Yuma is determined to take on any challenge, no matter how impossible. He even has a catch-phrase he uses to describe doing his best at a tough challenge: jetting. As in, “I’m going to jet!” (If the idea of reading variations on that phrase more than a dozen times in one volume sounds to you like an ordeal, well . . . you may find this book to be an ordeal.)
When Yuma’s parents disappeared, they left him two things to remember them by: his dad’s Yu-Gi-Oh deck and a mysterious necklace. Lately, Yuma’s dreams have shown him a massive door, telling him that he can unlock it with his necklace to gain great power, but he will lose the thing most important to him.
Now, to help out his friend Tetsuo, Yuma challenges the bully Shark to a duel – that is, a game of Yu-Gi-Oh, a card game that uses holographic technology to make the cards’ monsters appear and fight. Tetsuo bet his Yu-Gi-Oh deck on a duel with Shark and lost, so now Yuma is betting his deck to try and win Tetsuo’s back. Unfortunately, Yuma is a genuinely terrible duelist, barely understanding the game’s rules (pretty funny, given his dream of becoming World Duel Champion).
In the middle of his duel with Shark, Yuma suddenly sees the door from his dreams. Hoping it will help him win, Yuma goes for it. A ghostly figure appears. His name is Astral, and he has an important mission, but he can’t say what – he’s lost most of his memories. He does remember that he’s a duelist, and is dismayed to see how badly Yuma plays, especially when he realizes that his memories have been trapped in special Yu-Gi-Oh Numbers cards, and he must help Yuma win these cards from other duelists – including Shark – to get his memories back. If they fail, Astral’s ghostly form may vanish completely.
Astral helps Yuma win, regaining one of his lost memories and earning a powerful Numbers card for Yuma’s deck. The victory has an unexpected effect: Yuma is now the top duelist at his Yu-Gi-Oh-obsessed school. He has a reputation to uphold now, and more Numbers cards to collect. For that, he needs Astral’s help – which means that Yuma is stuck with the constant company of a ghostly creature that can’t been seen by anyone else, doesn’t understand human culture, and won’t shut up. Wacky adventure is sure to follow.
The “bonus story” at the end seems to be an alternate explanation for Yuma and Astral’s meeting, but has no preface or explanation. In it, Astral appears, seemingly for the first time, to help Yuma win a duel for Tetsuo’s soul. An interesting story, but it’s hard to see how exactly it fits into the continuity.
The art is fun and playful, but with a serious side that’s a great match for the dueling action sequences. Yuma’s world includes a combination of settings and styles: sleek, futuristic buildings and technology blurs into fantasy with the battling monsters and the appearance of Astral, but Yuma’s school looks much more mundane. Indeed, the only weird thing about it is how much everyone there obsesses over Yu-Gi-Oh.
As someone who doesn’t play the real-life card game Yu-Gi-Oh, I still find the duels fairly easy to follow. All of the Yu-Gi-Oh series I’m aware of feature a great deal of preoccupation with the card game, and this is no exception. The addition of Astral, whose very existence (not to mention lost memories) depends on Yuma’s victory in duels, adds something for readers to care about beyond whether or not Yuma eventually becomes World Duel Champion.
Squeezed in around the card game action are messages about friendship and honesty, as well as humor. The volume includes funny side cartoons that show the artist trying to draw while Astral hangs around bothering him. This should appeal to fans of other Yu-Gi-Oh series and possibly Pokémon as well, considering the similarity in the messages and the battle-centric world.
While the publisher rates this book Teen, it’s not apparent why. The violence that takes place is between holographic monsters, making it even less “real” than the bloodless violence of the Pokémon series. The ghostly figure Astral doesn’t wear clothes, but he also lacks any discernible genitalia. The rating may simply be indicating that the book’s plot is complex enough to confuse younger readers, which is likely true if those younger readers are not familiar with Yu-Gi-Oh or at least with the idea of battle-oriented card games.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal, vol. 1
by Shin Yoshida
Art by Naohito Miyoshi
VIZ Media, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen