Review From the Vault: Yu-Gi-Oh! (Manga)

(This Review was originally posted in the discussion board for a class I took about comics. I posted several others and will be posting those here as well for archive purposes. This was originally posted on January 16, 2014)

I’m a huge manga nut. It was mostly the advent of the anime versions of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball Z that made me notice Manga, and after skimming through a few volumes of Shonen Jump, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve read quite a few manga series including Legendz, Dragon Drive, One Piece,  Beet the Vandle Buster (On haitus since 2006…)[EDITORS NOTE: As of late 2015, no longer on haitus!], Yu-Gi-Oh!, Kinnikuman 2 (Ultimate Muscle in America), and Yu Yu Hakusho, just to name a few.

Something I realized after only reading a few of these is that it wildly changed my perspective of shows that I thought I had a good grasp on. For example, Kinnikuman 2 or Ultimate Muscle as it’s known in America is, in its American Anime form, a comedy cartoon about superpowered masked wrestlers. That still holds true for the manga, with the slight change that it is is horrifically violent. No, I’m completely series, you see guys straight up get bones ripped out of their arms; it’s rather jarring. The most jarring of these mangas, however, is a bit of a surprise: Yu-Gi-Oh!

Yu-Gi-Oh! today is best known for the popular trading card game, but it actually started as a manga series. Shockingly, there’s hardly any of the actual card game in the original 7-volume run; the game doesn’t even appear until chapter 9! So what was the series about? Well, if you watched the Americanized Anime, this part should sound familiar: Yugi Moto is a student at Domino High School who lives with his Grandpa, who runs a gameshop. A bit of a nerd obsessed with games, Yugi is treated like an outcast by everyone except for his best friend Anzu (Tea Gardner in America). However, there is one bright point in Yugi’s life: an Ancient Egyptian Puzzle given to him by his grandfather. Yugi has never completed it as it’s the most complicated puzzle he’s ever attempted, but as the legend goes, whoever assembles the puzzle is granted a wish. This isn’t easy as Yugi is constantly harassed by Jonouchi (Joey Wheeler) and Honda (Tristan Taylor). The two steal a piece of the puzzle, and another school bully, Ushio, offers to be Yugi’s body guard. Later, he show’s Yugi that he’s beaten Jonouchi and Honda into a pulp, and now is demanding Yugi pay him an absurd Bodyguard fee. Yugi attempts to protect Jonouchi and Honda, but Ushio beats Yugi up and gives him another day to come up with the money. Back at home, Yugi finally finishes the puzzle (Jonouchi having returned the puzzle piece to Yugi’s grandfather earlier that night) and becomes possessed by the powerful egyptian sprit within known as Yami, or YuGiOh, or The Pharoah, whatever you want to call him.

So, why did I just talk your ear off about Chapter 1? Because now you see how similar it is to the backstory given in the American Anime of Yu-Gi-Oh! And now you will see where it takes a sharp turn. Yami confronts Ushio and offers him the money, but only if he can best Yami in a game. So, what, now Yami challenges Ushio to a Children’s Card Game and we’re treated to product placement for the rest of the chapter, right? No. Yami produces a knife and explains that the rules of the game are to take turns placing money on top of your hand and stabbing at it with the knife to get as much money as possible without stabbing your own hand.

…Wow. That’s pretty morbid, eh? Well, that’s pretty much what the series is like. Among other things, the series has our heros fighting Child Billionaires, murderers, thugs, serial bombers, corrupt TV producers, thieves, and other scum of the earth, usually being resolved when Yami goes Jigsaw on them and challenges them to a game, often either ending with the villain’s brutal death, or Yami forcing them to play a “Pentalty Game” which is usually some crazy illusion that drives them insane. Trust me, this is anything but a children’s series. The series comes to a climax at two seperate parts:

The first is the return of Seto Kaiba, who early in the series did that thing in the Anime where he kidnapped Yugi’s grandpa to get the Blue Eyes White Dragon… blah, blah, blah. Well, he does it again, and this time he forces Yugi to pass through his new amusement park, called “Death-T”. As the name implies, each level is some elaborate death trap designed by Kaiba, and it gets pretty brutal, from a haunted house ride that will electrocute you if you scream to “Lethal Laser Tag”.

The second is the “Yami Bakura” Arc in which a new student, Bakura, invites Yugi’s friends over to play a tabletop game (Similar to Dungeons and Dragons) only to reveal that he has an Egyptian Artifact similar to Yugi’s which awakens a dark spirit within him. Trapping Yugi’s friends within the game, Yami Yugi is forced to play along to set them free. A very trippy second of the story, being told both from the perspective of the pieces, and of the two players above, constantly talking with one another as they face (especially from a Tabletop Gamer’s perspective) near-impossible odds.

So, that was a rather long-winded way of saying that if you hear “Yu-Gi-Oh” and scoff at what a “Kiddie” game it is, I’d hold off on that laughter until you give it a read. So, with the “It’s not for kids, it’s very violent out of the way” is it good? Well, it’s kind of like Saw or Heavy Rain, but the crazy guy making death traps is the good guy. It’s a very fascinating series, if only to see how the series continues to raise the stakes with its traps. It’s also interesting to note that this series gives the classic Yu-Gi-Oh characters a bit more backstory, such as a look at Jonouchi’s at-home life, Anzu’s dreams to be a dancer in New York (touched on in the anime, but gone into more detail in the Manga), and Honda’s love-life. In fact, even previously wimpy characters from the anime like Mokuba Kaiba come off as fierce and intimidating in this series.

If you’re a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, be sure to check this out, it takes your old perspective of the series and turns it on its head in a good way. If you’re not a fan, give it a shot; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

[Editor’s note: I didn’t score these, and I won’t be adding a score now in spirit of keeping them the way they were. The Yu-Gi-Oh! manga is great though, check it out!]

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