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July 6, 2017

RE: Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V



I don’t understand how this anime can even exist.

And yes, I know I’ve used that opening line before.  That was intentional.  I’ll explain why in a bit.  But first…



That was a clip from the abridged series, and one that took on Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds.  That series -- the third in the franchise, currently in its sixth -- is famous for having its duelists ride on futuristic motorcycles while also playing card games.  It seems…implausible, to put it mildly.  Those are two completely incompatible hobbies, wherein playing one seems to guarantee a trip to the emergency room if done simultaneously with another.  But what do I know?  It’s not like I’ve ever ridden on a motorcycle.  Maybe it’s as easy as going on a Sunday stroll.

On paper, it seems like “card games on motorcycles” is the dumbest concept ever.  In action, “card games on motorcycles” is absolutely insane.  Even if these bikes have autopilot functions, why would you want to play card games while hurtling down roads at 65 miles per hour?  What happens if the wind makes you lose a card from your hand?  How do you even hear what your opponents are doing?  And aren’t you risking a crash -- and, you know, death -- every time you try to duel while driving?  That seems to be the implication, but I guess no one really cares.

“Card games on motorcycles” is insane.  And yet, somehow, Arc-V -- the fifth installment in the franchise -- generally manages to be even more insane, because that insanity is more or less on a global fucking level.

And…honestly, I think I kind of love it for that.


So here’s the setup.  Our hero this time around is Yuya Sakaki, a 14-year-old who’s trying to follow in the footsteps of his father Yusyo.  See, Yusyo was more than just a simple duelist; he was a visionary whose antics and acrobatics -- and showmanship, to boot -- helped make duels go from bland displays of raw power to excitement-filled spectacle.  That, in turn, was made possible by technological developments.  Yuya and Yusyo alike live in a world where Real Solid Vision systems exist, which can take holographic projections of cards and arenas and give them a physical presence in the real world.  Basically, it means that -- at the very basest -- duelists can ride on their summoned monsters and traipse through fields that look like they’re video games given life.

The wrinkle in the story is that three years ago, and for reasons yet unexplained, Yusyo vanished -- right before a championship match, no less.  Yuya has had to live with that burden in his father’s absence; his family is disgraced, his father’s a laughing stock, Yuya himself is constantly harassed, and You Show School -- the dueling school that teaches the principles of Yusyo’s “entertainment dueling” -- is so ramshackle that its Real Solid Vision system makes hyper-pixelated versions of battlefields.  But Yuya gets a chance in a lifetime: he’s invited to an exhibition match against the current champion, but instead of rolling over and taking his expected loss, he inadvertently changes the world of dueling forever on the spot.


At a base level, the story from then on is about how Yuya wants to become a pro like his dad -- to show the world the marvel of entertainment dueling, as well as to spread smiles across audiences everywhere.  It’s the “to be a master” goal that’s been well-treaded since the days of Pokémon’s first season.  Granted it’s worth noting that Yuya hasn’t said he wants to be “the very best”; at most he just wants to surpass his missing father, but it’s not a stretch to assume he’d be fine with 1) restoring his family’s name, 2) standing side by side with the legacy duelist, and 3) putting on a show instead of sweating over who’s in the number one spot.  Fair enough.

But then the plot happens.

It takes a while for the actual plot to kick in.  I’m about 55 episodes in right now (out of almost triple that), and I can safely say I’ve been in there for a good 20.  The thing about Arc-V, though, is that you can feel that something is up with this series even when it looks primed to play those expected tropes straight.  Even if you overlook the foreshadowing and the slow-but-certain trickle of vital details, I got the sense that there was a steady hand and a savvy mind behind the proverbial pen.  Case in point: most of the first few story arcs are ways to completely break down the ass pull of Yuya’s “Pendulum Summon”, and force him to deal with the consequences.


Pendulum Summoning comes out of nowhere and changes the game.  To wit: by setting two Pendulum Monsters at once, the player can then summon whatever monsters they’ve got in their hand, as long as they’re between the level set up by the monsters in the “Pendulum Scale”.  So while the other summoning methods in the game are about bringing in one powerful monster, Pendulum Summoning lets the player rush the field with a swarm of them -- which can mean access to stronger monsters in their own right, or monsters with vital special abilities, or just soldiers to score direct attacks once they have an opening.  And on top of that, the Pendulum monsters can use Pendulum Effects to buff or debuff even further.

