Protagonist plays a children’s card game on motorcycles to save the world: The BUY BLACKWINGS Edition, now featuring objectively the best soundtrack of any YGO series to date.
Yusei certainly differed from the prior two protagonists. He was not shy like Yugi and was not overly enthusiastic like Judai. He can best be described as a stoic badass who wins every on-screen duel he is ever in, except for his first duel against Kiryu but that doesn’t count as a true loss. Yusei isn’t known as Card Game Jesus for nothing.
In 5Ds, society is stratified whereby there is a physical and social divide between Neo Domino City where the middle and upper-class live, and the outcast Satellite Sector where only the poor and/or criminals reside. Due to the aftermath of Zero Reverse, he was raised in Satellite despite being born in Neo Domino City. This gives us as the viewer a different perspective of the world 5Ds takes place in. It also serves to contrast Yusei’s background to both Rua and Ruka, and to a lesser extent, Aki as well since the latter trio were born and raised in Neo Domino City, with Rua and Ruka coming from the Tops.
Yusei’s poverty is most apparently early on in 5Ds where his deck is made up of cards that people, mainly those from Neo Domino City, threw away because they were deemed worthless. While his deck ultimately focuses on the Synchron monsters and various Warrior archetype Synchros, it is overall just a fast-paced Synchro deck that became more focused on Stardust Dragon as the series went on.
While Yusei devolves into simply being Card Game Jesus from episodes 65 onward, the most notable thing about Yusei is that 5Ds as a series was the first YGO series where it truly seemed like Yusei and Aki would develop a romantic relationship. The finale of 5Ds was a massive tease in this regard since it dangled the possibility of Yusei and/or Aki confessing their love but they just remained friends.
As the DUERU KINGU, Jack serves as the main rival in 5Ds and is easily one of the better written rivals in any YGO series. He is certainly one of the most well-written characters in 5Ds, even if it was mostly in the first 64 episodes of the series.
What made Yusei and Jack’s rivalry very different from the Yugi-Kaiba rivalry or the Judai-Manjoume ‘rivalry’, is that Yusei and Jack were childhood friends. This stands at a stark contrast to someone like Kaiba who doesn’t want friends even if he grudgingly respects Yugi’s skill, or Manjoume who only meets Judai during GX itself and their bond was nothing comparable to childhood friends. The same can be said of later rivals as the Yuma-Kaito rivalry in ZEXAL and the Yuya-Reiji rivalry in ARC-V have a similar distance from each other whereas Yusei and Jack were childhood friends. This vastly changes the entire context of the Yusei-Jack rivalry when watching 5Ds, especially early on in 5Ds.
Yet one of the most important moments in 5Ds for Jack’s character is when he met Carly. He first saw her as a nuisance yet over time, he grew fond of her and was saddened when he first believed she was dead during the Dark Signer. This only amplified during his later duel against Dark Signer Carly where after defeating her, he confesses his love to her as she faded away. Unfortunately, due to… “circumstances” involving Carly’s seiyuu and who she associated with, 5Ds drastically shifted away from the Jack-Carly relationship to the point where Jack didn’t even remember that he confessed his love for her, effectively regressing Jack’s character after his interactions with Carly had developed him quite a bit.
The first woman in YGO that is good for something besides being a cheerleader, Aki was initially defined by the fear that society had of her and her powers as a psychic duelist. It isolated from her family for a long time and Aki was left on her own. She later met a man by the name of Divine who ran the Arcada Movement (which due to the “circumstances” of Carly’s seiyuu, both Divine and the Arcada Movement were dropped after episode 64). He took her in, manipulating her and grooming her to serve him as a psychic duelist of the Arcadia Movement. To Aki’s own words to Yusei in their first duel, she did not care what others thought of her as long as Divine loved her, as long as Divine stayed by her side. However, it would not be until much later than she realised Divine was just using her to further his own ends.
When compared to previous main female characters, Aki easily towers over them as a duelist and more importantly, as a character. Aki had her own sub-plot related to the Arcadia Movement and as short-lived as it was, it is more than Tea or Asuka ever had. She duled the most out of all the main female characters and compared to them, Aki won more duels. Not just that, but until the very end, Aki’s bond with Yusei was the closest that the writers ever got to having the main female character confess her love to the protagonist.
