For those unaware about yours truly, make no mistake, I am a part-time nerd. Not full-time, I was never a big comic book guy, or watched copious amounts of gay anime like Crekkan, but I like many kids born in the 90’s, watched a fair share of cartoons. I grew up with two shoes I idolized more than any other – Top Gear, when it returned in 2002, and Yu-Gi-Oh, which Sky One first showed in the United Kingdom in 2001. I was a mere 9 year old at the time, and pretty much watched every single episode on a Saturday morning when Sky showed that double bill every week. Y’know, back when TV was actually worth watching.
14 years later, here I am. I’m 23 in two weeks time and yes I agree, I’m badly in need of a girlfriend. Until that miracle day comes, I thought it would be a fun idea to go back through the show’s history and review it as it went on. How many episodes do you ask? 224, across five seasons. If I somehow get through all of this, you have my permission to shoot me. Now, before we go on, let me establish a few ground rules:
– The actual card game doesn’t matter to me. It shouldn’t. Yu-Gi-Oh has NEVER played it strictly to the official game. And TV works by an entirely different set of rules. so sod it. As Drew Carey said so often: “The points don’t matter”, and neither does this.
– I’m going to assume you have some awareness of the show, because seriously why else in God’s name would you read this otherwise, BUT I will do some explaining where it makes sense.
– I’m probably going to review these episodes 5 at a time, in relatively bite size portions. Season 1 alone has FORTY-NINE episodes. And do you really want to read a 20,000 word piece?
– I’ll hand out scores after every part of the story, at the end. Like Doctor Who, I review stories as opposed to episodes. Some duels go as many as SIX episodes, so I’ll try to focus the bigger ones in individual pieces too.
Right, now we got that out of the way, strap on your Millenium puzzles, hold on to your pieces of Exodia, let’s re-watch Yu-Gi-Oh! *insert sexy secret transformation here*
Episode 1 – The Heart Of The Cards
Episode 1 of 224 *gulp*, is known as “The Heart of the Cards”. Don’t worry, you’ll be hearing this a lot. The show starts in a school where we’re introduced to the main protagonist, Yugi Muto, a 10 year old with awful hair, and his side-bitches, who are in short:
– Joey Wheeler: Yugi’s best friend who slowly becomes more and more Brooklyn based as time goes on. He’s basically a incredibly supportive, good-hearted meathead.
– Tristan Taylor: Sadly, his voice doesn’t give him super strength. He’s basically a dick.
– Teah Gardener: An emotional, but overly-preachy teenage girl. No, please, don’t stop reading. (Don’t worry, I won’t mention her obsession with friendship too much. Yet.)
Yugi teaches Joey how to duel, and Yugi smashes him because Teah calls him an “expert”, despite Yugi admitting he gets all his cards from his Grandpa’s card shop. Basically, Yugi is that kid in high school who has all the Ultra Cards and you want to strangle him. They talk about how they might have his Grandpa show them his “super rare card”, which is overheard by the show’s main antagonist, Seto Kaiba. He’s a rich bastard who just so happens to own his own massive company, Walm- I mean, Kaiba Corp. So of course, he still goes to school… Why?
So, they head to Grandpa’s game shop, and they show him the Blue Eyes White Dragon, one of only four in the world, given to him by a close friend. Seto Kaiba follows them in, and is willing to trade an entire briefcase of powerful cards, or buy it off him, because he really has OCD over blue-scaled Dragon’s. Grandpa refuses because he’s “bonded” with the card. Ew. Kaiba leaves in a huff, but not before revealing he’s apparently the best duelist in the world.
The next day, and Grandpa’s game shop gets broken into by three of Kaiba’s cronies, who then kidnap him and force him into a duel off-screen. When the main gang returns, they find out the shop’s abandoned, with Kaiba very conveniently calling to say “You might wanna pick up your old man”. Bastard, he clearly skived off school to artificially beat up an old man with duelling holograms.
The main gang run off to Kaibacorp HQ, and find Grandpa seemingly crippled, the result of losing a card game against Seto. Apparently, they both put their rarest card up in a wager, Grandpa lost, and Kaiba won his Blue-Eyes. Somehow, I really doubt Gramps agreed to that, but whatever. Then, Kaiba tears up the card. WHY?!
Look, I get that the show explains it was because Kaiba didn’t want anyone to use the card against him, but as the duel between Yugi and Kaiba revealed five minutes later, HE ALREADY HAS THREE. He’s already #1 in the world. Why not just have 4 and make your deck even better? What if he loses one? Does Kaiba have card sleeves?! Maybe it was for the best Kaiba still went to school, he’s clearly a goon. Anywho, Yugi takes his grandpa’s deck and swears revenge… by duelling him. I don’t know why he wasn’t calling the police for a BLATANT KIDNAPPING AND ASSAULT, but whatever.
The others take Grandpa to the hospital because the holograms were “too stimulating?” for him, but not before Teah draws a symbol on their hands because… friendship. You’ll be hearing that one a lot too. Also, Yugi’s millennium puzzle kicks in and he transforms into his Egyptian alter-ego, The Pharaoh. Which basically means he got three feet taller and his balls dropped.
