You’d be hard pressed to find a better contender for the illustrious title of Yu-Gi-Oh!’s biggest fanboy than Seto Kaiba.
Maybe you’ve bought enough booster packs to support half the game stores in your neck of the woods. Maybe your hours of watching (or playing) children’s card games rivals your hours in class.
Or maybe, just maybe, you’ve amassed enough Yu-Gi-Oh! memorabilia to open a museum dedicated to the antics of melodramatic teenage gamers who live and breathe (and occasionally
die get sent to the Shadow Realm) the life of the violently absurd and insane.
Whatever you’ve got, Seto Kaiba’s got you beat. The guy runs a multi-national company based on developing technology for the Duel Monsters franchise. He gives away briefcases of rare and powerful cards just so he can beat you a card game. He arranges elaborate international tournaments just so he can have renowned, equally obsessed duelists duke it out for the crown of King of Games. He flies around on a Blue Eyes White Dragon jet, for heaven’s sake–all of this to support his lifelong aspiration to become the world’s top duelist. Yu-Gi-Oh! isn’t just a hobby, or even a career. It’s his way of life.
While nowhere near the franchise monstrosities of Pokemon and Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh! is still one of the more successful franchises spawned from manga–in 2008, Konami reported having sold over 18.1 billion Yu-Gi-Oh! cards–that’s a helluva lot of trading cards. And while it’s been over a decade since its heyday of selling trading cards and related merchandise in the early 2000’s to 2008 (not coincidentally, this was right about when the 4Kids travesty of a dub Yu-Gi-Oh! GX beat a hasty retreat due to poor ratings to make way for the “edgier” Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds), Yu-Gi-Oh! hasn’t completely vanished into the murky depths of obscurity.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t be a diehard Yu-Gi-Oh! fan without haven’t heard that in celebration of the franchise’s 20th anniversary–(feelin’ old here), Yu-Gi-Oh!’s got a brand new and shiny movie for fans to sink their teeth into. Only this time around, the OG crew’s back and ready to play some card games!
Yu-Gi-Oh!, like so many other shonen anime blockbusters, hasn’t had a very good track record for movies. Pyramid of Light , which wasn’t even written by Kazuki Takahashi, was little more than a 90 minute trading card commercial (The Japanese dub, which came later, was only marginally better.) Which is not so bad for your diehard Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, but from a critic standpoint, even I’ll admit it doesn’t stand up to a rewatch.
Bonds Beyond Time was a semi-interesting thought experiment, exercise in absurdity and marketing strategy rolled into one. What happens when you have key staff members involved in Duel Monsters, GX and 5D’s work on a project together? You get this time-traveling, flaming ball
of glory animated monstrosity…in 3D!
Despite being an obvious play to spur the tepid Yu-Gi-Oh! card game market, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions , out of the three internationally released movies, is really a love letter to the fans. We’ve still got some of the usual movie-only gimmicks: enigmatic villains with ambiguously nefarious agendas, SHINY new cards (go buy ’em right now!), and of course, how would Yu-Gi-Oh! be complete without some fabulous Pharaoh screen time? But the trailer suggests that this movie’s less about card games and more about delivering a satisfying conclusion to those fans that just won’t let sleeping pharaohs lie.
Seto Kaiba, as Dark Side of Dimensions seems to tout, is the quintessential Yu-Gi-Oh! fan. I’m not talking about the newbs who got into the franchise shortly after GX or 5D’s or Zexal. I’m talking about the old crowd, the duffers who would compete on the playground over who had the most Blue Eyes White Dragons, the folk that ran duels with antes–rare cards, star chips, locator cards, a soul or two–and played matches standing, old-school style, the same guys who either cried at the anime ending or broke something in frustration because they, like Kaiba, felt they were cheated out of an adequate ending.
The fans I’m talking about are the ones who gave up on Yu-Gi-Oh! after Duel Monsters ended, muddled through and/or gave up on subsequent spinoffs that “just didn’t feel like the epic Yu-Gi-Oh! they knew”, and were content to maintain fond nostalgia for the original series while deriding the misinformed souls who rode the waves of Synchro, XYZ and Pendulum summoning.
While the premise of Kaiba’s rivalry with Yugi has been so beaten to death that not even a Monster Reborn will help at this point, Dark Side of Dimensions is the first time where Kaiba makes a clear distinction in his rival obsession–after 220+ episodes, it finally hits him that the rival he has been looking for is not Yugi Muto but Pharaoh Atem. Who was dead but not really. But now he really is gone for good…or so we are led on to believe.