However, Aki’s glory would not last long as not only was she side-lined because of the scandal regarding Carly’s seiyuu being involved in a cult, but Blackwings were selling well and this led to executive meddling. Konami wished to shill Blackwings, and by extension Crow as a character, which came at the cost of Aki’s own character development. For most of season 2, she was sidelined. It was so obvious that even the visuals to the 6th ending depicted Aki as “Benchwarmer”.
Ultimately, Aki is an example of a character who started off as one of the best characters in the series but regressed to being a dull character due to the changes that had to be made to 5Ds. With that said, Aki is my favourite 5Ds and she has arguably the most powerful Signer Dragon when it comes to the actual game, given how either Black Rose Dragon or Stardust Dragon are both viable Synchro monsters despite how prevalent power creep in the TCG/OCG is.
At first, Rua is simply a better written Mokuba due to his normality while being related to a sibling that is deemed in-universe to be more important. He comes off as whiny and loud when we first get introduced to him, and for a basic reason, he is the second weakest Signer when it comes to dueling.
However, Rua is also like Joey and Sho in certain ways. Like Joey, Rua is a relatively normal person thrown into abnormal conflicts and like Sho, uses a Machine-Type deck while also improving himself over the course of the series. One interesting thing about Rua’s first few opponents in 5Ds is that his losses to them never made him look weak to the viewer due to the established or implied skill of said opponent. Yusei, Bommer, and Divine are by no means weak duelists. Yusei is the main protagonist of 5Ds and even if he wasn’t Card Game Jesus, defeating the main protagonist in a fair duel isn’t exactly a common thing in YGO. Bommer is suggested to be a somewhat skilled duelist compared to the average duelist within 5Ds. As for Divine, he is a powerful duelist who taught Aki and other psychic duelists in the Arcadia Movement. Unlike Bommer, Divine is a borderline main villain of the first half of 5Ds and is implied to be comparable to Aki as a duelist. Yet when it came to dueling Bommer and Divine, Rua came close to defeating both despite being less experienced and not being a Signer for the first 141 episodes of 5Ds.
Due to Crow being shoehorned into becoming a Signer because of Blackwings proving to be marketable, Rua was sidelined even more than he usually was. From episodes 65-154, Rua only duelled three times on-screen and of those duels, only two of those duels were relevant while the other duel was a filler episode. 5Ds continued the trend of Rua dueling opponents vastly beyond his league. He and Ruka dueled against Lucciano in 77-78 and then both twins and Jack Atlas duelled Aporia in 141-143. Of those duels, Lucciano defeated Rua and Ruka while Aporia was defeated due to Rua’s Life Stream Dragon and Jack’s skill as a duelist.
Rua is one of my favourite 5Ds characters after Aki and Jack. His downfall as a character was taking so long to become a Signer, however I blame that on the writers for trying to promote Blackwings at the expense of Aki and Rua’s relevance, along with the non-existent relevance Ruka already had.
To be honest, she is so objectively irrelevant as an actual character that she is not even worth being mentioned. Her role is to give Rua development and a figure to protect, and she cannot even win a single on-screen duel by herself. Except for her duel against Professor Frank, every single one of her duels directly involved Rua helping her. Rua was the one dueling Demack, Rua helped her against Lucciano while also doing the clear majority of the work, and Rua’s comeback against Aporia allowed Jack to finish the job while Ruka barely did anything in that duel.
To me, Ruka is an unlikeable character because she is important for no reason. Ruka herself isn’t important, and if she wasn’t Rua’s sister then she wouldn’t matter at all. She is ultimately a character who is clearly not written as well as Rua was, and she pales in comparison to the other five Signers, especially when compared to her twin brother which makes Ruka’s worthlessness stand out more.
Oh, boy… welcome to what might possibly be not just the 5Ds character I hate most, but one of the most hated characters in any YGO series in my eyes. You see, while I already stated why Ruka was a bad character, I never hated her as a character. I deem her unimportant and redundant, but never did I loathe or despise the character. Crow on the other hand, is a different story.
At first, I didn’t hate Crow. GX had Johan as a last-minute important character and was only introduced over 100 episodes into GX’s run, whereas Crow was introduced around the late 30s so in theory, Crow should have been a more fleshed out, better written version of Johan. In some ways, Crow can be considered better written because Johan is basically a Judai clone, a fact established even in-universe by other characters, whereas Crow is still different from Yusei or Jack. As much as I hate Crow, I can at least appreciate that he would have been worse if he had been a Yusei clone.
