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June 21, 2017

So How Good is Yu-Gi-Oh!, Really?

Hey, wait a second.  Wasn’t E3 last week?  Shouldn’t I be doing a post on that?  Yes, probably.  But I need to talk about how I’ve strayed further from God’s light, sooooooooooooooo…here you go.  Don’t worry, I’m sure I can come up with something for this post.

But to start things off?  Damn you, Hiroaki Tominaga.  May you be forsaken till the end of days, as you have forsaken me.

God bless you, Tominaga.

I learned about the opening for Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS by chance on the Super Best Friends subreddit, because that place is a haven for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure fans.  As it so happened, the lead singer for that opening is Hiroaki “TOMMY” Tominaga, who’s long since made a name for himself as the man behind JoJo’s infamous “Sono Chi no Sadame”.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that within three seconds of VRAINS’ “With the Winds” starting, I mashed the Bookmark button harder than I ever knew I could.  I adore that song, and lately I’ve been listening to it almost on a daily basis.  The tradeoff, of course, is that it forced a crack into my defenses.  It made me genuinely, seriously have an interest in Yu-Gi-Oh! again.

It’s not as if I didn’t know about VRAINS going in.  I pop over to Anime News Network pretty frequently, so I had an idea of what it entailed.  Card games!  VR!  And…hoverboards?  And…hackers?  And I swear to God, the hair on main character Yusaku is out of control.  Like, okay, sure, the franchise is no stranger to absurd hairdos, but at least you could comprehend Yugi’s hair back in the day.  Yusaku’s basically wearing an eldritch hell-beast on his head, and the more I look at it, the less I understand.  It really says something about the situation when his VR form somehow has less ridiculous hair than his civilian, real-world form.

In any case, it wasn’t long before tapping that opening on YouTube led to recommended clips of the show proper.  And because I watched one, YouTube recommended another -- and another, and another, and another.  I don’t have enough of them to string together a full episode, but I’ve seen content across multiple episodes and enough to at least get a solid handle of the plot.  Yusaku lives a double life as an ordinary high school student as well as the popular “Playmaker”, a duelist and hacker who takes on the villainous Knights of Hanoi before they can fulfill their dark ambitions.  AI is involved, especially because one of them holes up in Yusaku’s Duel Disk.  Also there are apparently wrestlers and idols, the latter of which can do a pretty good DIO impression, and the former of which is…a wrestler.  Nothing more needs to be said, except “that’s rad”.

There are only seven episodes floating around right now, so content is a bit hard to come by.  At least, that’s the case if you focus solely on VRAINS; it’s worth noting, of course, that this latest series is the sixth entry in the franchise, not the first.  So that means we’ve got the original series (which I’ve seen referred to as DM, or Duel Monsters), followed by GX, followed by 5Ds, followed by ZEXAL, followed by Arc-V.  At a bare-ass minimum -- and probably well off the mark -- any one of those series has a hundred episodes to its name.  That’s a lot of freakin’ card games.

I’ve found that out for myself.  Because…uh…yeah, I’m back in.

God.  Damn it.  I don’t want to be back in.  But I’m back in.

Confession time: I used to be really, really, really into YGO back in the day.  Granted I didn’t have the cards or any merchandise, but I was pretty much glued to the TV whenever episodes of it were on (rerun or otherwise).  I was always eager to see the duels play out, with every twist and turn committed to memory.  I had a vested interest in seeing where the plot would go, and if Yugi would be able to save is grandpa’s soul, or gather all the God Cards, or just plain survive the next duel.  At the time, I didn’t know where it came from or who brought it over, but I didn’t care.  It came at just the right time with something that seemed handmade just for me.

Or so it seemed.  I guess somewhere along the line, I stopped following the series so loyally (or religiously, take your pick). Maybe I was afraid of liking something so nerdy, even among nerds; maybe it was because I was just in a phase, and moved out of it before the show’s end.  Maybe I just wanted to sleep in on Saturday mornings.  But for whatever reason, I tapped out in the Egypt arc (not that Egypt arc…but man, there are more parallels between YGO and JoJo than I would’ve thought).  I guess I petered out just before reaching the finish line, for any number of regrettable reasons.

