Konami and Studio NAS have been making the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise into a powerhouse for more than ten years now. With three series under their belts, over 559 episodes, two movies, and a good amount of specials the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise has lived on strongly. Wanting to continue this trend they have taken the initiative to launch a new Yu-Gi-Oh series just a couple of days ago on April 11, 2011. Yu-Gi-Oh ZeXal (pronounced Zeal). This show is both something fresh and exciting and a really huge homage to the original Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Monsters series from way back in 2000.
As the info for this new series was being leaked fans had an incredible backlash to it. The series looks and sounds far more kiddie than the past Yu-Gi-Oh series. The character models are very much made to look more attracting to the younger crowd and barely have that signature Yu-Gi-Oh style that came from the original creator Kazuki Takahashi and instead look more modern. The end result is that we have the youngest Yu-Gi-Oh protagonists yet who all look far more like a Digimon or Bakugan esque characters than Yu-Gi-Oh ones. I myself was quite off put by these new designs. I can't say they sat well with me. But perhaps the biggest hurdle ZeXal has to overcome is that the prior series 5D's has been very popular. It was a mature series that really reached out to the older fans. ZeXal doesn't come off as something like this at all from all the media surrendering it. Instead it looks more like a kiddiefied show not meant for the older fans. But after watching the first episode I'd like you all to throw away that thought because the writers didn't disappoint!!!
Yu-Gi-Oh ZeXal comes off as fun and happy but behind it is a very dark tone. The series has set itself up well and gives the main protagonist Tsukumo Yuma some really well written inner-conflict to deal with. The story in the first episode starts with a scary darkness and a huge door stationed in front of a cliff. Our main protagonist Yuma wanders towards the door and is told from a disembodied voice that if he opens the door he will obtain great power but at the cost of that which he holds the most precious. Yuma backs off a bit shocked about the offer as the cliff crumbles and he falls and lands right out of his bed. A dream, or so it seems. Yuma comments about it as if these dreams have been a re-occurrence but we aren't given much more indication as if this is true or not. He sits there wondering about that freaky dream as he notices the clock and *Gasp* he's going to be late for school, so it's off he goes.
It's here at school that we met Yuma's friends and posse. His female friend Kotori and his antagonistic but still chummy classmate Tetsuo. At school we see Yuma is the typical shonen goofball as he calls out all his actions loudly and tries to do everything past his limits. Yuma's catch-phrase is Kattobing (Kattobingu) from what little I know it means basically to challenge yourself. Up top in the title I decided to translate it as Going for it. The subs I watched called it "Pop Flying" which I actually liked quite a bit. ^_^ That held the meaning pretty well and fit in nicely with Yuma's vocabulary. Whatever you want to call it Kattobing is one of two very important aspect of the series and Yuma's character. Yuma may aim over his abilities and fall over on his butt, but he keeps trying and doesn't give up. The other important aspect of the series is Yuma's necklace. It's shaped like a key and Yuma refers to it as his key to the future. He says that as long as he has it, he'll be able to do anything. His "key" was a gift from his parents who appear to be world-travelers in the vain of Indiana Jones. Yuma's "key" is very reminiscent of Yuugi's Millennium Puzzle from the original series.
It's after school that we finally see some real story progression and this series' new take on duels. 5D's introduced D-Wheels and Riding Duels, ZeXal on the other hand introduces quite a few fun little toys. We get the D-Pads (no they don't play video games) that are used as a new duel disk and the D-Gazer that allows the duelist to view the monsters. In this series the monsters aren't holograms so to say but are projections in a virtual world that can only be interacted with through D-Gazers. This kind of dueling is called an Augmented Reality Duel. At first I was skeptical as to why go through all this trouble but the pay off I think is fair. By making a virtual world to interact in the duels come off as more dynamic. The surroundings get destroyed and cards glow and float out of the duelist's hands. Over all I think it helps to spice up the standard duel.
The real big change in the duels though are the exceed summons. 5D's gave us Synchro Summons, ZeXal gives us exceed Summons. Sorta similar to the Synchro Summons but in my opinion seem even easier to pull off. Basically if you have an exceed monster you can summon it as long as you have two or more monsters on your field who's levels equals that of your exceed monster. No need for a tuner monster this time. It seemed basic the first time we saw an exceed summons but there seems to be a bit more to it than just summoning a stronger monster. The exceed monster card is placed on top of the cards you used to summon it. By taking a card away from under the exceed card the duelist was able to increase his monster's strength. Whether this is the one and only effect of all the exceed monsters or not has yet to be seen.* There is one more big game changer too but I'll get to that once we cover some more story.
*But since their are already official decks and the Manga adaption of the series has been running for a while there are some more info on how exceed summonings are going to work. Most exceed monsters have negative effects or will lose their special effects when their materials (the cards used to summon them and are then placed under them) are removed from the field.
