Anime fans, where do you fall on the “sub vs dub” divide? In an overwhelming majority of cases, whenever I watch anime, I tend to watch the subtitled version featuring its original voice cast. For me, it’s about keeping as much of the original story, rhythm, and sound intact as possible. There are, of course, a few exceptions that come up, like when an English voice cast just happens to sound better to my ear, or when it’s the only version available, or when it’s for a title I originally watched in a dubbed format and now I simply can’t listen to it any other way. Examples of this latter circumstance include Pokemon, Cowboy Bebop and, of course, Yu-Gi-Oh!
With the release of the 2016 film Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions on Blu-ray and DVD, and in celebrating creator Kazuki Takahashi‘s 20th anniversary of the manga, I was able to dive back into the dueling world of one of my favorite anime series of the early 2000s. I first started watching Yu-Gi-Oh!, the dubbed version, alongside my younger brother and our shared enjoyment of the series soon led to an interest in the very real (and competitive) card game featured within it; the pull of nostalgia for this latest film was strong.
And that feeling is part of what makes Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions work. The original story from Kazuki Takahashi picks up six months after the end of the manga after which Yugi Mutou and the spirit of the Pharaoh Atem have parted ways. Yugi (Dan Green) and his friends Joey (Wayne Grayson), Tea (Amy Birnbaum), Tristan (Greg Abbey), and Bakura (Ted Lewis) are preparing to graduate high school and might just be saying their last farewells to each other as they head off along their own paths into adult life. Even if this voice cast never gets to work on another Yu-Gi-Oh! project again, at the very least, Dark Side of Dimensions gave them and their characters some closure on this particular chapter, and fans got to hear their iconic voices one last time.
But a Yu-Gi-Oh! story wouldn’t be complete without Seto Kaiba (Eric Stuart), an anti-hero whose self-confidence knows no bounds, whose ambition outpaces all rivals, and whose fashion sense is beyond reproach. Kaiba has never been more Kaiba than he is in The Dark Side of Dimensions and Stuart pumps up the character’s arrogance, sarcasm, and strategic mind to the max. It’s endlessly entertaining to watch Kaiba’s many flourishes throughout this movie, whether it’s in showing off his new Duel Disk tech, tearing through the skies in a private jet that looks exactly like a Blue-Eyes White Dragon, or rocking into the stratosphere in a space elevator that leads to his very own space station! There’s no questioning Kaiba’s boss status–though he comes very close to claiming to be a god of the new world in this movie–but believe it or not, he’s not the actual villain of the piece.
It turns out that when the Pharaoh disappeared, a sect of people living in another dimension were granted the creative power of the Plana (or Prana). These followers of Shadi Shin, former wielder of the Millennium Item known as the Quantum Cube, sought to form a new world free of hate, but their leader Aigami becomes consumed by hate in the process, attempting to kill Yugi and destroy his Millennium Puzzle to prevent the Pharaoh’s possible return, which would sap Aigami’s power completely. It’s a fantastic, if convoluted, story that folds in old and new cards and monsters alike (not coincidentally, new card packs were released along with the film) while also playing up the mythology of the Millennium Items and further developing the character relationships that had been established over a 20-year run.
And if this all sounds like gobbledygook to you, that’s because it kind of is, to a non-Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, anyway. So as a movie, The Dark Side of Dimensions is a little disjointed; it feels more like a miniseries strung together end to end, relying on the audience to know all of the backstory coming into the telling of the tale. In other words, this movie’s definitely for fans but could be rather daunting for newcomers to the story. The duels–and there are plenty of them–get a little repetitive and they’re not quite as thrilling as they were in the old days since mega/ultra/extreme versions of monsters are drawn almost instantly, but that old familiar tension is still there as you wait to see how Yugi and his trust in the heart of the cards will get him out of yet another impossible battle.