Here’s the thing, though.  Yes, Yuya gets lucky with Pendulum Summoning the first time, and uses it to overwhelm the competition, i.e. the current champion.  That’s in episode 1.  Then you get to episode 2, and he can’t even get it to work -- so he loses immediately, in front of a crowd hyped to see his Pendulum Summon in action.  Then you get to episode 3, where Yuya offhandedly reveals that it took him 271 tries to finally get it right…only to have a schoolmate by the name of Sawatari steal his Pendulum cards and then successfully Pendulm Summon in the ensuing duel.  On his first try.  And then he proceeds to use it better than Yuya did, to the point where our hero almost loses at his own game.


But remember, Yuya unveiled this new and revolutionary technique in front of a massive crowd (and even larger, assuming that people were watching at home or in the streets).  That means his ass pull basically put him in the public eye, and thus made him a target for all sorts of malcontents -- including Leo Corporation, the company behind both Real Solid Vision and the Leo Duel School (and to a lesser extent, they have a hand in the distribution of Duel Monsters cards).  So they start breathing down You Show School’s neck and using whatever pretense they can get to absorb it and the secret of Pendulum Summoning.  Then Yuya has to fight to earn a spot in the big upcoming tournament -- hosted by LDS -- and faces off against opponents who have, generally speaking, come up with perfect, instantaneous counters to his Pendulum antics. 

Then in the tournament proper, Pendulum cards are given to everyone so that they can Pendulum Summon too, which means that literally the only thing that’s required is the cards -- which means that Yuya isn’t the special snowflake that he thought he was at first.  If anything, he’s a huge failure who just had beginner’s luck and an unfair advantage.  Granted that was already confirmed well before that point, but it’s always nice to see a hero’s spirit utterly demolished in the span of a commercial break.

Somebody give this kid a hug.  Life keeps shitting all over him.


That’s not an exaggeration.  The show, the writers, and God Himself all seem to be nursing a massive hate-boner toward Yuya for seemingly no reason besides “because he’s there”.  He’s constantly pitted against terrible odds, constantly forced into bad situations, constantly forced to endure ridicule and borderline emotional abuse, and then constantly forced to endure actual physical abuse.  It’s a miracle that he can even find the will to roll out of bed, knowing that a whole new slate of blights await him once he steps out the door.  And that’s all before the plot kicks in, and proceeds to stomp on his soul with some size 22 metal cleats.

This show wouldn’t work as well as it does without Yuya (misfortunes or otherwise).  True, on that base level he’s a shonen hero that would make Ash Ketchum proud -- passionate, motivated, cares about his friends, strong sense of justice, hot-blooded, likes food, et cetera.  But again, as early as episode 1 you get the sense that there’s more to him.  His mom points out that he was willing to make fun of himself so that no one else could do it first.  He puts on a big show when he gains momentum in a duel (like shouting “Ladies and gentlemen!” in Engrish), but in the early goings it doesn’t take much to make him freak out or come close to having his spirit broken.  Basically, he’s a lot more fragile than he seems, or what his showman persona would suggest.  Or, alternatively, you could say that Yuya’s biggest flaw is that he has no chill.


It’s worth noting that Yuya’s ace monster, Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon, has a special ability that lets it deal double-damage to any monster above a certain level.  The irony, of course, is that Yuya himself takes double damage from everything thrown his way.  And with good reason.  I’m debating whether or not Yusyo’s advice of “laugh when you want to cry” and its ilk help his son in the long run, because depending on how you look at it, that’s a way to make Yuya believe the proper choice of action is to suppress his pain and sorrow rather than deal with it head-on.  Slap on a mask instead of show anyone your true face.  Fortunately his character arc -- and to be sure, he absolutely has one -- pushes him toward turning his fake smile and bravado into real factors while also giving him the opportunity -- if not forcing him -- to stand up to challenges that would break a mortal man.

Still, you can’t help but wonder.  The way Arc-V is playing out, it’s not a question of if Yuya will snap, but when and how badlyBut I wouldn’t worry about it too much.  I mean, it’s not as if having his optimism and desire to use dueling to spread joy among the masses is jeopardized by interdimensional invaders whose duels forcibly capture bodies and souls alike and/or cause massive widespread collateral damage, thereby asking an idealistic fourteen-year-old to witness the horrors of war firsthand and playing right into the hands of a nightmarish black spirit inside his soul that drives him to go berserk whenever people who abuse duels to wreak havoc or reap unlawful gains lash out within his presence.



…I kind of feel like the production crew only made this series to see how much they could make one character suffer.


