I’ve been vaguely familiar with the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise for years now, but until very recently I hadn’t consumed any of its media. I knew there was a card game, video games, anime, manga and probably more, but I honestly wouldn’t have been able to say the first thing about it. But, with Yugi having a Donkey Kong Number of 2 (they’re like Bacon Numbers but better), I wanted to give him a try sooner or later and what better place to start than a special collection of the first three volumes of the manga?
For those of you who were as uninformed about even the basic premise of Yu-Gi-Oh as I was, let me fill you in. Yugi is a nice, regular kid at Domino High School. He doesn’t really have that many friends and generally keeps to himself because there are a fair few bullies at the school. His life takes a very unexpected turn, however, when he completes the ancient Egyptian Millennium Puzzle (which was a gift from his grandfather) and obtains the power of the Shadow Games…
The Millennium Puzzle causes Yugi to adopt a different persona (Dark Yugi) whenever he or his friends are in any kind of danger and the ‘normal’ Yugi is not aware of this. When Yugi becomes Dark Yugi, what I thought was going to be a fairly lighthearted series turns into some kind of mixture between the Saw movies and Stephen King’s Carrie. Multiple times I found myself surprised at just how dark the story had gotten.
Yugi is very nice and I like him a lot. That’s why I find it sad when he’s the victim of such extreme bullying. However, while I feel bad for Yugi, before long, I also find myself feeling sorry for the bullies. You see, these foolish teens who are trying to maintain their status in a world of judgement and peer pressure are about to meet Dark Yugi, and he is not going to let them off easy. In fact, while the bullies are generally shown as pretty all-round bad people, I’m pretty sure that Yugi would be disgusted if he knew what Dark Yugi was doing!
When Dark Yugi takes over, he initiates a Shadow Game and these Shadow games are always very dangerous affairs with high stakes. One of the milder games, for example, has each person pile money on their hands and then take it in turns trying to stab the money so that they can take it for themselves; the winner being the one who manages to get the most money. The penalty for the loser is, at best something that will make them lose their mind and, at worst, some kind of horrible, ironic death. The games and the penalties are nearly always made up to be some kind of punishment for a vice that the other person has, which is why it reminds me of Saw. Yugi even says “We’re going to play a game.”
Beyond Yugi, there are a few other characters. From the start he has a friend named Anzu, and I like her quite a lot due to the fact that she’s really the only nice main character besides Yugi himself. He also has a friend named Jonouchi, who actually used to be one of his bullies (strangely) and while he can be quite funny at times, he is generally a bit pathetic (always quick to anger and violence) and his other friend, Honda, is quite similar. There’s also another member of their group, Hanasaki, who isn’t in it as much as the others. He also seems very nice to me, and I feel very sorry for him (for reasons I shan’t spoil).
One thing I have to wonder about, however, is why Anzu wants to be friends with Jonouchi (and to a lesser extend Honda) when he just generally acts very inappropriate around her (for example, doing a ‘Pant Tank’ where he uses a plank to lift up her skirt and see her pants). It’s not hugely common, but little things like that happen every now and then, and they always seem a bit creepy. Even Yugi has small moments like this from time to time, and while it’s never that bad with him, I do wonder why they were included. I think it’s supposed to be quite funny, but for me it just makes the characters less likeable and they never really treat it like it’s bad either; Anzu will get mad, but other than that it’s like it’s all a big joke.
But that minor issue aside, I was very pleased with what I read. The characters all have strong personalities, and I always want to find out what’s going to happen to them (even the more flawed characters) and, with no foreknowledge of the series, it often felt very intense, as I genuinely had no idea which direction the story would go in. I suppose, to use a cliché term, it was a real ‘rollercoaster’ of a read; one minute it could be light hearted and funny, the next deadly serious. This may have been the first of Yu-Gi-Oh I’ve tried, but it certainly won’t be the last.
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