Once Crow became a Signer at the end of the Dark Signer arc, any liking I had of Crow went completely out the window. Crow not only became a Signer, but his very existence in 5Ds resulted in Rua and Ruka getting side-lined, and Aki was now side-lined even more than the scandal involving Carly’s VA had made her. Not just that, but Crow got his own Signer Dragon even though the series established that there were only five Signer Dragons and Crow’s wasn’t one of them. Yet the show even tried to retcon Crow’s Signer Dragon into the lore of 5Ds.
I should emphasise that Rua was meant to be a Signer in the Dark Signer arc. How do we know this? The 2nd opening had him facing Bommer in a rematch (instead of Crow getting that duel), and the series had already shown off Rua’s Signer Dragon (Life Stream Dragon) not just in the 2nd ending but more than once across 5Ds up until episode 142 when Rua finally became a Signer. Crow was never intended to be a main character, let alone upstaging Aki or the twins… he was supposed to be the final villain of the Dark Signer arc. It is reinforced by the final Earthbound Immortal being a DARK Winged-Beast-Type monster which fits in with Crow’s DARK Winged-Beast-Type deck.
Jack, Rua and Ruka vs Aporia (Episodes 141-143)
Honestly, I consider this one of the greatest duels in any YGO anime by far. Even though Yusei vs Z-ONE (episode 148-151) is considered the climax of the Ark Cradle arc, this 3-v-1 duel felt like it was the true climax of 5Ds.
This duel posed some of the highest stakes in any 5Ds duel since the Dark Signer arc, putting not just the lives of all three of our main characters on the line, but the tension is increased by the fact that Rua and Ruka are still children. Given their performance against Lucciano who was just one-third of Aporia, it only posed the question of how they could ever stand a chance against Aporia. Despite Z-ONE being the final villain and the highest authority in Ylliaster, Aporia was for all intents and purposes the main villain of 5Ds from episode 65-143 when factoring in his three embodiments: Lucciano, Placido, and Jose.
Aporia played a completely different strategy to what he used against Yusei during their duel in the WRGP, and very different from what his three embodiments tried to do. Instead of relying on the five monsters to make up one powerful Meklord, Aporia used a burn deck focused on witling away the LP of the three main characters, using smaller Meklord Army monsters to start off with before going all out with his Meklord Astro Dragon Asterisk.
While Rua was originally supposed to become a Signer way back in the Dark Signer arc before that idea got shafted by Crow’s existance, I would argue that this duel against Aporia did far more for Rua’s character than a duel against Bommer ever would have. Not only because Aporia is a more enjoyable character than Bommer but because Aporia is a pseudo-final villain of 5Ds whereas Bommer is far less important by comparison.
Yusei vs Jack (Episodes 153-154)
I couldn’t decide between this duel and the Aporia duel to be the best duel of 5Ds. As I chose the latter, the former is what I consider the second-best duel of 5Ds. It was a long-awaited duel between protagonist and rival which hasn’t truly been seen since DM, given the fact that Manjoume was a joke rival in GX despite being the main rival of that series.
The only disappointment about this duel is that Yusei didn’t lose the duel. He had no reason to defeat Jack and doing so never proved anything since we already knew that Yusei was the protagonist and had won their previous duel, so it’s not as if Yusei was dueling Jack to get something out of it. Many fans felt disappointed that Jack did not defeat Yusei, specifically because Yusei had never lost a real duel in the entirety of 5Ds and with no stakes attached, Yusei could have lost the duel without any consequences coming to him. Even just having the duel end in a draw would have satisfied most of us, if only to see Yusei’s LP hit 0.
Despite Yusei winning the duel, much to our dislike, the finale of 5Ds is easily one of the greatest duels in 5Ds and certainly one of the best duels when compared to all the duels across any YGO series. Both duelists got to go all out, using their most powerful monsters at their disposal and took us down memory lane with some cameos of minor characters from the start of 5Ds as well as the duel partly taking place in locations from the first 12 episodes of the series.
Aki and Crow vs Sherry (Episodes 139-140)
An underrated duel in my eyes, Aki and Crow’s final duel of 5Ds was their best duels to me. This duel was one which I found dull at first but after re-watching it several times, I grew to appreciate this duel.
