Contrary to popular opinion, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX does not suck.
Part of the backlash, I think, originates in the fact that GX’s position within the Yu-Gi-Oh! chronology is an unenviable one. No one wants to be that goofy spin-off series following immediately after one of the most ridiculously epic anime of all time.
GX does have some huge glaring moments of major suck, moments that should be trashed into the depths of space (preferably with the Light of Ruin). Long decried as a series filled with more plot holes than you can shake a Winged Kuriboh at, it is an unwieldy, ambitiously ridiculous, glorious mess.
Glorious mess that it may be, GX also happens to feature some of the best duels in the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise. Ridiculously overpowered monsters with insanely high ATK and/or OP special effects? You got it. Crazy plot twists during duels? Naturally, GX gives us these in spades…and then some. GX finds out that the marriage between excessive drama and card games make a volatile relationship and while the duel mechanics themselves may make more sense this time around, the duel circumstances often don’t.
It may not be quite to the quality of epic the original series was, but that’s actually okay. It doesn’t have to be. It is what it is and goddamn it, don’t we begrudgingly shower it with some love anyway?
Without further ado, here’s my perfectly scientific methodology at work for evaluating Yu-Gi-Oh! duels, the most ridiculous children’s card games ever. And yes, I did watch all 180 episodes of GX…be impressed by my masochistic love for children’s card games.
And because I’m such lovesick masochistic sucker for card games, we’ll open the list with a few notable honorable mentions. These duels didn’t quite make the cut for the top ten but are fine duels in their right.
[A few housekeeping notes:
*GX Subbed >>>>> 4Kids Dub. Despite having grown up with the 4Kids dubbed version of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series…and somehow liking it (somewhere out there, a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan is tutting me), I rather despise the 4Kids dubbed version of GX. The name changes are obnoxious, the voices (and added accents) are grating, and the heavy dialogue edits are frankly annoying and often nonsensical. I ended up switching over to the Japanese dubbed partway during season 2, just because I could not stand the 4Kids dubbing, which made everyone sound like elementary school children. Not to mention they didn’t even finish the job of dubbing all four seasons and stopped short at the penultimate episode of the third…and making Yu-Gi-Oh! history by creating the first open-ended Yu-Gi-Oh! finale.
For those with the misfortune to have only watched the 4Kids, here is a quick guide to the names mentioned in this list. As you can see, some name changes are worse than others…]
|Yuuki Judai||Jaden Yuki|
|Marufuji Sho||Syrus Truesdale|
|Tenjoin Asuka||Alexis Rhodes|
|Manjoume Jun||Chazz Princeton|
|Misawa Daichi||Bastion Misawa|
|Marufuji Ryo||Zane Truesdale|
|Tenjoin Fubuki||Atticus Rhodes|
|Edo Phoenix||Aster Phoenix|
|Kenzan Tyranno||Tyranno Hassleberry|
|Austin O’Brien||Axel Brodie|
|Saotome Rei||Blair Flannigan|
|Johan Anderson||Jesse Anderson|
Honorable Mention #1- Judai/Asuka vs Kenzan/Rei
(World of Darkness Arc)
I confess, a huge reason why this particular duel almost made the list is due to my not-so-subtle bias towards Tenjoin Asuka (Alexis Rhodes for you English dubbers). At least in the Japanese version, she’s a bit more cool-headed, less blonde bimbo and holds her own in duels. Her Cyber Angel/Warrior deck isn’t a particularly flashy one (it’s certainly not a ridiculously expansive deck like Judai’s Elemental Heroes), but it’s a solid one nonetheless.
There’s a certain charm in tag-team duels, which appear more frequently in GX than in the original series. Thanks to an improved gameplay, duels are no longer tedious, with duels averaging around 1-2 episodes, we get more card action per episode (strangely enough, the ratio of action to chatter is still roughly 1:1).
