Hey guys, so this week I thought I’d get a little sentimental. Many moons ago, back when I was just a wee lad, I stumbled upon a wonderful shonen anime, where monsters were summoned from cards to do battle, with the outcomes often meaning the difference between life and death for the players of this simple card game. This anime was the one, the only, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters. As a small child, I was immediately enamoured with the beautiful card art and the over-the-top duels and set out to collect those cards for myself. I begged my mother to buy me a pack of the trading cards, and to this day I remember opening that first pack and staring at those wonderful cards in bewitched joy. This love of Yu-Gi-Oh! was deeply ingrained in me from that day and stayed an important part of my young life up until the third era, where I fell out of love with the game and anime. Today, then, on our trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, we’ll be looking at my journey with Yu-Gi-Oh!, what it means to me and how the series ARC-V re-introduced me to this world of monsters and magic. With all that out of the way, buckle up everyone and let’s get into it.
What is “Yu-Gi-Oh!”?
So, before I get into exactly what it was about ARC-V that made me fall in love with the game again, let’s first answer the question – what is “Yu-Gi-Oh!”? Yu-Gi-Oh! is a trading card game made and distributed by Konami that revolves around two players taking turns to summon monsters which are used to do battle and deal damage to the opponent. Players are also able to make use of spell and trap cards to either support their strategy or hinder the opponents, turning the game-state in their favour. The winner is usually decided when one player reduces the opponent’s life points to zero, although victory can also be achieved by other means – I’m looking at you Exodia!
The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, on the other hand, is a set of series, each of which revolving around a unique protagonist. Each series is aired to coincide with the release of a new summoning mechanic, generating hype in the process, and each is referred to as a “unique era”. Summoning mechanics in Yu-Gi-Oh! are relatively complex, as there are different monsters that can be summoned from what is known as the Extra Deck through fulfilling specific sets of conditions. Each iteration of the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime (DM, GX, 5D’s, ZEXAL, ARC-V and VRAINS) corresponds to a new and specific summoning mechanic used often throughout that series, those being:
While the game has seen many changes and alterations over the years, the introduction of the Pendulum summoning mechanic in the ARC-V era was one of the more controversial. However, the anime made to promote this mechanic is one of my personal favourites and was the sole reason for my descent back into the darkest depths of this game. But what was it about THIS season, THIS mechanic that so resonated with me? Well then, let’s take a look at that, shall we?
So, the story this time around revolves around Sakaki Yuya, a young boy whose ultimate aim in life is to use duelling as a means to provide happiness and entertainment to others. In the opening episodes of this anime, Yuya discovers that he alone has access to Pendulum summoning, a summoning method never before seen in his world, an act that instantly puts him in the spotlight!
Quickly, however, his status as the only Pendulum summoner is torn away, as the mechanic becomes distributed to the world at large. These early episodes have a distinct sense of light and breezy fun, with a focus on friendship and sugar-coated entertainment. However, this is not something that should dissuade any potential viewers. Before long, this façade begins to crumble – and in dramatic fashion. A plot is revealed where Yuya is forced to travel between dimensions, each of which corresponding to a specific summoning mechanic (Synchro Dimension, Fusion Dimension and XYZ Dimension) in order to stop the evil advances of the Fusion Dimension, whose invading armies seek to convert all of a dimension’s inhabitants into cards, and rescue his childhood friend Yuzu from their clutches. This journey is far from a straightforward one, with difficult battles and sinister figures manipulating the world from the shadows, but despite how dark (and, on occasion, bloated) a given arc becomes, the story will keep clawing you back again and again, with its core themes of self-discovery, remaining true to oneself, and growth.
But then again, what is a story without its characters? One of the most impressive areas of ARC-V’s delivery lies in its characters, and more specifically how they grow and evolve throughout the story’s major arcs. While character designs typically follow the outlandishly over-the-top hairstyles and sharp, jagged and occasionally smooth costume designs adopted since the original DM anime, these characters are just as effervescent and charming as their outward appearances would have you believe. Characters stand as solitary, stoic, hilarious and heart-breaking, hardly ever remaining as the two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs we’re first introduced to. It’s not hard to fall in love with these characters and many will grow and develop in ways that will truly surprise you.
The dimension-hopping hijinks also provide an unusual way of approaching the anime as it allows for some more interesting introductions to characters while also simultaneously expanding upon a summoning mechanic as they travel from one dimension to another.
