Saturday, March 17, 2018

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (Remastered)

Back in 2004, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie (aka Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: Pyramid of Light), first released in the US as a critical and commercial failure, mainly because it was impenetrable for non-fans. However, when I first saw the movie as a kid, I didn’t really care and was able to enjoy it (although it did spoil the outcome of the Battle City Arc of the anime, which hadn’t finished airing yet in the US). Over the years I have found that, mainly out of nostalgia, I can’t find it within me to not like the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, but my opinion of this movie would wane over time. In a surprising move, 4K Media, the remnants of 4Kids Entertainment after Konami absorbed them, decided to remaster the movie and distribute it for a limited run through Fathom Events. When the opportunity struck, I bought a ticket to see the extent of the remaster and for a brief nostalgia trip. Now that I’ve seen it again, the remastered picture did little to distract from the inherent flaws of the movie.

5000 years ago, the Pharaoh had defeated and sealed away Anubis (Scottie Ray), the Egyptian lord of the dead. Five millennia later, Yugi Muto had completed the Millennium Puzzle at the same time that Anubis’ tomb was discovered in an archeological dig, releasing Anubis’ spirit, which seeks revenge on the Pharaoh. In the present, Yugi has just won the Battle City tournament and gained possession of the most powerful cards in all of Duel Monsters, the three Egyptian God Cards: Obelisk the Tormentor, Slifer the Sky Dragon and The Winged Dragon of Ra. At the same time that Yugi evades a horde of duelists attempting to claim the God Cards for themselves, Seto Kaiba (Eric Stuart) tries repeatedly to come up with a strategy to defeat Yugi, but to no avail. He decides to confront the game’s creator, Maximillion Pegasus (Darren Dunstan), about a possible card made to counteract the God Cards. However, Kaiba doesn’t know that his actions are only helping Anubis with gaining his revenge.

Anubis (Scottie Ray) wants his revenge on the Pharaoh.

The story and plot for the movie have a pretty rough execution. The idea of the Pyramid of Light as an eighth Millennium Item as well as the presence of another ancient evil can come off as fanfiction, which is never a compliment, and Anubis himself has almost no personality and is motivated entirely by an ancient grudge. The main bulk of the movie is a duel between Yami (Dan Green) and Kaiba, which goes on for quite a while. Once Kaiba activates Pyramid of Light, which unwittingly sets Anubis’ plan into motion, the spirits of Yugi, Joey Wheeler (Wayne Grayson) and Tristan Taylor (Greg Abbey) are sucked into the Millennium Puzzle, where they encounter the spirit of Anubis and his army of the undead. These scenes, interspersed within the Yugi vs Kaiba duel, can prove more interesting, if only because they provide the occasional break from the rest of the action.

That said, the dialogue is pretty decent and there are some occasional moments of laugh-out-loud humor. This includes some subtle moments, including Pegasus being served a red wine spritzer after swearing off white wine spritzers, and some of the jabs that characters take at each other. Other moments, like Joey making a couple movie references, are funny if only because of how cheesy/dumb they are.

One notable element of the dialogue is that when 4Kids had originally dubbed this movie, they had made the bold decision to keep any and all allusions and references to death and dying rather than change any instance to mentioning the Shadow Realm (as they had done in their dub of the anime). While this doesn’t mean much now, it was rather surprising back in 2004.

The quality of the animation is sort of hit and miss. It’s generally a higher quality than Studio Gallop used when animating the show, but after 14 years it also feels like a relic of the 2000s. Though the character models are good for the time, there are some moments where it went noticeably a little off-model. Nothing too jarring, but noticeable enough that it didn’t help the movie age that well over 14 years.

Something about this movie that’s particularly notable is that until 2017’s Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, this was the only instance where cards depicted in the English version used translated English text instead of the altered format used in the anime. While this was rather surprising and impressive at the time, especially since they also tried to recreate card rarities, there are some noticeable errors with card layouts (such as flipped or mirrored cards). One that’s particularly noticeable is that when Yami activates the card Double Spell, the card shown instead is Diffusion Wave-Motion (fixed in the Japanese version; see below).

As for the remaster, it’s essentially the same movie but the picture has a much-needed touch-up for modern screens. The look of the remaster is generally very impressive, giving it crisper visuals which help the movie age a little better, though in some zoomed-in shots the quality dips somewhat. It would’ve been nice if they also took the opportunity to correct the errors in the English card text and art, though I understand that wasn’t really the point of the remaster.

The voice acting is pretty good for when it came out, especially Dan Green as Yugi/Yami and Eric Stuart as Seto Kaiba. Looking back on it now, though, it’s obvious that by the time The Dark Side of Dimensions had come out, the actors had greatly improved in their roles since.

As for the soundtrack, the actual score is fitting and has a similar style to the anime. One original song that plays during a scene of Kaiba flying the Blue-Eyes White Dragon Jet is a little cheesy, but still kinda works. However, a number of snippets of other songs play over the credits, which seemed to be for the sole purpose of promoting the soundtrack with the promise of original songs (including one performed by The Black-Eyed Peas for some reason).

At the time the movie first came out in the US, theaters gave away one of four special cards (in a unique one-card booster pack) with each ticket sold and retail stores sold an eight-card Exclusive Pack as a tie-in. DVD copies of the film also came with two cards from the theater-exclusive Movie Pack with the option to send in for the other two. As an additional bit of small trivia, Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon saw a TCG release through this pack two years before the card required to summon it, Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon, would. Another tie-in was the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie Ani-Manga (basically a screencap comic) which came bundled with Slifer the Sky Dragon’s original TCG printing; the screencaps in the Ani-Manga only highlight many of the animation errors.

Original theatrical release poster.

For this special re-release of the movie, viewers were also given an exclusive look at the first English dub episode of the new Yu-Gi-Oh! series, Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS. I’m not sure how much I can say except that, without having seen the Japanese version, it feels like 4K Media is giving more respect to the source material with great voice acting and good dialogue, including a funny reference to the idea that some people think a hotdog is a sandwich. I’ll note here that my screening of the movie had low attendance anyway, likely since it was a Monday night, but everyone else had left before and during the VRAINS preview, so I enjoyed what had become a private screening.

A Japanese poster for Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS. L-R (clockwise):
Yusaku Fujiki, Firewall Dragon, Decode Talker, Yusaku Fujiki (as Playmaker), Ai.

After 14 years, I can conclude that Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie hasn’t really aged well. The remastered visuals are impressive and I wouldn’t mind getting it on home video if they offered it. However, the story is still pretty rough and Anubis, though designed by Kazuki Takahashi himself, is a rather flat villain without much going for him. The climactic duel also goes for a large amount of the 89-minute runtime, so that’s something to keep in mind. It’s also very difficult to recommend to anyone who isn’t already a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, since it requires the viewer to already be pretty familiar with the source material. While fun as a nostalgic trip back to the original series, it’s a pretty rough movie overall, though for some that may be part of its charm.

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