This one’s particularly memorable because of the challenge the modified tag-team duel rules pose. Instead of the regular tag team rulings, we have both players sharing the same field, which requires a bit more synchrony than your usual tag team. Of course, with the all star dueling match-up of Judai and Asuka, the top senior boy and girl duelist respectively, you’d think this duel would be a cakewalk.
I love Asuka because she’s not willing to just be along for the ride. Judai mercilessly crushes his opponents but does it solo, blatantly disregarding Asuka’s cards and Asuka’s help. Sure, his way is certainly effective but Asuka’s not taking it lying down because Judai doesn’t treat her cards—or her—very right at all. The whole point of tag-team dueling is partnership, not having one strong player dominate the field.
WTF move: When Rei plays “Partner Change”, allowing Asuka to switch partners if she elects to. A well-timed play that takes advantage of Judai & Asuka’s deteriorating relationship and Asuka happily agrees to switch partners with Rei.
While Rei undoubtedly played “Partner Change” in order to get a chance to pair up with her favorite Osiris Red senpai, her move actually helped Asuka and Judai mend their bond. Of course with these two young hotheads, it’s not surprising we need them to fight it out to figure out that they actually can work together. And boy oh boy, when they do, it is a beautiful thing.
Honorable Mention #2- Manjoume vs Manjoume Brothers
(Duel Academia Arc)
“Sure, these guys may have zero ATK! And their appearances and personalities are the worst, no doubt about that! But they taught me something…that at the bottom lies the bottom! And compared to these guys, I’m a hell of a lot better!” -Manjoume Jun
Aah, Manjoume. He is such a great guy and despite being a main supporting character, he actually gets a decent amount of screen time and character development, especially in the first half of the series. He’s set up to be Judai’s foil—the elite Obelisk Blue student who runs a Power deck against dropout boy, Judai, with a deck made up of mostly common cards. But his frequent deck changes are attributed to his personality and character growth and Manjoume, perhaps, more than Judai, truly embraces the strength of the underdog. He falls and hits rock bottom (and then falls some more), has tasted the agony of defeat and comes back stronger each time. This is also why Manjoume’s duels are so fun to watch, but while Judai’s Elemental Heroes and Neospacians are old hat strategies simply because we see them so often, Manjoume (and his constant deck-changing) brings something new and fresh to each game.
There aren’t very many GX duels that I rewatch (in fact, many of them are forgettable), but this is one that is very rewatchable. Manjoume’s less than warm relationship with his brothers is a sticking point in his character development—funny how he learns more about brotherly bonds from his Ojama Brothers cards rather than his own kin. You’d think that a duel where you can’t play any monsters with more than 500 ATK would be a dull one but Manjoume shows us that basing a deck’s strength on ATK only (which may have been more effective in the first series) is child’s play. That might work with traditional vanilla (no special effect) monsters, but young’uns know a special ability is worth more its weight in ATK these days.
Crowning moment of awesome: When Manjoume plays Ojama Delta Hurricane, which basically kills off all monsters on your opponents’ side of the field. Yes, sir, you just got schooled by a bunch of googly-eyed aliens in speedos.
Honorable Mention #3: Judai vs Darkness
(World of Darkness Arc)
“We have no reason to fear the future! We know all the things we’ve fought with these cards! As long as we have these cards, we will always have friends fighting alongside us! No matter what, no matter when, we are never alone!” -Judai
Funny, I don’t remember this duel as a philosophical one, but that’s really what it is. For a finale, it’s one that took its sweet time coming. The fourth season (the one that was never dubbed by 4Kids for reasons that are probably less interesting than we think) was the shortest out of all the GX seasons, but it conversely also packed the most material and relevant plot turns. We revisit the theme of the universal struggle between light and dark, with light being destructive and dark being gentle. Well, it turns out that not all darkness is gentle.
WTF move: When Darkness literally soul-rapes Judai with Darkness Seed, one of his cheater cards that lets him take control of any one of Judai’s monsters from his deck…naturally he goes after Yubel and forces her to fight against Judai.
