Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

Before starting, it should be pointed out that this Yu-Gi-Oh! GX boxset has many of the same problems as the sets for the original Yu-Gi-Oh!: yes, you do get a lot of episodes (52), but you can only have them in the English dub provided by 4Kids (now 4K Media Inc.); there are no subtitles, no DVD extras, the scene selection is rubbish, some of the accents used in the show are dodgy, and if you didn’t like the voice actors in the original show then you should also know that they reuse the same actors here. GX also has problems of its own, with the animation at times being so poor it is laughable. There are some unusual translations from Japanese into English, if you find the catchphrases of the characters annoying you will be annoyed in almost every episode, and the least said about the song in the opening titles the better.

However, when it does something good, it does it well indeed, and the characters and scenario do give it some credit.

GX is set a decade after the original events of Yu-Gi-Oh!. By this time, Seto Kaiba has created his own institute, Duel Academy, to teach the best young duelists all about the “Duel Monsters” game. The series follows Jaden Yuki, who on his way to the entrance exam literally bumps into Yugi Moto (not that you see his face), who gives him a card for luck: a “Winged Kuriboh”, whose spirit Jaden is able to hear.

At the exam, he manages to pass by beating one of the teachers in a game, the ugly and pompous Dr. Crowler, who instantly dislikes him for beating him. Jaden moves in to the school, but is put into the weakest of the three student bodies, “Silfer Red”, which has the fewest resources. He shares a room with a friend he makes on the day of the exam, shy and nervous Syrus Truesdale, and gluttonous dunce Chumley Huffington who has failed to graduate twice. There are all looked after by the eccentric cat lover Prof. Banner.

At the beginning of the series, most of the stories concern Crowler trying to get Jaden expelled, often using students from his top student body, Obelisk Blue, to do his work. Among the students in this class are Chazz Princeton, who thinks all of the worst performing students should be kicked out and thus hates Jaden; Alexis Rhodes, a more kindly student who forms an interest in Jaden and whose brother Atticus is missing; and Syrus’s older brother Zane, the best duelist in the whole school. Aside from them, there is also the middle student body, Ra Yellow, whose main student is Bastion Misawa, a genius with the top grades who also became friends with Jaden at the entrance exam.

The second half of the series is the more interesting, with the plot concerning a group of villainous duelists, the “Shadow Riders” who want to get their hands on three destructive cards, the “Three Sacred Beasts”, which are kept at the Academy. The cards are locked away and can only be accessed by seven keys, which are given to Jaden, Chazz, Zane, Alexis, Bastion, Crowler and Banner. As the story progresses, they find themselves having to take part in the “Shadow Games”, and one of the people controlling the keys appears to be a traitor.

Let’s get onto the negative points first. Most of them have been covered in the first paragraph, but concerning specifically this collection there are some that stick out. For example, when it comes to the animation one scene in which Alexis walks is just done by shifting her animation cell up and across until she is off-screen. Nothing is done to realistically animate her movement. Meanwhile, the attempts to translate everything so it is understandable to American kids take some odd turns. For example, there is a scene where the characters eat rice balls, but these are translated into “stuffed pastries”. I personally have no problem with the catchphrases used in the programme, like Jaden’s “Get your game on”, although I suspect others will find them tiresome, especially with egotistical Chazz telling his fans to chant “Chazz it up” repeatedly. The opening title song though is just rubbish.

But as I said, it is not all terrible. There is plenty to like about GX and the main thing that makes it likable is the characters. Jaden is a loveable idiot; Syrus is timid but approachable; Chumley has his own artistic talents; Chazz has an ego, but is dependable when it counts; and Alexis is kind and loving. Then you have the plot itself. When I first came to it I thought that the idea of having an entire school devoted to a trading card game would be rubbish and it would be mainly about trying to plug the game, but you don’t sense that when you are watching it. Perhaps it is that if you have already seen the original Yu-Gi-Oh! you have already created a sense of expectation around it. You know that it is not going to be the most enlightening anime you have ever seen, and you know that this show would not be here if it wasn’t trying to sell you the game, but because you know this, you know that you should treat the series as a bit of fun – in the same way you would treat the game itself as a bit of fun.

As I have said before, this show is not as bad as other titles concerning trading card games, primarily because the manga came first and the game followed, rather than the series being created just to promote the game. Even the fact that GX is a sequel doesn’t make it as bad as some other series in my view.

Another thing I’ve said before, is that I think that because you know that these series have so many faults, the best way to watch it is to turn the anime into a game itself, and to watch it as a drinking game, which again I have done. This time, I watched the third disc consisting of nine episodes, and again selected three key phrases on which I would drink every time I heard them mentioned. In this case I went with “Life points” because you are always going to hear it; “Elemental Hero”, because Jaden plays with a deck consisting of these kind of cards; and “Winged Kuriboh”, the card Yugi gave Jaden. Here, I heard “Elemental Hero” 39 times, “Life points” 10 times and “Winged Kuriboh” five times, getting through around 2½ pints of beer in the process, although I know I would have got through more had I picked different phrases.

Is GX better than the original series? No, but it is fun and entertaining in its own way. Also, if you are annoyed by the fact you can’t listen to it in Japanese, there is a way to get around it: watch the series on Crunchyroll. The entire series is available to watch in original Japanese on the site.

