On 4 July 2022, Kazuki Takahashi, the man behind the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise, died at age 60 in a diving accident off the coast of Okinawa. His death was mourned by many in the anime community, and tributes flowed in his memory from all over the world. At the time of his death, the card game franchise he spawned with Konami’s help was a massive, international success: it held the Guiness World Record title for the best-selling trading card game in history; the manga sold over 40 million copies and the anime was in its eleventh incarnation, subtitled Go Rush!; a series which, unlike the others before it, he unfortunately would never be able to finish supervising. Although his loss was devastating, he would at least live to see the original incarnation of the anime get closure when, in 2017, the movie Yu-Gi-Oh: Dark Side of Dimensions was released.
Yu-Gi-Oh: Dark Side Of Dimensions
The last episode of the Duel Monsters saga of Yu-Gi-Oh aired on 29 September 2004, and saw Yugi’s alter-ego, a pharaoh named Atem, ascend into the afterlife after a grueling ceremonial duel that he was defeated in. His spirit gone, and the seven Millenium Items along with it, Yugi’s side of his iconic gaming journey would come to an end. That would remain the case throughout the next decade; although he would make cameos alongside characters from GX and 5Ds, no word about how his story would follow-up would come until 2015, when it was revealed that a new movie would be made featuring these characters at San Diego’s Comic Con. After a lengthy advertisement process, which included a one-shot prequel manga by Kazuki Takahashi named Transcend Game, it was released in Japan on 23 April 2016, and then in English-speaking countries over the first few months of 2017.
Like many other films in the wake of Your Name, it was overshadowed by its glory, but nonetheless received more favourable reviews than its predecessor movie, though it made significantly less at the box office ($7.5 million in its initial run, compared to $30 million beforehand).
NOTE: For those who were more familiar with the English dub: I watched the Japanese version so I preferred to identify the characters as they were called in that airing. However, in the spirit of charity and to ensure my readers can follow through, here’s a keynote to help identify who’s who:
Jonouchi Katsuya = Joey Wheeler
Hiroto Honda = Tristan Taylor
Anzu Mazaki = Tea Gardner
Several months after Yugi and his alter-ego Atem’s ceremonial duel in Egypt, wherein the latter left this world to join his deceased comrades, he, along with Jonouchi, Honda, Bakura and Anzu have largely moved on with their lives and are discussing their post-high school plans. Jonouchi still aims to pursue a professional dueling career, while Honda has to inherit his father’s company and Anzu will study abroad in New York City to become a dancer. Yugi, on the other hand, plans to make a board game and publish it, as an attempt to move on from the events of the anime. While on the way home they meet a student, Aigami, being bullied and they come to his aid. Unbeknownst to them, he, like Yugi of old, is actually a powerful wielder of a unique Millenium Item known as the Quantum Cube, which links him to a reality-bending power known as the Prana, and has an alter-ego named Diva. Together with his other interdimensional friends he dreams of creating a world with no strife, pain or conflict, inspired by a story he was told as a child. in the first show of this power, he uses it to obliterate his tormentors’ from existence, and seal them in the Cube.
Meanwhile, Seto Kaiba’s reign of salt continues to abate, driven by his bitterness at Atem’s earthly departure. He orders an excavation at the tomb where the ceremonial duel happened, and comes upon the pieces of the Millenium Puzzle, which he believes that by reassembling, will unleash Atem’s spirit once more, and give him the duel he feels he deserves. Not long after, Diva arrives and challenges him to a new type of duel for the puzzle: the Dimension Duel. Despite Kaiba de facto winning, Diva steals two pieces of the puzzle, entrusting one to his sister Sara. He then gains access to Yugi’s inner circle, and uses it to psychologically torture Bakura, revealing his proxy role in killing his friend and mentor, Shadi, and setting him on the path of vengeance. Jonouchi, meanwhile, is sent to Diva’s dimension, but is freed by a vision of Atem – however he is too late to prevent Bakura’s kidnapping by Mani, who is under the Millenium Ring’s control.