I’m not totally against Darkness’s character design (and thematically, his deck actually fits his philosophy) but man, does he look silly. He’s basically a skeleton garbed in some robes…and his cloak becomes his duel disk (WTF, right?). As the embodiment of despair and forsaken dreams, Darkness isn’t so much of a character as a force of nature, which makes him a less interesting villain, possibly the most boring antagonist in GX aside from the Light of Ruin in Season 2.
For a duel though, this one’s not bad. Actually, it’s pretty great. We not only get to see Yubel in action, but also get some great combos with cards like Super Fusion, Neos Wiseman and OMFG, it’s God Neos!! Darkness’s Darkness deck (I know, real original) is as ugly as its owner.
Darkness feels a bit redundant given all of the stuff previously covered in earlier seasons. They’ve been hammering home that it is light, rather than darkness, that is the enemy, yet here we have a primordial spirit that wants to bring about destruction through oblivion. Darkness’s world is pretty much synonymous with death, as he invites those who have given up on their dreams, their aspirations, their futures into the quiescence of nothingness. Life is painful and the future is uncertain, so why not just give up? But as per the Yu-Gi-Oh! formula, Judai calls on the power of friendship and card games (really, just a marketing ploy to sell more trading cards, but we’ll let that slide), which help duelists form bonds, develop their skills and confidence to face the world head on. Because as long as you have card games, your futures gonna be a-ok.
Now with the Honorable Mentions out of the way, let’s get to the Top Ten List!
10. Judai vs Asuka
(Society of Light Arc)
“Listen, Asuka! Whether it be a white night or whatever, every night has its daybreak! The sun will still climb high! So cut it out and open your eyes! This isn’t the real you!” -Judai
I have a lot of issues with the second season. Contrary to my initial reaction to the first season, I do believe that the second season is worst out of all GX seasons. It meanders aimlessly, like a lot. While the first season had its charm, a sort of dueling slice of life, the second season seemed to undergo an identity crisis, varying wildly in tone from episode to episode. The Society of Light element was interesting, but was pushed to the side by the introduction of the Genex tournament, which was then pushed to the side at the season’s finale.
My issues aside, I do rather like this duel. It’s a call back to the friendship duel between Yugi and Joey in the first series (you know, the one where Yugi and Joey are chained by an anchor and almost drown…yeah, that one). Of course, this is GX, so the stakes aren’t quite as urgent. Asuka, under orders from Saiou, wants Judai’s key, which is one of the keys needed to gain control of a satellite that can somehow destroy the whole world…yeah, that one. Meanwhile, Judai wants to knock Asuka back to her senses because world-destroying cults aren’t cool.
Despite being brainwashed, Asuka duels very well, and her White Night deck is cool in more ways than one. It’s a lethal deck that works to seal off an opponent’s ability to play spell and trap cards.
White Night Dragon is a wicked card, kind of similar to Blue Eyes in appearance and Asuka’s combos with cards like White Veil and Snow Sprite keep Judai under ice.
Facepalm moment: Basically any time Manjoume mentions his undying love for Asuka. Actually, any time he opens his mouth, period.
We’ve been associating darkness with good and light with evil, so the concept of a “white night” is a rather strange one. It might be of interest for you to know that a “white night” refers to a night that’s not properly dark, the sort of weather you get if you live close to the north, or it can also refer to a sleepless night. This ties back to the notion of the balance of dark and light. Night is often thought of a scary time, but it’s also a time of rest and healing. (Not to mention passion of love…but we won’t go there, it’s card games, after all).
Appropriately, Judai responds ice with fire, as he struggles to stay warm on the field while rekindling the fire of passion in Asuka’s frozen heart. Which he does, quite literally. Nothing like a flaming punch to knock your friend back to her senses.
