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Media Essays: The Rise and Fall of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's

Updated: Feb 4


Title card

We've all heard of a big rise and fall story before. It's a tale as old as time itself with somebody rising up to glory and feeling they're on top of the world and then suddenly, something happens and they plummet down to rock bottom, their glory snatched away in an instant. This iI feel perfectly describes the subject of today's blog post. That subject is about one of the most beloved seasons of Yu-Gi-Oh! currently released. That season...is Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's.


Released in 2008 and running until 2011 with five seasons overall, Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's was a hit amongst fans and critics for its surprisingly deep themes, strong story and character development but was also ridiculed and even to this day still generates mockery from the fandom for its absurd "card games on motorcycles" gimmick and while the first half gets all the praise, the second half gets all the hate with many feeling the show peaked early and plummeted off a cliff in the second half. Some fans think the show is great beginning to end but many feel only the first half is great. I myself must sadly confess I agree with those fans. The first half was peak Yu-Gi-Oh! in my eyes and the second half feels like I'm watching a completely different show, and not in a good way.


Also it was this series that introduced Synchro Summoning, a sign that the card game was gonna change forever and now we have what it is today where it's no longer the fun game of Duel Monsters we grew up with but instead a game of "who can kill their opponent the fastest"? So some I imagine may resent this series because it was a sign of how the card game was never going to be the same again, but that's not important. I'm talking about the series itself, not the impact it had on the card game.


So what was it that went wrong with this show? How did it rise so high and fall so badly? This little retrospective will hopefully shed some light on the subject. Let's rev it up readers for we're diving into this show and its rise and fall story...


What's It About?

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's was an even bigger change to the anime than Yu-Gi-Oh! GX before it. While GX clearly followed on from the original series and had call backs to it with some characters from the first series even appearing in some episodes, 5D's takes place even further in the future to the point it's likely the original cast have all lived their lives to the end and thus we have a show with very little call backs to before, thus allowing it to be more its own thing.


The show takes place in New Domino City, a city divided by two distracts: the rich and poor. The rich live in the main city itself while the poor live in a derelict area of the old Domino City known as "The Satellite". The place is quite the dystopia too with the penalty being incarceration if anyone from The Satellite ends up outside of it and the people living there are basically stuck doing gruelling manual labour while those in New Domino City live the high and fancy life. Everything changes once a young boy named Yusei Fudo makes a break for it to try and get his own back on an old friend of his named Jack Atlas. Jack abandoned him and his friends and left them in the Satellite while he moved on to New Domino City, taking Yusei's beloved Stardust Dragon card with him.


But what started out as a ploy to settle the score becomes a mission to save the world as Yusei and also Jack learn that the man in charge of New Domino City, Director Rex Goodwin, is gathering together a legendary group of duellists known as "the Signers" to harness the power of the Crimson Dragon and prevent the evil forces known as "the Dark Signers" from seizing power and world domination. On their adventures, they meet other Signers such as Akiza Izinski and Luna and also recruit her twin brother Leo and an old friend of theirs named Crow Hogan and they all team up to prevent the Dark Signers from achieving their nefarious goal...


Peaking Early

Team 5D's

I am in the same group as everyone else in the Yu-Gi-Oh! fandom in that this show peaks early and I do mean PEAKS.


The first half details Yusei's attempt to settle the score with Jack, his time as a prisoner in the Facility and then getting swept up in the whole business with the Crimson Dragon and the war with the Dark Signers and needless to say, it's VERY compelling stuff. I was hooked pretty much instantly and my attention was captivated from Episode 1 all the way to the end of the arc. Unlike Yu-Gi-Oh! GX where I saw the first season and was like "OK I've seen enough", this show kept me watching and was the most invested in a Yu-Gi-Oh! anime I've ever been since the original series ended. Funny enough, I never actually watched 5D's when it aired and it took me until this year to finally watch it, which I did via Amazon Prime. I feel like I missed out big time because the first half of this series was just so good!


