Films that exist solely to act as a marketing ploy shouldn’t really be considered films. Okay, there are a thousand or so films that are basically this like the Transformers series, but even they have some substance to them. Heck, even the Marvel films can fall under this category. But sometimes these films just don’t care and could easily be replaced with an entire film reel consisting of a flashing image that reads “Buy Our Merchandise!” One such example is Yu-Gi-Oh the Movie, the pointless tie-in film of the manga and anime Yu-Gi-Oh, created by Kazuki Takahashi. This film isn’t necessarily even aimed at fans, but rather just made to promote the trading card game and recycle old plots from the anime. It’s time to d-d-duel!
Yu-Gi-Oh was a childhood anime so there is a degree of nostalgia and love towards it. I collected the cards but never played the actual game. The anime was dubbed by 4Kids Entertainment, a defunct company infamously known for heavily editing and even censoring anime for a western audience. Their remaining classics are Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh, and giving us Mike Pollock as Sonic the Hedgehog’s arch nemesis Dr. Eggman. 4Kids emphasized the message that playing a card game can solve all of life’s problems and that is particularly used in the film.
The movie uses a rather simple, cookie cutter plot so it can then dedicate most of ninety minutes to a drawn out card duel. You also need to understand the story of the anime to enjoy it – five-thousand years ago, Egyptian kings played the dangerous Shadow Games involving monsters and magic, but it soon become a deadly threat to the world. Until the brave Pharaoh Atem locked the powers away within the seven Millennium Items. In the present day, crazy-haired Yugi Moto (Dan Green) unlocks the magic of the Millennium Puzzle, Atem’s spirit inhabiting his body. By chance, the Shadow Games are reinvented as the Duel Monsters TCG, and everyone in the world plays the card game. Other spirits from ancient Egypt resurface through the Millennium Items, and the series explores the mythos of Atem’s past, and every situation or conflict is solved through duelling.
The plot revisits the backstory in its prologue, but also adds in the extra yet pointless subplot that Yugi’s completion of the Millennium Puzzle coincides with an archaeology team uncovering the lost tomb of Anubis (Scottie Ray). Yes, that Anubis, sort of. Instead of a fascinating jackal-headed death god, Anubis is reimagined into a generic doomsday villain who wants to destroy the world because he is evil. How creative. There is some vague notion that Anubis was defeated before by the Pharaoh, but considering how his character is never once mentioned in the rest of the anime, the canonicity of the film’s plot is debatable. Anubis gets his powers from the Pyramid of Light, an evil version of the Puzzle.
So you have a cliché villain with a evil version of the hero’s MacGuffin. You can tell the writers really wanted to tell an original story. Anubis manipulates Yugi’s egotistical rival Seto Kaiba (Eric Stuart) into pursuing his pathetic need to beat a boy at a children’s card game, since he is the biggest sore loser of all-time. Since Yugi is both the best duellist in the world and owns the unstoppable Egyptian God Cards, Kaiba turns to Duel Monsters’ creator Maximillian Pegasus for help, stealing two newly made cards that can bring down the gods. Kaiba then effectively kidnaps Yugi and forces him in a literal duel to the death. Anubis manipulates the game, trapping Yugi in the Millennium Puzzle, leaving the Pharaoh to duel with his and Kaiba’s lives on the line.
The duel is about as entertaining as card game can get in Yu-Gi-Oh, while Yugi runs around the Escher-style interior of the Puzzle, later joined by his friends, walking accent Joey Wheeler (Wayne Grayson), friendship-obsessed Téa Gardner (Amy Birnbaum), and Tristan Taylor (Greg Abbey) whose one character trait in the film is that his farts are funny. Pegasus, Yugi’s grandpa, and Kaiba’s little brother Mokuba also get involved in the story to spout exposition.
The best parts of the film are actually with our usually boring heroes, particularly when they stumble across Anubis’ tomb in the Puzzle and get into a fist fight with mummies, leading to a surprisingly gory brawl where they rip the undead limb from limb. Were the 4Kids editors half-asleep when they dubbed the film? Normally 4Kids would censor this sort of stuff but they are oddly lenient to the contents of this movie. Not only do you have the dismemberment of corpses, but Yugi gets stabbed from behind, and a card that frankly looks like icky tentacles if you know what I mean.
Frankly, the plot makes about as much sense as leaving dogs in a hot car with no open windows. Yugi could very easily end the duel of doom by surrendering or giving it. And then you have Kaiba, a fully grown adult, billionaire, and industrialist, throwing a hissy fit about a teenager whooping his ass at a children’s card game. In fact, Kaiba’s whole world is based around a goddamn card game. He uses his stepfather’s business to create a media corporation around it, owns a jet shaped like the Blue Eyes White Dragon, and in the sequel series, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, he has founded an official academy dedicated to teaching students how to play the game. Are you kidding me? Someone in the education system and the government thought this was a good idea. Oh, and don’t get me started on that episode where he threatened to commit suicide if Yugi didn’t surrender in a duel.
But, if this review had to dig up some positives, they are few. The animation is slightly better than that of the TV show, and the voice acting is top notch, particularly from Dan Green and Eric Stuart, who have somehow managed to make these tedious card games entertaining all these years. Though the plot is silly, there are some moments of adventurous fun and the use of nifty visuals, particularly during the interior Millennium Puzzle scenes. The franchise has continued to remain popular since it now has five series, each with characters trying to outdo Yugi’s crazy hair, and two more movies. This movie isn’t all that great in ideas or imagination, and really serves as the standard movie tie-in for anime of the time.
Despite the bashing of the film, Yu-Gi-Oh remains a nostalgic piece of my childhood and I revisit it every now and again. It still lives on in the form of Little Kuriboh‘s parody series Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series. But as for the movie, hopefully it will be buried within the sands of time and forgotten.
What are your thoughts on Yu-Gi-Oh and has it withstood the test of time? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.