Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions (2017) – Movie Review

*NOTE* This review of ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions’ is a review of the English Dub from 4K Media Inc. The review also contains spoilers for the original ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ anime, including its ending.

Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions
Directed by: Satoshi Kuwabara
Written by: Kazuki Takahashi
Starring: Dan Green, Eric Stuart, Daniel J. Edwards, Wayne Grayson & Amy Birnbaum
Music: Yoshihiro Ike
Certificate: PG
Release Date: February 1st 2017

Out of all of the Japanese Manga/Anime that found its way translated to the West, “Yu-Gi-Oh!”, created by Kaziku Takahashi has easily been one of the most enduring, alongside shows such as “Dragon Ball” and “Pokemon”. Originally starting life as a Manga in 1996 and later adapted into an Anime by Toei Animation, the series has spawned multiple spin-offs including “Yu-Gi-Oh! GX”, “5D’s”, “Zexal”, “Arc-V” and most recently “Vrains” as well as one of the world’s most successful, competitive card games starting in 1999.

However, easily the most iconic and well-regarded “Yu-Gi-Oh!” franchises comes from the original run between 2000 and 2004 in Japan and later dubbed between 2001 and 2006 in North America. While that hugely successful run spawned films and specials, none of them had any direct involvement from Takahashi. However, for the franchises’ 20th Anniversary, Takahashi returns to write a sequel/new-ending for that original anime, with the original voice cast returning. Should the legacy of this franchise remain locked away like the King of Games in the show, or are there plenty more cards to be drawn from the deck?

It’s been roughly a few months since Yugi Muto (Green) and his friends successfully laid the ancient Pharaoh and Spirit of the Millennium Puzzle Atem to rest in Egypt. Now the group are about to graduate high-school and are wondering where to go next in their lives. Meanwhile, Yugi’s rival Seto Kaiba (Stuart) is re-assembling the Puzzle in order to bring the Pharaoh back to settle their old rivalry. But a new threat is emerging in the form of Diva (Edwards) who has the power to manipulate dimensions and reality. He wants to prevent the Pharaoh’s return as if he should ever return, he will lose his abilities. It’s up to Yugi and Seto to prevent Diva from taking control of their dimension and decide whether or not to lay the Pharaoh to rest forever.

Going into a movie based on “Yu-Gi-Oh” it’s easy to expect a lacklustre plot with little character development with most of the enjoyment being gleamed from the animation and the duels. That’s how it was for previous spin-off films and specials such as ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Pyramid of Light‘ and ‘Yu-Gi-Oh: Bonds Beyond Time‘. However, colour me shocked that the best aspect about ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions‘ are the character arcs and wrapping up long-standing story-threads from the manga/anime and the duels actually being a bit of a letdown, but more on those later.

Now, this is a ridiculous movie based off an anime which spawned a children’s card game. The content isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but for those invested in the original “Yu-Gi-Oh!” TV series, this is a really sentimental and well executed, extended epilogue to that story. The main protagonists, Yugi, Joey, Tea, Duke, Tristan and Bakura are growing up and moving on with their lives and they’re even unsure if they’ll even be staying in their group in the near future. Yugi, in particular, has spent years of his life sharing his soul with Atem and that’s naturally left an emptiness inside that he’s still coming to terms with.

Regardless of the end result, you can tell that Takahashi and co. weren’t trying to create a simple cash-in movie here, by virtue of the film’s running time being 131 minutes. For the most part, that run-time is put to good use developing the characters further and giving them meaningful interactions, particularly between Yugi and Tea. Also, while Joey has basically minimal involvement in the plot, he even gets one more hero moment showcasing his obscenely good luck (although how his sub-plot resolves itself is never explained in the English-dub, though it is apparently explained in the Japanese-dub).

We also catch up with Bakura, an otherwise innocent and shy teenager who has a lot of baggage after being possessed by the spirit of the Millennium Ring and over the course of the film has to face some of the consequences of his alter-ego’s actions. Bakura was a rather annoying character in the original anime, but ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions‘ goes a long way to make the character endearing. But the pièces de résistance goes to the characterisation of Seto Kaiba and it’s mainly due to the writing (for the dub, at least) being knowingly silly in regards to just how far he’ll go to re-duel the Pharoah and how seriously he takes a children’s card game.