So, Kaiba gets to show off his fancy holograms, and proceeds to beat Yugi down with his three remaining Blue-Eyes, while Yugi can only defend, while slowly drawing out the five pieces of Exodia, which by having all of them in your hand, was an automatic win. Of course, it had never been done before, but Yugi was able to, because…”The Heart of the Cards”. Common theme of Yu-Gi-Oh #1: If a protagonist’s in a pinch, a flashback, or questioning then reassuring yourself will always get them out of a jam. The Pharaoh’s side of him then destroys the evil part of Kaiba’s mind, because Egyptian magic said so. Remember that, it also becomes important, later. Also, the episode teases Pegasus, the show’s first major villain at the end, but more on that next episode.
So, how does “The Heart of the Cards” perform as a first episode? Pretty well, actually. It’s difficult for any new show to establish itself in 20 minutes, but I think it’s done alright here. You established pretty much all the main characters of the series (apart from Tristan, who at the moment is only there to take the piss out of Joey), you get the raw basics of how a duel works, and if you’re half decent at sums, you can follow the shows first duel without too much effort, even if you’re eight. Still not sure if Grandpa’s recovered from his heart attack, mind. 8/10
Episode 2 – “The Gauntlet Is Thrown”
The episode starts with Joey getting his arse beaten by Teah. Shocker. Unfortunately it’s not that kind of show. Turns out he filled his deck full of Monster cards, the poor guy. (Who hasn’t done that when starting out?) Grandpa Muto agrees to train Joey up a bit through Yugi’s emotional blackmail. (Man did he recover from that heart attack.)
They fast forward a few weeks, and it turns out, the word’s gotten out about Kaiba’s defeat at the hands of Yugi, as he receives a package in the mail from Industrial Illusions, the makers of the game Duel Monsters. Meanwhile, Joey’s still the whipping boy as he gets mocked by Tristan for… actually working hard. Seriously, Tristan’s a dick.
Meanwhile, the episodes gets more exposition out of the way by using the regional championship match on TV to explain a bit more of how the game works, ie. Magic and Trap cards, using two more minor characters, Weevil Underwood, who likes Bugs, and Rex Raptor, who loves Dinosaurs. You’d never have guessed, reading their names right? Maximillian Pegasus, the head of II was also seen given Weevil the trophy, and announcing a new tournament. On an island. Seriously, he must have Richard Branson money.
Afterwards, Yugi opens the package, and finds out it’s a duelist glove and videotape. Or so he seems, turns out it’s actually a “Shadow game”, and a magical duel through a TV screen, with a 15-minute time limit. Yeah, this duel is basically exposition central, where Pegasus explains that he didn’t actually invent the game, and that it’s based on magical battles, 5,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt, and explains the power of the seven millennium items, including Yugi’s puzzle, and his own eye. Yes, eye. I don’t think you can get that done at Specsavers.
Anyway, Yugi duels valiantly, but loses on a shot clock violation. As a result, Pegasus steals the “soul” of his Grandpa to try and encourage him to enter the Duelist Kingdom tournament, hence the gimpy glove, with Yugi pounding his TV screen in despair to end the episodes, like Season 5 of Game of Thrones has just finished.
Episode 2 is again, fine. A show in its early goings like this has to establish some ground rules and the show is doing a solid job of that, without beating you over your head with it. I don’t like it when shows and movies spend minutes on end giving exposition, and so far, the show’s done a solid job of spacing that out. And on top of that, it’s now set the scene for the overall scope of the series. One big-ass tournament and Yugi having to save his Grandpa, who has taken up a large chunk of the show’s first hour. No major complaints, except for Tristan’s pointless dickery.
A couple of interesting notes though – The episode has a funny flash-forward to the climax of the season during Pegasus’ exposition speech. Very odd if you’ve seen the series before. And also, why would Pegasus need to steal his Grandpa’s soul to get him on the island? I guess it’s another nasty case of “What do you get for the guy who has everything?”, although in the episode, Yugi acts completely unbothered by a potential $3m prize, so fuck me if I know what motivates a schoolkid besides Teah’s breasts. 7/10
Episode 3 – “Journey To The Duelist Kingdom”
Remember how I said they didn’t hit you over the head with exposition… Ah, there it is, it’s like I’ve been hit by Timmy Mallett. Yep, this is 20 minutes of fleshing out some of the characters.
First up, you get a flashback to how Yugi, Joey and Tristan became friends. Joey and Tristan were big guys, teasing Yugi, who called him wimpy, and threw parts of his Millennium Puzzle into the school’s swimming pool. (Seriously, the school has pools? Man, that’s crazy.). Turns out, despite the teasing, Yugi develops Stockholm Syndrome and saves them both when an even bigger bully tries to beat them up. They become friends afterwards.
It also turns out that Joey has an incentive to try and get to the tournament too, his sister Serenity, who has a near-incurable eye disease, and needs $3m dollars to perform the operation, which, coincidentally, also happens to be the Duelist Kingdom grand prize. Just one problem, Joey didn’t get an invite. He nearly gets kicked out, but Yugi saves him by giving him one of his two star-chips. So of course, Joey blurts it out on the boat they only have one chip each, which is real clever.