The beginning of this duel was unique in that Sherry tricks Aki and Crow into dueling against each other for almost all of episode 139, by making Aki see Crow as Sherry and making Crow see Aki as Sherry. This is further reinforced by having Aki and Crow’s monsters get turned into Tokens which meant that neither could identify the other’s cards. It was only after Crow summons a Blackwing that is unaffected by Sherry’s card effects is Aki able to catch onto Sherry’s scheme and destroys the entire field with her Black Rose Dragon. I love the ending to episode 139 because it contains one of my favourite tracks from 5Ds: Sherry LeBlanc’s theme. A sinister theme that starts off slow, yet gets fast-paced about a minute and twenty seconds into it.
Sherry almost manages to win Crow over to her side by tempting him with the promise that the future Z-ONE would create is a utopia where children and their parents are together and happy, something that appealed to Crow given his character throughout 5Ds as someone who looks after orphaned kids and who himself was an orphan. After Aki snaps him back to reality, she and Crow go onto defeat Sherry where the duel ends on the theme ‘Hopeless Battle’, an unreleased 5Ds soundtrack which is often considered to be a great 5Ds track.
Yusei vs Aki (Episodes 23-24)
The duel that first cemented my interest in the Arcadia Movement sub-plot as well as my disappointment that the Arcadia Movement got swept under the rug in an anti-climactic fashion later.
Yusei’s duel with Aki is enjoyable not for the duel itself but what happens during the duel. It is the first moment when Aki’s metaphorical mask as the Black Rose is shattered, when we as the viewer first see her as a character trapped in her own blind loyalty. Yusei tries to get through to Aki in their duel but she shuts him down by saying if Divine loves her, everything will be fine, that she needs nobody else in her life. What Aki does not realise at this point is that Yusei is the first person who truly wants to help her for her own good, not out of dark intentions to manipulate her later like Divine uses her for. From Aki’s perspective, if she has Divine then she doesn’t need Yusei.
Aki is to this date the only main female in 5Ds who is not only never introduced in the first episode of the series, but also starts off as an antagonist for effectively the first quarter of 5Ds. This, in addition to her duel skill and her importance as an individual, puts her leagues beyond every other female character in YGO in my eyes. It is this very duel that highlights everything I like about Aki as a character: she is a powerful duelist, she is important, she isn’t a cliche childhood friend (Kotori in ZEXAL, Yuzu in ARC-V) or a fellow classmate (Anzu in DM, Asuka in GX) to the protagonist like the rest of the main female characters in YGO. It makes her stand out from other characters in the same role as her from other YGO series.
Jack vs Carly (Episodes 58-59)
The duel alone, like with the Yusei vs Aki duel, does not make it one of the best in 5Ds for me. It is what the duel represents that makes the duel amazing. It represents the final stage of Jack’s character development as well as the love between him and Carly which, due to a major scandal, was unfortunately never elaborated upon after the Dark Signer arc.
It’s an emotional duel where the emphasis is less on the duel and more on the duelists and their past together. The love that Jack and Carly felt for each other is the first (and currently only) major relationship in any YGO series where both people explicitly declared their love for each other, which puts it leagues beyond the Joey/Mai relationship where neither Joey or Mai confessed their love.
5Ds is at its best overall from a story perspective for the first 64 episodes, then from episode 65 onward it takes a nosedive by shafting characters (Aki, Rua, and Ruka), shilling Crow and his Blackwings, turning Yusei into a bigger Card Game Jesus than he already was (giving us Yusei vs Team Unicorn, aka one of the worst duels in 5Ds), and giving us so many filler episodes. The filler is especially apparent from episodes 65-98 and many fans consider the filler to be the worst episodes of 5Ds.
Despite 5Ds shortcomings, I consider it the best YGO series of the first five YGO series when it comes to its characters, its duels, and especially its MAGNIFICENT soundtrack. 5Ds has the best music of any YGO series, and that is something not even up for debate. Especially when it came to themes sung by Maasaki Endoh, but even just the regular themes of 5Ds such as the themes of Yusei, Jack and Aki, as well as tracks like Hopeless Battle, Jack’s theme V2 (Savior Demon’s Dragon theme), Aporia’s theme, Sherry’s theme, Antinomy’s theme, and other notable tracks across the series.
Even if ARC-V’s Synchro Dimension arc left extreme bitterness in my mouth for reasons I’ll elaborate on once I discuss ARC-V (though to be honest, me ranting about the Synchro Dimension arc could be a post by itself), I still consider 5Ds to be the best written YGO series so far.