Absurd One-Line Summary
Protagonist plays a children’s card game to save the world: The Original Edition.
Our Main Characters
Our first protagonist, everyone! Even though Yugi is the protagonist of the series, most of the “Yugi” duels are just Atem dueling, featuring bits of commentary from Yugi. For all intents and purposes, Atem is basically the true protagonist of DM.
Yet to me, Atem was a dull and boring character because aside from the ceremonial duel with Yugi, he never lost a single non-filler duel fairly. Yes, Kaiba beat Atem in Duelist Kingdom using some questionable tactics and guilt-tripping Yugi into what was basically surrendering the duel, but Kaiba never defeated Yugi by being a better duelist. Yes, Rafael defeated Atem in the Doma arc fair and square but given the entire arc was a filler arc (and that Yugi ends up winning their rematch), I don’t count this either. Even when it comes to the ceremonial duel, Yugi and Atem are basically the same person. Really, the only person who beat Yugi is Atem who as far as the series is concerned, are both basically the same person. It wouldn’t be until the other YGO series where the protagonist can fairly lose a duel or two, making Atem a lacklustre character.
Yugi, while still a poor character for being borderline unbeatable outside of filler duels or losing unfairly, has two aspect that makes him better than Atem: Yugi’s friendship with Joey, and to a lesser extent, his bond with Tea.
One of my favourite all-time anime characters, Kaiba serves as the first rival in the YGO franchise. As a powerful duelist and having the biggest ego of anyone in any YGO series, Kaiba’s arrogance is what makes him endearing.
While Kaiba’s obsessive rivalry with Yugi drives him throughout the series, the other motivator in his life is his younger brother Mokuba. Whether it be Pegasus in the Duelist Kingdom arc, Marik in the Battle City arc or Noah in the Virtual World arc, it is a recurring theme to have Kaiba dragged into the plot by having the main villain (or their underlings) kidnap Mokuba.
Yet when Mokuba’s life and/or soul isn’t at sake, the other recurring plotline with Kaiba is villains trying to take over Kaiba Corporation. Of the five arcs of DM, four of them involve Kaiba having to oppose someone who wants to take over his company for some reason or another, be it Pegasus wanting to revive his dead wife, Noah and his quest to prove to Gozuboro that he is superior to Seto, Dartz simply to provoke Kaiba, or Siegfried trying to prove that Schroeder Corporation is better than Kaiba Corporation.
While the filler arcs of DM are often criticised for being inferior to the rest of the series, one good thing about them is that they expanded on Kaiba’s backstory such as with the Virtual World arc (in which Kaiba’s life under Gozoboro, along with his interactions with the Big Five are explored), the Doma arc (in which Kaiba’s conflict with Alister throughout the arc touches on the weapons development side of Kaiba Corporation), and the KC Grand Prix arc (in which expanded on Kaiba Corporation, Kaiba’s corporate experiences, and the competition to Kaiba Corporation in the form of Schroeder Corporation). The fillers had their list of flaws, but ruining Kaiba’s character is not one of those things at all.
Even though Kaiba is not the protagonist, he often feels like one given how connected he is to every major villain in the series. Thus, Kaiba is arguably just as important as Yugi throughout the series, if not more important given how Atem is the only one dueling for about 99% of the duels that Yugi is involved in.
If Kaiba can be considered the Vegeta to Yugi’s Goku, then Joey would arguably be the Piccolo if the DBZ analogy continues. Depending on your opinions regarding DBZ, that analogy also continues by the fact that Joey is a more likeable character than Yugi/Atem, just as Piccolo was considered by some to be a better father to Gohan than Goku ever was.
Joey doesn’t rely on protagonist plot-armour like Yugi, nor does he have the wealth to have all the good cards like Kaiba. Instead, Joey’s deck relies on sheer dumb luck, which makes his duels less predictable than either Yugi or Kaiba’s duels. In fact, given his development across the series and his duel record, Joey can easily be considered the most realistic duelist in DM by far. In that sense, Joey represents the viewer better than any other character in the show since he, like the viewers, is a beginner to the game of Duel Monsters yet over time, develops his skill and becomes an experienced duelist.
Some Duels I Liked
While episodes 194-195 are part of the KC Grand Prix filler arc, this duel was the one and only good duel from the arc. Yet not only was it the only good duel from that arc, but I personally consider it the best duel in DM for several reasons.
