animefringe january 2003 / reviews

Yu-Gi-Oh! Vol.3: Attack From the Deep, Yu-Gi-Oh! Vol.4: Give up the Ghost
Format: dub only, 3 eps., 60 min. each
Production: FUNimation / 4Kids Home Video
Comments: Better than the first disc, but still not as good a release as we should be getting for this ultra-popular series.
Animefringe Reviews:
Yu-Gi-Oh! Vol.3 and Vol.4

Since FUNimation did such a good job in getting these discs out quickly, this is actually a review of both the third and fourth DVD collections of Yu-Gi-Oh!. The content of each is of practically equivalent quality while there is a slight technical advantage the third disc has over the fourth, resulting in the lower score for the latter. Where differences arise, I'll be sure to point them out, but feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Now onto the review! I'm betting that a lot of people are wondering how I could give such a popular show such a low score. Then again, I'm sure that a lot of other people are wondering how I can stand to watch such a series. Such is fandom. As I explained to a wonderful reader (who sent me a very well-written email), Yu-Gi-Oh! is certainly entertaining. However, the product North America is getting is not really the purest incarnation of Konami's Pikachu killer. The show has good visuals, above average music and sound effects, and (eventually) an interesting storyline. However, where it was once a show that adults could watch without feeling goofy, the English dub sadly knocks its respectability level down a few notches. Combine that with edited content and you have something that can't possibly score higher than an 85% by my standards. Since the rest of the show isn't quite perfect (think Spirited Away), it doesn't take much for the score to dip as low as 65%, which is still remarkably high for a mainstream popular culture conversion of a huge Japanese show.

Yu-Gi-Oh! follows a group of children working together to become champions of a card game called "Duel Monsters," a blend of Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering. Each of the party members is seeking a goal, and for titular character Yugi, this goal is the soul of his grandfather, taken to the Shadow Realm in the first episode of volume one. The true nature of the frequently referenced Shadow Realm is only beginning to be revealed by the time the twelfth episode comes to a close, so there's still a bit of mystery left in the show even halfway through the first season. As the producer's name would imply, this is a show for kids. The jokes are not very complex, and despite the occasional heavy-handed speech, this is a lighthearted series. There are some really funny moments, even for me, and the greater frequency of them in these two discs helped push the score up quite a bit from last time. There is a story here, but typically viewers have to wade through card battles for quite some time before it advances. That's not necessarily a bad thing for fans of the game, however.

Many interesting new foes are encountered within these two volumes, including Mako Tsunami (a water warrior) and Kaiba's dark side, while a number of familiar ones reappear, such as Rex Raptor, Master Pegasus, and Mai. Incidentally, Master Pegasus is very funny. I found the scene showing him cracking up over a manga very endearing, though perhaps it was just its similarity to Excel Saga that allowed me to appreciate it more.

On the third disc, we learn of the conspiracy of Seto Kaiba's board members against him in his absence. They've enlisted the help of Master Pegasus to try and take control of Kaiba's corporation, and all they need to do it is Mokuba, Seto's younger brother. So long as a Kaiba family member is controlling the business, the board members can do whatever they want, and with Seto out searching for the heart of the cards, it is child's play to the evil Pegasus. The plot does indeed thicken from the seventh episode through the twelfth, but that doesn't really mean that the writing has improved. There are some horribly corny lines, and what's worse, they're frequently explained far too explicitly. For example, when Seto Kaiba shows up to face Yu-Gi in the eighth and ninth episodes, Yugi is told he "doesn't have a ghost of a chance." The joke here is referring to Seto Kaiba's apparent demise earlier in the same episode. Rather than leave it at that, however, the smart-alecky bad guy can't resist saying "You don't have a ghost of a chance beating Kaiba this time, because he IS a ghost! Ha ha ha!"

Boy. That guy's a funny one.

Seriously, though, there are a number of awkwardly written moments that are okay if you're assuming this show is intended for a younger audience, but offensive if you're older than ten and speak English.

The voice acting isn't bad, but again, things are awkward here as well. I have no idea why Joey has a New York accent. I don't get why Yugi's voice is deep enough for a man twice his size. And more than anything, it's creepy when Yugi's voice drops a few more octaves when he plays a bout of Duel Monsters. Really, what the heck is going on here? The voice acting is for the most part performed well, but it's frequently not appropriate. I have to wonder if the people who direct the show actually ever watch the final product, and if they do, how they can keep from cracking up at the surrealism of it all.

There's an impressive array of extras here this time around on both discs, including a character profile of Mokuba Kaiba, monster stats, "Demonstration by the Duelist Champion," "Music to Duel By," a feature called "What's Inside the Fox Box?" and some Previews. Kaiba is our host for the Champion Demo, where he attempts to crush our card playing spirits with his superior attitude while offering handy tips on the importance of power in Duel Monsters. "Music to Duel By" is nothing more than an advertisement for the show's soundtrack, but if it does well, perhaps it will usher in a new era where we finally realize how cool anime soundtracks can be.

The Fox Box feature is a series of previews for new shows on the animation block on the Fox network, including Ultimate Muscle, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, Kirby's new television show, the dubbed live action Ultraman series, the potentially cool Stargate: Infinity and Fighting Foodons (apparently Iron Chef mixed with Pokemon). Each of these previewed shows gets quite a bit of time devoted to them, showing the opening sequence and as much as five minutes of footage from each. That is...each save the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, which is only given a tiny teaser trailer. Trust me when I say some people would've purchased these DVDs just to see a trailer of a new TMNT show, but since it's just a teaser...well, let's just say I'm slightly disappointed.

The fourth disc has a profile of Seto Kaiba, more monster statistics, and tips from Rex Raptor (called "So You Wanna Be A Dino-Duelist?"). It also contains features that were on the third disc, listed above. After reading Kaiba's profile, I'm thinking it'd be a good idea to have a more skilled editor check out what was written before submitting the disc for production, because it was full of bad English. I suppose poor writing is a theme that the producers wanted to carry through the entire release, from dub to the text for the extras. Still, this is a good set of bonus features to include with a DVD that only has three episodes, and my biggest complaint is the complete lack of anything hinting at the Japanese language on some of the previews. One day, perhaps things will change.

Both discs feature a well-designed navigation system that gets viewers where they want to go, and they both feature rather attractive, brightly colored cases. The language options are not clearly stated on the cases, so people looking for a French or Swahili language track may be understandably miffed. Of course there's no sign of Japanese here, either, but you'd think we'd be warned just in case. There is also a closed-captioned track, which is not the same thing as subtitles. The truly hardcore can mute the audio and just read the captions if so desired, though that would strike me as slightly odd.

These DVDs are aimed at a very large but very specific audience, and they will no doubt please the countless fans of the television series. However, those of us who are more interested in the Japanese side of things than the English (or Spanish, in this case) will just have to wait until we get a truly uncut version of Yu-Gi-Oh! in the language it was written. And while we're at it, we can wait for the coming of flying pigs. Either way, the future looks bright!