History Of Yu-Gi-Oh!
Yu-Gi-Oh! The almost legendary card game that seems to churn out new cards almost infinitely. For many, the Card Game adventures of Yugi Mutou and his friends are enough to send most anime and manga fans into a wave of nostalgia, as the series is now over twenty years old it seems fitting that we discuss the history of the series.
Starting his Manga career in 1982, Kazuki Takahashi had a number of projects including Tokio no Tsuma and Tennenshoku Danji Buray: A sport series that took inspiration from Hirohiko Akahi’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Sadly neither of these truly took off with Buray only amassing two volumes before ending. Takahashi struggled for a few years working on bit parts here and there before working on his new title. Surprisingly, Yu-Gi-Oh began life as with a more Horror background and this is evident in some early arcs, however, being an avid gamer with hobbies such as Shogi, Mahjong, Black Jack and many other card games Takahashi began to show off what he could do with what he enjoyed and this was in a series about games.
As with most physical based games (except Bop-It) a requirement is usually to play with friends, and Takahashi used this in spades. Like most anime, Yu-Gi-Oh is filled to the brim with the power of friendship. Even the main characters Yugi and Jonouchi (Joey for you dub people) is based off the word yūjō which translates to friendship, interestingly a Shonen Jump Promotional Card ‘Yu-Jo Friendship’ was released based on the friendship of the two boys.
The plot behind Yu-Gi-Oh was always simple. A young timid boy who was often bullied solves an Ancient Puzzle causing his body to become host to the spirit of an ancient gambling pharaoh. Whenever himself or his friends are in trouble the Pharaoh would show himself and challenge the opponent of the week to a Shadow game with the loser having a fitting, sometimes lethal punishment for the loser. Initially, the series was a game of the week ranging from Card games, RPGs and even jigsaw puzzles against delinquents, teachers, and even prisoners. Most episodes ended with a cruel punishment. This introduced most of the main characters of the series including Seto Kaiba, Ryo Bakura and Shadi whom would play more important roles later.
‘Duel Monsters’ wasn’t actually as important in the earlier volumes of Yu-Gi-Oh. Earlier named Magic and Wizards in homage to Magic The Gathering and their producer Wizards of the Coast. It actually only appeared three times in the first sixty chapters. However, after overwhelming popularity. it later became centre focus of the Duelist Kingdom and Battle City arcs. An early game that was popular was the Monster Capsule that appeared around chapter 50 which had a number of games released on the Sony Playstation and the Nintendo Game Boy Colour.
When it came to the anime, Yu-Gi-Oh really took off. Thanks in part to 4Kids whom brought the series over and marketed it accordingly. Unfortunately due to the adult nature of the earlier arcs they made the decision to skip the entire first season of the series, it wasn’t until Viz Media brought the manga over in 2002 that the western world would know of the earlier games. The lack of a first season wouldn’t be the only list of crimes on 4Kids’ release however as the entire series had been severely edited to appeal to the younger generation. The removal of guns, major character development, religious symbols, Short skirts and Cleavage. Most instances of death were edited to ‘sent to the shadow realm’ amongst a cringe worth array of puns and pop culture references.
One of the most bizarre edits in the series was the change from one of the Egyptian God Cards ‘Osiris the Sky Dragon’ to ‘Slifer the Sky Dragon.’ Osiris was the god of the afterlife and 4Kids deemed the name not only too religious but also too affiliated with death in a series that had removed as many references as possible. But where would they get a name to replace it? Enter Roger Slifer, a man whom Co-Produced the first season of the anime in the US. Let that sink in people. They named an Egyptian God after a head producer of 4Kids.
Love it or hate it but the 4Kids dub of the series will be the one remembered by the fans. It introduced countless people to anime allowing them to jump off and get into other series. And unlike other butchered 4Kids series, the show is actually still watchable. Sadly there seems to be no official release of the original version of the series on western soil. In 2002 Viz Media gained the license for the English manga. Originally printing the first volume before continuing into the Duelist Kingdom and Millennium World, for many this was, and is the only legal way currently to get the original content of the series. They were divided, however, the reprints of the 3 in 1 volumes brought them all back together.
By the time the original series was into it’s Battle City arc the card game had really taken off and video game releases for the Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, Sony Playstation, Sony Playstation 2 Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Gamecube. While most of these were based on the card game itself the Playstation titles basically made up their own rules for the game. Some Game Boy Advance titles were based on the Battle City arc yet used rules made up from the Duelist Kingdom arc.
