This is the way the world ends – not with a bang, but with a face-down trap card, saved for later to counter your opponent’s Des Feral Imp. What’s that mean? I honestly couldn’t tell you, even after sitting through Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie, a feature-length anime commercial.
The story (such as it is) has Anubis, Egyptian lord of the dead, returning to unleash Armageddon and using a popular card game called Duel Monsters as his stalking-horse. In reality, the movie is a stalking-horse for the real-life card game, which is anchored and advertised, Pokémon-like, by a TV ‘toon. On both big and small screens, the action is the game itself: You actually watch the players…play. And narrate their strategies in an excited anime monotone. It’s all the thrill of watching other people play Uno. With, like, fighting monsters and stuff. If you’re 6 and in-the-know, you’ll likely be mesmerized. If you’re a parent, you’ll be utterly lost, but not terribly shocked or offended. (Some of the violence – like a dagger stab seen in silhouette – is mildly troubling.)
Young Yugi Moto is our hero, a pint-size Duel Monsters champ with a puzzle around his neck that makes him the avatar of a long-dead pharaoh. The symbiosis makes him a few inches taller, gives him access to pearls of ancient wisdom (”There’s more to power than just attack points… True power lies in the fist of fury!”), and provides him with three powerful Egyptian God Cards, which can’t be beaten. (Until now! Naturally.) There’s a showdown with a pride-blinded rich kid, and a lot of talk about friendship and ”the heart of the cards” – nothing you can’t get on TV, in other words. The mythology of the franchise doesn’t seem to change significantly over the course of the movie, so you could, in a pinch, skip it and go right back to watching the series. Unless, of course, someone were to play Reverse of Reverse! Then you’d be in trouble! I think.