Yu-Gi-Oh! The Darkside of Dimensions (2017)

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions Poster.pngDirector: Satoshi Kuwabara
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Certification: PG
Starring: Dan Green, Eric Stuart, Wayne Grayson, Amy Birnbaum, Greg Abbey, Ted Lewis, Tara Sands, Daniel J. Edwards, Marc Thompson, Michael Crouch, Laurie Hymes, Tamir Cousins, Billy Bob Thompson

If you were around in the early 2000s, perhaps you may remember the phenomenon which was Yu-Gi-Oh!. The trading card game was a hit, made all the more popular by a TV series, spawned from a manga series, which gave way to video games, feature films, and multiple spin-offs. As somebody whose childhood was geared around shows made to sell toys, I was hooked on this weird series where card games dominated every facet of life. Politics, school curriculum, and small matters such as life, death, and the fate of the universe. All of their outcomes were decided by who could draw the right card to turn the tide, and win a round of this trading card game.

The series followed Yugi Moto, a duelling prodigy who was guided by Atem, the spirit of an Egyptian Pharaoh which resided within an artefact Yugi wore around his neck. It all ended with Yugi defeating Atem in a duel, which allowed him to finally pass onto the afterlife. Six months after the duel, Yugi and his friends are looking to finally graduate from school, and move towards their futures. One person who cannot move on is Kaiba, Yugi's long time rival, and they'll have to test themselves in one last duel.

In hindsight, this series has always been bonkers, and this follow-up story doesn't diverge much in that regard. It's a story made for those interested in the card game, who wish to spend one last time with these characters, and can follow the sudden onslaught of new cards which appear on the screen. In that regards, it's likely an experience which could be alienating for potential newcomers, not helped by the inclusion of "Dimension Duelling", a new style which just feels like an unnecessary distraction. But for those returning to the franchise, this is a wonderful epilogue which reminds you why you were hooked onto it before.

As far as the plot goes, it's victim to a familiar issue which befalls many film expansions of anime shows. They need to bring in somebody to pose enough of a threat to justify a movie, but they can only last for one film, and can't feel suddenly thrown into the proceedings. Does it work? The first part, yes. A good job is made characterising the foe, making their actions understood, and ensuring they don't feel one-note. Unfortunately, they feel shoehorned into the already over-stuffed plot, as this new threat must share the screentime with Yugi trying to prove himself as the true king of games, and Kaiba desperately wanting that last chance to beat his one true rival. If anything, this rivalry which powered 5 seasons is the more interesting thread, and could've carried the film on its own.

In spite of the glaring issues, what rings true are the character beats, and the relationships they share. We believe in Joey's drive to prove himself, as his underdog spirit shines as brightly now as it did back in Duelist Kingdom. His long-time friendship with Tristan is worth caring about here, just as much as it was back when Joey duelled against Rex Raptor, and the Swamp and Lava Battleguard's epitomised their bond (in traditional rule-breaking fashion). It may have been a while since we last saw these characters, but their camaraderie has not lessened, for this has always been a series about the strength of friendship, and it's delivered as corny, yet earnest, as it ever was.

A big talking point with the original series has been the amount of censorship it suffered, due to the license being held by the infamous company known as 4Kids. The most glaring was replacing the term Death with "Shadow Realm", so falling through the glass ceiling of a skyscraper, and a saw dismembering your feet, are suddenly only dangerous to your souls. But a fond memory was guns being edited out entirely, resulting in goons being left to menacingly point their fingers at a target, and in a clear sign of the changing times, guns are openly sighted here. It's also worth mentioning how the monsters summoned are now brought alive through CG work, making them stand out in visually fantastic ways.

Above all else, the thing which sticks in the mind most is Seto Kaiba. A character who was one shown sharing the same class as Yugi, who is graduating from school in this film, Kaiba is an egotistical teenager who's the head of a massively successful company, and rich beyond his wildest dreams. We know the last one especially, because he's known to travel in a jet shaped like a dragon. Outside of that, he owns a space station which is shaped in the initials of his company, has a personal army that's ready to quietly detain whomever he wishes outside of the law, has Domino City under constant surveillance, and has created state of the art technology which reads brainwaves in revolutionary ways, in order to make virtual reality simulations suited to his designs. He could make for one hell of a Bond villain, so thank goodness he's distracted by card games.