Protagonist plays a children’s card game to save the world: The Boarding School Sequel Edition. Now with 200% more Ritual Monsters and 1000% more Fusion Monsters.
Our first post-DM protagonist, Judai has the role of Yugi yet his personality is a lot more confident and outgoing. Not needing an ancient spirit to duel in his place, Judai relies more on a combination of natural skill and the luck of the draw (in other words, topdecking) to defeat his opponents.
The most notable thing about Judai is that unlike Yugi or Atem, he was a fleshed-out character. Judai wasn’t perfect, he didn’t win all his fair and square duels. When Judai duelled, there was no guarantee that he would win and this was proven as soon as episode 8 of GX when Judai lost to Ryo Marufuji. On the other hand, the writers never had the guts to have Yugi/Atem lose fairly to Kaiba in a duel, and Yugi/Atem’s only legitimate defeats outside of filler arcs was when Atem lost to Yugi at the end of DM. Even then, Atem and Yugi are effectively the same person for the entirety of DM outside of the Doma arc, so Atem losing to Yugi doesn’t count in my eyes as Atem basically lost to himself.
Judai’s Elemental Heroes (E-HEROs) marked the rise in archetype decks whereby a deck would have a naming structure and all cards with that naming structure interact with each other. While this was present in DM with Mai’s Harpie Lady cards, as well as with other characters like Pegasus, Valon, Rafael, Dartz, Siegfried, the concept of archetypes started to truly become prevalent with the GX era and became further reinforced in every YGO series onwards.
Judai was also the first protagonist to fall into darkness and become a villain. Unlike Atem who simply fell into temptation to use the Seal of Orichalcos in a filler arc, Judai became a full-blown antagonist even if it wasn’t for very long. Even Judai’s deck underwent the change from Elemental Heroes to Evil Heroes (also E-HEROs) which unfortunately never got used again once Judai returned to being the protagonist. Ultimately, Judai represents a far more realistic character than Yugi or Atem ever were, and despite first glance, a darker character too.
Manjoume, aka the prototype of Shingo Sawatari, was both very similar and very different to Kaiba. Like Kaiba, Manjoume was very rich and was tied to a family corporation related to Duel Monsters and had siblings. Unlike Kaiba, Manjoume was not the CEO of the company, had two older brothers (and no younger siblings), served as comic relief and was an underwhelming duelist.
While Manjoume is certainly a poor man’s Kaiba, the one area that distinguishes Manjoume from Kaiba is the comedy. Kaiba was a very serious character and the humour he brought was despite his personality rather than a result of it. Manjoume on the other hand, was a light-hearted character who was in love with Asuka Tenjoin. Secondly, while Manjoume was not a terrible duelist to the extent that Mai Valentine was, Manjoume was not anywhere near Kaiba when it came to dueling. Manjoume lost many, many duels to hype up his opponents and to make Judai look that much better when he beat the opponents that Manjoume could not.
While Manjoume’s inferior dueling skills compared to Kaiba and the comic relief status may seem like red flags at first, those factors make him stand out from Kaiba rather than simply being a copycat. What made Manjoume enjoyable was his personality and the humour rather than his dueling ability. When it comes down to dueling skills and deck style, it is Ryo Marufuji who serves as the closest thing to Kaiba, and not Manjoume.
If Yugi never found the Millenium Puzzle but instead matured on his own and developed himself, Sho is what the result would be.
He is easily identifiable as a timid character similarly to Yugi, only not as naturally talented. It didn’t help his confidence issues that his older brother, Ryo Marufuji, was the best duelist at Duel Academy during the first season and even afterwards, Ryo was a renounced duelist in-universe.
Yet from the beginning all the way through the series, we see Sho develop from a weak duelist with zero confidence to a powerful and more confident duelist, with his evolution from being a Slifer Red student to an Obelisk Blue student being symbolic of his growth as a duelist and more importantly, as an individual. In this sense, Sho represents the personality of Yugi and the character development of Joey across the series.
Evidently the writers looked at Tea and saw that as a non-duelist, she was a worthless character. Thus, Asuka is the first main female character who an actual duelist, given that Mai Valentine was never a main character but just a recurring secondary character.