The boat also introduces us into the show’s other major female character, Mai Valentine, who dresses like a 1960’s Playboy shoot, and apparently has ESP. She’s able to bet her way into Rex Raptor’s bedroom (IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK), by predicting her own card deck order, and Rex loses his room. Poor guy.
Meanwhile, in a shocking plot twist, Weevil sees Yugi’s deck, and then decides to throw his five Exodia cards into the sea. Probably for the best in terms of entertainment value. I mean, did you really think Yugi’s trick with Exodia was gonna last? Wouldn’t have much of a show. Yeah, Weevil’s an even bigger dick than Tristan. Which is impressive given he clearly skipped Puberty.
Joey dives in to try and save them but fails, he and Yugi nearly drowning if it not for Teah and Tristan saving them, having snuck in via the ship’s cargo hold to end the episode. Mark it down, the first moment in Yu-Gi-Oh where Tristan isn’t a fool.
Yeah, this is a necessary filler, and it does what it set out to do, flesh out the main characters a little bit more, and I’d rather get that out of the way from now. And we now have an immediate plot point in Yugi wanting Weevil’s head for throwing Exodia into the Pacific Ocean. Coming from a guy who had his cards jacked as a 12 year old, I know how that feels. Surprised Yugi didn’t throw his 3’6” frame into the ship’s propeller for that. A little less conversation, a little more action, please. 6/10
Episodes 4 and 5 – “Into The Hornet’s Nest” and “The Ultimate Great Moth”
Right, next up is where things get interesting as the Duelist Kingdom begins with the first 2-part story of the series, Episodes 4 and 5, “Into The Hornet’s Nest” and “The Ultimate Great Moth”.
Once they’re off the boat, Yugi hunts down Weevil, wanting revenge for that whole “throwing the best combo in the world off the boat” thing. Weevil leads them towards a forest duelling platform where they duel each other. Turns out, this is an “all or nothing” match, where Weevil agreed to gamble BOTH his Starchips for a crack at Yugi’s one-chip AND his grandpa’s deck. Steruth, way to start small.
Also, there’s a hilarious line when Joey on the sideline is explaining to a couple of other duelists in the distance that he says he’s Yugi’s best friend, and describes Teah and Tristan as “trespassers”, with the music fading. Funniest moment of the series so far.
Turns out though, that Weevil tricked Yugi, again. It was his plan all along to take Yugi down a peg, and by leading them to a forest (With Weevil knowing about the field power bonus rules, because he stole the rulebook), where his bugs would be more powerful. Yugi gets used to the rule pretty quick, but Weevil’s got control of the match early on, littering the field with his bugs, but Weevil’s grandstanding allowed Yugi to come back with a combination of leaving his Dark Magician open, then catching him out using his signature “Mirror Force” trap card, wrecking his field to end Part 1.
In Part 2, Weevil double bluff’s Yugi with a meaningless trap card to play a “Cocoon Of Evolution” after his larvae moth, a 2000 defence point card that allows his moth to grow into a more powerful creature in 5 turns time. Yugi stalls for a while until combining his “Curse of Dragon” with a magic card that was able to burn Weevil’s forest down, making his cocoon weaker, before being able to puncture it one turn early. But even so, Weevil’s “Great Moth” survives the blast and takes the field (2600/2500). Yugi’s able to counter with the Gaia The Dragon Champion as a Fusion, but is weakened by a McGuffin – The Great Moth poisoning the air after its attack, making his Dragon Champion weaker.
Yugi gets around this by playing a Magic card that summons rain to wash out the poison, and give his Summoned Skull the power to beat the Moth, given it attacks with electricity. Because SCIENCE! Yugi wins, takes Weevil’s starchips, and the regional Champion takes an early exit.
So, what did I make of Yu-Gi-Oh’s first 2-parter? Not a bad start for the show’s first duel. They explained the field power bonus decently well (Although this becomes an issue later), the duel was well paced, and it had a pretty gratifying ending seeing Weevil getting swatted (See what I did there?) after treating Yugi like half-priced shit for three episodes.
I did have two issues with it though – There was a big continuity error in Episode 5, where the Dragon Champion gets destroyed in a battle with the Great Moth, but the Moth survives despite being tied on attack points. As I said, I’m not making real rules comparisons here, but that was pretty glaring, especially given they said it should have a been a stalemate in an earlier battle in Part 1.
Also, the Mai Valentine/Teah beef was a distraction. Now don’t get me wrong, Mai was right, Yugi’s friends grandstanding has ALWAYS been irritating, but the attempted humour between them when Teah gets heated, doesn’t really work. Besides that, not bad. 7/10
Funny Bonus Note – At no point do they actually call said Fusion: “Gaia The Dragon Champion” in the episode. Need any more proof that they were pretty much making this shit up as they went along?
So, that’s the first five episodes in the books. Not a bad start, all things considered. Like I said, a show’s first few episodes can often be the hardest to get right, as you have to get the right impression in early. And I think the show did do alright. Let’s see what happens when the real meat and potatoes of the series, and more duels, start to kick in. More soon…