Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist, volume 1: Duelist Kingdom by Kazuki Takahashi
Yu-Gi-Oh! became known to Western audiences in the form of an anime about a card game, but the first seven volumes of the original manga was about games in general. After all, the title means King of Games in Japanese. The card game known as Duel Monsters did play a role in the earlier volumes of the manga, but generally, it had the hallmarks of a ‘game of the week’ story, with only a few, short story arcs. But now, with the eighth volume, dubbed the first volume of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist in English, we come to the overarching stories that would become part of the better known anime series. Cheesy though it was, it wasn’t too bad, and the manga is more darker than the anime. Whether it’s any good, though, remains to be seen…
As Duel Monsters rises in popularity, Yugi and his friends witness the end of a tournament, and the announcement of a new one by Duel Monster’s creator, Maximillion J Pegasus. But Pegasus wants a reluctant Yugi to come to his Duelist Kingdom tournament, and sets up a Shadow Game that ends with Yugi’s defeat, and his grandfather’s soul trapped in a videotape. His friend, Jonouchi, also decides to head to Duelist Kingdom, to win money for his sister’s upcoming operation. But the two friends, joined by Anzu, Honda, and Bakura, have a hard time on their hands winning the tournament. Pegasus has a Millennium Item, the Millennium Eye, allowing him to predict his opponent’s moves. And Yugi and Jonouchi are up against some of the most skilled card duelists of all time, from the champion Insector Haga, to the seductive Mai Kujaku…
One of the faults I had found with the series to date, before I started this one, was that it was very much a ‘game of the week’ (like a monster of the week in, say, series like Doctor Who), which is very much a double-edged sword. Here, it has transmuted to opponent of the week, so to speak, which again is a double-edged sword. The story hasn’t quite grabbed me as much as I had hoped, but nonetheless, there are some intriguing differences in the story between this manga and its adaptation that retain my interest, and it’s still entertaining. Even the translated dialogue here lacks some of the cheesier aspects of 4Kids’ dub, much to its improvement.
The mains are pretty much the same as usual, though Jonouchi (aka Joey Wheeler from the English version of the anime) gets some development with the discussion about his sister. However, the differences in character for the newcomers are interesting. Certainly Insector Haga (aka Weevil Underwood) is far less overtly malevolent at first, making his change in demeanour all the more shocking, and Pegasus, far from being a monolithic, if somewhat camp villain, has a bit more humour and humanity, even as he plays ruthlessly against Yugi in their first duel, thus being more interesting in the process.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Duelist is not for everyone, but to fans of the series, it might prove interesting, if only to see the differences from the anime. And it’s certainly enjoyable and enthralling enough to be a suitable timekiller, if you’re into this sort of manga.
I've lived for over 2000 years, and not all of them were good ones. I've made many mistakes. And it's about time I did something about that.
-The Twelfth Doctor, Doctor Who: Deep Breath