Let's take a break from our regularly scheduled (Ha!) Naruto posts to talk about another long-running franchise, one that, so far, has no end in sight.
First, let's talk about the manga because that's where everything starts.
For starters, did you know the manga wasn't originally about card games?
Yeah, shocking. I know. The early manga used a game-of-the-week structure. Sometimes it was a regular game with a mythical twist. Other times the game was downright twisted and bizarre from start to finish.
The Pharaoh was not a nice guy during those days. The stakes were high and losing was not a pretty experience.
The card game was just one of the many games played during the manga. However, it proved popular with the audience and soon took over, giving rise to the Duelist Kingdom and Battle City Tournaments.
The first Yu-gi-oh! anime (produced by Toei) did adapt the early content, but that anime didn't last long. It's now known by some fans as Season 0.
However, we are not here to talk about that adaptation. We are here to talk about the one that starts with Kaiba stealing the Blue-Eyes White Dragon and getting monstered by Exodia.
The second version of the Yu-gi-oh! anime introduced the card game from the very beginning. In fact, it went ahead and added more card games, sometimes entire arcs of them. The anime gave us the Virtual World Arc, Waking the Dragons, and the Grand Championship.
All of them revolve around the card game and for good reason.
The card game ended up being one hell of a golden egg. It was a global phenomenon and would continue to be. Yu-gi-oh! was not the simple adaptation of a shounen manga anymore.
However, the card game raged on, so the anime continued in a new form: Yu-gi-oh! GX.
A new cast. A new story. Same card game.
Much like other toy commercials anime Japan made (Pokemon, Beyblade, Vanguard, etc.), the Yu-gi-oh! anime now served as a merchandising vehicle for the card game, As long as the cards continued to sell, the anime would as well.
Due to this, GX is different in quite a few ways from its predecessor.
During the early storylines of the manga, the rules of the card game were still being hammered out and it shows.
He may have won almost every match, but Yugi's deck had horrible synergy. In general, early decks were a bit of a mess.
Sure, Rex had dinosaurs and Weevil had insects, but the support really wasn't there.
However, by the time GX rolled out, the card game had not only established itself, it had evolved.
GX had something new: Archetypes!
It is not the best deck, but you can tell the cards work together. They can form different combinations with each other, and they come with their own Field Spell. Then you had Zane's Cyber Dragons, and Aster's Destiny Heroes, and many many more.
Important characters brought with them their unique Archetypes.
In fact, because the duels were so much shorter here compared to the original series – many duels were just one episode long – the anime could afford to show way more decks compared to the original, and for the most part, that was a good thing.
It brought variety and flexibility to the show. You could sell your product while also giving other characters the chance to show what they could do.
Even if GX didn't exactly make the best use of everyone who was not Jaden.
After GX, came 5ds.
The game had changed again, and Synchro Summoning was the brand new thing. Fusion got plenty of spotlight in GX, but it wasn't exactly a new mechanic. Meanwhile, 5ds let Synchros take center stage, creating a model that would continue into Zexal and Arc-V.
Every main character used Synchro Summoning and all their Ace Monsters could only be summoned that way.
Except for Dark Synchros which were totally awesome but sadly never implemented properly in the game. Also, other villain cards which were not as awesome.
I mean, Jaden's deck was a mess. He is one of the most powerful protagonists, but damn, try putting all those cards in your deck and see how you fare.
Meanwhile, Yusei's deck actually kind of worked, and Stardust Dragon was a fantastic monster.
However, 5ds also saw the rise of certain problems within the franchise.
For starters, the merchandising.
Let's be honest, Crow was a completely unnecessary character.
Worst of all, his deck was actually good in the real game which gave him even more fame, and him getting spotlight meant more people were buying Blackwings which started an annoying circle of fame.
By the end of the second arc, Crow had grabbed himself a main character position and shoved Leo out of the Signer Club.
Then there was the sex cult scandal.
Yeah, that was a thing. There was a bit of a scandal in Japan regarding this one cult. One of the voice actors from the show happened to be involved in the cult so she got fired and replaced.
Then the writing removed any mention of cults.
Yep. Ever wonder why we never saw more of the psychic duelists? That's why.
It's also the why Iliaster got reworked and why the last season deals with Time Travelers and robots instead of ancient mythical powers.
In fact, this was such a big thing, that it would continue in the coming seasons.
Cults were no longer a thing. It was all about extra-dimensional beings and other similar concepts. Less fantasy. More sci-fi.
Ridiculous as it may sound, this was the last big change in the anime format. While Zexal and Arc-V introduce a couple of new twists, they use the same basic formula that was perfected during 5ds.
Whether it will change again or not is a question for another time.