9. Judai/Johan vs Martin
(Spirit World Arc)
“Rainbow Dragon! Fly! Become everyone’s bridge!” -Johan
You know you’re in for a world of awesome when you stick Sacred Beasts, Crystal Beasts, and Neospacians together in a duel. This is the first time in Yu-Gi-Oh! history that a one-on-one duel becomes a tag-team duel midway. And while we might “ooh” and “aah” over the semi terrifying
Egyptian god ripoffs Sacred Beast cards, the best part of the duel is probably the love triangle drama that spills out partway.
Johan: “I’ll protect Judai with all my might, even if I have to sacrifice myself!”
Martin: “Oh? Why would you bother?”
Johan: “Isn’t it obvious? Judai’s my friend! And not just that–he’s my BEST friend!”
So now it’s not so much about the fate of the world as it’s about who gets to be Judai’s best mate. So much fodder for Spiritshipping (JudaixJohan) fans. Which is so absurdly Yu-Gi-Oh. Turns out the mess with exposing teenagers to extreme exhaustion, absurdly harsh elements, starvation, exposure, actual Duel Monsters and zombie sickness all came down to one seriously deranged, lovesick Duel Monsters card with jealousy issues that Judai sent off to space when he was in kindergarten.
Crowning moment of awesome: When Johan summons Rainbow Dragon for the first time.
There have been a lot of comparisons made between Johan and Judai being similar. They have similar dueling philosophies (dueling is the best thing since fried shrimp); similar dueling personalities; and even similar ‘dos.
But it’s in this duel that we really see the difference our duelist duo–specifically their maturity when Johan, seeing that defeat was imminent, makes the decision to sacrifice himself to protect everyone else. Judai hasn’t previously been put in the position where he’s had to make a choice like that and our suspicions are confirmed a few episodes later that he’s got a lot more growing up to do.
8. Judai vs Brron, Mad King of Dark World
(Dark World Arc)
“What should I do? If this duel goes on, I’ll lose my life…I’ll die…but if he [Brron] loses his life, my friends will die…If that’s the case, I’d rather kill myself!” -Judai
It’s not the first time Judai’s friends have been locked up in a book (check out Judai’s duel with Amnael in Season 1), but it’s the first time his friends have been subjected to such peril. The dim and gray color palette of Dark World (or just a crappy animation budget) works well with the dark turn of events in this GX season. Our intrepid band of teenage card-wielding duelists, seeking one of their own, venture into the dimension of Dark World, an unforgiving realm where to lose a children’s card game means to die. No Shadow Realm, no friggin’ “sent to the stars” nonsense, 4Kids–why the hell can you have psychopaths lusting after prepubescent boys but you can’t have characters kick the bucket when it’s so obvious?
Judai’s had plenty of “close calls” but in a duel where his opponent’s deck strategy relies on “sacrifices”, it’s thematically appropriate that the notion of sacrifice be explored. Judai finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place–his victory results in his friends’ dying and his loss means his own death.
WTF move: Brron plays Wicked Canon, which allows him to sacrifice four of Judai’s friends to attempt (and fail) to create a super-special-awesome-totally-evil-super card, Super Fusion.
How to go on when all hope seems lost? Pound Brron a grand total of four times. Not that we’re feeling much sympathy for the guy but ouch, that’s got to hurt.
Of course, for the defeated, death is but a relief, but the living are not quite so fortunate. Having lost all of his friends (even the staunch Sho has forsaken him) Out of the negative emotions from Wicked Canon, “doubt” is the one that is left behind and quite fittingly, it is Judai’s doubt that drives him to question his morals, slide down the slippery slope of vengeance and become the very thing he hates.
