If you’re anything like us here at MCM Buzz, you probably grew up alongside a cavalcade of anime that made your childhood – Dragon Ball Z, Beyblade, Pokémon, and in particular for me at least, Yu-Gi-Oh! The card game based anime gave us so many memories that we still take with us today. So when I heard the first season of one of my favourite coming of age television shows was having its entire first season released on a box set, well, I sure was excited to review it, to say the least!
The series is as cheesy and fantastic as you remember, with the “so bad it’s good” dubbing during the beginning of the series, with the voice acting and overall show quality progressively getting better as it reaches the final episode. Of course, Yu-Gi-Oh! is also famous for its arguably good 4Kids localisation. For example, 4Kids edits out all handguns, leading to some scenes where evil henchmen are just pointing their fingers threateningly, amongst other strange happenings. But that’s just the beginning of it all. What we know as Yu-Gi-Oh! Season 1 was actually Season 2 in the original Japanese anime, so going into it as you did as a kid, a lot of things don’t really make much sense. What exactly is this card game they’re playing? Why does Yugi have a millennium puzzle that transforms him into a sexy Egyptian badass? Who the hell is Kaiba, and why is he so rich? We never really got a clear explanation for a lot of these things until mid-season through flashbacks, but in hindsight, it adds a lot to the mystery and intrigue of the series.
Unfortunately, we never got an English dub of what came to be known as season zero, which explains a lot of the above plot points, but the series quickly catches up in explanations either way, and the anime is a great example of a series that starts off as “eh” and ends up being quite simply fantastic, despite some of the shoddy localisations that make the series a little more child friendly. The show carries a lot of plots through for the long run, all leading to the payoff at the end, following the final duel in the tournament. Pretty much every loose end is tied, and we get a great happy ending. The dubbing starts off as being rather cringe-worthy, with a star performance from Barney the Dinosaur who voices Tristan (that was sarcasm by the way. But listen to Tristan in the first episode. You’ll never unhear it), to later on when we get Dan Green pulling it all out as Yugi. Looking back on Yu-Gi-Oh!, even later in the series we have some especially campy moments, namely with Yami Yugi’s reactions to trap cards, life point drainage, etc, but they’re all in good fun. In the beginning the anime very loosely follows the rules of the actual card game, but thankfully most of that is rectified by the end of the series. No more bunches of monsters being summoned in one turn, and thank Exodia for that!
Season 1 follows the adventures of high-schooler Yugi Moto alongside his friends Téa, Joey and Tristan, as they travel to Duelist Kingdom in a tournament where Yugi has to win to save the soul of his grandfather, stolen by evil millionaire villain Maximillion Pegasus, the creator of Duel Monsters. The story continues as Yugi and Joey, in the main, progress and defeat duelists of varying themes and origins, and from battle to battle we get to see the friendship of the classmates grow, as well as their skill in Duel Monsters. There’s a great mix of feel good moments, tear-jerkers and humour in the series that’s still loved to this day. Season 1 has some of the greatest moments in all of the anime of its time, and I’d really put Yugi’s battles with Kaiba and Pegasus up there with Goku fighting Frieza, Ash fighting Lt. Surge and Tyson fighting Kai.
If you’re a fan of the series, this box set is definitely for you. Not only does it contain every episode from Season 1, but right now, it’s quite good value for money, with around 16 hours of content over seven discs, and heck, it’s a pretty box on top of that. It is lacking in special features, with no documentaries, commentaries, deleted scenes or what-not, but it does include the post Duelist’s Kingdom filler arcs, the “Legendary Heroes” arc, set in a virtual reality, and the “Dungeon Dice Monsters” arc, which introduces a new main character going into the second season. It is disappointing that Dungeon Dice Monsters didn’t become more of a thing, but I’m also really glad Duke Devlin became a recurring character. We also get the two episodes that introduce Rebecca Hawkins, who turns out to be one of the more interesting characters in the entire series.
Overall, quality wise, the latter seasons of Yu-Gi-Oh! are a lot more consistent in terms of animation, story and dubbing, but Season 1 makes for a good watch if only for the nostalgia purposes. But even as a new viewer it stands alone, watching it either ironically or unironically. Yu-Gi-Oh! isn’t a series that’s really renowned for its stellar animation, but it does make up for it with what it’s remembered for – A story that’s memorable, iconic and has some seriously dark undertones, despite all the attempts at western censoring. Seriously. People go to hell, er… the “shadow realm”. Yu-Gi-Oh! was one of the most revolutionary ways that merchandising and a trading card game was incorporated into an anime, with reruns of the TV series still broadcast while the card game is still running today. Go back to where it all started with this DVD box set which is available right now! Place your trap cards, cast your spell cards, and summon your best monsters, because it’s time to d-d-d-d-d-d-duel!