Growing up in the early 2000s, there was a handful of shows that I would consider as my “go-to” tv shows every single day after coming home from school. Among those shows were cartoons like Jackie Chan Adventures, Pokémon, Static Shock, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While all of those shows were great in their own right, none of them were my favorite. That special honor was reserved for one of my favorite cartoons of all time, Yu-Gi-Oh.
I can’t quite put my finger on what was so enjoyable about Yu-Gi-Oh. Maybe it was the designs of the cards, each one very unique with their own special abilities. Maybe it was the complex duels that took place during the show, showcasing the skills of each duelist, with Yugi usually pulling a victory from the jaws of defeat. Causing a 10-year-old me to constantly watch the show on the edge of my seat. Or maybe it was the interesting characters that became almost like best friends for us. Yugi, Joey, Tristan, Téa; their friendship unbreakable even during the most stressful parts of the show.
Even with how amazing the show was, there were many things in the show that stand out as glaring problems that we pretty much just ignored. In this list, I will talk about all of these problems, and hopefully give you a new look into one of the greatest kids cartoons of the past two decades. So without further ado, let’s jump into the list.
For a kids show, there were some pretty high stakes in Yu-Gi-Oh. In pretty much every major duel, the loser of the duel would be sent to the “shadow realm.” The shadow realm was only really present in the US edit of the show, because in the original version, the loser of the duel would actually have their life ended!
That’s pretty messed up for a kids show, and should really make you not want to play the card game. But for some reason it just made us want to watch and play more!
There was so much cheating in Yu-Gi-Oh that pretty much goes unpunished throughout the show. The main villain, Pegasus, even uses a magic eye that tells him what cards his opponents are using! Duelists use scare tactics, life-threatening situations, computer hacking, and all-powerful magical items to help them in their duels. That’s a lot of cheating…
There is even one duelist who steals Yugi’s most powerful cards and throws them into the ocean! That’s not even remotely fair, and the duelist is still allowed into the competition. Come on, man.
Speaking of cheating, one of the most glaring problems in the first couple of seasons of Yu-Gi-Oh is how much the duelists disregard the rules of the card game that they’re playing. Mainly, in summoning extremely powerful monsters without sacrificing weaker monsters.
An example of this is Seto Kaiba, who should have to sacrifice two weak monsters to summon his favorite Blue Eyes White Dragon. But he never does this! He brings out the powerful card without sacrificing, even though it’s against the rules.
One of the main problems with Yu-Gi-Oh is that the main character is actually possessed by the spirit of a Pharaoh who is no longer alive! Even though he is obviously possessed, and he even gets taller when the Pharaoh takes over his body, none of Yugi’s friends seem to notice, or care, at all!
This is not even really mentioned for the first few seasons of the show.
It’s pretty much just ignored by everyone. How nobody can tell that there are two people inhabiting one body always confused me as a kid, but I decided to just roll with it like everyone else.
One thing I definitely noticed as a kid when watching Yu-Gi-Oh was that Joey starts out as a bad duelist. His deck is bad, he doesn’t even know the rules, he basically can’t beat anyone. But without any practice he becomes one of the best duelists in the world, seemingly overnight.
It just doesn’t make sense.
But, like everyone else, I just ignored this leap in logic because I loved the show and the characters so much. But if you really think about it, Joey should not have been one of the best duelists in the show, especially if you look back at how bad he was in the beginning.
One thing that always kind of bugged me in the show is how the four main characters, Yugi, Joey, Tristan, and Téa, are somehow able to use their friendship as a kind of magic. They are even able, at one point, to block Pegasus’ magic all-seeing eye from intruding into Yugi’s mind to see what cards he’s playing, thus stopping him from cheating.
This is never really explained other than the fact that, well, they’re just really good friends. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but we decided to ignore that.
This number in the list is kind of associated with the point above about cheating in the show. During the final round of duels in the first season arc, Maximillion Pegasus, the so-called creator of duel monsters, uses a special deck created just for specific duels.
He even uses cards that were deemed too powerful for the general public!
Yet somehow, other than the characters remarking on how that’s unfair, nothing is done about it. Perhaps because the characters realize how villainous Pegasus is, they’re too scared to do anything about it. But it’s definitely not right.
Have you ever noticed that most duels in the first few seasons of Yu-Gi-Oh seem to happen in the same way? Yugi or another main character gets lured into a duel somehow, they’re flustered at the beginning of the duel and they begin to lose. Then their friends yell encouragement at them and suddenly they remember how to use their deck and pull victory out of nowhere.
Even though every duel almost has the same formula, we just don’t care because we love the show so much. Can you blame us?
Let’s be honest, one of the main things wrong with Yu-Gi-Oh is the hairstyles of all the main characters. They’re just not realistic, and they would look absolutely ridiculous in real life. Weird hairstyles is a standard anime trope, but it doesn’t make it any less dumb looking.
But then again, if everyone in the show had normal hairstyles, would the characters really be that iconic? I think the story itself would still shine through, but I’d definitely love to see what a live-action remake of Yu-Gi-Oh would look like.
The US version of Yu-Gi-Oh was actually heavily edited for western audiences compared to the original Japanese anime. Instead of a duelist’s life ending if they lose a duel, in the US, they would be sent to the shadow realm.
The US production company, 4kids, was the company responsible for all of the edits.
The production company also edited out pretty much any reference to physical harm that was present in the original. They edited out guns, fistfights, slaps, and more! So definitely watch the original Japanese version if you want the full Yu-Gi-Oh experience.
If you really stop and think about it, the main villain's plan in Yu-Gi-Oh doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Maximillion Pegasus, the villain of the series, wants to gather all the Millennium Items for himself, which includes Yugi’s Millennium Puzzle. However, Pegasus seems to go to great lengths to have Yugi eliminated from the tournament for some reason.
