Monday, 6 February 2017

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

Yu-Gi-Oh!, otherwise known as the next step anime after Pok√©mon, has a rather complex history with yours truly. I watched the original series a LOT as a kid, played many a game in the playground at school (and saw kids keep getting the show’s rules for the game confused with the actual rules) and then there’s its place within my background in YouTube with LittleKuriboh’s seminal work in online parody with Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series. It’s rare that I can point to a single franchise as being so influential to my upbringing in this many points of my life. I fell out with the game a few years back until I started doing a work skills course and found a few yahoos that got me back into the franchise through all three of those signifiers. I still suck at the card game but at least now I have some semblance of an understanding of the insanely in-depth rules of the thing, and I can still have a good laugh at the series (both the original and the parody by LK). Naturally, when news hit of a new film from the franchise hitting cinemas, I brought in a close friend and fellow fanboy and sat down to watch this thing. So how did that turn out?

The plot: Business magnate Seto Kaiba (Eric Stuart), still bitter at having missed his chance to defeat the powerful pharaoh Atem before he left this world, sets out to find and recover the Millennium Puzzle, an ancient Egyptian artefact which houses the spirit of the pharaoh. Meanwhile, champion duelist and soon-to-be high school graduate Yugi Mutou (Dan Green), who is still mourning the departure of the pharaoh, is dragged into a battle for the Puzzle, as a being from another dimension also seeks it in order to keep his power over the fabric of reality. If this sounds silly, that’s only because it is.

Talking about the cast list is going to be tricky this time around, as these are characters and actors that have left a permanent impression on me over the years; being in any way objective in terms of voice-acting talent is near-impossible for me in this state. Then again, this might be the nicest thing I can say about the acting here: These people are still capable of tapping into that sense of familiarity that fans have with them through this franchise, and in that regard, the acting is perfectly fine. Green is still slightly abrasive in how chipper he is as Yugi but still comes into his own and shows that he doesn’t need the pharaoh to be effective in various ways, Wayne Grayson brings the iconic Brooklyn accent to Joey Wheeler, Amy Birnbaum as Tea thankfully eases up on the friendship monologues, and Greg Abbey as Tristan continues to exist; not much more to add to that.

Outside of our main group, Stuart gives the best performance of the film as he plays the entitled and egotistical douchebag role so perfectly straight as to be outright hilarious throughout, Ted Lewis as frenemy Bakura brings some okay drama to the proceedings, and Daniel J. Edwards brings the kind of thinly-veiled villainy badly trying to morally ambiguous that Yu-Gi-Oh! has become well-known for as the main villain.

You know you’re in for a rough time when the best thing I can say about the character animation is that the outlines are nice. For every human character that we see, the animation quality is quite awful and frequently dips into budget-cut moments where the detailing just disappears, leaving these malformed scribbles on the screen. If anything, the fact that the outlining is good and definitely makes the characters stand out only makes it worse because it draws your attention to the weakness inside the lines. If you don’t have the capacity to laugh at bad artwork, chances are that you will be pained to look at these designs for any longer than absolutely necessary.

Then again, you won’t have to for too long because it seems that all the effort has been put into the duelling and in particular the monster designs. Thankfully, that effort hasn’t been wasted as, even considering we’re getting a fair few reskins of familiar faces (because, for some reason, we need 90 different flavours of Celtic Guardian), these look pretty damn good. In terms of giving the expectant audience what they want, overblown card games as action sequences, it delivers.

Once we get into the plot meant to tie these duels together, things take a turn for the obnoxious. I don’t know what it is about trying to legitimise a children’s card game as an impetus for heavy drama but there is way too much going on here. From Kaiba’s neverending mission of revenge to the new villain’s frankly confusing motivations to where Yugi plays into all of this, this plot is incredibly overstuffed. This isn’t aided by how said plot is full of a lot of little moments of idiocy, pointlessness or both in some cases that stack up as the film moves through its over two-hour running time. Given the paper-thin attempts at character and narrative here, there is no reason why this should be this long.

That said, it is at least fun in how ridiculous it all is and it seems like the film (or at least the English dub) is aware of this. Thanks largely to Kaiba, there’s a lot of peppered-in jokes to keep things palatable, including a moment that I swear was inspired by the “Screw the rules, I have money” meme from the Abridged Series. So, yeah, it’s inane but it is at least entertainingly inane; it helps if you are able to go into full riff mode with a friend or two while watching it.

But how is it as an addition to the franchise? After all, as is the case with most Shonen anime films, this was made for the fans first and foremost so how does this appeal to the fans? Well, aside from making a decent continuation to the series, taking place after the finale of the original anime, it introduces a couple of… interesting mechanics to the card game itself. The gimmick for the villain this time around, because they all have to have one by law, is the tactic of Dimension Duelling. For non-players, it’s just another subset of rules that will make this already ludicrously intricate game even more complicated. That, and the new Cubic archetype has plenty of potential for broken gameplay, making the idea of me going to the tournaments again an even lesser possibility. Seriously, they take attention to detail with card games and make mine with films look like a five-year-old’s understanding of the world.

All in all, this is remarkably silly and more than a little stupid, but if you’re in the right mindset (and are likely a fan of the franchise already), it can make for a fun watch. The acting is decent, the animation puts its effort into what audiences want to see most and the dialogue is cheesy to the point of self-parody at times. If you like any of the shows or the card game itself, or at least have the capacity to laugh at it, then this is worth a watch.

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