It’s been a while since I last talked about anything Yu-Gi-Oh related on this blog, or even involved myself with the anime. The last series I watched was the 5Ds installment; the one which many remember as “card games on motorcycles”, and which I found so boring, ridiculous and beyond bothering that I gave up halfway through the series after returning to university to complete my final year. It’s also been three years since my review of Yu-Gi-Oh GX, which remains to this day my personal favourite series from the franchise. However, the one series that I’m most familiar with was none other than the original Duel Monsters arc, featuring Yugi Muto, Seto Kaiba and friends trying to stroke their egos for card game supremacy and spawned millions of other kids to do the same with their own decks.
Man, do I miss when this series was the stuff. Growing up in the halcyon days of mid-2000s Canada I would be treated to seeing this show air on Saturday mornings on the 4KidsTV block. It was one of the only flicks that I’d tolerate along with Sonic X. Only five years ago did I finally take up watching all 200+ episodes of said arc, and finally saw for myself how it went down, and better understood the gameplay. As recently as 2020, I tried to get back into the IRL card game, only to get overwhelmed with all the new card types and playing formats; Synchro Summons, XYZ Monsters, Pendulum Monsters, Rush Duels, banned cards… I just didn’t bother to keep up with them and decided to remain content adhering to the same format that was in vogue up until GX ended. (Salute to anyone who still keeps to this way)
The popularity of the Duel Monsters arc led to the release of a movie, titled Pyramid of Light. I remember seeing this movie being advertised on 4KidsTV, but never really gave it much thought until 14 years later, when it was well beyond its due date, as well as this subsequent review.
Yu-Gi-Oh: Pyramid of Light
The iconic initial Yu-Gi-Oh anime, courtesy of Studio Gallop, aired for four years from April 2000 to September 2004, lasting 224 episodes and five arcs which saw the exploits of Duelists Yugi Muto, Jonouchi Katsuya, Seto Kaiba and their ragtag team of friends and miscellaneous allies take each other on in various dueling tournaments, archaeological digs, virtual realities and literal death matches. It was localized for North American audiences shortly after, complete with its own set of censorships and bad puns (which became the subject of online mockery, rightfully so) as well as its own short-lived twelve-episode miniseries loosely based on the idea of Capsule Monsters game, first introduced in season 0. No words can describe how successful the series was, and the level of hype it reached there, probably at the same level of Pokémon; to this day you can still see scores of tournaments and shops dedicated for players to get their game on.
Three full-length films were released concerning the franchise: the first, Pyramid of Light, was produced by 4Kids Entertainment and first released in North America on 13 August 2004, and came out in Japan three months later with 13 minutes of additional footage. To my surprise I learned that the film not only barely made it as a box office bomb, but it was universally panned for being too niche and unfriendly to newcomers. Despite being the third-highest anime film at the box office, it remains ranked among the worst-scored in that same category according to outlets like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
This begs the question – does this film really deserve all that crapping? I for one enjoyed the Duel Monsters saga for its battles, music, and its many memorable moments; was there anything about this film that was different?
NOTE: I will not include a section for the “Characters” or “Music” in this review, since their personalities and the movie’s soundtrack largely carries over from the original series. If you want to know how I felt about those, see my review of the entire Duel Monsters arc here.
In Egypt, a team of archaeologists discover the tomb of an Egyptian sorcerer known as Anubis, and are killed when Yugi Muto completes his Millenium Puzzle, setting its vengeful spirit free and ready to take its revenge. In the present day, following the events of the Battle City Arc (seasons 2-3) Yugi, said tournament’s champion and the owner of the three all-powerful God cards: Obelisk The Tormentor, Slifer The Sky Dragon, and the Winged Dragon Of Ra, comes face-to-face with multitudes of Duelists outside his school challenging him for the cards, forcing his friends Jonouchi Katsuya, Hiroto Honda and Anzu Mazaki to come to his defense. Yugi and Anzu take cover the museum’s Egyptian exhibit, where they stumble across his grandfather analyzing a sarcophagus with a seemingly prophetic inscription on it and a crystal pyramid that resembles Yugi’s Millenium Puzzle. When Yugi reads the prophecy, a bright flash of light occurs, and both the mummy and pyramid are stolen, setting the stage for the events to come.
Meanwhile, tired of consistently being humiliated by Yugi at Duel Monsters, Seto Kaiba, the proud, rich yet arrogant owner of the Blue Eyes White Dragon set of cards, vows to find a way to defeat his longstanding rival. He pays a visit to Pegasus J. Crawford, the game’s creator and a now-retired Duelist ever since he lost his Millenium Eye in the first arc and demands from him the cards which could overthrow the God cards. Pegasus reluctantly accepts to his demands on the condition that he wins a duel (putting his Blue Eyes trio at stake), and without his cheat tricks to help him, is easily defeated. Kaiba obtains the cards, ignoring Pegasus’ plea of otherwise. His confidence restored and assured of his incoming victory, he challenges Yugi to yet another grudge match at his private stadium. Despite the latter’s concerns over dark forces at play in the request, Yugi switches to his alternate form (known as Yami Yugi), and trots to the duel, but loses the use of his God cards when the latter activates the first of those Pegasus-exclusive cards: the “Pyramid of Light”, which surrounds the duelists in a glowing pyramid arena, separates Yugi and Yami Yugi, and throws the building into disarray.
