Anime/Film Review: Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time

OK…this is something I’ve actually been wanting to talk about for a long time. Like most kids growing up in the early 2000s, I got exposed to several anime growing up, thanks in part of 4kids dubbing a few of them. While 4kids have a reputation now for being among the worst dubbers of anime due to their overly kid friendly focus, at the time, anime like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! were these strange things that, while cheesy and overly dramatic, were fascinating to watch. I even saw the first Pokemon film in the cinema, believe it or not, and I still remember crying when Ash was turned to stone.

My mum, sadly, didn’t take to it. She still regards it as one of the worst films she has ever seen, which leaves me wondering how many actually bad films she has seen, but that’s a discussion for another time.

For now, however, the focus is on Yu-Gi-Oh!. Of the two anime I regularly saw, I found Pokemon to be more interesting, but there was something about Yu-Gi-Oh! which never left my attention. I even played the TCG of the game for a period of time growing up and still remember proudly being one of the only kids in my town who owned all the pieces of Exodia and the Egyptian God Cards. I was never great at the game, admittedly, but, in my defence, I knew nothing about deck building and whatnot at the time. Now that I’m older, wiser and know more about deck building…I still suck at it!

After a while, though, I just stopped being interested in it. This wasn’t the fault of the anime itself, in fairness, as my parents started divorcing pretty messily in my teenage years and the channels that showed anime stopped being part of the TV for a period of time, but I just never bothered to try to watch it more once all of that started happening. I did see a snippet of Yu-Gi-Oh GX when staying at a friend’s house overnight once and remember being confused about what was going on with it, but, mostly, I stopped watching anime entirely. It was only when I got to high school and found the manga section of the library that anime even entered my mind again. I even became a fond watcher of LittleKuriboh’s Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series and xthedarkone’s Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: The Abridged Series in high school.

So it was that, before I went to college, I binged on the entire English dub of the original series, the first three seasons for Yu-Gi-Oh! GX (I did watch the fourth season in the original Japanese) and the first two seasons (I count the Dark Signers arc as a separate season from the first bunch of episodes prior to their introduction) of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s (and yes, even I thought that card games on motorcycles was dumb!), alongside the first 100 or so episodes of Naruto.

And, as surprising as this might sound, I actually liked all of them! The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime weren’t exactly the best things I’d ever seen, but it was a lot of fun watching them all and I even found myself silently bemoaning the fact that I was having to watch them all years after they’d stopped being cool (not that I was cool to start with…), because I just wanted to watch them more!

And then I went to college and, well, anime disappeared from my mind again to focus on studying, performing and all of that sort of stuff. But one thing I did remember was hearing about the tenth anniversary movie and going “…OK, how are they going to make that work?”

That…is the question I am going to ask today. How exactly CAN you make three different series based on the same card game come together to celebrate ten years of the series, especially considering one series is set several decades after the original series?

Well, let’s look at Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time and find out!

One of the things that I am going to have to state now is that the plot of this movie, even by Yu-Gi-Oh! standards (which aren’t exactly the most sane of standards), is pretty weird. Basically, the main plot of the story is that the villain, Paradox, is from the future, where Duel Monsters has basically destroyed the world (because apparently card games can cause the apocalypse…I did say the plot was weird, didn’t I?). So he decides to travel back in time to kill Pegasus to prevent Duel Monsters from being created. Along the way, he decides to capture Yusei’s Stardust Dragon and Jessie’s Rainbow Dragon for some reason and then kills Pegasus in Yugi’s timeline AFTER Duel Monsters have been invented (because that will stop Duel Monsters from being invented, apparently: killing their maker AFTER they have been invented!). It’s up to Yusei to use the powers of the Crimson Dragon to chase Paradox through time and team up with Jaden and Yugi to duel Paradox (WITH DUEL MONSTERS!) to save the game from being erased from history…somehow.

You may have one or two questions just from reading that, but trust me, if you know Yu-Gi-Oh!, you will have more questions. Some obvious ones:

  1. How can a card game destroy the world?
  2. Why would killing the maker of a game after the game has been created suddenly cause the game to cease to exist?
  3. Why would you use the same game that you want to destroy to battle the people who want to save the game from being destroyed?
  4. Why does Yugi look like Yami by default in this film when he still looked like a pre-teen in the final season of the original series?
  5. Why does Crimson Dragon never demonstrate the ability to time travel in any other part of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s?
  6. Why does Paradox need to take Stardust Dragon and Rainbow Dragon from Yusei and Jessie when he could have very easily just gone straight back in time to kill Pegasus prior to the game being made?
  7. Why do the three series protagonists have no problems playing Duel Monsters against Paradox when his deck and duel disk clearly are set far further along in time, when there have almost certainly been a lot of rule changes by that time, cards that are banned by his timeline’s rulebook AND various new different sorts of cards?
  8. Wouldn’t travelling back in time also erase Paradox from history, meaning that he couldn’t go back in time to kill Pegasus, thus meaning he couldn’t have killed Pegasus in the first place?
  9. Why aren’t there Number cards or Pendulum cards in Paradox’s deck? (I know, in real life, it’s because they hadn’t been invented yet, but, going by the film’s own logic, if Paradox wanted to create the most powerful deck he can to ensure he can beat Yugi, Jaden and Yusei, why didn’t he include them in his deck?)
  10. Why did Paradox only go after Yusei, Jaden and Yugi and not future protagonists? (again, I know, in real life, they hadn’t been invented yet, but, going by the film’s own logic, surely Paradox would have wanted to go after them to build the most powerful deck he could?)
  11. Why does Paradox even have to duel Yugi, Jaden and Yusei when he could very easily just ignore them or, say, shoot them with a gun he took from the future with him?
  12. Why didn’t Paradox bring an actual weapon with him from the future to kill Pegasus with?
  13. What would have happened had Paradox NOT drawn Mythic World or had it destroyed in the game, considering so much of his deck relies on that card being in play?
  14. Why did Paradox even bring a deck with him?

OK, OK, in fairness, putting aside that list of questions, I do have to admit that it is really cool to see Yusei, Jaden and Yugi on screen together. The closest we had ever got prior to this film in the English dub was a brief appearance of Yugi in the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX (the Japanese didn’t get it much better, but you got to see parts of Jaden dueling with Yugi…and Jaden lost), so finally getting the official team up of all three protagonists is genuinely pretty awesome and I will admit that, as much as those questions do have to be asked, it is genuinely hard to think of a way of getting all three protagonists to fight together without resorting to the time travel plot. The execution of the plot could have been a lot better and I do think Jaden suffers from a bit of shafting by comparison to the other two protagonists (certainly, the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX part of the film is mostly confined to a semi-destroyed Venice and only has Jaden out of the main cast of that series), but, surprisingly, there isn’t another way I can think of all three protagonists to team up without a lot of potential awkwardness due to needing middle aged versions of Yugi and Jaden, which is JUST a bit past when you’d expect them to be interested in playing a card game.

The art direction of the game is, well, as good as you’d expect from Yu-Gi-Oh!. The animation is generally fairly good with the usual anime style (with a few minor blips that will cause giggles if you’re looking for them), with the CGI part not meshing especially well. To the animator’s credit, the CGI IS the best it had been at the time of the then-current show (Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s), so it deserves some praise in that regard, but you’re not going to be wowed by the quality of it if you’re used to seeing it done in other shows. I do have to say that the show managed to actually get the color contrast spot on for the first time since the original series since this film as well: one of the things about the first show that I really liked is that the colors managed to get a great mix of dark colors and light colors that resulted in something that looked mature, but not serious (if you get what I mean), but Yu-Gi-Oh! GX used too many light colors, which resulted in it looking somewhat like a cartoon aimed purely for kids (which arguably made the third season a heck of a lot creepier, but that’s a discussion for another time), while Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s mostly got the lean the other way around, resulting in a show where the prominent colors were usually so dark that it was hard to really see how it all connected to the previous series outside of the card game being played (which arguably makes the more ridiculous concepts like the infamous “card games on motorcycles” all the more ridiculous, but, again, that’s a discussion for another time). This film, surprisingly, got it right, and I’m honestly grateful for it: the darker moments and the lighter moments in the art direction are so nicely balanced that it doesn’t feel like something aimed purely for kids, but still has a sense of lightness to the colors that prevents it from being too grim looking.