Call me a sadist if you must, but the schadenfreude is real.  There’s a part of me that wants to see Arc-V through to the end solely to see how much more torment Yuya can (and will) be subjected to.  Don’t let the color palette and off-the-wall designs fool you; this show can get incredibly hardcore when it needs and wants to -- which is distressingly often after a certain point -- and most of that gets flung Yuya’s way.  On a serious level, he’s betrayed, manipulated, conned, victimized, and even assaulted, quite possibly with lethal force, just because he’s trying to make people happy with his dueling.  That’s bad.  But let’s not overlook the fact that even in the comedic bits, he’s got it worse than Charlie Brown after a herd of black cats cross his path.  It’s kind of hard to overlook the fact that he gets frozen alive just for answering a quiz question wrong.

That brings me to the real issue -- such as it is -- with Arc-V.  Your mileage may vary on how good the show is, and that’s probably because if you think about it on any level beyond “Pendulum Summon, yay!” you’ll realize that this universe is abjectly horrifying.  The implications here don’t just make Yuya’s world absurd -- which is saying something, given that it’s a descendant from the original Yu-Gi-Oh -- but secretly a nightmarish hellscape that the people in it accept without a second thought.  I mean, these duels actually, literally put the duelist’s lives on the line on multiple occasions, up to and including getting flung down flights of stairs with potentially-broken ribs.  I’m not joking; one guy gets thrown down them, and spends several episodes afterward clutching his side…and Yuya gets thrown down stairs twice in one duel, because Yuya is Yuya, and Yuya must suffer for being born.  Or, alternatively, make others suffer.


But I’m getting off-topic.  So, in the spirit of Arms’ recent release and subsequent probing of its particulars, I present to you…

Things that are Known and Accepted in the Arc-V Universe but Never Questioned:

--Technology that can materialize anything out of thin air is used exclusively to help people play a children’s card game.

--A children’s card game has taken root as not only the most popular sporting event, but also as a means for everyone of any age to resolve their problems. 

--Biker gangs will, instead of resorting to violence or bloodshed, resort to playing a children’s card game to decide whether or not rival bikers get kidnapped.

--Safety precautions are only in place when sub-tween duelists play a children’s card game in a major tournament.  All other participants in all other instances may be subject to falls from extremely high places, drowning, explosions, collapsing architecture, physical assault, volcanic heat, arctic cold, gale force winds, booby traps, and much more.

--Parents and miscellaneous adults have no concerns about insurance or liabilities when children and other adults play a children’s card game using materialization technology.  Additionally, no one is worried about potential injuries when a children’s card game is played on the tournament level or otherwise.


--All duelists are expected and possibly required to break into long summoning chants whenever calling out stronger monsters, to the point where performing a basic function in a children’s card game crosses into the occult.  Additionally, these chants are memorized beforehand to be recited perfectly during a duel.

--No moral guardians raise red flags when occult rituals are performed during a children’s card game.

--Basic functions of a children’s card game are supposedly so complex that entire courses have to be taught on them.  As a corollary, entire schools are built around teaching youths how to play a children’s card game.

--Schools that teach people how to play a children’s card game regularly co-opt special themes or other industries into their borders.  This allows cooking, academia, martial arts, and the occult to be taught concurrently with playing a children’s card game.

--Fortune-telling not only exists, but there are also people who can predict the future with near-pinpoint accuracy.  No one pays more attention to this.

--There are actual knights in this universe, complete with nearly full sets of armor at all times.

--There are actual ninjas in this universe, complete with fifty-foot vertical leaps and high-speed teleports. 


--Practitioners of a children’s card game are so invested in their hobby and their schools’ teachings that they almost invariably train enough to perform superhuman feats of strength, skill, and agility.

--Enemy duelists are allowed to use physical violence in major tournament settings for a children’s card game without being disqualified or handed a penalty.  This extends to using materialized holograms to purposely try and attack innocent bystanders.

--A sub-21-year-old is allowed to run a major company with little to no perceptible input from his shareholders, board of directors, or even mother.  He then proceeds to gear that major company towards the promotion of his potentially-lethal materialization technology, all for the sake of propping up a children’s card game.

-- A sub-21-year-old who runs a major company decides that the best way to deal with invaders from another world is to host a tournament which ultimately turns out to be an inconclusive sham, under the pretense that it serves as a recruitment test to find the best players of a children’s card game and force them to travel to other dimensions to fight on their home world’s behalf.