7. Supreme King vs O’Brien
(Dark World Arc)
“I realized that there are two kinds of power…[strength] and the power that nobody looks for, but the power everybody needs! The power that everyone needs gives them infinite courage. Now, I’m here with the help of what everyone who needs my power gave me: courage!” -O’Brien
What does it mean to be an adult? Good luck trying to get an answer from these kids, but one of them seems to have found the answer. Austin O’Brien (better known as just O’Brien), is one of GX’s less sung heroes. And he is a great example of good character development, a classic case of antagonist-turned-hero. Unlike certain recurring characters who either go through sporadic, jerky character development (i.e. cough, cough, Misawa) or stay the same, more or less (i.e. Fubuki), it’s always heartening to have a cool character (other than the Yutagonist) save the day. It is the darkest of times that one finds despair but if one looks a little harder, hope and courage aren’t so hard to unearth.
Unlike the others, O’Brien comes from a military background and as such, he’s well aware of the harsh realities of the world. Out of everyone at Duel Academia, he is also the only one, besides Jim, who is really an adult (how old is he again?). And confound all children-targeted programming, is it really so bad for an adult to swoop in to save the kid for once?
“Jim…your last mission. I’ll finish it.” -O’Brien
This is an angry duel, and both sides won’t budge an inch. Supreme King Judai’s Evil Hero deck is more bite than bark, and the advantage of having cards like Super Fusion, Dark Fusion, and Dark Calling to keep his Evil Heroes packing with punch. Meanwhile, O’Brien fights fire with fire, his Pyro deck combos steadily blast Judai’s life points with every turn.
Crowning moment of awesome: O’Brien makes a miracle draw on his last turn and brings a would-be loss into a draw with sending his Volcanic Counter to the Graveyard to inflict the same damage he received to Judai’s Life Points as well.
O’Brien, having tasted the darkness in his own heart, battles on, heartened by the reassuring spirit of his fallen friend. Even when there is no hope, he grasps for it nonetheless and finds the strength to make the impossible possible.
6. Judai vs Johan vs Fujiwara
(World of Darkness Arc)
“The darkness in my heart…is Judai? You’re not wrong, I do really want to beat Judai. But isn’t that obvious for a duelist?” -Johan to Fujiwara
Whoo! We have our first GX Battle Royale, a three-way duel that actually is a tag-team match of our two spirit-talking duelists and one insanely neglected and emo Fujiwara who wants to envelop the world in eternal darkness…yeah, buddy, get in line with the rest of them GX antagonists with vaguely heinous goals.
I realize it’s rather biased of me to stick so many of Johan and Judai’s duels together so often in this list but I can’t help it–they’ve got good chemistry goin’ on, both on and off the dueling field. We see the return of all star cards like Rainbow Dragon, Elemental Hero Neos, and of course, Rainbow Neos.
WTF move and Crowning moment of awesome: Johan and Judai show us their acting chops when they fool Fujiwara into thinking that they’re attacking each other while they pull off a concerted multicard combo (Amethyst Cat –> Damage Interest –> Damage Capture ) to raise Sapphire Pegasus’s ATK to a whopping 3000. Guess who becomes Sapphire’s target? Hint, it’s not the guy with the Kuriboh hair.
While Judai’s role as the King of Gentle Darkness has been consistently mentioned, not much has been explicitly said about Johan, but we do have some morsels of theoretical speculation. Given Johan’s light-based ace, Rainbow Dragon, as well as Fujiwara’s failure to find any darkness in Johan’s heart (really, a desire to beat Judai is the best evil you can muster in this fellow’s soul? He’s either a saint or you’re not looking hard enough), it’s not too far of a stretch to consider that Johan may represent light of a different variety from the Light of Ruin we’ve encountered previously. Hey, if it’s possible to have a destructive and gentle darkness, why not a destructive and gentle light? We’ve seen GX-verse make wilder conclusive jumps before.
Johan and Judai are either insane or brilliant (most likely both) for finding the moment to laugh and have fun during a high-stakes duel. But this duel really is a testament of their friendship and how they are able to read each other so well and cover each other’s backs. Truly the pinnacle of tag-team dueling.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2, which covers the top 5 duels in Yu-GO GX history…