Sara arrives at Yugi’s place, passing over one of the Millenium Puzzle’s pieces in the hopes he may rescue her brother from the dark forces controlling him. When Kaiba learns of the mis-presence of the two pieces remaining to complete the puzzle, he announces yet another mini-tournament featuring Yugi and Diva for possession of the pieces, introducing it alongside his new neurotechnology-based duel-disk system. Yugi challenges Diva first, wagering Bakura’s freedom, and despite the Dimension Duel playing field and the latter’s use of powerful, indestructible Cubic-type monsters, he emerges victorious with a strategic play that forces an infinite direct attack loop. He then duels Kaiba in a very emotional, traditional-style duel, and reluctantly completes the puzzle using the remaining two pieces he acquired, revealing to a distraught Kaiba that the act could not bring Atem back.
Although Yugi de facto wins, the game is interrupted when Diva returns, using the Millenium Ring’s power and emerging in a disheveled, monstrous form. Consumed by pure hatred, he begins taking multiple hostages and announcing his intent to use the power of the Prana to merge the two worlds and create the messed-up “utopia” of his mental machinations. Yugi and Kaiba must face him in a Shadow Game, but he proves to be more than a match, successfully eliminating Kaiba, putting Yugi 200 life points away from defeat, and the world at risk of destruction. Just then, in a miraculous turn of events, Atem arrives, pulls a come-from-behind victory, and sets the world back to normal. To wrap things up: Aigami is saved, but at the cost of severing his link to Diva and the Prana, as well as the utopian world he dreamed of, Yugi earns Kaiba’s respect as a competent duelist, the group graduates from high school and moves onto their futures, and Kaiba, against his brother Mokuba’s pleas, uses the Quantum Cube to travel to the afterlife and settle the score with Atem.
What I Liked
- I thought the film did great at establishing a farewell to the old Yu-Gi-Oh we knew through the actions of its characters. All of them, like us, are on the verge of going their own separate paths in life. Yugi compelling Kaiba or Aigami to let go of their past grudges and live anew felt like the movie speaking to us to do the same, and not dwell on the fact that this series was ending, but to cherish every moment we spent with it. He also leads by example, when his dueling competence wins him two battles on his own – showing how different he is from before. Atem’s brief appearance, in which he delivers the final blow and bids Yugi goodbye, also conveyed this message well, and made for a very dramatic scene.
- I liked how the film made connections between itself and other tidbits from the series, such as the final battle atmosphere mimicking those of the Battle City or Grand Championship tournament arcs, cameo appearances of Ryuji, Haga and Ryuzaki (Duke Devlin, Weevil and Rex respectively) and the pivotal events of the last set of episodes.
- There are five matchups, where icons like the Blue Eyes White Dragon, Obelisk the Tormentor, the Dark Magician (plus the girl) and Gaia the Fierce Knight standing alongside all-new esoteric-looking Cubic monsters, forming an intriguing-to-watch experience and flowed nicely. Aside from one major change in having combatants start with 8000 life points instead of 4000, bringing it more in line with the IRL rules, it preserved the old format and did not modify it much, proving there is still room for it amidst the new monster archetypes and substantial gameplay changes cluttering it today.
- Compared to Pyramid Of Light the visuals were a huge step up from the previous. Characters blended in nicely with the background, the monster styles were modernized and fluid in design, and we were treated to a variety of colourful settings which gave the film its own life.
What I Disliked
- Great as the battles were, I found the mechanics of Dimension Summoning to be so broken, it warrants a micro-analysis. Originally, in order to summon a monster higher than level 5, you need to tribute some monsters on your playing field (1 for levels 5-6, 2 for levels 7 and beyond). In Dimension Summoning, not only can you summon them without the tribute, BUT you can also decide how much power you want to assign, which the movie depicts through the characters Saiyan-screaming as if to express their determination. Those segments were a bit over-the-top, but the manner in which it was used was basically pointless when all the characters gave their monsters full power anyways – which begs the question, why was this even introduced and wouldn’t that cheapen the game?
- The scene where Kaiba, after the three-way tournament, hacks into the afterlife and stands before Atem, as if ready to duel felt off-base compared to the movie’s central message and how the protagonists treated it. Although Yugi blabs about not being held back to the past, and seemingly acknowledging this when he praises Yugi’s dueling ability, at story’s end he still decides to risk his life on an adventure just so he can settle the score with Atem, even though it seemed in his last scene together with Yugi, that he’d gotten the closure by acknowledging him as a formidable duelist. It’s almost like he learned nothing and ruined whatever progress could have been made with him. For all the talk about him not being held back by destiny, and controlling his own future, he’s a bit hypocritical in doing this.
