Despite my having spent three years working in a comic books and games store, the Yu-Gi-Oh! phenomena largely passed me by. Oh, I was familiar enough with the game in general – I certainly sold enough cards for it! But I never paid much attention to the animated series or the comic books based upon the card game. Why? Because I’ve been around long enough to know that out of all the comics and cartoons one can enjoy in this wonderful world, the worst are typically those built around a game.
Trust me. As a survivor of the dark days when Saturday mornings brought us cartoons based on Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and The Rubik’s Cube, I know of what I speak. What’s the point of these shows and comics, apart from promoting the game to those who aren’t already playing it? Wouldn’t you rather be playing a game rather than watching or reading something about somebody else playing a game?
The first volume of Yu-Gi-Oh 5D’s has done little to make me rethink that generalization. Set in the not-too-distant future of the same universe as the original Yu-Gi-Oh series, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s ups the ante (no card game pun intended!) by eliminating the drab scenes of teenagers standing around and playing card games and replacing them with scenes of teenagers riding special motorcycles called Duel Runners while playing card games. This is nowhere near as exciting as you might think, even with the added mechanic of “Sense” – a variable that increases the psychic damage a duelist experiences whenever they take damage in the game. In short, the faster a duelist is moving when they attack, the more Sense they knock into their opponent. *rimshot*
Our Hero, Yusei Fudo, is a good-natured boy from the poor side of New Domino City. As the novel opens, he is competing in a friendly duel against his sidekick, Sect. Upon losing, Sect performs a ritual to summon The Skeleton Knight – a figure of urban legend who is equal parts Grim Reaper and Bloody Mary. It is said that The Skeleton Man will give rare cards to anyone who summons him after a duel.
To everyone’s surprise, The Skeleton Knight does appear but it turns out he only gives cards to winning duelists and he is ill-pleased to have been summoned by a loser like Sect. And that is just the start of an increasingly strange day, in which Yusei will risk his own soul in a duel to save Sect’s life, fight a duel against the world champion Jack Atlas, meet a girl who is an even better duelist than he is and get an invitation to an exclusive card tournament.
The script by Masahiro Hikokubo is serviceable, but does little to develop the characters past the usual stock stereotypes. Yusei is The Hero. Sect is The Bumbling Sidekick. Jack Atlas is the arrogant jerk loner who preaches that friendship makes you weak and that the strong must stand alone to win. The artwork by Masashi Sato is similarly competent but only that. If this book were a card, it would be strictly common. Yu-Gi-Oh fans will probably enjoy it but the rest of us would probably rather play the game than read about it.