Time to spend money on trading cards – the movie!
More problems, more card games.
I got the chance to watch Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions at my local theater, and boy was I not disappointed. I’ve been a solid Yu-Gi-Oh! fan for most of my life, most of the appeal coming from my suspension of disbelief for world-threatening card game matches and the fact that I play the game in my daily life. Knowing all that, however, I came into this movie with neutral expectations. If this was just a campy movie with cool monsters and duels, I would’ve been fine with that. After all this is a toy-based anime with the intention of selling me juicy trading cards. However, the feature I watched turned out to be the most self aware piece of Yu-Gi-Oh! media, and one of the most solidly produced anime toy commercials, I’ve ever seen. I’m not even being sarcastic; I legitimately enjoyed Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions.
The film takes place after the events of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, which I will summarize for those unfamiliar with the show. Yu-Gi-Oh! is about a boy named Yugi Muto, who after solving an item called the millennium puzzle becomes the vessel of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Together they stop world-ending catastrophes with the power of friendship and trading cards. Yeah, this show is a glorified toy commercial, and to be honest, the original Yu-Gi-Oh! has not aged well, but it wasn’t terrible by any means. This movie follows Yugi Muto after he has released the pharaoh from his body, and as his graduation grows closer he and his friends must face the idea of growing up. While the main character is still Yugi, a lot of the screen time is dedicated to his rival, the billionaire god-defying genius Seto Kaiba. The overall plot of the film is that Yugi and company must get ready for the their high school graduation, all while Seto Kaiba tries to bring back the pharaoh for one more rematch and market his new duel disk technology. There’s an evil looming that threatens the world, and by proxy their trading card games. So it’s time for Yugi and company to save the world again, through the power of collectible cardboard. Did I mention there’s trading cards?
A very good boy.
The story is a typical shounen plot, but that isn’t a bad thing because the writing is pretty self aware this time around. Unlike the awful Yu-Gi-Oh!: Pyramid of Light movie that came out years ago, this movie doesn’t shy around its campiness and is rather fast paced considering it’s two-hour length. Rather than one big duel, there are several duels that take place in the movie, none of which take more than 10 minutes to complete. This is probably due to the fact that the way the game is played in the movie is similar in pace to the current metagame’s actual speed, even now going up to 8000 life points, which has never been done in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime. Seto Kaiba is the driving force throughout the movie and is by far the strongest aspect of the plot and writing. There’s always been an absurdity to the franchise, and Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions takes that absurdity and amplifies it by ten through Kaiba. Throughout the course of the film he reconstructs matter, defeats magic, summons gods and constructs a space station, all while flaunting his brilliance and wealth. It’s so absurd, but the movie plays it completely straight and it’s amazing. For as much world-ending urgency as there is, this movie can take a step back and laugh at it’s own premise, which is the trick when handling this much self-awareness. It’s the balancing act that separates cynical work from something endearing. The rest of the cast seems to be having fun as well, and this shows with the good voice acting and cute lines of dialogue.
The weakest part of the movie by far, unfortunately, is the ending. Like I said, this a typical shounen plot, but this ending feels phoned in. Not only is it very predictable, but it goes against the entire theme of the first Yu-Gi-Oh! Series. I won’t spoil anything, but to me the ending seems very disrespectful to the ending of the anime series. Another problem I have is the main villain. He’s not that poorly developed, but he more or less serves as a generic anime antagonist. Other than that, the plot is what you would expect from a toy anime, and that didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions is paced fast enough and written with enough self awareness that it easily ascends to the top of this series’ writing. It is a toy commercial, but its plot is entertaining as long as you can stand watching card games.
Very good kids.
When I first saw the trailer for this film I was blown away by how good the animation and art looked, and this movie does not disappoint. The characters look good, the animation is good, and oh my Ra do the card monster designs look really good. It’s apparent that the studio who produced this film took their time and made a good-looking film, and it’s also nice to see that the character designs have aged well and look good with 2016 production values. There are also 3D cgi sections in the film that are a mixed bag. While some things like the monster and the magical elements look good, other set pieces and backgrounds look jarring. Overall though, the film looks great and is definitely the best looking piece of Yu-Gi-Oh! media out there.
I really enjoyed this film, if you couldn’t already tell. This is probably the best way to produce a glorified anime movie commercial I’ve seen since Yokai Watch. Kids and fans will enjoy the card games, older fans can appreciate the nostalgia in seeing these old characters and people who aren’t Yu-Gi-Oh! fans can enjoy the self-aware absurdity, all with gorgeous production values. I would say that this movie is still definitely for fans, but it’s still a fun movie for what it is. If you’re a fan of the franchise you should definitely Yu-Gi-Go see this when you can.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Full disclosure: This review is based on a viewing of the film I paid for at my local theater.