Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie
Directed by Hatsuki Tsuji. Voices by Dan Green, Eric Stuart, Scottie Ray, Wayne Grayson, John Campbell. (2004, PG, 91 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 20, 2004
Not to pull back the curtain too far, but I must admit that there are certain movies we film critics are loath to watch. Don’t get me wrong, gentle reader, I try to approach every film equally and objectively, but there are indeed certain movies that are the equivalent of drawing the short straw: One of us poor suckers is gonna get stuck with the latest evangelical picture or another of those ghastly Japanese cross-marketing hydras like Pokémon. And that’s how I came to know Yu-Gi-Oh!, or at least to briefly rub elbows with it, the hugely popular animé franchise that began as a manga and eventually morphed into a TV series and a playing-card game. I knew nothing of Yu-Gi-Oh! prior to the screening; 90-some minutes later, my understanding of this phenomenon is still shaky at best. As far as I can unravel: In this universe of punky, dog collar-wearing boys and puckish schoolgirls in really short skirts exists a card game; players "duel" each other with cards that bear elves, dragons, Egyptian gods, the like. Our hero, master dueler Yugi, accidentally unleashes at film’s beginning a long-dormant Egyptian curse, which eventually worms its way into a card duel and creates a sort of shadow play – which I think means the game is no longer a game. To put it mildly, those who are unfamiliar with this peculiar universe and its even more bewildering jargon will be mostly lost, with no refuge in sight – certainly not in the wincing dialogue or badly sketched characters. (Some of the fault may lay in the translation from Japanese to English; I doubt that in the original Japanese dialogue Yugi’s wisecracking friends came off like wannabe-Godfather Jersey boys, or that the guru Pegasus sounded so wincingly fey, practically lisping lines like, "No more white wine spritzers before bedtime for me!") At least these "comic" asides are few and far between; the bulk of the film is devoted to the dramatization of these card duels, in which Yugi and company shout things like, "I activate my dark clown card!" I suspect any young tykes schooled in Yu-Gi-Oh! will thrill at the many battle scenes, but for the rest of us, it’s a lot like hearing the play-by-play account of a heated game of bridge. Only not half as gripping.