All the old characters make their appearance: Yugi, Kaiba, Bakura, Anzu, Jonouchi, and Honda show up, and more or less do what they are typically known for. Amongst them, Yugi and Kaiba were the ones that displayed great depth in their ideals and attitudes towards life, with one extending renewed optimism for the future compared to the other’s near-maniacal degradation. It was a nice change of pace in character for the former who lingered under the shadow of his more famous “other self”, or the arrogant playboy of the young CEO of KaibaCorp – but in this way it prepared a path to convey the movie’s ultimate moral, a concept which again, was foreign to its episodic parent, let alone being more focused on their personal growth rather than their dueling skills. Not too shabby, I’d say.
Aigami and his friends Mani, Sara and the multitudes of inhabitants from the Prana’s mystical dimension are the set villains, and to their credit are given a sympathetic light to them. Being orphans from Egypt, their cruel experiences led them to long for a utopian world which Shadi, a man who rescues them from their abusive caretaker/employer, gives them hope for. By the movie’s start, one can notice how twisted their dream has become, and corrupt thanks to the dark power they inherited. Now, this is a good setup for a villain: introduce them, explain their motives, give internal conflict and make them a prominent presence in the film; they make good on that! Most especially Aigami: on the surface seems akin to a more level-headed, but less game-competent version of Noah, Kaiba’s brother from the Virtual World arc, and his role as Diva also carries an ominous, darker aura only bested by Marik Ishtar.
The movie’s music was decent. Some of it was a remastered version of OST pieces from the episodes, such as the God card, or Yugi’s battle theme, and received a majestic tone to them. As for the new, I thought they were also brilliant compositions, matching the franchise’s spirit and the mood. The only downside was that the credits song, an English-language theme titled To Believe In Something, sounded too indie, depressing and out-of-place for a film like this, let alone a drop in value compared to all the franchise’s other excellent themes from the past: Eyes by Yuichi Ikusawa, Wake Up Your Heart by KENN, Genki No Shower by Aki Maeda, or the sentimental Ashita Moshi Kimi Ga Kowaretemo (linked below) by WANDS.
Favourite battle: Yugi’s final duel with Kaiba; the last time we would see them go up against each other, and in which the traditional format would be used, was the perfect send-off duel to their rivalry.
Favourite battle moment: Yugi trolls Diva during his battle when he activates a 200 IQ play in activating an infinite direct-attack strategy that involves negating his opponent’s attack, inflicting that potential damage to the latter, and doing it again by banishing a monster from his graveyard. Talk about whipping your opponent into shape – I always enjoy when characters find innovative ways to win like this.
Favourite non-battle moment: When Atem rescues Jonouchi from Diva’s alternate dimension of death.
Favourite quote: For this, I will take it from Yugi and Jonouchi’s conversation going home from school, at the bridge, reminiscing about Atem’s greatness and a veiled reminder that even though the past is the past, never to forget those moments which shape you, and use them well:
Jonouchi: Look, Yugi. We all miss (Atem) and all that, but you don’t have to force yourself to forget about him.
Yugi: It’s more like… after that duel, he stopped dwelling in my heart. Though we walked back to our lives, I guess I’m definitely not trying to forget about him.Yugi and Jonouchi look back on the Ceremonial Duel
Yu-Gi-Oh: Dark Side Of Dimensions was a huge step up in the franchise’s theatrical venture, and in my opinion, a worthy, meaningful conclusion of sorts. I found value in the movie’s articulation of handling grief and learning from our personal experiences to find purpose in life, which is something that goes deeper than in any of the anime’s 200+ episodes. It’s definitely feels like Yu-Gi-Oh, but just more mature in a way, moved on from its simple tropes and one-dimensional premises. All things considered, I can’t help but imagine how fitting of a tribute it is now: a farewell not just to the show that mesmerized us as youngsters, in spite of its poor dubbing, but a providential one to Kazuki Takahashi, who would go to God’s judgement and eternal reward a mere six years later – without letting this arc go unresolved.