Seto Kaiba’s main base is a satellite, he’s created card-game technology that can actually go into the duelist’s mind to conjure up ultra-realistic battle simulations and he even seems to be wearing a moulded plastic shirt to give himself abs (akin to the 1980s/1990s Batman movies). Some of his dialogue almost sounds like something that’d fit right in with an Abridged adaptation of the movie, but it’s almost charming in how even the writers know how ridiculous this obsession Kaiba has with the Pharaoh’s return is and that, in an odd sort of way, lends credibility to it.

When Yugi has the gall to summon Apple Magician Girl and Lemon Magician Girl, Kaiba aggressively responds with “You fight me with fruit!?”. The movie knows full well what audiences love most about this character. There’s a scene where Kaiba literally draws a trading card from the ground through sheer force of will. It’s utterly ridiculous yet compellingly badass. And, believe it or not, that’s not even the most ridiculous thing he does in the movie.

As for the villain Diva, this is where the film has some narrative stumbles and it’s also where the duels themselves become a let-down. Diva’s ability to bend reality and manipulate dimensions is really poorly explained and it makes large chunks of the exposition-heavy movie difficult to follow. Terms like “Plana”, “Quantum Cube” and more are brought up without any explanation. His arc carries some emotional weight by virtue of him being an abused child trying to protect his younger-sister etc. but in terms of what he’s trying to accomplish, what his powers do and just why he’s a legitimate threat, the films drops the ball. Which is a shame, because his flashback scenes actually delve into series lore that fans will be interested in, including the origins of Bakura’s relationship with the Millennium Ring and even the fate of fan-favourite character; Shadi.

But getting back to the duels, they’re the definition of hit-and-miss. The ones that hit are the conventional matches that stick to the rules of the original series. They’re well-paced, elaborate, dramatic and all the stuff we loved about them in the original series is still present. But this movie also introduces “Dimension Summoning” a term that’s thrown into the film but never given an adequate explanation.

It’s essentially a narrative tool that allows strong monsters to be introduced more quickly, likely to make the duels more fast-paced for the structure of a movie. However, whenever Diva is present in a duel, they become hard to follow with new creatures, abilities and cards being thrown left-right-and-centre until you just throw your arms up and cease caring. This is coming from someone who actually knows how to play the game, by the way.

Thankfully, not all the duels are like this and the ones that are more “traditional” (i.e. actually make sense) are awesome and as usual it’s thanks to the voice cast that these ridiculous scenarios are given credibility. All except the closing moments of the last duel which, while visually spectacular, play out with zero dialogue or explanation so I actually have no idea what happened in the last turn of the last duel of the movie…which was a very odd creative decision.

Dan Green returns to voice Yugi and Atem and it’s easily the best acting he’s ever done for the franchise, particuarly for Yugi. There’s an added weight to Yugi’s voice which communicates how much he’s matured since Atem left, without losing that initial high-pitched tone that was a staple for the character. Yugi even approaches badass territory at some moments and it’s gratifying for long-time viewers to see this character grow after his mild-mannered beginnings. Eric Stuart is perfect as usual as Kaiba, Daniel J. Edwards does what he can with the strangely mangled character of Diva and returning players Wayne Grayson, Amy Birnbaum, Grey Abbey, Ted Lewis and Tara Sands slip back into their old roles effortlessly, but this film is Green and Stuart’s show.

Animation-wise, this is the absolute best the series has ever looked. There’s good integration of 2-D and 3-D and Takahashi’s character designs are adequately updated to reflect modern animation styles. The storyboarding is the best in the entire series with great, atmospheric shot-choices and the impacts from the new duel-disk holograms (which render the creatures in 3D) have real punch to them. The orchestrated music is great, remixing and updating classic themes from the original anime and while some of the environments and prop designs feels very overly-complocated, it’s still a style befitting of the franchise.

No, ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions‘ is not high-art or even objectively speaking a great movie but it’s a fitting conclusion to a series that is hugely nostalgic for a generation of anime fans. The characters are taken in interesting and fun directions, about half the duels are really awesomely constructed, it looks gorgeous and the voice actors invest a lot of credibility to the project. While the villain and new “Dimension Duels” are really poorly implemented, there’s still a lot here for fans to enjoy and get sentimental over. Whether or not the franchise continues or not remains to be seen, but when it comes to these iconic characters growing up and moving on it goes above and beyond to get the job done.

I give ‘Yu-Gi-Oh”: The Dark Side of Dimensions‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.

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Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 14th Jan 18