A Retrospective: The Yu-Gi-Oh! Manga’s First 7 Violent, Crazy-Awesome Volumes

What’s the first image that pops into your head when you hear the name “Yu-Gi-Oh”?

It's a Trap

Oh, God. Okay, that works, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind…

Yu-Gi-Oh

There we go! According to Google Images, this is probably the first thing that comes to your mind.

So, do you even know what Yu-Gi-Oh! is about? You’re probably thinking it’s about any of the following 3 things:

Childrens Card Games

AbsurdHair

Card Games on Motorcycles

Yes, it’s true that the entirety of the Yu-Gi-Oh! that most of America knows is centered around a children’s card game, but it wasn’t always like that. Did you know Yu-Gi-Oh!  used to be quite violent, and actually kind of absurdly awesome? To the point where they didn’t bring it over to the states? “But Mitch,” you say, “it WAS brought to America! I used to watch it on TV all the time!” I ain’t talkin’ about your chicken-shit 4Kids Yu-Gi-Oh, with your Duel Monsters and your Dungeon Dice and your card games on motorcycles. I’m talking about Season Zero, but more specifically, the first 7 volumes of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga.

Yugioh
Season Zero may not have been brought to US television, but we still got the manga it’s based on, thanks to Shonen Jump!

For those uninitiated, the story revolves around a Japanese high-schooler midget by the name of Yugi Motou, a game enthusiast. Because of his laughable stature and general pussyness, he tends to be picked on by the school bullies, and usually sits out group activities like recess in favor of games and puzzles he’s gotten from his grandpa’s game shop, where he also lives. His one real friend at the beginning of the story is a girl named Anzu, who you all might know as “Tea Gardner” from the English anime dub. She hangs out with Yugi either out of sheer pity, or because he’s basically male jailbait and she’s into that sort of thing, or maybe both. And how does Yugi repay her kindness? By fantasizing about seeing up her skirt.

Come on. Yugi's a sexless, virgin loser. Also, this is Japan. Are we REALLY that surprised?
Come on. Yugi’s a sexless, virgin loser. Also, this is Japan. Are we REALLY that surprised?

The story that sets the stage for the whole series, though, revolves around Yugi being picked on by Jonouchi and Honda, aka “Joey Wheeler” and “Tristan Taylor,” respectively, where they’re trying to “teach [him] to be a man.” They end up stealing a piece of Yugi’s most treasured possession, the Millennium Puzzle, an ancient Egyptian artifact that supposedly will grant the wish of whoever solves it. Anyway, the school’s hall monitor/lumbering idiot/giant douche, Ushio, beats the ever-loving shit out of Jonouchi and Honda for Yugi and then demands a ridiculous payment from him. If Yugi doesn’t pay up, Ushio threatens physical harm, involving a knife.

Yugi starts fiddling with the puzzle back at home, and finds it’s extremely easy to figure out now, despite the circumstances. He finishes it, except for the piece that Jonouchi stole. However, he returns the piece and Yugi completes the puzzle, allowing him to be possessed by an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who was living in the puzzle for centuries, waiting to be called forth once again, and who also happens to have the EXACT SAME HAIRSTYLE as Yugi.

Wat.
Wat.

Yugi, now possessed by the pharaoh, calls Ushio out to the schoolyard at midnight, to challenge him to a game. The only logical game to play, given the situation? A “shadow” game where both players take turns putting the pile of money Yugi owed on the backs of their hands, and then stabbing at it with Ushio’s knife, where the player gets to keep as much money as they stab. The catch, of course, is that the money pile will slowly get smaller, so you have to control your greed, or you’ll end up with the general conclusion to every game of Five Finger Fillet I’ve ever played.

You know, for kids!
You know, for kids!
Because it’s a “shadow game”, the players’ true natures are revealed, so Ushio’s greed eventually overcomes his arm’s will to not stab his hand. So he readjusts his aim and tries to stab Yugi in the face… which is quickly solved by Yugi simply jumping out of the way. Ushio suffers a “penalty game” for his actions, where he’s tricked into thinking he’s surrounded by money (when, in actuality, he’s rolling around in leaves and garbage), Jonouchi and Honda become Yugi’s friends the next day, and the story of Yu-Gi-Oh! begins.
This may come as a surprise to people, but this is actually Yugi’s alter-ego, the pharaoh, at one of his tamer moments. In the course of voulme 1 of the manga, he permanently blinds a man by turning his vision into one of those mosaic blurs you see on TV, and he has two people burn alive. One, an escaped convict who holds Anzu at gunpoint…
Look, don't ask me how we got to this point, just know that this scene ends with him in flames.
Look, don’t ask me how we got to this point, just know that this scene ends with him in flames.

The second victim burns alive because they play air hockey on a hot griddle, with the puck being a test tube of nitroglycerin suspended in the middle of a puck of ice. He was… a high-schooler from another class, who’s crime was that he stole Yugi’s class’ spot at the school fair. Did that really warrant death?

Justice!
Justice!
So, yeah. All in all, the pharaoh is kind of a sadistic asshole. Later volumes find him causing a man to get stung by a scorpion, electrocuting not only a group of high-schoolers, but also an old man, and entrapping a fellow classmate’s soul in a jar (that houses an ancient Chinese card game) for… probably eternity.
That’s not to say these people didn’t deserve it, of course. Evidently, people in the world of Yu-Gi-Oh! don’t feel the slightest tinge of regret over committing murder. The kid with the Chinese dragon cards challenged Yugi in order to get rid of his soul, and then use the puzzle to become the King of Games. The scorpion guy was trying to get Jonouchi murdered over a pair of sneakers. And the old man? He was the butler to Yugi’s rival, Seto Kaiba, playing his part in Death-T, a theme park Kaiba built for the sole purpose of killing Yugi and his friends. Why? Because Yugi beat Kaiba at a game of Duel Monsters.
No, really. I'm dead serious.
No, really. I’m dead serious.

What has to be the best is those high-schoolers that also got electrocuted, because in a later story involving them, they go around as a gang of thugs, randomly attacking people. Their weapon of choice? Yo-yos.

yugioh YoYo

Yami Yugi (the pharaoh’s common nickname) is a MUCH cooler character in the manga than in the 2nd anime series for this very reason. And even though he sounds like a girl in Season Zero of the anime, he’s still highly awesome. It’s worth it just to read the manga to see how much of a badass he turns out to be.

Well... as badass as one can look while rocking that haircut, wearing an ancient Egyptian artifact, and holding what amounts to the portable version of a Rock'em Sock'em Robot...
Well… as badass as one can look while rocking that haircut, wearing an ancient Egyptian artifact, and holding what amounts to the portable version of a Rock’em Sock’em Robot…

Honestly, if this is a realistic depiction of Japan, I’m never going to fucking go there, because evidently, people there will only want to harm you, especially over stupid shit like when you beat them at a game.

Would you honestly believe me if I told you grade-school kids are holding that Uzi, knife and taser?
Would you honestly believe me if I told you grade-school kids are holding that Uzi, knife and taser?

So, if you’re looking for a fun read, and you want to see the drastically different origins to what you thought was nothing more than some bullshit anime geared solely towards kids, you have to read these first 7 books, or at least watch Season Zero of the anime. I mean, it has to be seen to be believed. I only wish the series had either continued like this or stopped where it was and didn’t get into the obsession with Duel Monsters. Oh well. This is why we can’t have nice things…

ne last time, say it with me: CARD GAMES ON MOTORCYCLES!!
One last time, say it with me: CARD GAMES ON MOTORCYCLES!!

[Written by contributor Mitch Rozetar]