It did not overstay its welcome like most DM duels which dragged on for 4-6 episodes. Kaiba vs Siegfried lasted just two episodes since, honestly, the duel didn’t need to go any longer.
The Kaiba vs Siegfried duel is back-and-forth, showing off both duel’s most powerful monsters when they could be Summoned. This duel also has the honour of being the debut of Chaos Emperor Dragon – Envoy of the End. While that card’s effect has been drastically nerfed, it was for a long time considered one of the most powerful monsters in the game due to its game-ending effect. Despite this, Chaos Emperor Dragon did not overshadow the rest of the duel. It was merely one card played. Rather, the MVC (Most Valuable Card) of the duel would be Kaiba’s Dimension Fusion which was used and then reused again to great effect.
Siegfried was more than simply a filler villain: he was effectively Noah Kaiba and Alister done right. Both Noah and Alister were filler villains with grudges against Seto Kaiba out of jealousy and revenge respectively. Yet Siegfried was a character that took both concepts, blended them together, and came out as a superior character to either Noah or Alister. To me, Siegfried is the perfect example of not just a well-written filler villain, but also proving that a villain doesn’t need to be around much to leave an impact. The KC Grand Prix arc only lasted from episodes 186-198, so Siegfried was only around for 13 episodes.
The other amazing thing about Siegfried is that he is the only villain that not only never duelled Yugi/Atem, but Siegfried never once showed interest in them or cared about Yugi/Atem or anything related to Atem’s lost memory. He was solely interested in Seto Kaiba alone, which makes Siegfried distinct as one of the few arc villains to never serve as an actual antagonist to the protagonist. Siegfried is one of the few major villains in any YGO series who never wanted to take over the world, and never tried to killed anyone.
By comparison to other villains, Siegfried is a small-scale villain focused on corporate domination whereas the likes of Bakura and Marik were threats to the world, while Pegasus stole the souls of Yugi’s grandfather, Seto, and Mokuba (basically killing them), and Noah and the Big Five planned on stealing the bodies of our main cast (basically killing them). The worst that would have come from Siegfried’s plans is that Kaiba Corporation’s reputation would be ruined and Schoeder Corporation would take its place as the dominant company.
Easily one of the most emotional duels in the series, if not across any YGO series. The holds even greater weight because for a moment, it truly seemed as if Joey was going to win the duel. In fact, if Joey had not collapsed then he would have defeated Marik and claimed his Egyptian God card.
If any duel in the series proved how far Joey had come since his Duelist Kingdom days, this would be that duel. Joey not only stood his ground against the main antagonist of the Battle City arc, but would have defeated him too if not for physically exhaustion. Being able to basically defeat the main antagonist of a major non-filler arc in YGO is a feat that very few characters can hold. It would not be until ARC-V that a main antagonist is crushed in a duel by someone who isn’t the protagonist (Reiji Akaba vs Jean-Michel Roger, ARC-V episodes 98-99).
One of the most interesting things about this duel for me was the way that Leichter duelled. His style focused on LP recovery and paying LP as the cost for cards such as Injection Fairy Lily and Imperial Order.
As someone who enjoyed the game Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelists of the Roses, I found the Deck Master concept of this arc to be tolerable. Although to me, the Virtual World arc is lacklustre and was a waste of time, even though I enjoyed this duel. I’d say the highlight of the duel was Kaiba outsmarting Leichter by forcing him to use Injection Fairy Lily’s effect so that Leichter wouldn’t have enough LP to pay to increase her ATK.
Duelist Kingdom was riddled with made-up rules and nonsense that dragged on longer than it needed to. Battle City was easily the best part of DM whereas the Virtual World filler arc was DM’s lowest point. The Doma filler arc was a mixed bag which I personally found to be overrated. I think the KC Grand Prix filler arc, while not that good, is an underrated arc which, had it lasted a few episodes longer, could have potentially been better than it ended up being. As for the finale, I found it to be boring due to the distinct lack of dueling for most of the arc.
Ultimately, despite the love I show it, DM is a series that hasn’t aged well, which is understandable given that it is a 20-year old series. I feel that newer YGO series later expand upon what made DM a great series, each spin-off adding their own flavour to it (GX had the boarding school element, 5Ds had the stratified society, ZEXAL was extremely futuristic, and ARC-V gave added weight to the summoning methods in-universe).