So why is it so good you may ask? First of all, the world-building is really engaging and cleverly thought out with how everything neatly fits in together to give us a full picture. Throughout the series, I was wondering "How did things get so bad to give us this status quo?" and the answers not only made sense, they provided a full picture on just how corrupt Rex Goodwin and his goons really were and it only made the people of the Satellite's situation even more sympathetic as they really were victims of an accident that could've been prevented if the government was only willing to listen to reason. Puh, so fiction really DOES reflect reality after all. =P


Also, the stakes of this show really feel big and I mean so big that even the original series feels like small potatoes in comparison. Once the Dark Signers enter the picture, the whole story just kicks into overdrive (pun intended) and we're now beyond two guys settling a petty grudge or winning a tournament. It's no longer a game and it's a genuine matter of life and death as when the Dark Signers get their Earthbound Immortal monsters on the field, people actually do die and lose their souls to those creatures. It's really intense stuff and every duel with the Dark Signers really is a case of kill or be killed. And what makes the stakes even bigger is the fact the Dark Signers themselves aren't just generic villains-of-the-day that have to be defeated (well except for one anyway). Most of them are good people turned bad like with Kalin, Misty, Greiger and Carly and some of them are tied to the main cast in some way like how Roman Goodwin is Rex's brother or how Kalin is an old friend of Yusei, Jack and Crow or how Grieger was an honourable opponent that respected Yusei and friends as duellists or how Misty's brother was a victim of the organization that Akiza is a part of or how Carly becomes a friend of Jack after helping him get out of his funk. This makes the duels they have with the heroes far more compelling than they normally would've been since these people have established histories and in some cases, have established relationships with the cast so when the Dark Signers get in on the action, we know things are about to get serious.


The duels themselves are really exciting to watch, and ironically that's because of the series' often mocked concept of card games on motorcycles. On paper it sounds utterly ridiculous, and that's because it is. I mean come on, CARD GAMES. ON. MOTORCYCLES? That sounds like something out of a PARODY of Yu-Gi-Oh! or a gag you'd hear from an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, not something in an ACTUAL Yu-Gi-Oh! anime! And yet as the show goes on, the concept ends up looking kinda cool as we go along. It's still silly, but it looks awesomely silly at the same time. Because the duels are on motorbikes and it's not always two people standing around playing cards with each other, the duels often look very dynamic and slick onscreen and the animators are able to take advantage of this with some fast-paced motorbike action and it does make the duels look cooler to watch than if they were just standing around like normal. Yes we do still have standing duels in the show but the Turbo Duels really are the highlights here and the animators are able to give us action we wouldn't normally see in any other Yu-Gi-Oh! anime because of this concept. Once again it proves that there's no such thing as a bad idea, only bad execution and they certainly didn't execute this ridiculous sounding concept badly. I wonder how many fans actually ended up thinking "Card games on motorcycles actually looks cool!" once they saw this show? I know I did.


Another thing this show does well at is tackling dark and complex themes for what's supposed to be a kid's show. Yu-Gi-Oh! has always been one of the darker anime that's aimed at a young audience and this series is no exception. In this series alone we tackle political corruption, classism, evil cults manipulating young and vulnerable people into joining their cause, segregation and discrimination. A lot of these themes are still INSANELY relevant in this day and age, thus making Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's a very timely show that can be watched and still feel relevant even now. Some may argue it was probably ahead of its time in some places. It added an extra layer of maturity and nuance to the series and showed that even in a fantasy world like Yu-Gi-Oh! there's still the kind of things we experience in our lives that these characters experience here. All these themes are prevalent, again, in the first half and it really adds to the world-building and setting up the kind of problems our heroes have to tackle. I can't begin to tell you all how satisfying it was to see New Domino City and the Satellite joined up and both sides being united together to put an end to this oppressive social class division status quo for the world forever. It only made Yusei's victory over Rex that much more satisfying.

Yusei Fudo

And finally, that brings us to the characters of this show. The first half really nailed it with these characters by giving them all varied personalities, their own backstories that defines who they are, their own duelling styles and managed to utilize them rather well (for the most part). Yusei Fudo was a great protagonist, consistently showing himself to be a total badass who doesn't let anyone push him around and he sticks up for anyone and everyone, even if it means getting himself in more trouble. It should tell you a lot about what a kind soul he is when he's "never met a card he didn't like". He's probably the only protagonist of the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime that's on par with Yugi himself.

