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MPAA Rating
March 2005
Jay MacInnes
Yu-Gi-Oh!: A Japanese Cartoon Phenomenon

Yu-Gi-Oh!: A Japanese Cartoon Phenomenon

Okay, parents—pop quiz. What Yu-Gi-Oh! (pronounced yu'-ghee-oh) trading card will help you win the monster duel if your opponent has only 1,000 "life points" remaining?

Time's up.

The "Blue Eyes White Dragon"—worth 3,000 points—will allow you to conquer your opponent.

Yu-Gi-Oh!? Monster duels? Life Points? Your preteen boy probably knows all about this Pokèmon-esque Japanese trading card phenomenon and cartoon series on the WB Network.

In Japan, Yu-Gi-Oh! is a multi-billion dollar industry, and its creators have taken it worldwide. It shouldn't surprise you, then, to see Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards, action figures, video games, novels, DVDs, apparel and how-to books in a department store near you. Proceed with caution: Yu-Gi-Oh! is no Candyland.

Yugi's Story
Yu-Gi-Oh! is the story of Yugi Moto, a shy, spiky-haired high school freshman, and his friends Tèa, Joey, Tristan and Mai. These buddies protect and support one another through the trials of adolescence. Although Yugi's divorced parents are never mentioned in the plot, his loving grandfather provides sage advice and parental leadership.

The elderly game-shop owner understands his grandson's adolescent struggles. He gives Yugi the Millennium Puzzle, an ancient Egyptian game, hoping it will help him cultivate logic and reasoning. When the teenager cracks its code, he is transformed into his powerful alter ego, Yami Yugi. Infused with these new capabilities, Yugi develops confidence and courage.

Of course, bad guys are always testing Yugi, especially Maximillion Pegasus. Pegasus is the creator of "Duel Monsters," a supernatural card game that transports monsters into the world of humans. Although he isn't a great duelist, Pegasus always wins because he cheats. Using the Millennium Eye, he sees his opponents' cards, reads their minds and magically traps their souls in the Shadow Realm.

Investigating the Trading Cards
While the trading card game and the cartoon series share a story line, there are some distinctions worth noting. Is your child already spending allowance money on the trading cards? Then perhaps he's managed to absorb some of the more redeeming qualities:

Math and critical thinking skills. The players' "lives" are worth 8,000 points. When they win or lose, they must add or subtract their total number of points. Players are forced to think about the best card to put down to defeat an opponent.

Good manners. According to the Yu-Gi-Oh! rulebook, opponents must a) tell the truth, b) not touch each other's cards without asking permission and c) start each match with a friendly handshake.

Despite these positive characteristics, parents may want to exercise caution:

Violent Artwork. Although many of the trading cards are not frightening, there are enough with sharp teeth and giant claws to scare younger players.

Personalized Cards. Kids are encouraged to trade cards and create a deck that suits their taste. This aspect of the game seems innocuous. They can choose lesser violent cards. Note, however, that although it is neither encouraged or discouraged, players can also customize a deck of occult cards.

Erotica. In Japan, the Yu-Gi-Oh graphic novel and trading cards were a flop until the artists included mild cartoon erotica. Presently, the images in the United States are tamer, but this could be a concern in the future.

Addiction. Kids may find it easy to spend every moment playing the game and trading the cards with their friends. Not only could this game become expensive, Yu-Gi-Oh! could be a stepping stone to more mystical—and dangerous—card games, such as Magic the Gathering.

Investigating the Cartoon Series
Yu-Gi-Oh! is also a popular Saturday morning and afternoon cartoon series. And as with the card game, the program has its better side (promoting family, friendship, responsibility, self-sacrifice, perseverance, teamwork, fairness, cooperation and communication) and its troubling side:

Dark Powers. Many of the characters have associations with evil powers. For example, Swamp Dweller is described as a "minion of the dark forces"; other monsters are "enhanced by the powers of darkness." The most disturbing character is named Bakura. A "kind-hearted transfer student" by day, this teen is possessed by an evil spirit and is controlled by the dark powers of the rare and mighty Millennium ring. As Yami Bakura, he consults the Ouija Board and summons dark, fiendish monsters. Upon being defeated in a duel, he tells Yugi, "I may have lost, but I will definitely be back, and I will kill you. This is because I am the darkness." Of course, most all fantasy stories—from The Hobbit to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—have evil characters. The difference here is that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis always make a clear distinction between good and evil. Yu-Gi-Oh! does not.

Mysticism. Yugi Moto draws his confidence and courage from both the mysterious Millennium Puzzle and his alter ego. Pegasus, meanwhile, strives to achieve immortality by "stealing souls." In the cartoon, Yugi and his friends discover that the villain steals Grandfather's soul because he wants to reincarnate his lost love, Cynthia. The more souls he steals the better chance he has of bringing her back from the dead—and attaining immortality for himself.

Perhaps the most telling facts about Yu-Gi-Oh!'s TV program, and by extension the entire Yu-Gi-Oh! world, can be learned by examining the intentions of its creators. In Forbes magazine an executive producer of the WB show said, "We don't want to sell to little kids. … We want it to be dark, scary, terrifying and gloomy."