Firstly, Asuka’s character design is better than either Tea or Mai. Unlike Tea, Asuka is a duelist and unlike Mai, Asuka wins on-screen duels. I liked her cards from an aesthetic perspective, even if they weren’t quite as powerful as the cards used by other characters. Like with Mai in DM, Asuka is held back by not living up to her potential as a character. It wouldn’t be until 5Ds that a female character (Aki Izayoi) is a well-developed character and powerful duelist.
Ultimately, Asuka is easily an improvement from both Tea and Mai from DM. She may not have got her grand moment like what Mai got against Marik, nor did she have the relationship comparable to Mai’s with Joey but to me, Asuka is the perfect example of how GX vastly improved upon the foundations laid by DM.
Admittedly, I found the duels to be less interesting in GX than in DM. To me, GX’s greatest strengths are how well-written its characters are, rather than the actual duels.
With that said, this duel between Ryo and Yubel (who possesses Johan’s body) is often considered by many to be one of the best duels in GX, it not outright the best duel in the series. It involves a fan favourite character (Ryo Marufuji) going up against essentially the main villain of season 3, and coming close to defeating her.
Not only the duel well-written, but it is also the last time that Kaiser truly goes all out against an opponent and his penultimate duel. In that sense, this duel was truly Kaiser’s final duel and he went out fighting against one of the strongest duelists in GX.
One of the most beloved duels in GX by the fanbase, the Judai vs Chronos duel served as a nice throwback to the very first duel of GX by having it end the exact same way: Elemental HERO Flame Wingman destroying Ancient Gear Golem while Skyscraper was active, then Flame Wingman’s effect dealing 3000 damage to Chronos to defeat him.
Ancient Gears were not exactly my favourite archetype to watch, but in hindsight, ARC-V sparked an interest in the archetype that made me appreciate Chronos’ deck as much as his character. Over the course of the entire series, we watch Chronos go from an antagonistic jerk to being a harsh teacher with a hidden good side, then to outright being a fun, comedic character.
To me, this was the first duel in GX where shit truly hit the fan. Judai had lost twice prior to this, once to Ryo and once to the Duel Spirit of Kaibaman. Yet unlike those times, Judai’s defeat to Edo was the first time where the stakes were real. Unlike both previous losses, Judai losing to Edo had consequences and ultimately led to Judai acquiring Elemental HERO Neos and the other Neo-Spacian cards.
Judai’s defeat is a complete surprise in-universe and, to a lesser extent, was one to the fans. Especially given the fact that Yugi was never defeated fair and square in a non-filler duel where the stakes were high. One other interesting aspect of the duel is that, for the first half at least, it was two Elemental Hero decks facing against each other. It is very, very rare in any YGO anime for two duelists using the same deck to appear in the same series, and it is even rarer for those two characters to duel against each other.
While the quality of this duel isn’t all that special, I consider it the most honorable mention due to Saiou’s ZTK (Zero-Turn Kill) against Prince Oujin. In other words, Saiou defeated his opponent without ever getting to have a turn himself. In the actual game, this would only be plausible if the player who didn’t go first drew into all five pieces of Exodia in their first turn.
To date, this duel is the only duel where a duelist managed to win the duel by reducing their opponent’s LP to 0 without ever getting to have a turn. Even if Saiou’s opponent was not impressive, just being able to perform the ZTK against anyone is impressive by itself.
GX starts off flat during season 1 and to a lesser extent, season 2. It isn’t until season 3 when the series truly hits its prime and both it and season 4 contain most of GX’s greatest moments. This is especially true with the villains who start off poorly written in season 1 (the Seven Stars) and season 2 (Saiou and the Society of Light), in contrast to the better written antagonists of season 3 (Viper, the Supreme King, Amon Garam, and Yubel) and season 4 (Truman, Yusuke Fujiwara, and Darkness).
While GX lacks a strong main rival with similar importance as Kaiba was in DM, it certainly made up for having a better cast overall. To me, GX was a better series than DM overall even if DM was better in one or two certain areas such as having a better rival. I just feel that GX often gets too much flak for not being quite as good as Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds or to a lesser extent, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters.