and there are a few minor improvements as well as unique issues that make this about as much of a mediocre slideshow product as its predecessor. There do seem to be more moments of explosive 2-6 second sakuga bits for monster attacks or summons. The artwork is more consistently on-model than Duel Monsters (and this is before we got to the parts I dropped which have considerably more inconsistencies in the visuals from what I’ve glanced at and have been told). I like the designs of a lot of the characters about as much as before. The characters also get to have more visual interactions with the game, as field spells crumble around and affect them, and monsters get a bit more dynamic with their engagements. The shitty CG is still only rendered to game effects and a couple of episodes that use shitty water effects whereas DM had a couple of episodes that used awful CG backgrounds in a few places. However, a lot of monster designs and even a few redesigns of characters in later seasons feel like they wanted to be as edgy as possible with unnecessary spikes and bondage gear, making them look ridiculous. The Evil Heroes and Destiny Hero Bloo-D (or Plasma) are the worst examples of this. There are also moments where they clearly just have a character model awkwardly bounce around or snap or hover from one part of the screen to the next to simulate flight or walking. While the characters are more consistently on model, there are still moments where they look particularly awkward from lower angles. This series only has a slight edge in visuals over Duel Monsters, though the gap would increase if I actually watched the last 2 seasons of DM.
The music in GX is also on a similar caliber to that of Duel Monsters, except unlike the mediocre slideshow visuals, the music in both shows is great. The composer for this show was Yutaka Minobe, with this being the second anime he did the music for. While it doesn’t have the grandiosity or sheer emotional weight of a lot of the Duel Monsters tracks done by Utena composer Shinkichi Mitsume, there are still plenty of energetic, chill, and beautiful tracks to choose from. Majoume’s theme is a go-to chill track, Fierce Attack is the most enjoyable battle theme in GX, and Duelist is my favorite piece here as it perfectly encompasses the bittersweet nature of season 4. Other great tracks include Wicked Grudge, Sad Duel/Supreme King theme, Judai’s theme, and Beyond the Sorrow. Judai and Supreme King’s themes in particular are perhaps the most iconic pieces in the entire show as the former is a satisfying yet laid-back piece that screams “aww yeah, this is happenin!” while the latter is fierce and downtrodden just as Jaden grew to be in the third quarter of S3. I’m glad Minobe became a staple YGO composer for the next decade as he worked on 5Ds and both seasons of Zexal.
As for the OPs and EDs, I find them more consistent than DM, with the only one I don’t like being the first OP. My favorites would be “Teardrop” by BOWL, “Precious Time, Glory Days” by Psychic Lover, and “Endless Dream” by Hiroshi Kitadani (OP 3, OP 4, ED 4). “Teardrop” is a beautifully somber song that speaks about opening up and letting out one’s sorrows from the perspective of someone they saved and therefore are devoted to, and seem to be directed at Jaden as he goes through primarily negative development in that season. “Precious Time, Glory Days” is a lot more hopeful and energetic, aware of the sorrows that took place but still being a fun and optimistic song in spite of everything just as Jaden grew to be by the end of S4. “Endless Dream” is a beautiful and somewhat bittersweet piece that opens up on a serene moment as Jaden sleeps on a field of grass in broad daylight. It perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet nature of the final season as everyone moves on and gives it one last go with smiles on their faces just as I did when watching the last 2 episodes of the show.
Whenever I look back at GX, I see lots of missed opportunities. For everything it does right, something stupid counterbalances. The show has a ton of good characters, but doesn’t know how to handle most of them, resulting in a character going through the right development in suboptimal ways, or characters being treated horribly as the show went on. I like the way the later seasons in particular had interesting themes tied to its plots and antagonists so that it had something to say about its characters and about what the audience to stand to learn in general. However, they’re tied to downright absurd plots and lore, with the ending of season 3 being my least favorite example. The show is one big mixed bag, unable to really escape a lot of the issues that made Duel Monsters progressively more unbearable before I finally dropped that show at the end of season 3. In spite of all of this, I still say I had fun with GX on the whole and that I vastly prefer it over its predecessor. By the end, I felt that the show had performed some beautifully bittersweet sendoffs to a lot of its characters and written some of the best character-driven episodes as well as arguably the most tolerable main plot of any GX season. If only GX put more focus on its characters than on its absurd but increasingly more thematically driven plot, as it’s clearly better at the former than the latter.
As for when I’ll get around to 5Ds, give me a couple of weeks. I don’t wanna keep jumping from one long-running shounen to another as that will drain my energy and there are plenty of shows that I have my eye on or that are still in the backburner. I need a little break before I jump back into another chapter in this absurdly long retrospective. I just hope that nothing I write afterwards is as long as this. Farewell, GX, and as Jaden would say in the sub, “Gotcha!”
Arc/Season ranking: 4>3>1>>>2
Episodes lasted: 180/180