Yu-Gi-Oh! (1998) is the first anime adaptation of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga series. The series was produced by Toei Animation and aired on TV Asahi from April 4 to October 10, 1998.
Due to the mass popularity of the Duel Monsters card game, the manga decided to mainly focus on the card game. As a result, this anime was cancelled so that a second Yu-Gi-Oh! anime based on Duel Monsters could be made.
50 years before the start of the series, a group of archaeologists in Egypt discover a mysterious treasure called the "Millennium Puzzle", which is said to hold a curse known as the "Shadow Game". All of the archaeologists who found the Puzzle died, and the Puzzle itself eventually became owned by a professional gambler and retired archaeologist named Sugoroku Mutou. Sugoroku could never solve the puzzle and concluded that it's impossible to solve, but he decrypted the text on the box holding it, which said "Whoever solves me will receive my dark knowledge and power".
In the present day, Sugoroku's grandson Yugi Mutou finds the Puzzle and, for some reason, has much better luck at solving it than anyone else before, he assumes that the Puzzle will grant a wish to whoever solves it. Yugi is a timid young high school boy who loves to play all sorts of games and is often bullied around by some of the other students. One day, Yugi is bullied by the Hall Monitor Tetsu Ushio into paying him lots of money for "bodyguard fees" before he gets defended by classmates Katsuya Jonouchi and Hiroto Honda. While Ushio beats up all three of them, Yugi solves the Millennium Puzzle and asks for one wish: "friends". At that moment, an ancient Egyptian spirit that was living within the Puzzle takes over Yugi's body, assuming the form of "Yami Yugi". Yami Yugi challenges Ushio to a Shadow Game and inflicts a Penalty Game on Ushio after winning. The next day, Yugi starts making more friends, which he attributes to the Millenium Puzzle granting his wish.
Whenever Yugi or any of his friends are threatened by a bully or dangerous person, Yami Yugi emerges to punish the wrongdoers with Shadow Games and Penalty Games, all while keeping his existence a secret. It isn't long before Yugi and his friends become suspicious of the strange events caused by Yami Yugi. At the same time, mysterious beings who can also activate Shadow Games using Egyptian magic start appearing and try to take the Millennium Puzzle. Meanwhile, professional card game player Seto Kaiba becomes interested in Yugi's strange abilities and becomes obsessed with defeating him in a game.
Why It Rocks
- It is quite faithful to the source material, as it follows the story of the manga with a few changes.
- On that topic, this adaptation of Yami Yugi more accurately represents how he's a morally ambiguous being who can sometimes be just as evil as the antagonists and rarely hesitates to torture his victims with Penalty Games.
- The Penalty Games can get pretty horrifying at times, like in Episode 4, where an obsessive watch collector who stole a watch from Yugi's friend gets turned into a living clock after having his arm sliced open.
- That being said, the Penalty Games tend to be slightly toned down from the manga.
- Unlike the Duel Monsters anime, this version actually shows the origin story behind how Pharaoh Atem's soul possessed Yugi Mutou's body.
- Great animation that is near-identical to the illustrations of the manga.
- All of the main characters from the manga are great, as they have all of their original personalities (with the very notable exception of Miho Nosaka).
- The story is amazing. It involves tackling everyday problems, and those who have darkness within inside of them.
- The voice acting is great, especially Megumi Ogata as Yami Yugi.
- The Duel Monsters card game appears occasionally.
- All of the Shadow Game scenes with Yami Yugi are awesome.
- Miho Nosaka was completely flanderized in this anime. In the original manga, she was a shy and quiet student who only showed up in one chapter. In this anime, however, she has become one of the main characters and her personality has been completely changed to that of a huge ditz who is selfish and hypocritical, uncaringly strings Honda around when she clearly has no interest in him and just uses him for her own personal gain, and has a very shallow taste in men - liking Seto Kaiba only for his wealth, Ryuichi Fuwa for his fame and wealth, and Ryou Bakura for his attractiveness.
- There are filler moments throughout the story.
- Lots of plot elements were left untouched due to the anime being cancelled after one season.
- It tends to put way too much focus and attention on the dark side of humanity and not really enough on the light side of humanity, which might raise some cynical views of the world inside the viewers.
- With all the many times that a person has came off as a jerk who antagonizes Yugi, or has pretended to be nice just to backstab Yugi, it altogether comes off as a pretty cynical and misleading moral that states that people who are jerks from the start are just jerks, but people who act nice from the start come off as even worse.
- Tetsu Ushio, the bully that harassed Yugi in the pilot episode, would later reappear in the spinoff series Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's as a supporting character. It was confirmed that this was indeed the same character, as Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's canonically takes place 20 years after the original series.