Or maybe it had something to do with the future that I was heading towards.

I’m usually okay with English dubs -- and even offer praise and support when I can -- but I don’t think I’ve ever been turned off from a show harder than with GX.  Well, except maybe with the 4Kids dub of One Piece, but the evils within are incalculable in scale.  But GX did everything in its power to make me turn away from the franchise, and the opening was a big part of that. 

DM -- even in its dubbed version -- put on airs of mystery and danger; dark powers came to roost, but the strength and will of its myriad duelists let them challenge rivals and villains alike.  That was the sense I got from the opening, and the sense I got from the show at large.  It really felt like something special -- something that treated dumb kids with respect and let them experience more than goofy Nicktoon fare.

Then you look at GX and suddenly it’s like “Nah, man, screw that!  We gotta go with what the kids are into these days!  That’ll never become dated and cringe-inducing!”  So the ominous tone of the original series was replaced with a poppy rock tune; the same went for the actual soundtrack, if I remember right.  (Not saying that DM’s dub didn’t have an excised OST as well, but to its credit it also had the Egyptian God Card theme.) 

And then you get to Judai/Jaden, who’s a step away from being Totally Radical with lines like “I’m gonna throw down a face down!” and “Get your game on!”  And apparently the dub started making fun of itself -- maybe because YGO Abridged had taken root -- and I’m just like, “I’m out.”  Whoever was there/came on board either didn’t understand what helped DM succeed, or they just didn’t care.  And because of that, I didn’t, either.

I know that’s unfair to GX.  Based on what I’ve gleaned from TV Tropes, there’s a lot more to the story than co-opted Smash Mouth lyrics.  I guess that it’s a shining example of why the source material preserved to the best of a team’s ability outstrips dubbed productions; some changes are necessary when crossing the ocean, but go too far and you distort the original vision.  The GX that I got (at least the amount of GX I could stand to watch, which admittedly wasn’t much) might as well have been run through a wood chipper and flung into a black hole for good measure.  I’ll assume that 5Ds was better, but the damage had already been done and I only caught a couple of random episodes.  The same went for ZEXAL.  I’ve only seen a couple of clips from Arc-V’s dub, and I can feel the difference in my bones.

The OST helps.  Because…Christ.  “Swing!  Pendulum of Souls” is way too good.

Still, I’m not just writing this post to rail against dubs.  The title of this post asks how good YGO is, which means that it takes a consideration of the franchise’s elements.  And because of that, you can’t talk about this show without talking about the card game that comprises it.  Or comprises it now, at least; I’ve heard that originally it was more about taking bullies down a peg using on-the-fly games and ancient Egyptian magic, but that’s neither here nor there.  The important thing is whether or not the card game at the core is good. 

Since I haven’t played the card game in person, I can’t vouch for its quality in the real world.  Based solely on what happens in the fictional world, I’m inclined to believe that Duel Monsters is bullshit.  DM made a huge fuss out of “the heart of the cards”, which basically translates to “get super lucky with whatever you draw next”.  Not exactly a testament to skill when you’re basically winning because of good fortune -- and good fortune that’s implied to be done by distorting reality. 

But then you get to Arc-V -- and ZEXAL as well, from what I can gather -- and pretty much everyone has found ways to summon their superpowered ace monsters within the first turn.  Maybe that’s where the skill comes in (i.e. through deck preparation beforehand), but that loses its luster when heroes and rivals alike have exactly the cards they need in situations they couldn’t have possibly expected.  Hell, Arc-V features cheating of the highest caliber in episode one by way of its main character inventing a new way to summon a whole bunch of monsters at once -- and that method only becomes more broken as time passes.

So I guess if GX is going to ape the dialogue style of YGO Abridged, Arc-V is going to weaponized one of its most enduring jokes.

The amount of bullshit that happens throughout this franchise, throughout this series, and throughout even a single-episode span is nothing short of legendary -- and honestly, I think that’s kind of what makes it impossible to look away from.  The implication in some of Arc-V’s episodes is that main character Yuya isn’t just inventing a new summoning method on the fly; given what we learned just a few episodes prior, summoning monsters via fusion requires having the proper card in your “extra deck” beforehand…which doesn’t stop Yuya from spontaneously creating a fusion monster with a method he’s never tried before, and making use of a card he’s never seen before, and using abilities he couldn’t have possibly known about before.  It’s insane, but damned if it isn’t entertaining to watch. 