--Hair can be so outlandish and colorful that no one ever responds to even the most absurd of hairstyles, to the point where no one can differentiate between supposed look-alikes despite having wildly different styles and colors for their coiffures. 

…I could go on, but I won’t.  Because A) the true plot of the show revolves around turning Yuya and a few “blessed” into child soldiers, and B) the most unbelievable thing about this show is that Yuya’s mom Yoko isn’t fighting off suitors every waking moment of the day.


Or, alternatively, C) Yuya’s reward for surviving a tournament is to be strong-armed into becoming the lynchpin of an elite, interdimensional task force.  That’s…not great.  Like, okay, the Arc-V universe is secretly terrifying and insane.  That’s obvious as early as episode 3.  But it’s possible to look past that stuff if you agree to come along for the proverbial ride.  But then the last day of the big tournament arc ends with an assault launched by masked invaders -- so coupled with the risks of using the Real Solid Vision to make Duel Monsters real, I was ready to joke that the show should put a “Child Murder Imminent” warning up whenever things got hot and heavy.

But then things get super-hot and heavy, wherein the invaders use their duel technology to seal the minds, bodies, and souls of the people they defeat (and in many cases not even that far) into cards, all so they can presumably be cast into a swirling nexus of souls as tribute for the bad guys’ plans.  From what I can gather?  Unless Yuya and crew figure out how to run back those losses and save the captured or defeated, those people -- a number of which are actual, named characters -- are effectively dead.  In other words?  We’ve gone straight past Child Murder Imminent and into CHILD MURDER CONFIRMED.

And now they’re in a dimension where CARD GAMES ON MOTORCYCLES are back in full force.  Going solely by what I’ve seen so far, there have been two wipeouts at high speed, Yuya and five other teammates have been arrested -- with Yuya risking jail time literally minutes after touching down, because he hasn’t suffered enough yet -- and they’re all expected to carve out some meager existence in a dystopian world where class warfare runs rampant and the police are used exclusively as a private army to oppress the poor while the aristocrats profit from their pain.

At this stage, I would be genuinely, legitimately surprised if Yuya made it through the show -- his show -- alive.  Hell, I’m starting to wonder if he’ll even make it through this story arc.


You know, I still remember Gundam Build Fighters.  I remember it fondly, too.  But one of the plot threads in that show was how it did its best to shoot down the notion of using its unprecedented technology for anything more than making little plastic robots come to life.  It’s actually discussed in-universe, too; the show’s resident genius points out that there are tons of applications, and the chairman basically goes “Nah, forget that!  I just wanna play with toys and make money!”  Makes you wonder what could’ve been done with the tech, but I don’t hold it against the show.

Now here comes Arc-V, and it follows through with the logical(ish) conclusion.  It is ABSURDLY easy to abuse the tech for selfish, tasteless, and harmful means, most of which are shown off in-universe long after it’s too late to say “Hey, do you think this is right?”  For them, dueling is just a tool, a means to an end to crush foes and fulfill ambitions -- the end result of taking a toy, albeit one with phenomenal cosmic powers, and taking all of the fun out of it.  It’s actually pretty harrowing stuff, given that one duel ends with a kid legitimately getting crushed by a falling tower (and broken in the first place thanks to a robot falcon’s well-placed bombing run).

So in that regard, Yuya is the perfect protagonist for this show.  He’s out to show people that dueling can be used for smiles and fun, not war and pain -- fixing worlds small and large after they’ve been broken by the revelation of their lethal potential.  He’s constantly forced to struggle, constantly against the odds, constantly mocked, and constantly screwed over.  But it’s the mark of a true entertainer -- a true hero -- to be able to keep coming back for more with a smile on his face.  And by fighting so hard to bring fun and smiles back into his world (across the myriad dimensions, no less), he ends up bringing them to the one place where they matter most: to our world.

Without a doubt, Yuya and his antics -- and his show in general -- can always put a smile on my face.  And no matter what horrors he’ll face next, I’m always ready for more.


Because if nothing else, it means I get to see more of Gongenzaka.  Who’s Gongenzaka, you ask?  Imagine if Ryu and Goro Daimon did the fusion dance, teleported into River City Ransom, took a trip to one of the Ouendan games, and then picked up a deck of cards full of dope-ass samurai mecha.  That’s Gongenzaka, who often and rightfully refers to himself as THE MAN Gongenzaka.

Given his fuckin’ sick pompadour, I’m inclined to agree.  Somebody give him a spinoff, now.

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