If his main plan is to face Yugi in a final duel, why would Pegasus work so hard to have Yugi eliminated from the contest? It doesn’t make sense.
Speaking of Millennium Items, if you go back and watch the show, these magical items seem to not really have any discernible rules to how they work. Some items can allow a spirit to possess someone. One item can allow the user to see into other people’s minds. Some items can create shadow games where the loser is sent to the shadow realm.
The powers of these magical items are all over the map and they’re never clearly defined. But we didn’t care, because they were awesome.
During the first arc of the show called Duelist Kingdom, Yugi’s friend Mai loses all of her star chips to an enforcer named Panik. These enforcers are employed by Pegasus to go around and defeat the weaker duelists. Panik defeats Mai and eliminates her from the tournament.
However, Yugi, not liking what he sees, defeats Panik in his own duel and then gives Mai her star chips back, something that should definitely be against the rules. Even though this move should be against the rules of the tournament, nobody does anything about it and Mai is allowed to continue.
One thing that we pretty much just skim over when watching Yu-Gi-Oh is that the main characters are put in many, many life threatening situations. There’s even a scene where a duelist who is battling Yugi basically chains him to an arena so that he can’t move, and then shoots a powerful flamethrower right at him!
This is all very dark for a kids television show.
Luckily, Yugi’s Millennium Item protects him from harm, but it doesn’t change the fact that a duelist literally tried to end his life.
One thing that seems to be wrong with Yu-Gi-Oh, is that it almost seems like rules are made up to help Yugi win his duels. A good example of this is in Yugi’s duel with Panik in the first season.
Many of Panik’s and Yugi’s cards are given special abilities in the show that they definitely do not have in real life. These special abilities end up helping Yugi to win this duel pretty much out of nowhere. This seems to happen in many of the duels in the show.
Something many people forget about Yu-Gi-Oh is that Tristan and Joey actually used to be bullies! There is a flashback early in the show of Tristan and Joey abusing Yugi, stealing his Millennium Puzzle and playing keep-away with it. Basically tormenting Yugi as much as they can because they see him as weaker.
Yes, they become best friends later, but does that really excuse their actions beforehand? Apparently, because we all forgot about it, or just choose to ignore it.
One of Yugi’s main strategies throughout the show is to use the “heart of the cards” to help himself draw the right cards in the right situations. However, the heart of the cards is never really explained. It’s implied that the cards listen to Yugi and give him the cards he needs.
I’ll admit, it seemed like a bit of a cop out even when I was younger, but I never really questioned it that much. I wanted Yugi to win his duels, so I didn’t care how he did it.
One thing I never really liked in the show is that all of the main characters have a really important reason that they are dueling, but if a character is only dueling for money or fame, they’re seen as a bad person. Mai originally is only dueling so that she can fund her lavish lifestyle, but the show implies that this is a bad thing.
You don’t need to have a loved one to save in order to be an important duelist, but the show would definitely make you think that this was the case.
Do you remember that there was a main character that threatened to end his own life if Yugi should beat him in a duel? Well, it happened. Seto Kaiba was so desperate to save his brother from Pegasus that he implied to Yugi that if he should strike the final blow in their duel, he would fall to his end.
This messed Yugi up so bad that he conceded the duel and Kaiba won. That’s a pretty heavy thing to be in a kids show, that’s for sure!
During the Duelist Kingdom arc of the television show, there are definitely some rules that could be seen as unfair. Especially the “field bonus” rules that are introduced very early. This rule states that certain card types get bonuses if they are on a certain type of field.
There is really no reason for this kind of rule and there definitely is no basis for this rule in the real life card game. But it was pretty much forgotten about after a while.
One kind of big weakness in the television show is that not all of the villains are really that great as far as interesting characters go. Most of them are pretty one dimensional and are just stereotypically villainous so that there is a clearly defined good guy and bad guy.
This can be seen as somewhat boring, at times.
But it didn’t matter to us kids who watched the show because we were so enthralled with all of the other aspects of it.
As with most anime, Yu-Gi-Oh has its share of filler episodes. There is really no getting around filler, especially in anime. I was always only interested in the dueling episodes when I was a kid, but as an adult I actually find myself not minding the filler episodes anymore.
The filler episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh give the show some much needed character development, even though it can sometimes drag on for longer than it needs to. But this is true with almost all anime.
While the few main characters in Yu-Gi-Oh are always great and interesting, the same really can’t be said for the side characters of the show. A lack of interesting and multidimensional characters has always hindered Yu-Gi-Oh in my eyes.
However, I love the main characters so much that I’m willing to overlook these faults, and I still even enjoy watching the show today. Which is a testament to how well the main characters are written, that over a decade later I still want to watch the series.
As a kid, the shadow realm that is present in the US version of the show was always a bit of a letdown. It just didn’t pack the same punch as in the original version of the show, where if a duelist lost a game their life would be ended.
The television studio 4kids edited a lot out of the original version of the show, and this is one thing that I wish they had left alone. However, it did start the whole “shadow realm” meme culture, and for that I’m definitely thankful.
One of the main things in Yu-Gi-Oh that always surprised me was that Yugi is actually a bad duelist! He relies on the spirit of the Pharaoh, Yami, to help him win all his duels. When he doesn’t utilize Yami’s spirit in his duels, he’s easily beatable.
This is seen when he tries to block Yami from helping him after Seto Kaiba had threatened to end his life if he lost a duel between the two. He vbecomes a really stale and uninspiring duelist because he doesn’t use his Millennium Puzzle anymore.