Aside from cards that affect anything "on the field," exceed Monsters are still susceptible cards that "targets a monster" and cards that are triggered by a summon, like Fissure and Trap Hole, and any of it's variants, respectively. Also when an exceed Monster is sent to the graveyard, any exceed Material monster still attached to it gets removed from play, and when the exceed monster gets removed from play, the "exceed material(s)" get sent to the graveyard.
I like to thank our community's own Sumomo_Eni (aka Tommy Lee) for this info. He has looked it up over the other Yu-Gi-Oh sources and gave us some of his opinions on the matter. If you want to see more of it just look at the comments.
As Yuma and Kotori are walking around after school, they see that Testuo has lost a duel to the school's biggest bully Shark (Awesome name there). Shark takes Testsuo's deck and it reviled that Shark always does this and anyone who duels with him will end up putting their deck up as an ante. Yuma is enraged and demands Shark returns the deck and Shark says he'll only give it up with Yuma gives him his most precious item and proceeds to rip Yuma's necklace off and tells him that on second thought it's worthless just like him and breaks it. He then challenges Yuma to a duel in one week and tells him if he wants revenge he better show up. Yuma is then sad for the next week as he has lost his memento of his parents. Kotori is very obviously worried for Yuma and behind the scenes Tetsuo seems shaken up by Yuma's sudden withdraw into sadness. And then it's the night before the duel and Kotori confronts Yuma about it. Yuma tells her he's still going to go through with it. And that moment Tetsuo shows up and tells Yuma to drop it. It seems as if he's been worried over him this whole time too and doesn't want him to suffer because of his actions. Yuma declares that he's not just doing this for Tetsuo but he's doing this for himself. It seems as if he's gotten all his spunk back. Kotori is happy about this and Tetsuo shrugs it off and then gives Yuma the piece of his necklace that was broken off by Shark. He fond it just for him (brings back memories of Yuugi and Jonouchi [Joey] right?).
The day of the duel is finally at hand and we see that Yuma is not really good. Shark beats Yuma's butt hard as he tries to figure out how to use his father's deck and win. Yuma makes many amateur mistakes and it starts to seem hopeless. Shark insults Yuma and tells him that he'll never be able to beat him. Yuma is now revitalized though and refuses to give up. He announces that he won't lose and he'll never stop going for the top (Kattobing). It's then that his still broken necklace shines and Yuma finds himself in front of the door once again. His necklace now amazingly fixed. Asked the same question Yuma quenches his "key" runs as fast as he can towards the door and answers that no matter what he's going to keep trying and uses his necklace to open the door. He awakens back into the duel and sees Shark has become engulfed in some evil force and summon a Numbers (the other new aspect of the game I was talking about earlier). A new kind of monster that is quite powerful. No one seems to of heard of it before and all seems lose. It's here that Yuma hears a voice and sees a strange Blue creature standing next to him, telling him not to give up and that together they will defeat the Numbers. And so the episode ends on that cliff hanger.
Over all I found the episode pretty enjoyable. The music isn't anything special but it gets the job done and the animation is pretty nice. The new way of dueling helps to make it dynamic and fun to watch but doesn't run up any of the awkwardness that the animators suffered from in 5D's. I was worried that the series was going to have too much CG in it since CG is all over the new opening theme but the show only used CG for the duelist's ace monsters like 5D's did. The opening and Ending songs were catchy too. All the voice cast did a good job. Yuma's actor Tasuku Hatanaka is making his debut in this role and plays the character just like a pro. Yuma comes off sounding just like a shonen protagonist should. Kotori's actress: Mikako Komatsu has only had one other role as Joey from Heroman but seems to be doing a good job as well. The biggest actor the series seems to have so far is the mysterious creature (his name is Astral but the show hasn't said it yet). Astral's actor is Miyu Irino who has stared in many hit anime but perhaps his biggest and most recent role that I can remember is Kou from Cross Game. Miyu Irino plays Astral very calm and mysterious.
The animation is pretty good for a show of this caliber, the music works, the story while being somewhat predictable was fun and a good throw back to the original Yu-Gi-Oh series from all those years ago. The actors played their roles well and the new Augmented Reality Duels are fun to watch and seem like they'll keep the series fresh. I'm afraid the series might still take some flack but I beg all of you to go out and watch it if you're a fan of Yu-Gi-Oh. It shouldn't disappoint. And come on we all remember that when 5D's was first announced it was laughed at by many because of it's Riding Duels. The Internet quickly threw out lines about how ridiculous it is to play card games on motorcycles. But over time the fans all saw just how mature it was. Don't waste your time thinking this new series is silly and end up not watching it right away like many did with 5D's. Go and watch it right now. ZeXal is different but at the same time feels like a blast from the past and gave me a good kind of Nostalgia for the original Yu-Gi-Oh. I highly recommend going out and watching it.