Yu-Gi-Oh!-Volume 1.1: The Heart of the Cards (1996)
Main Menu Audio
Biographies-Character-Yami Yugi, Grandpa
Music Video-"Yu-Gi-Oh! Rap"
|Year Of Production||1996|
|Running Time||63:08 (Case: 60)|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Kunihisa Sugishima|
Magna Home Entertainment
Jonathan Todd Ross
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, The whole show is one long ad for the cards.|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Yu-Gi-Oh! is another of those cross-media marketing phenomena that seems to be increasingly prevalent of late. I have just finished reviewing 8 DVDs of the Transformers: Armada TV series where the show on offer was just one part of a sales effort that included toys, comics as well as an upcoming video game. In the case of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the initial product was a collectible card game along the lines of Magic: The Gathering. The Magic cards have sold in the hundreds of millions to players of all ages - the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards seem to appeal to a younger audience.
I mention all of this because having viewed this disc it seems that the program on offer is more of a marketing tool for the card game than a serious attempt at animated entertainment in its own right. Apparently it is based on a much better manga original, but has been diluted in this version to appeal to a younger mass audience. I was also surprised to see that the credits have the production date as 1996 - the cards and this series have only appeared in the west in the last couple of years, so it seems that the owners of the product waited a while to ensure they had all of their products in place before they rolled them out into the market. Apart from the series under review you can also buy the cards, video games, books and comics, amongst other related media.
Well, on to the show at hand. What we have on offer here are the first three episodes of a series which follows the adventures of our hero, Yugi, who is a keen card player (fancy that). He has a series of adventures revolving around a mysterious Egyptian artefact (the Millennium Puzzle) he obtained at some earlier time. Apparently the old Egyptians used to duel with real monsters, and the cards are a reflection of their struggle, which can become a lot more real with the use of artefacts similar to the one Yugi has in his possession.
The first episode (The Heart of the Cards, runs 20:43) introduces us to Yugi and his friends, and also to Yugi's grandfather who runs the local games store and is an avid collector of the "Duel Monsters" cards (as the fictional avatars of the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards are called in the series). We are introduced to one of the villains of the series, Kaiba, who badly wants a very rare card that Gramps owns. A significant part of the show involves us watching the characters play the card game, with detailed explanations of tactics thrown in. I suppose they had to take this approach so that viewers would understand what is going on in later episodes, which largely revolve around card game duels (just as the Pokemon TV show largely revolves around the duelling monsters from the video game), but it hardly makes for exciting viewing. I'm sure after watching this most kids would want to run off and get some cards and start playing the game, rather than watch the next episodes (which may well be the idea, of course).
In the second episode (The Gauntlet is Thrown, runs 21:12) we meet the mysterious designer of the "Duel Monsters" game, Maximillion Pegasus. He challenges Yugi to a duel, and by way of his strange magical eye transports our hero and his friends to the mysterious Shadow Realm, where the monsters are real and the stakes very high. Yugi loses and Maximillion steals the soul of Yugi's grandfather so that he can force Yugi to enter his upcoming card tournament. The card play and the explanations of what the players are up to also run heavy here, and the story drags a bit again as a result. Yugi and his friends begin the journey to the tournament in the next episode (The Duellist Kingdom, runs 21:13) and meet some of the competitors (who are a pretty nasty bunch). We see some of the series' back story in flashback here, which is a nice touch.
The only episode which has more story than card game playing is the third, and even it drags along with very little action. The production values are reasonable, but this is not top drawer anime by any means. The opening credits look really good, but the standard of animation falls off after that. The whole thing comes across as a rather lazy attempt at cross-marketing, but my cartoon loving family liked the whole thing anyway. They semi-regularly catch episodes on morning TV and were happy to see the first few in context. The asking price for the set is high (by way of my dollar per episode comparison with the M*A*S*H DVDs which sees this one at $8 per episode compared to around $3-4), so this one looks like a possible rental if the kids like the show or Japanese animation in general.
The transfer is nice and clean, with very few artefacts.
The aspect ratio is 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced, which is the original aspect ratio as shown on TV (hmm, I wonder how long it will be before shows are more often at 1.78:1 than 1.33:1?).
The picture is nice and sharp, with very good shadow detail (see some of the action in the Shadow Realm in the third episode as an example), and no low level noise.
Colours are nice and fresh, but appear a little pale at times, giving some of the animation a washed-out look. With this in mind there are also some vibrant scenes (see 6:15 in Episode 2 or 12:37 in Episode 3). There is also some good use of special colour effects in dream sequences or flashback scenes to add variety to the colour palette (and a nice sunset at 2:30 in Episode 3).
Artefacts of any kind are minimal - the main one you will notice is occasional minor aliasing (as at 2:50 in the first episode). This is not too distracting and given the fine condition of the picture otherwise is nothing more than a minor irritation.
There are no subtitles available, and there is no layer change.
The stereo soundtrack is quite acceptable, with some nice sound effects during the card and monster battles. I found it sounded better when switched to ProLogic mode on my amplifier as the separation was a little imprecise otherwise (as so often seems to happen with Dolby Digital stereo for some reason - this may well have been sourced from a mono original).
There is only the one audio track on offer, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track encoded (say this with me) at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s.
The dialogue quality is good, and you will have no trouble understanding the action. The English voice-acting is reasonable, though some of the characters seem a little overexcited much of the time, and of course they are out of sync with the Japanese original. Otherwise audio sync is fine with effects closely matching the on-screen action.
The music in the show is unremarkable, and as it seems to have been written by a committee this may be understandable (the names I have given for the composer are the first few on the list). The opening music is a bit better, and fills the sound stage at 1:00 in Episode 1. The mix between the music and effects volume is fine, and there is suitable dramatic accompaniment to the duels.
There is very little surround activity on offer here, except for the occasional impact of sound effects during the frequent card duels. At these times the subwoofer makes a rare appearance to provide bass support.
|Surround Channel Use|
Well, there are a few extras, they are unremarkable, but at least they have made a minimal attempt to avoid giving us a bare bones disc.
The menu is static with audio. You can choose to Play All, Choose an Episode or go to the Extras. From the Episode Menu you can select from 6 scene selections per episode.
Wow, one brief page of information about Yugi and his grandfather (what about the bad guys folks?).
One page of information about six of the monsters in the show, with what appear to be statistics off the playing cards they represent. Perhaps one of our readers can tell us if they are actual Yu-Gi-Oh! cards?
A brief (runs 1:14) rendition of the "Yu-Gi-Oh! Rap". This is really dire, the "rap" is as bad as having me do it, there is no rhythm or rhyme and the performer sounds bored with the whole affair.
This is probably a good indicator of what this is really all about, a one page flyer advertising Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance and PlayStation versions of the Yu-Gi-Oh! video game (what no cards! Sorry, you have to go to Region 2 for those).
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 version of this disc has the same features as the Region 4, but also includes a Spanish audio track, which may appeal to a small segment of our audience. The Region 2 special edition also has the same features as the Region 4 but comes with a free 'booster' pack of game cards, which retail here for around $6, so this may be a factor in your choice depending upon price and your interest in the cards. Otherwise the Region 4 is (very marginally) preferable due to ready availability.
This is an average piece of animation presented on a fairly expensive disc with limited extras. The picture and sound are fine but the whole thing feels more like an exercise in marketing than an attempt at entertainment (perhaps that is the way of the world nowadays). The kids will most likely enjoy it, particularly if they like the card game, but with the great range of animation now available on DVD it is hard to recommend this one.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-K350, using Component output|
|Display||SONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Kenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|