Shounen – Fantasy, adventure, action
38 Volumes (complete)
Yugi has always had an interest in games and puzzles. But one thing has stumped him for eight years: the Millennium Puzzle. It is said that whoever solves this puzzle will be given a strange power. But solving the puzzle turns out to be only the first challenge Yugi will face.
The announcement if the latest Yu-Gi-Oh! movie with the return of the second anime series’ voices for Yugi and Kaiba made me want to revisit this manga. Does it hold up almost 20 years later?
Viz Media broke Yu-Gi-Oh! up into three series in order to speed up its release: Yu-Gi-Oh! (7 volumes, Japanese 1-7), Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist (24 volumes, Japanese 8-31) and Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium World (7 volumes, Japanese 32-38). The three series help separate Yu-Gi-Oh!, but each “series” is made up of several arcs.
Yu-Gi-Oh! is probably known for two main things: the card game and the 4Kids dub. The 4Kids dub featured heavy edits to make the show target children. But while this series is seen by many as only for children, the level is really not lower than most Jump titles. In one of the author’s notes, Takahashi revealed he wanted to do a horror manga. This series definitely incorporates some horror. The main cast faces several potentially deadly situations, both fantasy and real-life violence. Blood is shown rather frequently, and even the main rival once threatened suicide. All in all, this series is not as kid friendly as it is often believed to be (rated T).
Like many other manga series, Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s first few volumes (seven in this case) are quite different from the main, more famous plots. The original story dealt with a secret personality who tested others — from school bullies to hardened criminals — in a Shadow Game. The Shadow Games involved Yugi betting his life the evil inside his opponents would overtake them, and then he would give them a punishment when they lost. These chapters are quite episodic. Lots of characters appear, and some would never been seen again. Others — most notably the Kaiba brothers — are quite different from their later appearances. Although Kaiba the elder would later claim that even at his worst he would never force friends to fight in a death match, he once summoned an axe murderer to participate in a game. That’s pretty terrible as well.
The bulk of the series is the arcs that Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist covers. While it technically covers two tournaments and a multi-chapter side story, this section features several mini-arcs akin to most shounen battle series. Since battles are waged with cards, there is no training arc. Unfortunately, a lot of games come down to “this is the last card before I lose, but I’ll believe I’ll draw the one card I need”. The card game goes through a couple of rule changes to correspond with the real-life card game. In essence, though, it is akin to Pokemon: the anime (manga in this case) has the monsters doing much more than they can in the actual game. Despite having only 40 cards in a deck, the characters seem to put in new ones quite frequently. While real-life deck builders would agree this is how they operate, in manga-land, it just seems like too often they magically have a card to win that will never be seen again. It works in a battle manga where the main character can level up due to a burst of emotion. It doesn’t work so well in a card battle manga. But even in the card games, there is still the threat of violence and suffering. The two Yugis become more aware of each other as well. Both new and old characters get a chance to develop and help cover up the weaker parts of the card battles.
The final seven volumes (aka Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium World) involve the other Yugi discovering his past. Without going into too much detail, it involves the origin of the Shadow Games and Duel Monsters. There were parts I didn’t like, but I did feel like the ending was touching.
I think the best part of the manga is the bond between the two Yugis. Many manga that deal with two souls, one body deal with the more outspoken (in some cases, cruel) personality rejecting the other and whatever is important to the other. In this case, that aspect is reserved for villains. The so-called dark Yugi considers Yugi’s friends his friends. Yugi’s grandfather is still Grandpa. The other Yugi doesn’t mind being called Yugi. The two Yugis don’t always see eye-to-eye, but they learn from each other. Dark Yugi becomes kinder, and Yugi becomes stronger. It takes several volumes for them to fully connect, but it is this bond which helps form the heart of the series.
Like many other manga, several enemies become allies. Two of Yugi’s closet friends are former bullies. After her strong first appearances, the main female exists only to be the captain of the Yugi cheerleading squad and exist in a not-too-important love triangle. One of the other friends (Honda) doesn’t do much besides tag along. Jonouchi is given much more importance because he was the first between him and Honda to become Yugi’s friend, and he also becomes a card player. Kaiba greatly mellows compared to his insanity in his first appearances.
I had to wonder about some story choices though. Why would a guy think that defeating Yugi at a game he invented would make him superior? Why did he get to be in the end scenes after not being involved in the previous arc? And even at the end, I didn’t fully grasp the reincarnation aspects. The two Yugis, Ryo and the other Bakura, Ishizu and Isis…was it just supposed to be coincidence or fate?
Like many other manga, it takes a while for the artist to settle into his style. Fortunately, it is only a couple of volumes before the main characters look like their final selves. Takahashi’s style is very angular, with eyes, faces, and whole bodies drawn pointedly. Hairstyles are quite wild, and even many outfits have a kind of cool kid JRPG feel. Egypt plays a big role in the story, so there are several Egyptian influences in the art. Shounen manga generally has very busy panel layout and art in order to get as much story development into a weekly chapter of 15 to 20 pages. Yu-Gi-Oh! is actually quite calm in this aspect. Instead, the author includes a lot of character and monster closeups and short, straight-to-the-point dialogue to keep the reader from getting lost in the action while keeping the story moving forward. Since it’s generally card game monsters doing battle, most of the action is limited to physical hits and magic blasts in separate turns. The artist does quite well in drawing a variety of monsters, and some are quite huge. Considering this was drawn before digital drawing became more commonplace, it’s actually quite impressive. Even items like the Millennium Puzzle are presented quite consistently.
When I first read this series years ago, I remember being shocked that they kept the original Japanese names. The first volume includes a quick footnote of the 4Kids names, and some subsequent volumes include it in the character introduction pages. No honorifics are used except for one isolated incident. The adaptation does not force first names, so Yugi’s best friend is, fortunately, called Jonouchi and not Kazuya.
The Duelist series is done by one translator, and a different person did the other two. Reading it, there is a noticeable difference between the last volume of Yu-Gi-Oh! and the first of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist. The first arc contains swearing, but in the second arc, all bad words are replaced with nonsensical symbols like #*@$. It’s also more slangy and Americanized. (Duelist is done by the same guy as The Prince of Tennis, and you can read how I feel about that adaptation if you haven’t already. Fortunately, Duelist isn’t as bad.) At least Viz did not decide to try to make this an All Ages manga, so references to adult films and swear words are kept in. Cards are given their official trading card names. Duel Monsters’ first appearance is named as Magic and Wizards, its original Japanese name. Money is listed in yen with US dollars as footnotes.
There are several minor errors throughout the series. Pegasus’s name is kept as his dub name instead of his original Japanese name, but his Japanese name comes up twice. Mai’s last name is romanized incorrectly once, and Yugi is called Jonouchi once. There are several typos like 2400 ATK instead of 2500 ATK.
The worst part is the horrible speech bubbles. Instead of fitting the text into the speech bubbles or putting the text in the art and retouching it, Viz just drew text boxes on top of everything. So dialogue and thoughts do not align in their screentoned circles, and some balloon boxes are way to big and off-center. The text boxes often cover up part of the art. It was just a cheap and easy way to adapt it in order to rush out chapters and volumes.
I think a lot of criticism comes from the negative perception of the English anime. The series does not limit itself to just young readers, and the strategy elements can be quite engaging. It may not be the best Shonen Jump title, but it if you can get around the various story and adaptation bumps, the journey of the King of Games is actually pretty good.
Yu-Gi-Oh! was developed into two different anime. The first anime is based on the first seven volumes, while the second focuses on Duel Monsters and includes anime-only arcs. Spinoffs of the manga and anime still continue. And, of course, there’s the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game.
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