Jack Atlas

Jack Atlas was great too, essentially being a better version of Seto Kaiba in how unlike Kaiba, Jack actually DOES develop and becomes a better person over time and despite how much of a jerk he was at first, he genuinely changes for the better and is back to being the noble man he once was. It also helps that he has a lot of the funniest lines in the series, especially his "magic glue" remark at Rex's expense. XD Oh and this may be a hot take, but I think Red Dragon Archfiend is cooler than Stardust Dragon. I have no regrets. XD

Akiza Izinski

Akiza stands in the fandom as among the best Yu-Gi-Oh! female characters of all time and I'm inclined to agree. This girl makes Téa Gardner and Alexis Rhodes look like nobodies by comparison. Not only does Akiza get a good track record with her onscreen duels and is shown to be skilled and powerful, but thankfully she is never reduced to being a damsel who needs to be saved (more or less it's Yusei trying to save her from her anger) and isn't reduced to a cheerleader. She gets to take part in the Dark Signers war and even beats Misty Treadwell and helps in keeping Rex's forces at bay so the boys can win their duel against him. Akiza is a VERY tragic character and her backstory just makes me yell out loud "Geez, why don't you take my heart while you're at it?!" I can't begin to imagine what it's like having powers you can't control and everyone, including your own family, thinks you're a monster because of it. It's even worse when you consider she thought she'd found a friend in Sayer but he was just using her for his own means in the end. Her development was the best of the bunch here and it's SO satisfying to see her become a friend to Team 5D's and finally letting go of the Black Rose persona. Few Yu-Gi-Oh! girls can hope to match Akiza in terms of story and duelling power and I'm amongst those that wholeheartedly agree on that.

Leo and Luna were the weakest characters of Team 5D's for me. Luna is supposed to be important as one of the five signers needed to awaken the Crimson Dragon and her ability to enter the Spirit World is interesting but half the time she's getting side-lined by Leo and having duels stolen from her by him. Good grief, these two are the Liko and Roy of Yu-Gi-Oh! It's especially aggravating because Luna is CLEARLY the more interesting and important character here and she SHOULD be the one getting all the focus but no, Leo gets more duels than her and is even the one duelling against Devack when it should be her! Leo is just an annoying, useless spare part who shouldn't even be in this story, much like how Roy is in Pokémon Horizons. Every time Leo was onscreen, I wished he'd go away and shut the hell up (seriously, his voice in the first half of the show is insufferably annoying!) because he's stealing screen time and duels that SHOULD be going to Luna and as Luna is a signer, she should be the one who duels Devack and rescues Ancient Fairy Dragon, not Leo. Now yes, Luna DID save Ancient Fairy Dragon in the spirit world but what I'm saying is if Luna is supposed to be the skilled duellist of the two, then actually SHOW that instead of giving Leo all the duels, otherwise you have to ask why Luna's even here at this point. They shouldn't have made two characters here, it should've just been Luna and that's it, much like how Pokémon Horizons should've just had Liko and no Roy to go with her.

Crow Hogan

Crow Hogan was alright to me. A lot of people (for some reason) seem to hate this guy but I don't really understand why. Yes he hogs too much of the spotlight in the second half but in terms of who he is as a character, there's nothing hateable about him. He's a cool guy who's really good with kids and is an awesome friend to Yusei and Jack and his Blackwing deck is very strong in battle. He isn't all that significant to the story I'll admit and I'll forever be confused as to why he duels Greiger during the Dark Signers war when a more fitting opponent would've been either Yusei or Leo and Luna but overall, I thought Crow was fine. Not the most amazing character ever but I liked him well enough.

The Dark Signers

The Dark Signers were fantastic villains and some of the best to ever come out of Yu-Gi-Oh! Everyone of them was memorable and complex (Except for Devack. He was just generic) and the duels with them were the peak of this show's quality. Rex Goodwin was especially a formidable figure and how he poses as this altruistic good man who runs the city and yet he's really some devious puppet master pulling the strings to give himself ultimate power to rule over everything. I doubt any Yu-Gi-Oh! villain since then could ever hope to top these guys. Easily up there with Pegasus, Yami Marik and Dartz as the best villains in the franchise's history.


So there you have it, that's the first half of Yu-Gi-Oh 5D's summed up as best as I can. As this retrospective hopefully explained to you, it was a solid show with a fantastic story, deep themes, cool characters, interesting developments, menacing villains and high-stakes duels that managed to make the cards games on motorcycles concept look awesome. So how the hell did it drop off a cliff so heavily? Well that's where we cover the second half...


Falling From Grace

World Racing Grand Prix

The second half of 5D's can be described in one word: sloppy.


The plot of the second half sees Team 5D's preparing to enter the World Racing Grand Prix, a tournament where duellists the world over can participate in 3-on-3 Tag Team Matches. However, with Rex Goodwin defeated and gone, new forces come into power and are plotting to activate what they call "the circuit" in order to carry out their own nefarious agenda. OK, that sounds like a cool premise for the next arc after the Dark Signers. What went wrong? EVERYTHING!