At the same time Jonouchi, Honda and regular Yugi become trapped in the pyramid’s core, which takes the form of a massive labyrinth. The three of them locate within it a large Egyptian room filled with zombified mummies and the spirit of Anubis, who declares his intention to revive and have his army of live Duel Monsters destroy the world if Kaiba wins. For a time, this seems to be the case; Kaiba’s strategy of decimating Yami Yugi’s deck and unleashing the Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon out (the second of the Pegasus-exclusive cards) proves super effective, and puts Yami Yugi 200 life points away from defeat. Watching from the ruined stadium’s ground, Yugi’s grandfather realizes the gravity of things at hand, and informs fellow spectators Anzu and Kaiba’s younger brother, Mokuba, that the duel is now effectively a death game thanks to the Pyramid of Light’s effects – meaning should Yugi lose, he would physically die as well.
Pegasus arrives to their rescue as the stadium continues to collapse, and Anzu mystically teleports herself to the pyramid’s core to warn the duelists of the dark influences encompassing their bout, then joining her friends to fight off the mummies and get original Yugi back by his partner’s side, which they succeed at. Kaiba initially rejects Anzu’s claim of dark influences, but as Anubis continues to peg him on, his “I am my own man” attitude prevails and leads him to activate Blue-Eyes Shining Dragon’s card-destroying effect on the Pyramid of Light, which throws Anubis into a fit and forces him to reveal himself, incapacitate Kaiba and continue the duel in his stead. Fortunately, Yugi comes out on top, vanquishing him and destroying the crystal pyramid relic for good, thwarting whatever chaos could have come about with his defeat. The four friends reunite and celebrate their friendship, while the recovered Kaiba reluctantly acknowledges Yugi’s claim as the “King of Games”, vowing to beat him fairly the next time they meet.
What I Liked
- No matter which series you reference, the Yu-Gi-Oh anime is widely known for its enthralling, epic card battles, and this movie is no exception to such. Although only two-and-a-half battles made its way into this 100+ minute film, they did not disappoint in their quality and the strategies presented. Watching this gives off the vibe of a practice tape for dueling, at least for folks like me: you learn something new in each battle.
What I Didn’t Like
- The character visuals weren’t able to match the crisp, smooth animation of the original anime. Their expressions were too sharp, their outline was way too bold and made them stand out too much against the background.
- The subplot involving Yugi solving the Millenium Puzzle and freeing Anubis… did not make the slightest bit of sense. We know that Yugi solved the puzzle in the beginning of the series, otherwise his famous alter-ego would not have manifested itself. The movie takes place several months after that, or episode 144. After Anubis’ spirit is freed from the tomb, he remains dormant until our motley gang of duelists conveniently come across him. That leaves me to wonder, what was the point of tying the two events at all? Wouldn’t it have made sense for Anubis to have taken action immediately after being freed, and cause chaos during the Duelist Kingdom arc rather than staying dormant in a museum which, ironically, that’s what he was doing before?
- Anubis is a terrible villain, and that’s saying a lot considering how he fares compared to other Yu-Gi-Oh villains. Pegasus was originally a kind-hearted explorer who wanted to use the Millenium Eye’s power to revive his ailing wife; Malik from the Battle City arc sought to avenge his father and restore the honor of his clan. They were villains, but they had a reason for it, and not just stock. Despite the movie giving three opportunities to expand his lore: in the beginning, when original Yugi first encounters his tomb in the Pyramid of Light, and in his final bout with Yugi, it flops on that, reducing him to being as stock as a bad guy one can get. Heck, we don’t even get to experience the full power of his deck.
Favourite scene: I liked the opening with the Egyptian archaeologists checking out Anubis’ tomb superimposed with Yugi solving the Millenium Puzzle, and the disaster that ensued afterwards. It took on a different scenery than what I was used to from the mostly urban-centered episodes.
Favourite battle moment: Pegasus and Kaiba’s duel was a rematch of the Duelist Kingdom version, originally won by the former. This time around, Kaiba gets his fair, and sweetly obtained revenge, and the sequence which he used to win the game takes the spot as my favourite battle moment. After dissing his opponent, he proceeds to pull a “gamer move” that countered Pegasus’ offensive tactics, by sacrificing his own monster to summon a more powerful monster with a better effect and secure his victory. Nothing less you can expect from Mr. “Screw The Rules, I Have Money”.
Favourite quote: Speaking of which:
Pegasus: This game’s over, Kaiba. I’ll be nice and let you keep your precious Blue-Eyes, so pack your things and scurry on home!
Kaiba: Nonsense. This duel isn’t over just yet.
Pegasus: What? Don’t tell me he isn’t worried at all about this move?…
Kaiba: You stupid cretin! As a duelist I am someone who doesn’t stay stuck with the times. I am someone who forges my own destiny and evolves with the future! From there do I craft my art and gain my victories, rather than clutch onto worthless tactics from ages past!… Watch as I end your pitiful career with my logic-transcending play!Seto Kaiba disses Pegasus J. Crawford FTW
So, why does the movie get a bad rep? The answer probably lies in its problematic formulation. The writing is disconnected, the plot is generic, the villain is atrocious and the whole thing just feels like an easy cash cow for 4Kids to relentlessly milk upon. What’s funnier is that the “Pyramid of Light” card they touted in the movie is basically useless IRL, thanks to their stupendous writing. Even audiences who enjoyed it as a kid are now reporting on sites like MyAnimeList their acknowledgement of all its flaws and shortcomings. As for me – do I think it deserves all that crapping on? Honestly, I can’t bring that to a definite affirmative. Sure, I found myself being more critical of it in the years since I first watched it, but it’s not anywhere near a trainwreck as people say it is. I still recognize the characters; the gameplay is consistent, and the strategies are well-developed.
All things considered, I think it’s safe for me to give it a pass, as a filler movie with some entertainment and small bits of nostalgic value to it – in spite of all its issues.