The voice acting is, well, what you’d expect from everyone in the series. Nothing is necessarily better or worse than in the series, so, if you weren’t fond of the voice acting of the series, you’re not going to be sold on it here. Paradox’s voice is…well, I think joking that you could redub him with Patton is not entirely inaccurate, as he has a somewhat aggressive baritone voice that makes him sound a bit like a weary soldier. It does make some sense when you think about it hard enough and it isn’t out of place, but I honestly think I prefer the Mandark impression that LittleKuriboh did in the abridged version of the film over the voice in the actual film (despite it being something you couldn’t have put in the actual film without the audience collapsing in laughter).

A few criticisms (yes, that long list of questions isn’t all I have to say!) do exist from me with this film. The first is that the actual duel is pretty dull and that ALL of the series protagonists have some insane luck that flat out breaks the duel if you think about it hard enough. I get the film does need to keep the stakes up and having the protagonists outclassed from the start by Paradox is a good way to do it, but they pull off combos in the game that are absolutely ridiculous and which just make it obvious that the writers were writing the whole game with the knowledge that they had to make the protagonists able to survive Paradox’s attacks. At least when the protagonists were facing tough opponents in their usual series, the games took long enough for you to believe their luck suddenly paying off in an impressive combo and you saw plays which would wrong foot you if you were trying to guess in advance how the battles would go: here, you could probably predict every turn before it happened if you knew the cards the protagonists were using. I think the film could have done with a few extra turns over the course of another half hour to have made the pacing a bit better for the duel, as it would have negated those problems and might have also helped to give the sense of Paradox being tougher than anyone else the protagonists have faced so far if he simply takes the damage only to recover it or keeps sending the damage back at them.

Secondly (and still duel focused), the whole “one protagonist takes a turn, then Paradox takes a turn” system is just dumb when you think about it hard enough. I know it’s because there’s only one opponent and you can’t have one protagonist face him on his own without it being a letdown for fans of the other protagonists, but, if you’ve ever played a single card game in your life, you should know why this system is not one which would EVER be used by a card game player: it allows the solo player to basically take THREE turns for every other player’s one turn, which basically means the solo player builds up their field so quickly that it flat out would become impossible to stop them if they got even a passable hand at the start of the game and even one of the three gamers teaming up got anything less than an excellent one. Again, it just shows the whole duel aspect of the movie wasn’t thought out very well, and I have to thank LittleKuriboh again for pointing this out in the abridged version of the movie (not in the detail I did, admittedly), because it’s hard to believe that the three protagonists would accept a duel like this one (even Jaden!).

Thirdly, for a film celebrating the whole Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, it’s surprisingly tough to place exactly WHERE in the continuity of the original series and Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s the film is happening. With Jaden, it’s very obviously set after Jaden has left Duel Academy after the end of season 4, as he has his light hearted personality and Yubel with him, but it’s really tough to place where exactly in the continuity of the original series the film falls. It’s clearly not done after the series has ended, as Yugi still has the Pharaoh with him, but Yugi looks FAR older in the film than he did in the original series. My best guess is that it’s just after Yugi has gone through Battle Tower, but just before the arc with Dartz, but even that’s purely a guess, especially since it also leads back to the question of WHY Paradox chose to kill Pegasus at that point due to it being past the point when the game had started to become popular worldwide and how Dark Magician and Dark Magician Girl can talk when they don’t show that until the final series of the show. With Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, I still can’t entirely place it, but I haven’t seen all of Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s, so I might simply not have watched up to the point when it obviously showcases that point. My best guess at the moment is the end of the Dark Signer arc, but, again, that’s based only on what I’ve seen of the series.

