I’ve been in a bit of a fandom kick lately but my holidays are almost done so I thought I’d do one last fan-post before I become distracted by the new academic year. I’ve been mentioning Yu-Gi-Oh! on and off lately (and re-watching it for the matter) so I figured it was about time I did a post on it. What’s my history with the show that teaches kids that any problem can be solved with a card game? To start, I was in a strange age when I first watched it (miraculously catching it from the first episode). I was just hitting puberty and although I was never really a tomboy it appealed to me more than Winx Club (which was the only other cartoon airing at the same time). Looking back I can’t explain what it was that captured my attention. I was watching a re-dubbed version of the 4Kids dub, so it wasn’t like the dialog was riveting or anything. Even then I thought some of the lines over-dramatic and perhaps it was exactly that that I liked. At least the show sounded like it was taking its story and audience seriously. How many kids’ shows today do that? There were stakes -bizarre stakes no doubt, but still- and even us kids understood that the words “Shadow Realm” carried a certain weight to them.
I’m not ashamed to say that this was the show that gave me my first character-crush. Yes, folks! While other eleven and twelve-year-old girls were sighing over Orlando Bloom I was crossing my fingers and hoped that my favourite, standoff-ish character would be in this weekend’s episodes. No, I’m not gonna say any names. I will only say that he wasn’t the main character. Whether it was my flair for the dramatic or my newly-emerging, loving-all-things-fantasy side that spurred me on, I was devastated when they stoppe0d airing the show one season short. Life moved on however and for a few years Yu-Gi-Oh! remained in the back of my mind as the show I used to love back in grades 6 and 7.
In the meantime the internet took off big time and with it Youtube and all those other wonderful places where you can watch your childhood’s obsessions armed with Nostalgia Goggles and lots of Ben&Jerries. I was looking for somewhere to watch Naruto when I stumbled across a website that had the entire 4Kids’d version of Yu-Gi-Oh!, including the elusive season 5. I watched the entire thing in two weeks (I had school) and from there moved to the manga (which was delightfully violent if not poorly scanned at times). To my disappointment I couldn’t find the subbed version of the anime anywhere (I’m still looking in fact) but I made do with what I had. And what I did have was good headphones and an ever-increasing familiarity with fanfiction.net and its curious ways. It didn’t matter that there were only two hundred and something episodes to watch and that I had already screenshot all my favourite scenes in the manga because the available fanfics -even narrowed down to not including the more…disturbing ones- numbered the thousands. -fangirl glee-
I watched and read and shipped and searched for interesting AUs and had a new favourite every other week. Not character, mind you, but ship, which is kind of strange for me. I’m usually pretty solid on who I ship with whom. Of course my OTP was, is and will be Azureshipping but I don’t really rage against other pairings. Except for the really weird ones and Peachshipping. It reminds me FAR TOO MUCH of Kataang…. (Mum, if you are readig this ask me before you google them!)
But surely, you say, something had to change with the passing of years. I wasn’t the plucky twelve-year-old anymore, surely my understanding of the show had change. In a way it had. I was more interested in the subtleties of character development than in the question of which monster would blow which up. And that was in part what led to a slight rearrangement of my list of favourite characters. Sure, Seto Kaiba was still in the top five (shoot! I gave myself away here!) but the number one spot was claimed by somebody else: Yami Bakura. Big shock, I know. And before anyone makes any assumptions, no, it wasn’t his ability to make the freaking Joker look tame by comparison. It was something really small that many people probably missed. In episode 84, Dark Spirit Revealed (part 3), Yami B. is faced with the choice of letting his host take a hit and possibly win the duel in progress or protect Ryou and watch his plan crumble…again. So far the character has been presented as a Bad-To-The-Bone so this should really be a no-brainer. But it isn’t. While the conundrum is being presented, the animation does a short close up to his eyes. For those who have not spent as much time as I have browsing trope pages and/or analysing books/movies/plays/whatever, a short explanation is in order. To my experience, this short of close-up is usually reserved for when a character is going through an internal clash of morals or other similar conflict. It is a very important clue to character motivations, especially when it is a character whose inner thought process is hardly explored. It is doubly important when one considers that this short clip was kept despite 4Kids’ habit of removing clips left, right and center…
Where am I going with this treatise? It excited my curiosity at the time. Then I watched Season 5 and a lot of Yami Bakura’s actions made a looooooot more sense. And before anyone goes off at me about the whole “I am Zorc” line, I would like to point out that at the original timeline (not the Memory World arc) Thief King Bakura and Zorc were both sealed inside the Millennium Ring. After three thousand years living in close quarters with the Master of All Evil (in-universe) it would be no surprise that they would feed off each other. And there was certainly enough of the Thief King left to rage against the Pharaoh’s court in episode 202…I believe. Fangirl soapbox moment over. What I’m trying to say is that there was a serious story being told under all the cheesy one-liners. Perhaps it wasn’t delivered quite the way I wanted (Bakura being the only main villain in the show not get a chance for redemption even though he was the one most deserving in my opinion…) but they managed to deliver a high-stakes game in a way that showed they understood what they were writing. There was no easy solution and the tension was rising with every episode until the rather deus ex machina resolution. And even that didn’t bother me. Zorc was a villain that required this sort of ending.
So here is why I still like Yu-Gi-Oh! even after all these years. Nostalgia aside, 90s cheese aside, there was a good story being told. There were likable and sometimes even relate-able character (and how often can you say that in a manga where people have magical artifacts at their disposal?). And, all things considered, it was a rather gentle introduction to the mad, wonderful world that we call anime. Am I glad to have watched it. Definitely.