I don’t really want to talk about Yu-Gi-Oh ZeXal and Yu-Gi-Oh Arc-V, the 4th and 5th installments in the money-milking franchise owned by possibly the worst company in the entire world, Konami. But I need to talk about them because I cannot bear to see a franchise I love so dearly be ruined by Konami further. Like how the fans of Metal Gear Solid felt towards The Phantom Pain’s abrupt end, cut content and microtransactions, the anger I feel here is not because I feel that the creators at Konami are creative bankrupt, but because corporate meddlings and money-making-methods are destroying what could have been amazing stories told in the YGO universe. And with the end of Arc-V, I cannot be more certain that my hypothesis – that Konami is destroying YGO because it is one of their last cash cows – is right.
Konami can just stop making animes, like how they should stop making MGS games now with Kojima gone, but of course they won’t because where else would they get their sweet Konami Kash ($60 from me if they make Krazy Racers 2, but we know that will never happen)? There is a rather plausible rumour that floated around back in the days of 5D’s, about how the plot was changed due to a character’s unexpected popularity and a voice actress’ link to Japanese cults resulting in cuts to plotlines that were too similar to the cult activities. It turned a 10/10 series into a 8/10 series, that is disappointing, but understandable. 5D’s took on the dark mantle that GX ventured into, and created some of the most heartwrenching stories of love, revenge and friendship by embracing death, torture and violence. Perhaps it was the edgy teenager in me that loved those tales, but those are the tales I still remember till these days, I tear up retelling its stories, and needless to say, I spent thousands of dollars on cards printed in that era.
I don’t remember the tales from ZeXal, nor even from the recent Arc-V which just ended this week. That is not because the writers had no good stories to tell – albeit them never quite as good as those of Yusei and Jack – but an observant watcher can see that there were great stories underneath all that card advertisement. In 5d’s, Stardust Dragon and Red Demons Dragon transformed into their Saviour forms to fight off the ancient Earthbound Gods, took in their new forms in the third season to fend off the Timetravelling Machine Kings, and Stardust finally became Shooting Quasar in a form mimicking the gods Yusei was battling to wrestle destiny away from God himself. New cards and especially main character card upgrades are simply glorified card advertisements, but the way 5d’s did them allowed the advertisements to become part of the narrative and become part of the story. At no point I told myself that a card was there just to make money, and if they were they were often cards that were never going to ship boxes anyway.
Fast forward to ZeXal, which was created from the ground-up to make anime watching players buy the holographic foil cards. The story was based around spirit alien thing Astral who has to collect the 100 ‘Numbers’ cards to restore his own memory. Again, this still had sort of a narrative meaning. At first it was mysterious and cool, with the main character possessing the card numbered 39 and trying to hunt down other Numbers card that were screwing with other city folks and turning them evil. It was a simple monster-of-the-week style anime reminiscent of Digimon and its black gears, or Jojo 4 with its stand arrows, while having a new foil card to sell to the audience each week. Then, we saw the anime evolve into a larger, more convoluted story where bigger baddies also had Numbers cards, sometimes multiple, fitting to their characterisation and deck-type that our main character had to defeat using already collected Numbers cards. It was Cardcaptor Sakura the Yu-Gi-Oh anime, and it was pretty good. Though cheesy and annoying at times, the good animation kept me going and meeting a boss character was always quite exciting. Then Konami got greedy and introduced some weird alternate space space-aliens with cards numbered 101-107, and suddenly the Numbers cards have alternate Chaos forms and cards can be ‘Ranked-Up’ to turn into more powerful forms of themselves. That was when the plot stopped making sense, and probably making more money. Toss in a new Rank-Up-Magic, a new Chaos form card or a Ranked-up monster card, that is at least 2 cards a week you can be selling to your audience. New completely unnecessary characters start getting introduced because with them, you can sell new set of theme decks that may be appealing to the audiences who like unique and obscure decks. YGO stopped being an anime about people solving problems through duelling cards, but an anime where every week someone creates a problem so that they can play cards to resolve it. The new Numbers card stopped being thematically appropriate, and just tossed in because there was a quota to print more rare cards to be sold. The genius narrative method that allowed for money-printing was finally being exploited fully. And the worst thing of all this is that at the end of ZeXal, I saw a glimmer of a good plot that could have been there if there was not so much filler and unnecessary conflicts that happen for no reason other than for characters to play cards, show off new cards, and sell them to the audience.
Arc-V was a 148 episode show that should have been 50 episodes. It is an embrassment that rides on nostalgia, on the fact that people wanted to see old characters, and the show gave them new cards so that they can sell more cards to the audience. They created a new summoning method like all the series since 5d’s – Pendulum – and made all the other old ones – Fusion, Ritual, Synchro and XYZ – relevant again. At its core I don’t hate the idea, because it is trying to teach how Pendulum can be linked with other forms of summoning to create more dynamic gameplay. But if the existence of 4 main characters instead of the usual 1 does not hint at Konami’s corporate greediness, then perhaps the endless upgrades to the main characters’ dragons might. Towards the end of the series especially, Odd Eyes Pendulum Dragon, this series’ Dark Magician, had a new form practically once every appearance. Duels drag on for 2 episodes instead of the one duel per episode in the older installments, for no other reason than to give the duelists more time to show off more cards. And similar to ZeXal, the ending of Arc-V made me genuinely want to love it. But it was again the padding, the shameless milking of the franchise and the forced conflicts for selling cards, that bent the pacing over and screwed it for 100 episodes more than in should have been, that ultimately made me hate this series so very much. The last episode had Odd Eyes take on 2 new forms, with 3 new summoning cards, and at least 3 new monsters on the MC’s side; his opponent, the rival in the Kaiba-suit who did not wear the Kaiba suit this time, similarly had his one main monster upgraded into 3 new different forms because the series was going to end and they needed money to tide through the dark waters of not milking the franchise because the next season is not starting soon enough.
Yu-Gi-Oh should have died with the first season. As much as I loved 5D’s, it was the offspring of the equally guilty GX that started a trend of making more episodes to make more money. And I’d rather myself to not have watched a masterpiece than to see a franchise I love plunge deeper and deeper into the depths of hell. I have read the new rules to the game, I hate it, I will play it no more, but I know I will go back to the anime. Because behind all these new series of YGO are talented, passionate people who have great stories they want to tell in this universe, and they have crafted, time and again, stories that are both intriguing and deep, while pandering to corporate greed. Sometimes they make it and most of the creativity and innocence is retained, but most of the time it creates this massive disconnect in the centre from the amazing start and ends like ZeXal and Arc-V, because they need to adhere to demands their greedy bosses. Ironic, because if the Konami heads have read the first few entries to Yu-Gi-Oh, they’ll learn that greed is what Yami came to this world to warn us against.
Fuck Konami. That’s all I have left to say.