The bullshit train has no brakes, and is actually picking up speed as it goes.  I’m honestly kind of interested in watching more to see what sort of crazy rule-breaking happens next -- or to keep up the analogy, whether or not that train will reach the speed of light and beyond.  Everything is done for the sake of drama, with duelists of all shapes and sizes exploding with passion and/or striking fancy poses.  (Seriously, is this franchise just JoJo and I never knew it?)  It’s a card game, but a card game that its players get invested in to an absurd degree.  I guess I can’t blame them, given the existence of the fighting game community in our world -- but last I checked, Justin Wong wasn’t fighting to save his mortal soul from enemy Balrog players in a pick-up game of Street Fighter V.

Well…that I know of.

I doubt anyone will fight me on the claim that YGO is a weird franchise, even beyond the fact that every conflict and situation is resolved via dueling instead of with violence.  What I’ve noticed is that, oddly enough, this is an incredibly forward-looking franchise.  Episode 1 of DM featured a hologram-generating arena, but before long reached a point where the duelists could rely on portable, wrist-mounted devices to create the same effect anywhere.  5Ds famously featured card games on motorcycles, as lethal as that sounds.  ZEXAL pushed augmented reality by tricking everyone out with zany monocles.  Arc-V adds solid mass to its projections to create tangible monsters, arenas, and effects.  Now VRAINS has users that dive into VR worlds and transform into digital avatars.

It’s a strange juxtaposition, given that DM thrived on Egyptian magic, rituals, and artifacts (right down to the very cards its cast used).  And even though that first installment has been over for ages, you’ve still got other dimensions, spirits, and mythical creatures showing up on a regular basis -- magic of all sorts that clashes with the advanced technology on display.  Or, alternatively, maybe it’s about a synthesis of the two; these settings keep the past alive (and empower it) through the technical wizardry of the future, because even if there are risks involved it still means that society is progressing ever onward.  Granted the simplest explanation is that you need holograms, AR and the like to create visually-interesting episodes, buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I’d like to think that it’s not an accident.  Maybe there’s something more at play here besides aiming for the most absurd story possible.

I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a part of it, though.  Because holy shit, Arc-V is INSANE

But I’ll get to that.

Whatever the case, now it’s your turn to weigh in.  How good is Yu-Gi-Oh!, really?  Is it nothing more than a way to sucker kids into spending their parents’ money?  Is it a legit story bursting at the seams with merit and thematic heft?  And just how broken is every single element of the game, in-universe or out of it?  Feel free to weigh in, especially if you’re not like me and actually know how to play this game in the real world without the power of plot armor.

Got your opinion all queued up?  Good.  Then ready…set…DORO!  MONSUTA CAADO!

One more for the road.  I had to get in one more.

And speaking of one more, here are some lightning-fast thoughts on E3.  Ready?

*deep breath*

Super Mario Odyssey looks fantastic even with the implication that you’re robbing innocents of their free will as you hijack their bodies, I’m happy for Beyond Good and Evil 2 but concerned over the fact that Ubisoft showed nothing but a CG trailer with no gameplay and a trailer that’s a drastic departure from the tone and style of the original game, I’m still surprised Sony is pushing Days Gone given that it seems like the least original game ever, God of War barely looks like God of War anymore and that’s probably to its detriment, I have high hopes for the Spider-Man game even though it acts like a Batman Arkham game with a different skin, I can’t imagine Bethesda going wrong with a new Wolfenstein, LOL the Xbox One X, screw Ubisoft for making one of its special editions of AssCreed a whopping $800, I’ll say something meaningful about Anthem as soon as I can summon enough energy to care about it, and EA continues to have a presence in both the expo and our lives for some reason.

Also, Dragonball Fighters Z.  That looks sick, and I would hate to be a developer putting out a less-attractive fighting game out in its wake.  Good thing that doesn’t apply to anyone out there right now.

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