The Yu-Gi-Oh! saga continues with another jump into the far future. Duel Monsters are still all the rage, but now they take place in “augmented realities,” or virtual reality, which is activated using a device called a D-Gazer. A new potential “king of games” is also introduced, Yuma Tsukumo. He has a ways to go, though, as he isn’t very good, until a strange being calling himself Astral appears and not only helps Yuma hone his skills but also gives him a powerful and mysterious card known as a Numbers.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal Volume 1
Story by Shin Yoshisa; Art by Naohito Miyoshi
Viz Media; June 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4215-4902-6
173 pgs., $9.99
This latest iteration of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise calls back to the original series with a lot of similar elements, but it doesn’t quite capture the essence that made the original series so engaging. Zexal (pronounced “zeal”—the x is silent) goes through the motions but still has some work to do.
At first glance, this title seems to have a lot in common with the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series. The protagonist lives with a grandparent because his parents have disappeared. He wears an artifact that contains a spirit, and said spirit, when awakened, is an expert at the Duel Monsters game and helps the protagonist. And the protagonist makes friends through playing Duel Monsters. But there are also a few differences. Yuma, the protagonist, has an older sister who doesn’t approve of him playing Duel Monsters. He has more than one friend, and he actually has a couple girls vying for his attention.
It’s some of the differences, however, that keep Zexal from being on par with the original. The first is Yuma’s personality. He’s very outgoing and determined, almost to the point of being annoying. While I don’t think he should give up trying to beat his friend Tetsuo, who has beat him 50 times in a row at Duel Monsters, trying to jump 20 boxes or swimming a long distance without coming up for air is bordering on ridiculous. I understand why those scenes are there—to show Yuma’s determination against great odds—but still. He’s also very abrasive. When Astral awakens, Yuma would rather argue with him and try to ignore him than listen to his advice, which gets him wins he would never have gotten without Astral’s help. Yugi did everything he could to help “Other Yugi,” while Yuma doesn’t want anything to do with Astral despite needing Yuma’s help to recover his memories.
It might be unfair to compare Zexal to the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, but with the way it’s set up, it’s hard not to. The art is well done, with a look that differentiates it just enough from the other titles to stand out. Astral is particularly striking, with piercing eyes and an ethereal appearance. The new monsters in this series are also different, ranging from the cute Baby Tragon to the monstrous Leviathan Dragon. They don’t follow a particular theme, like Yu-Gi-Oh! or 5D’s did, so far.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal is a good series for someone who hasn’t read the original Yu-Gi-Oh! series and wouldn’t be bothered by the similarities and differences. Yuma, despite his faults, does continue the tradition of looking for good duels, win or lose, and making friends of his opponents, two traits I would highly encourage in kids. Old fans of the franchise may not find this new protagonist as appealing as Yugi or Yusei, but Astral and his story may, making this a title to at least check out.