Fourth grade was a pivotal year for me. It was my final year at Saint Thomas Moore School, a private Catholic K-8 school in Louisville, Kentucky (which would eventually shut down the next year). It was the year my best friend at the time, Janie, told me she would soon move to Wisconsin. It was the year of easily the greatest birthday party any Spongebob SquarePants fan could ask for (real Krabby Patties and a treasure hunt for the goodie bags in my backyard forest? I think yes!).
It was also the year of the heart of the cards.
I kept to myself often when I was younger. I wasn’t very good at making friends. But there was one thing that I had, and that was Yu-Gi-Oh!. The story of a socially awkward teen who kicked ass and took names with the spirit of an Egyptian pharaoh through a children’s card game, as LittleKuriboh eloquently puts it, made my nine year old imagination run wild. The awe-inspiring monsters, the epic battles, my first crush on a fictional character (Atem, you will always be my favorite pharaoh!)…it became my absolute favorite thing in the world. I looked forward to the end of the school day when I would plop in front of my TV at precisely 4:30 pm to watch the newest episode. If I was staying after school, I would watch it on the TV in the gym’s concession stand area.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. I was regularly picked on by older kids because I was the only girl in school who liked the show, and probably the only person in the whole building who cared that much about it. But honestly, I didn’t care. I had something that I loved, that I was passionate about, and I had people to share it with. To me, that was all that mattered.
However, all good things must come to an end…even if they’re for stupid reasons.
One day while reading a gaming magazine’s special issue on Yu-Gi-Oh!, I found a picture which contained a strange symbol. Not knowing what is was, and being the conservative Catholic I was at the time, I immediately thought it to be Satanic in nature (which in my young mind was one of the worst things something could be). I immediately gave away my cards, stopped watching the series, and told everyone I knew to avoid it like the plague. Anytime I got the “urge to partake” in the show or game again, I chalked it up to idolatry sneaking into my heart, the devil calling me to taste my forbidden fruit once more. Years later, I found that the symbol was actually made up for the series, and had no religious significance in the real world whatsoever. You can imagine how stupid I felt. I still kick myself for how gullible and dumb of a child I was. To this day, I nostalgically enjoy the original series (’cause come on, nothing beats ancient Egypt) and the game, even though I’m poor and can’t afford the cards anymore and the rules are so weird now that I would have no idea where to start (haha). Hell, I’m starting the Japanese version of the original series on CrunchyRoll, and I’m loving it so far.
To be honest, looking back on my history with Yu-Gi-Oh! has helped me accept parts of myself I never did before. My love for the show in fourth grade wasn’t idolatry or the temptations of the devil, and it never was even after that. It was a special interest that was part of my autism. But due to my ignorance of who I was (I wasn’t diagnosed until my college years) combined with internalized fundamentalism, it bred a paranoia of the unknown. And cheesy as they were, the lessons of friendship were essential in teaching me important social skills, specifically how to make a friend, how to be a friend.
But more than that, Yu-Gi-Oh! helped me connect with other peers my age (which was, and still is, something I have a hard time doing). My friends group doubled during that year. I spent recess dueling with friends, reading the issues of Shonen Jump which featured Yu-Gi-Oh! chapters, fantasizing about hanging out and dueling with the main characters. If I knew what fan fiction was back then, I probably would have written a ton.
So why am I talking about this? Well, it’s 2017, which means it’s the 20th anniversary of Yu-Gi-Oh!. A film which takes place months after the conclusion of the manga was just released a few days ago here in the US (yes, I know the Japanese version came out in 2016). With the original cast reprising their roles, and the original composers coming back to create the music for the English version, I was stoked. So, I rented it after work.
And HOLY SHIT, GUYS.
It was SO GOOD.
My heart was pounding the whole time. I felt like I was in fourth grade again, watching the show on my crappy little TV. I was screaming, punching my pillows, live texting my boyfriend (and probably annoying him by blowing up his phone haha), and nibbling on some chocolate. Very few films have triggered such strong, passionate feelings within me.
Was it cheesy? Yes. But it was a dash, a light dusting, like powdered sugar on French toast (yes, I do that; don’t judge me haha). It was just enough to make it fun and nostalgic. But I mean, one cringe-worthy friendship speech in two hours is not bad at all. Almost every other mention of friendship blended well with the situation at hand, and didn’t feel hammered in like the original series.
The animation was top-notch. It was fluid and polished. With the new technology and the bigger budget, it made the duels look that much more epic, intense, and downright awesome. Granted, some of the CGI for the monsters looked a little…well, CGI-ish for me, but honestly, I was so distracted by the epic and grand scale of the duels that I didn’t mind.
But the thing (or things, depending on how you look at it) that I appreciated the most was its respect for the Japanese version. Keep in mind, when the original series was first brought to the US it was heavily watered down and censored. Any mention of Japanese culture was eradicated. Guns were removed. Instead of characters dying, they were “sent to the Shadow Realm;” while the original series did mention it as a dark, hellish dimension where dark games could take place, the American dub took that and ran with it, creating a “kid-friendly” way to replace death. But here’s the thing: while the American version was meant for similar audiences as shows like Pokemon, the original Japanese manga and anime were intended for similar audiences as series like Fullmetal Alchemist. Both FMA and the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga have the same rating: 13+. But even in the English version, the adult themes, the weapons, hell even the references to Japanese culture, were all preserved. Most of all, it had stakes. There was no Shadow Realm (other than the final Shadow Game, but it wasn’t a cop-out for death). There were no “invisible guns.” People could die. I mean, Bakura had a full-on PTSD episode in the middle of the film. He was crying on the sidewalk while the villain was forcing him to relive the memories of when Bakura was possessed by the spirit of the Millenium Ring. Now the dub did keep the English names of the characters (Joey, Tristian, Tea, etc.), but I believe they did that for nostalgia.
I know this seems like a weird topic to write about, but honestly, it’s something I loved as a kid, and remember fondly (and still both ironically and genuinely enjoy) even now. I wanted to share this with you because I hope you find something you can love and share like I did with Yu-Gi-Oh!. Feel free to share your stories in the comments; I love learning about new books, shows, and movies. Now if you’ll excuse me, time to rewatch the series before I stop by the mall tomorrow and buy the film. Long live the King of Games!
(P.S. Also, unpopular opinion time: I personally like the American score much better than the Japanese score.)
(P.P.S. Yes, I got Kaiba to do the sorority squat with me at EvilleCon 2016. Eric Stuart, you are awesome.)
Love and Coffee cups,