Title: Review of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Series 1
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Gaming, Fantasy, Non-School
Studio: Studio Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2004
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1075 minutes

Score: 5/10

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Season One Review

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When most people think about Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, the first image that pops into their mind may be a bright red Duel Runner with its impossibly spiky-haired rider because, after all, a lot of people simply laughed, shrugged and dismissed this series based on four words: “card games on motorcycles”. However, you shouldn’t judge a card until you’ve seen its effect and the same rings true with Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s.

The third television anime series based on Konami’s best-selling trading card game, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s opens up with an introduction to “Satellite”, a run-down slum just a stone’s throw away from the luxurious metropolis of New Domino City. The two share a complicated co-dependence with each other, despite travel being prohibited and the clear class divide, with Satellite residents likened to vermin. Residing in an abandoned subway station with his friends, Yusei Fudo is unlike the peppy protagonists of Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s past in that he’s a stoic young man with one thing on his mind – revenge. Hailed as New Domino City’s “Master of Faster”, duelling champion Jack Atlas enjoys a celebrity lifestyle achieved through betrayal and now, Yusei wants to regain what he lost.

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Now, before we go any further, there is one important rule to remember when watching Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s – don’t just suspend your disbelief, but leave it at the door. There’s no point asking why a children’s card game has a place in law enforcement, is outlawed amongst poorer residents or is important enough to resolve world-ending crises – it just is. There’s no denying that the series is a glorified advert for trading cards, but we just have to embrace it and enjoy the ride.

Manga Entertainment’s first Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s release contains a whopping 64 episodes spread across two major story arcs – the “Fortune Cup” tournament that serves to summon all our key players to the field together for the first time, as well as their battle against the villainous “Dark Signers” and their world-ending scheme.

This time is well-spent progressing the characters at a natural pace, with long-standing disputes being resolved, allegiances changing and individuals not only questioning their place in the world – but finding it too. The result is a largely likeable cast with believable story arcs that go far beyond the expectations of children’s television, with the most striking example perhaps being Akiza Izinski.

Possessing the ability to bring Duel Monsters and the damage they deal to life shrouded Akiza in a cloud of fear, with many labelling her a “witch” and driving her to seclusion behind the mask of the “Black Rose” – a chilling persona that takes sadistic glee in punishing those who would ridicule her. Although introduced as an antagonistic figure, over the course the season we learn of the scared flower behind the thorns and bear witness to the struggle with a cult she was led to call “home”. Akiza was easily the highlight of the series for me; her duels were often just as much a psychological battle as a trading card one and the instances where her psychic powers ran wild were some of the most atmospheric and visually striking of the series; the chaotic ecstasy on her face was incredible and her more sombre, reflective moments were the most emotional.

When combined with the series’ slow pacing however, this overexposure can quickly become a double-edged sword. Leo’s hyperactive and overenthusiastic attitude may be the norm for a young boy and bearable in small doses, but when a whole four episodes are dedicated to his duel and his sister’s frankly cringe-worthy escapades in the Duel Monsters’ Spirit World (talking monkeys are involved), it can start to feel like a chore. In general, duels are occasionally stretched beyond their natural length by periods of excessive monologuing with few cards being played and repetition of flashbacks.

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Especially when taking the series’s age into consideration, I was impressed with the quality of both its 2D and CG animation. The addition of Turbo Duels (yes, the “card games on motorcycles”) adds a much-needed visual flare to duels, providing a more kinetic experience than just watching two people stand opposite each other (although those kind of duels still happen).

A few shots in the first season did look noticeably off-model and some CG movements were occasionally clunky, such as one scene when Jack Atlas effectively flops off his bike. The majority of the errors, however, were a result of 4Kids’ adaptation. On at least one occasion, the Japanese image of a card was replaced with an entirely different one, showing a Junk Synchron on Carly’s duel disk, despite the card being a signature of Yusei’s. There were a number of verbal snafus as well, with spell cards misidentified as traps on occasion and vice versa, as well as a surprising amount of misidentified monsters towards the end of the collection; which is especially unusual given that Junk Warrior has been used frequently since the very first episode.

As part of 4Kids’ now-notorious localisation process, it is to be expected that certain aspects will be toned down to match the target audience’s perceived sensitivities, but some of the edits here are borderline farcical. An example of this is when Yusei is injured following a duel and is carried away for immediate medical attention. Despite the obvious urgency from the rest of the cast, as well as visuals depicting bloodstains following his transportation and invasive surgery, the doctor performing the procedure is given lines diagnosing internal bruising! Now, I can totally get behind a world with soul-devouring trading cards, but life-threatening operations to treat internal bruising? Please.

Although the casting and vocal performances of the English cast leave nothing to complain about, the script’s over-reliance on quips can not only be annoying, but get in the way of characterisation. For example, whenever Crow duels with his Blackwing deck, you can bet that both he and his opponent will throw out any bird-related joke the writers can think of – which isn’t many, considering how many times I heard phrases like “birds of a feather”. I also wonder if one of the writers recently purchased a puppy when localising the earlier episodes and was just really excited about it, considering the number of random jokes about dogs that just felt out of place.

Ultimately, it would be foolish to simply dismiss Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s as a hollow product tie-in, because behind the trading cards lies an entertaining and heartfelt story that confidently speeds ahead of the series’ that came before it.

Title: Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Season One
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Shonen, Card Game
Studio: Gallop
Type: TV Series
Original vintage: 2008
Format: DVD
Language options: English dub audio only
Age rating: PG
Running time: 1536 minutes

Score: 8/10