What’s truly interesting this time around is how so many of the main characters’ decks perfectly represent their innate character quirks and traits, be that what they show outwardly, or the more complex and dark sides of themselves that they keep hidden from the world. Two of my favourite characters in this regard are characters with comparably less screen time than most – the fascinatingly complex Sora Shiunin and Shingo Sawatari. Both characters are introduced very early in the series, with Sora revealing himself as a surprising duelling prodigy, capable of going toe-to-toe with Yuya. Sora also possesses a level of complexity and intrigue that feeds a hunger to know what makes him tick. His deck adds to this feeling of intrigue as it combines a set of adorably cute and cuddly plush animals (Fluffals) with evil devil weapons (Edge Imps) that fuse and form some truly creepy and unsettling creations (Frightfurs), something that reflects Sora’s character remarkably well.
Sawatari, on the other hand, is initially introduced as a minor antagonist in the series, and his deck goes through a number of major changes throughout the early arcs, reflecting his need to be the best by whatever means. Later on, however, much of his initial cockiness is replaced by concern for his allies and a realisation that, while he is not number one, he can still aim to perform as well as Yuya. His final deck, known collectively as Abyss Actors, are a set of dark and distorted performers, highlighting his need to be as good as Yuya, only in his own unique way.
Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, more than any iteration of the anime that has come before it, is a fanservice marvel for long-time fans that will definitely bring a smile to your face. As Yuya and company travel from dimension to dimension, they form friendships and rivalries with both new characters and key characters from earlier seasons, be that the fan favourite Crow from 5D’s in the Synchro Dimension, or the fascinating Kaito from ZEXAL in the XYZ Dimension. While not essential for the enjoyment of the anime as a whole, I must admit, seeing old childhood favourites such as Crow and Asuka from GX, brought the goofiest smile to my face every time it happened and kept me invested episode after episode.
Honestly, though, how could I talk about Yu-Gi-Oh! without delving deeper into the cards? If I had to break down what it is that makes me love ARC-V, the decks in particular hold some of my favourite archetypes in the entire game. Each deck holds a sense of child-like magic, with many of the cards feeling reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoon characters. Looking at the Performapal deck used by our protagonist, it’s hard to see this pun-fuelled deck and not feel immediately enamoured – especially with gems such as Performapal Bubblebowwow (yes, this made me laugh and will forever be my favourite Performapal card!). You also have decks such as the ancient Japanese and mecha-inspired Superheavy Samurai that employs the strategy where the best offence is a good defence. Each and every deck here is a joy to behold; colourful, intense and, ultimately, fun – what better way to get people interested in the game than with incredibly rendered art and cards that are fun to play?
The Applications of Pendulums
Now, while all the things I’ve mentioned above are major contributing factors in what got me back into the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, one of the major influences for me was the Pendulum mechanic as a whole and what the implications were for the game at large. Pendulum was a mechanic that inherently held very little power, but had mountains of potential. As I already mentioned, this anime uses not only Pendulums, but all other mechanics that came before, with Pendulum summoning merely acting as a stepping stone to the other summoning methods. It was this realisation that ultimately hooked me back into the game. No longer were you bound by conventional summoning restrictions and having to build your deck around a single Extra Deck mechanic. Now it was possible to make decks that took advantage of Fusion, Synchro and XYZ monsters, with Pendulum monsters thrown in to make the process run all the smoother. The ability to possibly summon five monsters at once with incredible ease on each and every turn is an appealing one and was something that had the potential to totally break the game, given the right strategy. Now, I am by no means a great player and many of my favourite decks hold little to no competitive viability, but the power ceiling offered by these early Pendulums were an appealing prospect that eventually lead me back to a familiar place I thought I’d long since abandoned.
Sadly, the power of this mechanic eventually proved to be too great, leading to the birth of the Link mechanic as a means of remedying the power of Pendulums. While the mechanic still holds a great deal of potential, these decks have since been heavily neutered, both by the Link mechanic and the ban list, which has lead to them being dethroned as some of the most powerful decks in the game. Despite this, I owe this anime a great debt, as it was an avenue of escape, providing a release for me in a time of great stress. I will forever remember this anime and the mechanic it introduced fondly thanks to it re-introducing me to a game that I truly adore, and never thought I would return to. While many memes have spawned from this anime and the Pendulum mechanic remains somewhat disliked, for me at least, Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V has reserved its place among a small selection of anime that made an impact, and is one I am glad I experienced in all its glory.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for joining me on this somewhat more sentimental trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole. I really hope you enjoyed your time here and, if you did, please let me know below. If you’re a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh! that took some time away from the game, what was it that brought you back – was it the anime or something else entirely? With all that said, thanks once again everyone and, until next time, keep it weeby!