But first, let's address the elephant-in-the-room. No, the writing issues here had nothing to do with either Carly's Japanese voice actress being in a cult, Akiza's actress being pregnant at the time or Konami trying to promote the Blackwing archetype. Every single one of those is complete and utter nonsense and are nothing more than urban myths spread by the fandom back in the day. The second half's dip in quality was NOT caused by either of those things. This Reddit post goes into further detail. What actually seems to be the case is that Kazuki Takahashi passed on the reigns to this show and the new writing team that came in for the second half just had very different ideas on what to do with the show going forward. It's just too bad they had no real focus and gave us an incoherent mess as a result.


First of all, the pacing is ATROCIOUS. Unlike the first half where it was very obvious they had a plan from the start and were able to tell the story they wanted to tell in a reasonable amount of time, this show has a lot of different ideas at once and doesn't know what to do with them half the time. So many plot-points, ideas and character arcs are set up, hinted at or teased and they go NOWHERE or have underwhelming turnouts. We have a kid who wants to steal Yusei's Stardust Dragon? Goes nowhere and is dropped before it can even become a plot point. We have Sherry LeBlanc, a mysterious French woman who has her own agenda? She barely even shows up and becomes another brainwashed minion for the villains to use because this franchise is obsessed with brainwashing women for some reason. A member of Yliaster infiltrates Leo and Luna's school? Dropped immediately after a mediocre two-parter that further emphasizes how useless Leo and Luna are. A mini-arc devoted to Kalin's redemption? Completely irrelevant to the main plot. Akiza learning to Turbo Duel and ride a Duel Runner? She takes part in only ONE match throughout the WRGP and doesn't even win and then gets shafted afterwards, thus rendering the entire story worthless. Z-One possibly being a future version of Yusei? He's just some random nobody who looks like Yusei because of plastic surgery. It really feels like half the time, this season was just being made up on the fly and they just didn't know what to do with the story and characters for most of it.


What makes the pacing worse is that it takes WAY too long to finally start the World Racing Grand Prix (not helped by there being outright filler episodes for no reason whatsoever, one of them being a damn CLIP SHOW!) and when it finally DOES get started, the Grand Prix itself feels like an outright chore to watch most of the time because the duels are JUST TOO DAMN LONG!!!! I'm not even joking when I say that, a good chunk of this series has duels that are mostly six-parters and they all follow the same repetitive pattern of Jack and Crow getting their asses kicked so Yusei can win the duel in the end and save the day. Even watching just ONE of those duels felt exhausting with Team 5D's vs. Team Unicorn and the fact several others are like this just felt so tedious. Even 4Kids must've felt the same way because no joke, they outright SKIPPED one of the duels when they dubbed the show and it ended up improving the pacing a little as a result! It also doesn't help how the duels are ludicrously contrived so Yusei can win that you can practically hear the writers screaming how they don't care if it's ridiculous as long as Yusei wins. Need I bring up how Team Unicorn idiotically lost their duel to Team 5D's because Jean wouldn't end his damn turn and let Yusei lose via deck out? That was crap and everyone knows it. X( It says a lot when the best duel of this season for me, Yusei vs. the Guard Bot, wasn't even a duel in the WRGP arc itself.

Yliaster

So yeah, compared to the first half's tightly paced, engaging and high-stakes plot, this half gave us an incoherent plot with sluggish pacing and very ill-defined stakes. Even the new villains barely feel like anything special compared to the Dark Signers with Yliaster and the Three Nobles (Jakob, Primo and Lester) being less interesting foes than the former villains with no emotional ties to the main cast and being more one-dimensional. Even their designs are less intimidating and even evoke laughter from how silly they look from Jakob's overly large eyebrow or Lester's shower curtain like cape. Primo at least does look and prove to be pretty cool though most of that is because Jason Griffith literally uses his Shadow the Hedgehog voice for him. XD And even then his coolness is kinda ruined by him merging with his Duel Runner.

Primo

Yeah, that was silly. XD


As is, the plot is so poorly structured and thought out that the stakes feel ill-defined and vague so I can't get as engaged in this story as I did with the last one. It's not helped either by the fact 4Kids never got to finish dubbing this season as a huge lawsuit caused them to lose the rights and file for bankruptcy. So yeah, much like GX, the West never got to see this show actually conclude, thus leaving us with an unfinished story that we have to watch the Japanese version in order to actually see.


