Franchise, Franchise, Franchise: Yugioh's 4th Series is Coming

I joke with some of my friends that I only watch the anime designed to sell me a product directly. I'm talking shows like Pokemon (video games), Naruto (action figures, video games), and Yugioh (card game, video games). There's comfort in knowing when you're being advertised to directly and these shows make it no secret that they only exist to sell merchandise. I can respect that. The worst offender has to be Yugioh, which is based off a manga series about a trading card game. So it's a comic about a trading card game that became a TV show produced by the company who produced the actual trading card game. If you watch any episode of this franchise, you're going to see at least one commercial for a Yugioh product. Shoot, almost every card used in the game is a commercial for a Yugioh product since most of them are available to play in the real trading card game.

Get ready to be tempted to open up your wallets for an assortment of glossy cardboard and Nintendo games because Yugioh is entering its fourth original television series. The first series was an introduction to the game through the similarly named Yugi character. The second series, DX, was about a school for dueling and eventually some bizarre dark underground of dueling. The third series, 5D's, introduced motorcycle dueling. I wish I was joking. The characters used tricked out motorcycles to race and duel at the same time.

Now we're entering Yugioh Zexal, which is actually a pretty decent direction for the show. There's a new dueling device (isn't there always?)--an eyepiece that lets the duelist see the 3D holographic dueling arena anywhere they go--and a new spiky-haired protagonist, Yuma. Yuma is the worst duelist in his school (aren't they always?). He has one funny friend and one girl friend who is not his girlfriend. He has an elderly guardian--his grandmother--and a smart sometimes mentor--his sister.

The twist that actually elevates this a little higher than the usual "buy more product" theme is the introduction of Astral. Astral is a ghostly presence whose memories have been split into 99 specialty number cards (hmm...kind of sounds like that short run Scooby Doo series, or that mediocre horror series, only those were about capturing ghosts and demons). Only in defeating the controllers of these 99 cards can he regain his actual form and purpose. He is forced into a partnership with Yuma and together they stumble into these duels.

There's a level of absurdity to this Zexal series that has been missing from the other three series of Yugioh. The players still take the game very seriously, but a wise-cracking quasi-ghost and an evil conspiracy of numbers means the usual dark underbelly of the game--cults trying to raise the ancient Egyptian monsters and/or specific legendary dragons--cannot become as deathly serious as it usually does. So help me, if it turns out that there's an ancient mob of duelists fighting to keep the 99 cards separate, the show will actually become campier and more entertaining. Nothing shy of killing off Astral after Yuma loses too many duels could sink this show's bizarre entertainment factor.

How serious can you take a cartoon where the lead character has a bright pink stripe in his hair and shouts at everything? Somehow, bumbling fool Joey Wheeler from the original series sent his past self into the distant future before he learned the basic mechanics of the game. The latest series might actually put Yugioh: The Abridged Series out of commission without anymore threats of lawsuits. It's impossible to lampoon a show that has become a campy parody of its own faults. Sell those cards while you can, Konami, because I have a feeling this new series isn't going to win you many big-spending converts.