Yu-Gi-Oh is a franchise that has become synonymous with the younger crowd of anime/manga fans of the world. As time passes, more and more variations are added to the title as series continue to spawn. Thus we come to Zexal, a new story that centres around one boy’s passion for duelling and the increasing odds at which he is forced to bet. But with a knowledgeable ghost by his side it shouldn’t be too dangerous…right?
Meet Yuma Tsukumo, a boisterous, never-say-die student who has one searing passion in his life: Duelling. Unfortunately for Yuma however, he is a terrible duellist. Though he possesses a powerful deck passed onto him by his father, he is unable to utilise it and is thus routinely trounced by his fellow students. But if there’s one redeeming feature about Yuma, it’s that no matter how many times he’s knocked down, he gets right back up and tries again.
The story really kicks in when his “friend” Tetsuo’s deck is won from him by schoolyard bully Shark…though you’d never guess he was bad guy from the name. Blindly sticking up for Tetsuo, Yuma finds himself duelling Shark. Midway through losing, Yuma once again has visions of an ominous door that appears in his dreams. Utilising his pendant, another memento of his dear departed parents, Yuma opens the door and unwittingly summons a spirit: Astral. Luckily for our protagonist however, this spirit is benevolent, albeit amnesiac, and quite the duelling prodigy…what a coincidence. The duel also takes a decidedly more magical turn from this point on, as it is revealed that Astral’s memories have fragmented into powerful Number Cards, which cause their wielder’s personality to change, as Shark immediately demonstrates. Thus begins the partnership between Yuma and Astral and their quest to recover all 100 Number Cards to return the spirit’s memories to him. That shouldn’t take too long.
One thing I have to note about the characters of Zexal is their personalities, which at some points are down right annoying. I understand what is trying to be conveyed, but the way that it is handled comes across as bratty. Though I guess they are kids. My prime example is, during his second duel with Astral by his side, Yuma straight up declares that he will ignore everything the spirit says. Really dude? The guy just helped you win for the first time in at least 50 duels and your turning on him? This also creates one of the longest sequences of reverse psychology I’ve ever seen…and it works consistently. It’s just kind of jarring that, at least thus far, one of Yuma’s most redeeming features has been Astral.
The duels themselves are also worth mentioning, if only to highlight some recurring themes. First off, I understand that this is Yu-Gi-Oh, a series based on a card game with pre-determined rules and regulations. There’s strategy involved, opportunities to use the right cards at the right moment, to turn the tide and pull victory from the jaws of defeat. But when every single turn seems specifically tailored to the introduction of a new card, the premise can wear a little thin. Characters never seem to have an ok turn, they either fail immensely or draw exactly the card they needed for the situation. It just seems a little unbalanced at times. I’m not saying that their aren’t some smart moves in each duel, just that these clearly designed moments stand out a little more.
If there’s one thing to be said about the artwork of Zexal, it’s that Duel Monsters look awesome. Each creature summoned during the duels is finely detailed, which serves to provide an interesting visual element to each duel. Monsters are greatly varied in their designs as well, ranging from magicians, to golems, even a man made out of sharks…yep. Monsters are also very well drawn during their attacks which again adds to the visual drama of each duel. When you get right down to it, without these well constructed beasts, Yu-Gi-Oh would be just another card game.
However, Duel Monsters do not always grace the page with their appearance, when no duel is taking place, our eyes are drawn to the characters, who’s designs are…exaggerated. Yu-Gi-Oh has always had rather interesting character designs, but Zexal takes the cake. As in, I don’t full understand how most character’s hair works. I know strange designs are pretty standard for anime and manga, but come on. There’s a girl who’s hair looks like cat ears. Like they’re a different colour in the centre somehow. Also I know Tokunosuke had a traumatic past, but I cannot take him seriously in the slightest…I think the tiny bowler hat with a star on it may contribute to that slightly, but I can’t be sure.
Zexal Volume 1 is a pretty interesting introduction to a new page in the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise. That being said, the events of the volume seemed to occur just a little too fast. It wasn’t as if the story skipped over too much, it just felt as if events could’ve had a little more time put into them. Astral’s introduction into the series, though interesting, could’ve had a larger impact if we knew more about Yuma’s life before he met the spirit. The pre-Astral storyline is essentially given to us in a montage-esque sequence of events, flying by rather quickly. I’m not saying that gratuitous amount of time had to be spent on Yuma’s school life, but a little more would’ve been nice. Of course this is the first volume so the story may focus more on detail now that we know the basics. All in all, not a bad start, but the best is clearly yet to come.
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