In any case, Atem is in a place where it is impossible for Kaiba to duel him. For Kaiba, this is crushing, as soul-crushing as it is for your Yu-Gi-Oh! fan to catch a glimpse of what looks like the Pharaoh…
…only to be whisked away to some snotty upstart kid with really bad gravity-defying hair.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology becomes indistinguishable from magic.” -Clarke’s Third Law
Kaiba is the epitome of obsession, and not the healthy kind. It’s ironic that a franchise promoting a trading card game would have a movie feature a character whose fixation on arranging one final duel with his longtime rival is borderline psychotic. For a man who has spent most of the canon rejecting the very notion of magic and ancient Egyptian mystical mumbo-jumbo, the lengths that Kaiba goes to duel Atem are ridiculous. He builds a space elevator which leads to a very secret space station to carry out his secret project (next thing you know, we’re having card games IN SPACE); he works on an AI to recreate an Atem he can duel; he hires an entire excavation team to unearth the buried pieces of the Millennium Puzzle; he invents new, snazzy holographic Duel Disc systems with all the new danger trappings to make the duel indistinguishable from the magic of a Shadow Game. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I would not be surprised if Kaiba also hired a bioengineering team to extract 3000 year old DNA (magically preserved in some sarcophagus) to clone a genetically identical Atem as a contingency plan should assembling the Millennium Puzzle fail.
Kaiba: “As soon as I win this, I can finally move on!”
Atem: “How foolish. It’s our pasts that makes us who we are today. You must remember what happened before, so you can learn from your past. You can’t ignore where you came from. Don’t you know? it’s our history that shapes our future, Kaiba!”
Kaiba: “Save it, Yugi! It’s time to move on, not look back. The past is over and nothing you say will change my mind.”
-Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, Episode 137 “Clash in the Coliseum, Part VI”
How quickly do we change our minds, Kaiba. Dark Dimensions Kaiba is the complete opposite of his Battle City self, who rejected the past in favor of looking ahead. Dark Dimensions Kaiba, a kindred spirit to the Yu-Gi-Oh! fan in denial, has taken Atem’s former advice a little too close to heart. He’s become so blinded (but hey, this is Kaiba we’re talking about) by his desire to get closure with the Pharaoh that he can’t even see Yugi’s strength. This impulse of overlooking Yugi as a potential rival is the textbook knee-jerk reaction of any Yu-Gi-Oh! fan–fans want to see Atem (or to hear Dan Green’s glorious baritone) not Yugi. It’s for this reason why we keep seeing Atem long after his grand sendoff (see GX’s finale, or Bonds Beyond Time, or this movie). We watch because we want to catch a glimpse of the Pharaoh, who for better or for worse, pretty much defined the Yu-Gi-Oh! we know and love.
But it’s called Yu-Gi-Oh! for a reason and what I hope Dark Dimensions attempts to do, is to close the chapter on Atem for the last time and free Kaiba from his obsession with a long-gone spirit that he didn’t even spend most of his time believing in when said spirit was still present. I want Kaiba and fans to have a chance to acknowledge Yugi as truly the inheritor of Atem’s strength…and as one who has (or will) transcend him as King of Games. I hear that Yugi’s entertaining ideas of becoming a card game designer. It’s a dream that’s befitting of his character and I can’t think of a better way of transcending game mastery to a whole new level than to actually go out and make a game that future generations will enjoy. (Even better if it’s not something ripped off of Duel Monsters, *ahem, Duke Devlin*)
So if Kaiba’s the rabid Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, then Yugi must be Kazuki Takahashi.
Kaiba: “When I say this duel is about the past, I mean it’s about burying the past for good. Yugi, once I defeat you and go on to win this tournament, I’ll be number one, not you.”
Atem: (dryly) “I’ve heard.”
-Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, Episode 137 “Clash in the Coliseum, Part VI”
The Dark Side of Dimensions isn’t just a love letter to Yu-Gi-Oh! fans, but a tale of caution. It’s okay to love Yu-Gi-Oh! to pieces, but don’t put the past on a pedestal (or go digging up ancient Egyptian artifacts to put in your dueling space station). It’s a funny message, almost contradictory with Yu-Gi-Oh!’s narrative and thematic framework of memory seeking and identity formation. Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters has always been a tale entrenched deeply in the past, but the takeaway message is that while the past is important in that it shapes who we are, we can’t let the past keep us from going after opportunities in the future.
So don’t be like fanboy!Kaiba and get hung up on not finding that pesky Pharaoh to duel. Otherwise you might be in for sure fire but long coming disappointment to find out you’ve been chasing after the wrong rival (again).
Enjoy your Yu-Gi-Oh! but don’t let your prejudices keep you from trying new things. Not all the Yu-Gi-Oh! spinoffs are terrible. And maybe, just some of them, might even be good.
Dare I say some might even surpass the original?
The future is looking pretty bright for card games.
Who else is going to watch Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions when it finally comes out in theaters? (for those of us unlucky enough to not be in Japan presently).