Friday, July 24, 2020

The Problem with Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal

A few years back I wanted to get back into Yu-Gi-Oh. I got some new cards and I started watching the anime again. I started up with the original series and just recently I finished Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal, the fourth anime series in the franchise. There were definitely high points of it, but it’s also my least favorite of the franchise so far.

Before I get into what made it subpar, I want to discuss what I liked. First off, it was a breath of fresh air to see a protagonist who wasn’t a naturally gifted duelist from day one. Yuma loved dueling, but he kind of sucked at it. As opposed to Yugi, Jaden, or Yusei who were dueling prodigies from episode one, we got to see Yuma grow and learn from Astral as the series progressed. By the end of the series, he was a formidable duelist on his own, but it took work, just like real life.

Now for the downside… First off, the series felt disjointed. We started out with a simple premise with Astral needing to gather the number cards to regain his memories. And even in the first half of the series, even when filler hit, it brought us closer and closer to the confrontation with Dr. Faker, who was also hunting number cards. However, by the second half of the series things weren’t so straightforward. At first it was about fighting the Barians. Then it was about the Barians’ memories. Then it was about Don Thousand. Also Shark was a Barian all along? It felt like the second half of the series didn’t know what it wanted to do. I felt like I was getting whiplash sometimes.

I also didn’t like how Zexal seemed disconnected from the rest of the franchise. Yu-Gi-Oh and Yu-Gi-Oh GX both felt like they were taking place in the present day, so it was relatable. Almost as if I could picture myself dueling in Battle City or studying at Duel Academy. Even with Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds, it was established that New Domino City was in the same universe as the previous series, just set in the future. It gave a sense of continuity. So what’s the deal with Zexal then? There were references to legendary cards like Blue-Eyes, Dark Magician, and Flame Wingman, so it kind of acknowledged the previous series… but it was still unclear what was up. Was it in the future past 5Ds or was it in an alternate timeline? Digimon did similar things when they would start a new continuity each season.... but at least those alternate Digimon timelines were set in the present day still.

Now for my final gripe: What even was the Power of Zexal? Was it just about getting the power of that “shining draw” or something? Yugi and Joey were able to do that by calling it the heart of the cards. Yuma and Astral got a weird Power Rangers suit, but what did the Zexal Morph even do? The series was named after the power, but the power felt essentially useless. I just don’t get it.

Overall I’m glad I watched it, but mostly because it gave me a base understanding of Xyz monsters. Although those were kind of odd too.

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