The fourth complaint I have is, again, that Yu-Gi-Oh! GX seems to have got the short side of the stick in the celebration aspect of the film. I imagine that Japanese audiences wouldn’t have had the problem I’m about to talk about, but, to a viewer of the English dub, the last we saw of Jaden is that he had just joined with Yubel (and that didn’t show what the joining meant) and returned to Duel Academy, so, to an English audience, Jaden being in Venice made no sense when he should have still been at Duel Academy (it still doesn’t make a lot of sense if you HAVE seen season 4 of the show, but you can at least believe he managed to find his way there on his travels after leaving Duel Academy) and Yubel being part of him made no sense when s/he should have just been a card in his deck (in fact, the joining thing was fusing Yubel’s spirit with Jaden’s…don’t ask how that works, I don’t know either!). The exposition speech at the start of the film doesn’t fill in those blanks at all, so, if you weren’t like me and watched the final season subbed, you’d almost certainly have spent the whole film wondering what on earth was going on with Jaden in the film. That isn’t all I have to say on this, though: considering there was a HUGE cast of characters in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX that could have made appearances, it seems a bit weird that the only other characters who made appearances are two spirits (Yubel and Professor Banner, neither of whom talk much in the film) and a cat (Pharaoh, who has a whole monologue on the history of ancient Egypt and commentates on the whole duel with a voice like that of Randy Savage…nah, not really, the cat is just a normal cat and doesn’t say a thing!) and is in a setting that NEVER made an appearance in that series (let alone got mentioned!) when Yugi’s series got Pegasus, Yugi, the Pharaoh and Yugi’s grandfather and was in a setting familiar to fans of the original series. I doubt it was a deliberate attempt to downplay Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, as I’ll admit that I can’t think of a way to fairly represent the series without having the focus be too strongly on it, but I still think it would have been so easy to have had someone else from the series make a brief appearance, like having a younger Cyrus be briefly seen watching the start of the duel from a nearby window or even having Jaden be on Duel Academy when he is attacked by Paradox (possibly coming back because Blair is graduating and being specially invited back to attend it).

Ultimately, however, the important thing is that, for all of the flaws I’ve pointed out, it’s a fun enough watch if you’re a fan of the show. It ultimately does what it set out to do (get all three protagonists of the show together and dueling together to save the fate of the world) and manages, despite arguably being doomed to failure if you wanted to make something which was going to be flawless, to still be an entertaining watch. For all my LONG list of complaints, I did genuinely enjoy watching the film as a fan of the series and I imagine most fans of the series would get a blast out of watching it as well. I don’t think people who aren’t familiar with the series would enjoy this, but, well…I kind of have to say “Would you EXPECT it to?”, as this is very much a film made for fans of the shows and to celebrate the franchise as a whole, not to appeal to a new audience that hadn’t been won over the first time by it. That is not to say you can’t approach the film as an outsider and have no right to dislike the film as a result, only that you can’t really blame the film for failing to appeal to a general audience when that wasn’t what it was trying to do in the first place!
So yeah, in conclusion, this is a film that you really need to be familiar with the three Yu-Gi-Oh! series that had been made at the time the film was released to enjoy, but, if you are, it is a really fun watch that, while flawed, should keep you entertained for an hour easily enough! If you’re not familiar with them (or just plain don’t like them), it’s not really worth watching, as it’s not very newcomer friendly, is unlikely to win you over and isn’t really aimed towards non-fans.

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