The Japanese intellectual property created by Bandai and Konami that out Pokemoned Pokemon, and is now hopping the pond to America, to the delight of gaming kiddies and trend followers from New York to L.A.

The kanji from the title roughly translates to The King of Games. Action centers around highschool freshman and gaming geek, Yugi Mutou, who lives in the gaming store run by his grandfather, Sugoroku Mutou. One day, grandpa gives Yugi the magical Millennium Puzzle, which, when solved, transforms young Yugi into Yami Yugi, The King of Games mentioned in the title, ala Sailor Moon. As The King of Games, Yugi cannot lose, and enjoys taunting his opponents and besting them according to whatever lop-sided rules they try to use against him.

Yugi faces two basic problems. First, as the veritable fastest gun in the West, everybody wants to take a shot at beating him. Second, Shadi, the Ancient Egyptian spirit of justice, who looks for The Seven Millennium Items (such as the Millennium Puzzle) that were stolen from ancient tombs.

The show revolves around people dueling with the card game Duel Monsters, a game that is rumoured to be based on an ancient Egyptian form of divination called the Shadow Game. Really, that's about it. Yugi gathers a collection of allies, mostly of the street-punk-with-a-heart-of-gold variety and runs around beating the rich and egotistical.

Yu-gi-oh seems like nothing more than just another shameless marketing ploy aimed at middle-class youth. Well, maybe I don't give Bandai enough credit. They've taken merchandising to a whole new level with this one...

It used to be, if a tv show or movie was successful, the production company would flood toy store shelves with merchandise based on the production. But now, it seems that the process has been reversed. Yu-gi-oh is a show about a trading card game along the lines of Pokemon or Magic the Gathering --imagine that. The advantage now is that, marketing people for lack of a better term, no longer need to think of fun and appealing merchanise that tie into the production, the show producer has already taken care of that.

The entire cartoon show has the marketing processes, and the planned merchandise in mind. So, in effect, the show is just a marketing device, sort of a preparation for the release of the trading card game.

So what's the flaw in this if there is one? Well from the producer's point of view, this merely replaced one obstacle with another. Now instead of marketng having to devise sellable merchandise that ties into the show, the show producers are stuck with the dilemma of devising a sellable plot that will also glamorize planned merchandise.

So the real advantage is just that it's a lot easier to sell a crappy cartoon to little kids than dumb toys to their parents. Kids will watch anything animated and broadcasted after nap time.

Ikura notes that transformers toys may have been the first example of this type of marketing campaign, but since the actual toys were designed before the cartoon was aired perhaps the cartoon only spawned from the success of the toys as a way to raise extra revenue and not so much to prepare the market for the toys.

Allow me to bring in the counterpoint. As a high-school senior, I go against the "kids only" generalization and watch this show. But for what reason?

You'd think that a simple saturday morning kids show wouldn't interest me, especially when its description fits a mixture of Pokemon, Dragonball Z, and the ever so "geeky" Magic: The Gathering. (Don't get me wrong, I play Magic too! Sparingly...). Seeing as how Dragonball Z is basically a lot of muscles and flashes and yelling/grunting sounds (even in the Japanese comic books), and how Pokemon in the U.S. is just horrible, it at first doesn't seem apparent on why I like Yu-Gi-Oh! so much.

Well it's really the structure and suspense of the show. Although it has its "Pokemon moments," such as blatent verbalization of the episode's moral, The background setup and fight scenes are worth it. Yu-Gi-Oh keeps you on your toes, slowly incorporating you to try and find out more. Then you become hooked, like myself, owning 4.5+gigabytes worth of Yu-Gi-Oh! videos. Just experiencing the amazing turn-arounds and combos intrigues the mind of an ex-Magic player.

Beyond the television show aimed at children, the fighting engine is simple, yet very capable. Someone at the Bandai or Konami corporations thought pretty hard about the mechanics of the game. Actually, now that I look back at Episode 1 Season 1 of the Japanese version, (Season 1 in Japan was cut from the US version by 4Kids Entertainment; Season 1 in the US is actually Season 2) I realize that there is a plentiful amount of swearing, and much larger breast sizes in general among the female characters. Isn't that how it always is in Japanimations?

Just watching the show almost makes me believe in the heart of the cards, hehe. It's that strange tingle of hope, courage, struggle for power, friendship, and honor you feel after engulfing into the YuGiOh universe. I know three very unlikely people that have been sucked into this addiction, one of them is myself, of course. Try it, you may like it.

Before there was the mass media marketing ploy that is the TV dub of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which, incidentally, only shows the Duel Monsters-centered second season onward of the anime series), there was the original manga by Kazuki Takahashi.

Yu-Gi-Oh! tells the story of Yugi Mutoh (or Moto, in the U.S.), a slightly geeky high school student living in Domino City. He gets picked on a lot, even by his two friends Katsuya Jounouchi (Joey Wheeler in the U.S. version) and Hiroto Honda (Tristan Taylor), who are quite the troublemakers in the early volumes of the manga (chasing girls and getting into fights, among other things). Probably his only real friend at first is his classmate Anzu Mazaki (Tea Gardner), the token cute and sympathetic girl. All that changes, however, when Yugi manages to assemble the mysterious Millenium Puzzle, a gift from his grandfather Suguroku Mutoh (Solomon Moto, or just "Grandpa"). He is "gifted" with another self, a stronger, more confident identity who wields the power of the "Shadow Games", using it to dispense harsh justice to the people who threaten Yugi, or his friends and classmates.

As many anime fans may note, the early episodes of the manga are significantly darker than the anime series (even in comparison to the original Japanese). In the first volume alone, Yugi challenges a corrupt hall monitor, a conniving "reality TV" director, an escaped murderer, a karaoke-loving bully, and others to Shadow Games (ranging from dice-rolling, to a high stakes version of "The Quiet Game", to my personal favorite, a game of air hockey on a hot grill with a puck made from ice that has a tube of nitroglycerine stuck in it), where the contestants risk losing their lives or their minds (Yugi frequently inflicts a "Penalty Game" illusion, such as amplifying the karaoke-obsessed bully's heartbeat to deafening levels, or making the world look like one big censor mosaic to the evil director). Duel Monsters (originally called "Magic and Wizards") isn't even mentioned until volume 2 of the manga series. As you can probably tell, I find the manga to be a vast improvement over the stateside release of the anime (I'll admit I'm biased, though, since the manga is uncut and I haven't seen the Japanese version of the anime).

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