As a fan of #YuGiOh, I'm the first one to admit that, at first glance, the long-lasting appeal of the show might be hard to understand. I mean, here we have a kids #anime that ran in the early '00s, largely with a purpose to sell a trading card game. Yet, after all these years, it's getting a feature-length film (with the brilliant original cast returning). Furthermore, it's the source material for the highly popular Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series — a brilliant and clever parody/homage, which often seems to be as beloved by the fans as the actual show itself.
So, why do so many still have a soft spot for the show and its characters after all these years? Well, to celebrate the new film, Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions, let's take a look at three factors that made this show so endearingly off-beat and gave it it's long-lasting quality.
3. Delightfully Twisted Source Material
Yu-Gi-Oh! was not always about a timid young boy named Yugi Muto who, after solving an ancient artifact, starts to share a body with a mysterious spirit of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh (Atem). Together they must uncover the pharaoh's past, save the world by playing trading cards, learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses, etc.
In the original #manga (and Season 0), it was a about a timid, young boy — Yugi Muto — sharing a body with mysterious spirit of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who is a complete psycho with a special liking of killing his enemies by playing all kinds of messed up magic games.
Indeed, creator Kazuki Takahashi has later spoken about how he was inspired by horror manga and created his own inventive take on it. Now, the reason why it's an important aspect to highlight is that however cheesy (in an endearing way, of course) the show might have been on many levels, its DNA is rather imaginatively messed up. In fact, some of these elements remain present in the show, thus creating a nice contrast.
2. Embracing A Far-Fetched Premise
So, you have this rather twisted source material and a desire to make a show built around a trading card game. What do you do? Well, adding to this above mentioned main premise about Yugi and the mysterious spirit he co-exists with, you create a world where the number one sport (and apparently the main way how people solve their conflicts) is a trading card game created by a foppish manchild. Then you add yet another layer to it by revealing that the card game is actually inspired by (and connected to) real-life magical battles between ancient Egyptians using real monsters and magical artifacts.
Now, as ridiculous as this premise sounds, it's also ridiculously awesome, and the creators of the show fully embrace it in many inventive ways. You see, even though it often seems that they made it up as they went along, the way the show builds upon this premise is done extremely imaginatively (while also seamlessly incorporating some of these above mentioned darker elements).
Thing is, for a show built around a trading card game, the creators could have gotten away with a lot less. Yet, by creating this almost needlessly huge lore and tackling it with such enthusiasm, the people behind the show managed give the whole project this sense of silly but endearing sincerity.
1. Likable Characters
As one would expect, the characters in Yu-Gi-Oh! are not exactly the most multilayered ones and, indeed, they can be rather one-note. However, they are extremely likable. They all have this straight-faced earnestness about them, making it both endearing and unintentionally funny at the same time.
For example, when it comes to the good guys, it all tends to revolve around the constant flood of moral lessons on the power of friendship (seriously, there are a lot of them). However, they deliver their rather frequent friendship speeches with such straight-faced and uncompromising sincerity that one just can't help but like them for it. Same goes for the bad guys — even though they're often just evil, they're evil and loving it, thus creating many entertaining villains. Then there's Kaiba, who is just endearingly, well, Kaiba.
However, the fact that they can be a bit one-note at times doesn't mean that they are used in a one-note way. The show really knows its characters, how to have fun with them and how to play on their strengths. It's especially apparent in the way the characters play off each other. Whether it's the classic banter between Yugi, Joey and Kaiba, it's always made entertaining and fun to follow.
Furthermore, it's not like the characters are completely flat and stereotypical. Many of them are actually given quite satisfying arcs, and the show doesn't shy away from taking them into dark and emotionally challenging places from time to time either. This is something which also extends to the villains, as they often have quite tragic backstories. Now, even though these more complex character moments don't happen too often (and probably more so in the subbed version than the dubbed one), they are delivered effectively, thus making you more invested in the characters (and the show itself).
The Heart Of The Cards
What it all comes down to is that Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters is a nice example of what can be achieved when embracing something silly with heart and unashamed ambition. As a result, you get something that is endearing, likable and funny at the same time, which is also a good way to sum up the characters in the show.
Also, check out this cool little Dan Green interview for the new film Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions.
What else has added to Yu-Gi-Oh!'s long lasting appeal? Let me know in the comments below.