Sunday, January 29, 2017

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions

Note: This review contains unmarked spoilers relating to the events of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime/manga.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, a new movie, The Dark Side of Dimensions, was announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2016, set to take place after the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series. I happened to attend the panel at which this was announced, which featured a special appearance by Yu-Gi-Oh! creator/mangaka Kazuki Takahashi, who would have heavy involvement in story and designs for the movie (he even did a special live drawing of Yugi just for that panel). In anticipation of this, Takahashi also created two special Yu-Gi-Oh! chapters called TRANSCEND GAME, bridging the gap between the original series and the new movie; these chapters have since been translated to English by Viz Media, distributed in the English version of Weekly Shonen Jump (the December 19th, 2016 and January 2nd, 2017 issues in particular, for those who are curious).

Though the movie was released in Japan in time for the 20th anniversary, it was not until recently that the movie began a limited theatrical run in the US; due to circumstance, I had to view this movie at the rather luxurious iPic theater, though this did not affect my thoughts on the movie itself. There was also a special card handed out to movie-goers, a (tournament-legal) Gold Rare Obelisk the Tormentor. Overall, I thought the movie was a good expansion on the original story and a worthy celebration of the franchise.

One year after the events of the original anime (six months after the original manga in the Japanese version), Seto Kaiba (Eric Stuart) is working on a new design for the Duel Disk, while at the same time looking for a way to once again duel Atem. Meanwhile, Yugi Muto (Dan Green), Joey Wheeler (Wayne Grayson), Tristan Taylor (Greg Abbey), Téa Gardner (Amy Birnbaum) and Bakura Ryou (Ted Lewis) are contemplating their plans after graduating High School. At school, they meet a boy named Aigami (Daniel J. Edwards), whom they simultaneously do and do not remember meeting before. It isn’t long before Aigami begins using the power of a mysterious artifact to further his desire to reshape the world and prevent the re-awakening of Atem.

L-R: Téa Gardner (Amy Birnbaum), Yugi Muto (Dan Green), Bakura Ryou (Ted Lewis),
Joey Wheeler (Wayne Grayson), Tristan Taylor (Greg Abbey) discuss their graduation.

For what it is, the story is actually pretty easy to follow, though it generally assumes you are already a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan who is familiar with the original story. Seto Kaiba seems to be the one actually taking central focus this time, rather than Yugi Muto, although Yugi’s contributions to the story show that he is certainly not forgotten. Those who are fans may need to explain the story for uninitiated viewers, though the 10-minute extra included with the Bonds Beyond Time Blu-ray does an effective job of explaining some of the major canon events prior to the Millennium World Arc.

The new character and main antagonist Aigami gets more of a fleshed-out backstory than some prior movie-exclusive villains, a result of his increased screen time in the 2-hour feature, which also includes back-stories of a handful of other new characters. Some other new characters only exist in the movie as a form of cannon fodder for Aigami’s abilities, and so we do not really get to know that much about them aside from some very basic information. In spite of any shortcomings, the movie can get really funny in places, both in dialogue and in some visual aspects, and it can also get a little emotional at some points for longtime fans of the series.

Though the movie is stated on the official Yu-Gi-Oh! website to take place after the anime by Studio Gallop, fans of the manga can get a bonus out of being able to spot some minor cameos from characters who never appeared in said anime, which is evidence of the original intention of taking place after the manga. A running element is Joey’s attachment to his Duel Disk, which seems to take more after the design of the Duel Disk in the manga, where it was one solid piece, although this is muddied a little by an appearance from the anime-style Duel Disk, which had the ability to fold into a more compact shape. This, however, is only a minor tidbit in the grand scheme of things.

Seto Kaiba (Eric Stuart) will go to great lengths to get another
chance to Duel Atem.

The Duels in the movie are presented spectacularly, especially since the cards are actually translated into English, similarly to the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie Pyramid of Light, except with card text closer to that of the wording style in the real-world Trading Card Game as of the movie’s release. The only way to get a good look at the card text, though, would be to be able to pause the movie in any future home video release, though this I felt was a nice touch, as was the fact that Duelists start off with 8000 Life Points (LP) like in the real-world game, as opposed to the 2000 or 4000 LP rule used in most iterations of Yu-Gi-Oh! fiction. While the normal style of Dueling is still present, a new style of Dueling is introduced known as Dimension Dueling, which is used exclusively in Duels involving Aigami. While the concept is interesting, the pacing of a Dimension Duel admittedly gets a little muddy at times, especially on Aigami’s part.

The animation is some of the best ever seen in Yu-Gi-Oh!, making the Duels themselves a true spectacle. The CG used for some monsters is also improved over what can be seen in the anime or Bonds Beyond Time, blending in better with the traditionally-animated elements. A highlight is also Kaiba’s new Duel Disks, at times seeming influenced by and improving upon the designs seen in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal spin-off series. Kaiba’s new Duel Disk in particular, featuring virtual cards, is animated amazingly well, standing out against all other Duel Disks seen in the series thus far (as of the Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V spin-off).

The sound design is really good, particularly with the sounds made during Duels. Returning characters share the same voice actors they had in the 4Kids dub of the original anime, which works well for consistency, and they put out great performances that display a refined experience with their characters, especially Dan Green and Eric Stuart as Yugi and Kaiba respectively. Daniel J. Edwards does a good job voicing antagonist Aigami, displaying a good range with the character and capturing his emotions throughout the course of the feature. The background music is also good, although a highlight would be the new mix of the English Yu-Gi-Oh! Theme that plays during the credits.

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions is a well-executed continuation of the original story, though it was definitely made with Yu-Gi-Oh! fans in mind. The film has one of the best examples of Yu-Gi-Oh! animation to date, and the plot and action are relatively straight-forward, with the exception of the Dimension Duel concept. The callbacks to the original manga provide an interesting touch, plus the returning voice actors do a good job in reflecting how much their characters have changed in the intervening period of time in-universe. Those who are uninitiated may get lost, especially during the actual Duels, and so may need a short explanation of preceding (original series) Yu-Gi-Oh! lore before going in. Those who are longtime fans of the series should definitely check out the two TRANSCEND GAME chapters as well, as they provide some insight into the exploits of Seto Kaiba preceding the events of the movie proper.

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