Why the ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ fandom stands the test of time
It’s no secret that nostalgia is having a moment right now, particularly in pop culture. In 2017, we’ve seen reboots and spinoffs of everything from That’s So Raven to Will and Grace. It seems that Spongebob and Arthur memes will never be irrelevant or unfunny. This fall, several classic Disney Princess movies are being re-released in theaters, and you can bet the target audience isn’t all under the age of seven.
Millennials like myself love a good throwback, but it’s more complex than that. During times of change, uncertainty, and transition — both political and personal, as these are inescapable attributes of a 20-something’s life — it is nice to return to something we loved in simpler times, and retain these fun pieces of culture as a way to communicate with others in our generation.
Maybe that’s why I’ve watched almost 75 episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! in the past month.
Or maybe it’s because it’s just so frickin’ good, you guys. Turns out, in the decade-and-a-half since watching my maximum of two episodes per day (as imposed by my mom) of Yu-Gi-Oh! when I’d return home from fourth grade, an amazingly rich fan culture has stayed alive and well. So if you’ve been a part of that for years, sorry I’m late to the party. (Or rather, sorry I left for a bit and then came back. How Gozaburo of me). Still, it can’t be denied that the franchise is having a bit of a comeback in 2017.
In January, we saw the American release of a new movie, Dark Side of Dimensions, and in August an upcoming line of Funko Pop! figures was announced. Clearly, there’s still a market for and interest in a show which so many American millennials primarily associate with early-’00s Saturday morning cartoons (to be clear, I’m focusing specifically on the five seasons of dubbed anime that aired in the US between 2001-2006, not the manga, spinoffs, or ‘90s series). And I have a few ideas why.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that what draws me most to fandoms is the characters and their relationships. I could take or leave action — I want to see my faves joking around with their friends or having awkward moments with a love interest or sharing their backstory. I didn’t return to Yu-Gi-Oh!for the dueling, but rather the quirky friend group at the show’s core.
What fascinates me this time around is how nine-year-old me may not have had a Fanfiction.net account, but she still had pretty much all the same feels about the characters that I do now. At any age, I’m a Seto Kaiba fangirl. I find Mai Valentine to be an amazing, badass (and fabulously dressed) character. I still prefer Yami Yugi to his smaller, teenage counterpart. It’s weird to squeal over plotlines I’d long forgotten, but I suppose the best fiction, from Star Wars to Little Women to Harry Potter to Disney, stirs emotions in people no matter their age.
And yeah, sometimes the show is super cheesy. But In 2017, even the sappiest declarations of the power of friendship and love feel less cheesy and more necessary by the minute.
The similarities to the fandom that started it all
Like so many of you, my introduction to nerdom, fan culture, and yes, even Hypable, was Harry Potter. I compare most things in life to the fandom that lived, but let me tell you — with Yu-Gi-Oh! the similarities are sometimes eerie.
I mean, the anime follows a group of teenagers trying to save the world. There are two sets of all-powerful objects that bad guys try to acquire. The first set consists of seven items that together make the holder all-powerful. The second consists of three items that, when united, make the owner invincible. In other words, the Millennium Items (pictured above) and the Egyptian god cards are basically Horcruxes and Hallows. And there’s a whole lot of good-versus-evil, weird stuff with souls moving between bodies and objects, emphasis on loyalty and love, moral grey area, and appealing bad boys (if you think Kaiba and Draco wouldn’t be bros, you’re just plain wrong).
What’s more, the two franchises are contemporaries. Yu-Gi-Oh! manga debuted in 1996, the first anime series premiered in 1998, and the most popular anime series began in Japan in 2000, while the first Harry Potter book was released in 1997. This timing is important for two reasons. First, it means that current 20-somethings grew up with both series. Second, and perhaps more significantly, it means that both franchises debuted at the rise of the internet. As Harry Potter has exemplified, that allowed for huge developments in the world of fandom. Suddenly fans could communicate and share fanfiction, art, videos, and theories like never before. Which brings me to…
The fan culture
Not unlike Harry Potter, the Yu-Gi-Oh! fandom has gained new life through an online fan community so deep that has its own lexicon. There are terms on Urban Dictionary solely because of it. There’s a list of ship names a mile long, which includes everything from canon pairings to OT3s to crackships. A rich fanon adds to the life of a series that could otherwise be (wrongly) dismissed as a cartoon about a card game.
While some of my feelings towards the series are the same as they were in 2003, my nine-year-old self certainly wasn’t watching the show through the lens of her slash-shipping headcanons. Hey, things change. But fandom is forever.