Yu-Gi-Oh (Uncut) Vol. 1
A little more than two years ago, I made a comment about the wait for uncut episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh to appear here in North America on DVD. To my surprise and delight, they've actually arrived over here before pigs found a way to fly.
That's what I love about the current state of the anime industry. It seems as if anything fans claim will never be released in the US comes out shortly after such a claim is made. This year, we're slated to get the first Vampire Hunter D novel, and right now, I have Yu-Gi-Oh uncut. I have to say I'm still a little more excited about seeing Vampire Hunter D in print form.
Yet as a die-hard proponent of leaving shows the heck alone, I had to buy this new release of Yu-Gi-Oh in order to put my money where my mouth is. And remember kids, don't do this at home - money is very, very dirty.
It would be preposterous to deny the popularity of Yu-Gi-Oh. It doesn't seem to have the same lasting power as Pokemon, but I believe Konami has pulled in a pretty good sum from this property over the years.
There's a good chance that a large number of people in the anime community have avoided it.
Some, like me, stayed away because it was clearly cut down from its original form to fit in the constraints of the after-school television universe.
Others might have avoided the show because it seemed as if the company that brought it over here had to remove as much evidence of its nation of origin as possible. The opening and ending songs were replaced with trendy English versions, plotlines strayed somewhat from their original paths, and, of course, characters with strange, unusual names (Jonouchi, for one) were reborn with more palatable monikers, such as Joey.
Yeah. That was another reason I didn't get into it.
Even more quite possibly, some didn't want to get into it because it so annoyingly trendy. Little kids were snatching up the associated trading cards like their grandfathers' souls depended on it. With so much of a choice between all of the great anime series that have been coming out lately, it was pretty easy for some fans to pass on 3 episodes of edited Yu-Gi-Oh for $24.95.
And now, I find myself with a mixed bag of worthiness and the same problems that made Yu-Gi-Oh unappealing in the first place. First of all, we're still presented with the lousy 3 episodes for $24.95 release model. When a series runs for hundreds of episodes, it's nice to be able to collect it all on less than one hundred DVDs.
Also, while the video seems to be uncut for this edition, the subtitle stream veers off in the direction of being more of a dubtitle a little too often for its own good. I love the way that FUNimation puts two subtitle tracks on their releases. Typically, one is a dubtitle (essentially closed captions for the English language version) and the other is a true, literal translation of the Japanese dialogue.
At times, it was hard to tell if anything was different, aside from the character names in the Japanese translation subtitle stream. I'm not entirely sure if it was on purpose, but sound effects are represented in both subtitle streams. I understand the inclusion of sound effects for closed captions, but it's not necessary to translate Japanese sound effects into English - not in anime, at least.
Inconsistently throughout the show, the subtitles will use captions to note which character is speaking, as if we can't hear the voices in Japanese. Again, for now, I'm attributing these issues as a simple mistake. Too much information from the closed captions (for the hearing impaired) must have leaked over to the translation stream.
If this is not a mistake, it's still wrong, and it needs to be changed. Luckily for FUNimation, they have 99 more discs (and thus 99 more chances) to fix this problem.
This may sound like a nitpicky point, but first of all, that's what reviews do - find things to complain about - and second, this release should cater to the hardcore fans as much as possible. I doubt many kids are going to run out and re-buy (or force their parents to re-purchase) a series they already bought two years ago, or that they've seen on TV a thousand times.
No, this release is for the fans who are ready to give Yu-Gi-Oh a shot. The hoopla has all died down - we no longer have to deal with the Yugi Rap - and now, it's just us and the original Japanese version of the show.
Once I got past the technical difficulties and almost laughable brevity of this release (60 minutes! For $24.95!), I actually enjoyed the series. It has all the components of a standard blockbuster TV series, with plots that are at times predictable, characters that aren't terribly original at first, and average animation.
However, the drama in the series is rather entertaining, and in many ways, it is rather self-conscious of its own state as a mainstream children's show. Pegasus is really funny in Japanese. His jokes in English about his inability to speak the language were always a bit odd, but when you hear him speaking in Engrish on the Japanese language track (that is, English that sounds more like Japanese than our own language), it's hilarious.
The show's character designs are different than other series I've seen, as well. I still think the voice actors sound too old for their roles, including the Japanese cast, but after the first 15 or so episodes, they grew on me.
There are other details about the DVD that bothered me, though they aren't issues with the content so much as the manner in which it is presented. For example, there is an excruciatingly painful unskippable front-loaded commercial for wrestling action figures. I would almost understand if it was included as a bonus feature, or maybe if they made it able to be skipped, or even if it was an unskippable front-loaded ANIME trailer (though those are terrible as well). However, the reason I buy DVDs is to AVOID commercials - not be forced to watch one as a punishment every time I make the mistake of putting the disc in the player.
Yet in general, we're left with a surprisingly enjoyable series with a few technical hiccups that need to be worked out over its potentially long and grueling release cycle. I'm not sure how this version of Yu-Gi-Oh is selling, but the only thing worse than a slow release schedule is the cancellation of the uncut editions altogether. I can wait years for the story to finish its new run.
Besides, the way the anime industry is moving along, this will probably be in a boxed set within eight months. When it is, I'll be there to pick it up.
If you are interested in seeing this uncut, do us all a favor and pick it up to show FUNimation that there's a market for such a creature. We might not get such an opportunity with whatever series they decided to mess with next.