Included with these game releases came a lot of powerful promotional cards including Harpies Feather Duster, Slate Warrior, Sinister Serpent and initially was the only way to get Yugi’s Magnet warriors. While some of these cards didn’t get much use in the current game back upon release they were desirable with people buying the games for the cards alone. Often reported was a loophole with popular retailer GAME in which one would buy the game, remove the cards and return the game the next day leaving people buying the game later and finding the cards missing.
Another interesting release for the Game Boy Advance was a spin-off title based on the Dungeon Dice Monsters. Based on the arc of the same name in which Yugi fights an enemy on a dice based monster game. The game was complex and a lot more difficult to follow than the traditional game, Konami actually released the starter packs along with some extra pieces in the west, but, unlike the card game it never caught on and was left to vanish into obscurity. The video game followed the same rules and interestingly featured enemies from the original series amongst the more famous Duellist Kingdom and Battle City characters.
Unsurprisingly with the popularity of the series and with the manga in Japan entering its final arc the decision came to continue onwards with filler arcs including the Virtual World, Waking the Dragons and Grand Championship arcs. While the earlier arcs would sometimes include other series this was completely Duel Monsters, with each story arc seemingly only fitting to introduce new cards as seen in the physical game.
The Final arc of the series is known as the ‘Millennium’ Arc, another lengthy arc that had featured the ‘Shadow RPG’ a game similar to duel monsters only using stone slabs, in this arc they were used to try and reconnect the Pharaoh’s memories. The final arc is a final duel between Yugi and Atem, the Gambling Pharaoh of ancient past. The final arc is not only about death but the question of what happens after death, unfortunately, this was ultimately glossed over in the western anime.
The Manga ended on March 8th 2004 with the anime to follow soon after, the Yu-Gi-Oh series continued to generate business from the card game and overseas interest, made it inevitable that more series would be made and later in 2004 Yu-Gi-Oh GX began, not after Yu-Gi-Oh! The Pyramid Of Light and the made for the US Yu-Gi-Oh Capsule Monsters. Capsule Monsters was different from other US Yu-Gi-Oh releases as it focused on a new game; Capsule Monsters (not to be mistaken with Capsule Monsters Chess that was in the original Yu-Gi-Oh series and manga. ) in which the Pyramid of Light was a standalone film released in 2004, made by 4Kids for western audiences and was distributed by Warner Bros, it was based on a battle between Yugi and the Dark God Anubis. Much like with the games, special Promotional cards were released for movie goers.
The Yu-Gi-Oh GX series was completely about the Duel Monsters card game. With a new cast of characters with main character Jaden it revolved around a young boy who goes to a school all about Duel Monsters, battling friends and enemies alike. This was not the only Spinoff series that would come from Yu-Gi-Oh as 5D’s would follow GX with Zexal and Arc-V following almost immediately after.
While each of these series would introduce new things (card games on Motorcycles) it continued to follow the same formula of promoting the still popular trading card game. In 2012 4Kids filed for Bankruptcy causing Zexal to be up in the air, the rights went to Konami, amusingly 4K Media, a subsidiary of 4Kids Entertainment that was shut down by 4Kids were the ones who would gain the right to Yu-Gi-Oh and continue the releases as normal. Due to 4K Media picking up the series, and their agreement with Manga UK this has finally allowed the Yu-Gi-Oh DVD releases to begin releasing over here. So far we have the full original series (4Kids version) and releases of Yu-Gi-Oh GX and 5Ds.
In celebration of its 20th Anniversary (of the original Japanese manga), a new film Yu-Gi-Oh Dark Side Of Dimensions was released, taking place 6 months after the original series. At the time of writing a special cinema viewing of Dark Side of Dimensions is set to start from February 1st. A special two-part manga ‘Transcend Game’ was created by Kazuki Takahashi to bridge the gap between the film and the original series. This time focusing on Kaiba’s torment as without a rival he desperately searches for the spirit of the Pharaoh.
Yu-Gi-Oh has come a long way from being simply about a young boy making friends with the use of games. It’s become a juggernaut in its own right with the card game alone. It’s a great series to kick back and enjoy a few episodes of and despite possibly not getting the best version of the show we could have, it’s still watchable. And of course, there’s the Yu-Gi-Oh abridged series which is certainly worth a watch.
Here’s to Twenty years of Yu-Gi-Oh! I hope you’ve enjoyed our little trip down memory lane. So go ahead, fire up a DVD, find your old deck and I hope to see you all at the Dark Side of Dimensions in a few weeks.