The characters all feel like they took a downgrade here too, no thanks to the poor writing of this season. Yusei is a little blander than before, Jack is reduced to a comic relief, Akiza gets shafted after going through an arc about wanting to learn how to Turbo Duel, Crow is given more spotlight but isn't really that interesting, Leo and Luna are practically useless now, Carly is reduced to an unfunny running gag along with Mina and Stephanie about how the three of them all want to get their hands down Jack's pants and the new ones like Sherry or any of the teams competing in the WRGP are just not interesting or in Sherry's case, are interesting but badly handled. Bruno was kinda intriguing I guess but that's about it and I already mentioned how the villains were much blander than before. It pains me to see how most of these characters who were great before are just hollow, less interesting versions of themselves here.


So did the second half have anything of merit to it? Was it ALL bad? Eh...not all of it I guess? The Crashtown arc, while being pure filler, was still a worthwhile watch and a solid conclusion to Kalin's story as he atones for his past misdeeds and should be enjoyed as a bonus arc more than anything. Some of the duels are enjoyable and I like how in the un-dubbed season we never got to see, the main cast get to grow up and live their happily ever afters. That's pretty satisfying to know about. And I loved the scenes with Akiza comforting a child at the hospital during Yusei's duel with Primo. That was so touching. The girl who once felt anger and hatred to the world that treated her badly now gets to comfort and show kindness to others as Yusei did to her. Just...aww. ^^


Oh and Leo gets a new voice actor who makes him sound less annoying. I guess that's a plus. Damned by faint praise I know. XD


As is, the second half really was a let-down. So much so that it's the reason I'm writing this post at all. Bad pacing, too many ideas at once, no clear focus or endgame in mind, inferior character arcs, downgraded portrayals of the cast, duels that last way too long, ill-defined stakes, it all culminated into this season and for us Westerners, we never even got to see it concluded thanks to a messy lawsuit that caused 4Kids to go under! Oh my god, what a mess! And thus the show has the reputation it has to do in which it started off strong, peaked early and then fell down hard. What a rise and fall story to cover...


Conclusion

Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds poster

Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's is one of the most frustrating viewing experiences I've ever had. It started off so well and then plummeted to the bottom of the sea with a mediocre follow-up and for us Westerners, we never even got to see it actually finish because 4Kids cut it short. The lesson to take away here is that when you leave your show, don't leave it in the hands of people who don't know what they're doing. Or alternatively, the lesson is also once you hit your peak, just stop right there and don't carry on. It's best to end on a high note then push your luck and ruin what was otherwise really solid media. I'm glad I at least got to check out the show's first half and how solid it was but that second half just sullies the experience for me. If I ever return to 5D's, it'll only be for that first half because the first half is peak Yu-Gi-Oh! and is well worth a watch. If only that second half could've been as good...


And that's it for this essay. I hope you enjoyed reading it and if you'd like to hear me cover another rise and fall story, suggest any ideas for one down below. I'm open to suggestions. ^^ Next week I'll be still talking about Yu-Gi-Oh! as I countdown my Top 10 Favourite Yu-Gi-Oh! Dragons. See you then media fans!

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3 Comments


mrdarkcatify
mrdarkcatify
Dec 11, 2023

Interesting thoughts of the show itself.


Personally. I don't mind Leo and Luna and so their voices though I like Luna more than Leo. (Cassandra Lee Morris did good job, too bad she's replaced by newer actress which are meh for me)


Still, I have agree such characters like Crow Hogan, Akiza (Loving her voice actor's dramatic outcomes), Jack Atlas (Ted Lewis nails brit accent!) Yusei Fudo (Liking they chose Greg Abbey) and especially The Dark Signers (Kilian has most wicked evil laugh I ever heard XD) Rex Goldwyn is pretty much "Lex Luthor" as smart yet powerful foe to the Yusei and co. in the franchise they are best part! but yeah Motorcycle (Out of place) and rest of…


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I havent watched since the early days of GX. It's great to hear it had a strong start. Sounds odd but it is like two different series were made and haphazardly glued together.


I couldn't stop laughing while I saw the picture of the guy with the large eyebrow, that is such a stupid design even for anime. XD


So if you ask me to watch the show, up until which episode would that be?

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Okay, so kinda like The Dragon Prince come to think of it XD if I did a rise amd fall, you know it’s exactly the show I’d do. For this, it’s interesting for it has almost no connection to the original show like a soft reboot, yet with what you said, it makes it feel like it should’ve come to a stop in the first half. Lovely read overall.

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