Okay, it’s time for me to come clean on my secret little Saturday addiction – an animated Japanese television series with episodes that rely so heavily on unexpected last-minute interventions that I suspect that the name of the show’s title character (“Yu-Gi-Oh“) is in fact the Japanese word for “deux ex machina”.
Like many of you, I’ll often work with the television turned on in the background in nanny-mode and on Saturdays I naturally tune it in to cartoons, a habit learned from the age when there were really good, violent cartoons like Bugs Bunny on weekend television. Thankfully, the spirit of Saturday television still lives on in some small part via the WB network.
If I were to blame my addiction to this show on anyone in particular it would have to be Christy Hui, the creator/producer of ‘Xiaolin Showdown’, whom I have never met in person and only came to know through a series of sideways emails which prompted me to begin watching her show. On three concurrent Saturdays I left the TV on long enough after ‘Xiaolin Showdown’ was over that I’d look up to see the show ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ flickering on-screen and that’s where I made the great and grand mistake of actually paying attention.
What’s that old saying? “Three hits of Japanimation and you’re hooked?”
Yeah, you’re right, there’s no such saying but somebody really ought to come up with a saying just like it and call it ‘Drewprop’s Law’ because I can’t tell you how amazingly riveting the show became over the course of the winter of ’04-’05. Not since the adventures of Captain Harlock or the generation-spanning saga of Robotech has Americanized Japanese animation so completely gripped my imagination.
The premise is kind of (ie, not at all) simple: there’s this card game called ‘Duel Monsters’ that’s played between two people (or occasionally two teams) in a special electronic dueling ring. Each person draws a series of cards from their own decks (worn on their arms like some flavor of Klingon battle knives) and then pits the ‘monsters’ on those cards against the ‘monsters’ from their opponent’s deck. Each and every monster has different strengths, weaknesses, special abilities and can vary in form from dragons to futuristic mechanized warriors. Some can be fused with others, some monsters can transform, just about anything can happen and there’s no way for you to know if it’s a legal part of the game because if you’re anything like me (highly unlikely) you don’t happen to have a ‘Duel Monsters’ rule book on your coffee table.
It’s that uncertainty that makes the show so compelling though. That and the fighting.
The cards are brought to life in the dueling rings via holographic projection, making the battles between the monsters incredibly (for a nerd) dramatic and ultimately baffling (to anyone watching) as there’s always a twist in the battle that you simply could not have foreseen, a strategy so brilliant (to a thirty-something guy that sits at home on a Saturday morning watching cartoons) that the thirty minute episodes fly by in a whirlwind, leaving you (the dweeb) breathless for the next week’s episode. For a long time I was convinced that Scottish police dramas were the ultimate form of deus ex machinas, but now I know that the Japanese have done them one better.
I didn’t know that I was hooked on the show until they ran a repeat one Saturday. BLAM! I was off onto the internet to find out what the hell had happened. After flipping through five or six really juvenile websites I realized that I couldn’t possibly let anyone know that I was watching the series or that I’d “absentmindedly” picked up a pack of duel monster cards at Target one afternoon.
About a week or so back the 39 episode arc I’d been watching finally drew to a conclusion and I found myself at a loss for my weekly dose of duel monsters. It has taken me this long to make the brave (alternate word: dorky) step of admitting my addiction to Yu-Gi-Oh in the simple hopes that I might help other people admit that they’ve been stricken with an addiction to the duel monsters show.
So consider this a public service.
Plus I wanted to see if anyone out there might be so kind as to send me a nice leatherbound hardcopy rule book for Duel Monsters. Preferably one that’s been autographed by the show’s creators~