HIKOKUBO Masahiro (story), SATO Masashi (art)
Shounen – Action, fantasy, sports
9 Volumes (complete)
Yusei and Sect spend their days playing and practicing Turbo Dueling, the latest form of Duel Monsters. But as a major tournament approaches, strange things start to happen. Will Yusei figure out the true goal of these championship matches? Is it possible to defeat the current King of Turbo Duelists? And why is Sect acting so oddly?
First, I haven’t seen the Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s anime, so I can’t go into detail about all the changes made in this manga (which came afterward). However, even the artist comments talk about the several manga-exclusive characters — including some who are very important to the story. Plus, even when I was doing research for the Translation section, I could see descriptions which were significantly different. So even if you have watched the 5D’s anime, this story appears to share a few general concepts (the characters’ deck themes, dragons) but is otherwise a whole new experience. Maybe someone who has seen and read both versions can chime in?
Collectible card games (CCGs) are almost a huge financial investment for those who want to be a top player. They’re not like chess or even a video game where you can buy one copy and just train yourself into becoming a world champion. In the future, long after a boy named Yugi solved the Millennium Puzzle, the creators behind Duel Monsters eventually took the next logical step: playing their CCG on a custom-made motor vehicles. Yes, I remember watching Yu-Gi-Oh! all those years ago and thinking, “You know what would make this better? Go-kart races!”
Anyway, Yusei is one of these Turbo Duelists, spending all of his money into upgrading his Duel Runner. Although he and his best friend/apprentice/rival, Sect, live in a relative dump in Satellite compared to New Domino City, Yusei has managed to become a strong Turbo Duelist. However, one day, a skeleton riding a horse appears out of nowhere and knocks Sect unconscious. As Yusei tries to rush Sect to the hospital, the current King of Turbo Duels, Jack, suddenly challenges Yusei to a duel — and wins. When Yusei is issued an invitation to the premiere Dueling tournament, he vows to avenge his loss to Jack as well as solve the mystery of the Skeleton Knight.
Most of you are probably familiar with Duel Monsters and other similar games: summon monsters, use spells and traps to gain an advantage, and use them to wipe out your opponent. Turbo Duelists, however, play this while riding their vehicles. Getting ahead on your Duel Runner right after the starting line determines who goes first, and Duelists can lose the match if their Duel Runner breaks down or their opponent crosses the finish line first. Because not only can riders bump and block each other like in motor vehicle races, but they can also damage their opponents with their fighting spirit called Sense. (Think of it as chi combined with the ultimate VR experience.) So when Yusei or whoever gets a direct hit on their life points, they feel a shock, and it is possible to cause damage to their surroundings with Sense.
Of course, as established in the original series, Duel Monsters has a connection to ancient mystical arts, and Yusei finds himself mixed up in the history of the game. As the translator’s notes explain, while 4Kids! said the 5D’s part of the title represents five (or the fifth) dimensions, it actually means dragons. Yusei eventually tries to get his own special dragon card and defeat the others holding their own dragons. As he fights through the tournament, he battles some jerks, people with their own hopes and dreams, and even new friends in typical shounen tournament format, complete with ancient grudges and the ultimate evil.
While Yugi’s deck always seemed to have a new ultimate card, Yusei’s deck feels a lot more consistent. Obviously, this series was published years after the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, but I like how Yusei’s deck has a clear theme and that we see the same monsters (or at least the same family of monsters) being played. The tournament sponsor even says the duels are designed in a way that people couldn’t adjust their decks for a new opponent. Expecting a lot of Synchro Summons though, where Duelists combine the levels of their monsters to summon a new one from their mini-deck.
On the downside, Yusei and his companions compete quite a few times in this nine-volume series, and when combined with the racing elements, the battles seem to go too fast. It’s less slow drama versus a mad dash to the finish (literally). Again, without huge images of motorcycles taking up a lot of the pages, it probably wouldn’t feel so crunched for time. Even Yusei’s introduction feels rushed. While he is the best player in his area, I didn’t get the impression he was undefeated. It’s only later we learn why he is so frustrated when he loses to Jack; that hasn’t happened to him before. Considering how happy he looks battling Sect in the opening pages, it seems a little odd for Yusei to later admit he was standoffish and focused on victory instead of love of the game. I had a hard time grasping his personality because of this.
Part of me wonders if this is because of the heavy focus on a manga-exclusive character. Someone bringing in a new character to someone else’s work is always risky, as the author wants the new character to be welcomed into the cast and loved by the audience. But creators have to be careful not to be too partial to their own, and while Sect himself isn’t terrible, he does take time away from the others. Well, perhaps even more importantly than time is Yusei’s attention. Crow, for instance, is very similar to Jounouchi of the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, but because of the more immediate situation with Sect, we don’t get to see his outgoing personality play off the more calm Yusei. Akiza, the female of the group, gets one of her two key scenes against her old friend, someone we never see again and really don’t care about. Heck, I think the only other strong bond we see is between Yusei and his dragon.
Anyway, the tournament Yusei enters is hijacked by the threat of an ancient ceremony. Facing Jack is everyone’s initial goal, and it’s not surprising others want to take him down considering how haughty he is. Unfortunately, the fabled showdown is reduced to being an extended extra in the final volume, so it hardly has the impact of a built up rival versus rival fight. It’s two good sized chapters, but it feels more like fanservice than actual story progression.
There are also Duelists who can use psychic abilities that would have made Pegasus’ Millennium Eye completely unnecessary. That just feels dumb. And how much of a benefit is it to figure out the next card you’re going to draw just before you draw your card?
Sato hasn’t seemed to work on any other manga before or after Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, so but the art isn’t as weak as you would think from that statement. The style is very reminiscent of original artist Takahashi’s. I won’t say much about designs since Sato didn’t draw many of them, but no one would feel out of place if they were suddenly transported into the original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. The Duel Runners are also very well done, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy even with the help of computers. The cards themselves are recreated faithfully as well and don’t look out-of-place. However, the two youngest characters in particular have a habit of looking like aliens thanks to their hairstyle and overly-large eyes. As I mentioned, it can get a little busy with the Duelist, their Duel Runner, and their cards. But Sato does a good job with the actual layout, and it’s easy to follow the flow of the dialogue. Parts like Luna’s face are still rough around the edges, but Sato does a good job considering a lot of the designs are out of his hands.
No honorifics are used. The manga uses the dub’s names, so it’s “Akiza” instead of “Aki”, “Greiger” instead of “Boma/Bomma”, etc. Cards use their official English names. Notes are included, but at lot of what they’re referring to are simply dropped. For instance, the author’s (well, artist’s) notes talk about how Sect has a habit of saying “ari” at the end of his sentences. Sect has no verbal tic in the manga outside of maybe “Yusei, my man”. Although here’s the issue: later, we learn about Sect’s habit of calling Yusei “bro”.
The target audience skews a little younger than Yu-Gi-Oh!, and this audience will probably love the added flair of the Turbo Duels along with themed decks. They’ll also likely see a lot of themselves in Sect. Yes, I know “heart of the cards” and all that, but when human-card relationships overtake human-human relationships… yeah, I was disappointed.