Remember waking up on a Sunday afternoon and watching Yu-Gi-Oh! on TV? For many of us, the 4Kids version of Yu-Gi-Oh! is what started us on the path to playing the trading card game. It had action, it had mystery, it told about the power of friendship…it was AWESOME. When I first saw Yugi and his pals tap into the heart of the cards, it made me immediately beg my mom to pick me up a pack of cards from the store – I wanted to get my hands on a “Blue Eyes White Dragon” and “Dark Magician,” too.
By now, the anime portion of the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise spans many series and multiple seasons. Let’s dive into where it all began – Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, starting with the classic Duelist Kingdom arc. The show starts off relatively innocently, with young Yugi Moto and his pals Joey Wheeler, Tristan Taylor, and Tea Gardner playing friendly games of Duel Monsters together. Yugi mentions that his grandpa owns a card shop, so the gang heads over to check out his mysterious rare card. Grandpa shows them all his illustrious Blue Eyes White Dragon – only four exist in the whole world, he says. Suddenly, current Duel Monsters champion and spoiled brat, Seto Kaiba, wanders in and offers a ton of cards and a ton of money for Blue Eyes White Dragon. However, Grandpa refuses to part with it. Unsatisfied, Kaiba straight up kidnaps Grandpa and duels him so intensely that Grandpa needs to be hospitalized.
That’s how you know Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters was going to be RAW – when episode one featured a high schooler kidnapping an old man. Right from episode one, you get hilariously harsh lines like, “your deck is as feeble as your grandpa.” The fight between Yugi and Kaiba here is iconic, and watching Kaiba bust out three(!) “Blue Eyes White Dragons” at once is intense. Yugi wins because he believes in the heart of the cards, unlike the greedy Kaiba. The faces Kaiba makes when he loses are so over-the-top. In fact, this whole episode is super over-the-top in general, and does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the action-packed series.
It’s worth mentioning that Duel Monsters was the first Yu-Gi-Oh! series to air outside of Japan. This first episode actually takes place in volume eight of the original Japanese manga. That’s right, the English language series threw us kids SIXTY CHAPTERS DEEP into the action right away. The first episode feels so bonkers because Yugi casually uses the Millennium Puzzle to transform into his deep-voiced and much taller alter-ego, Yami Yugi. The show doesn’t explain what the puzzle even is at first, because the Japanese audience it was made for already had a whole prequel series. But English-language viewers were suddenly being introduced to a child growing seven inches taller. He transforms, and none of the characters even bat an eye! It comes off as really goofy, but I’m not complaining – this is the ridiculous series I know and love.
After all the shenanigans with Kaiba, Grandpa gets kidnapped AGAIN – this time by Maximillian Pegasus, the president of Industrial Illusions, the company that distributes Duel Monsters. Pegasus tricks Yugi into battling with him by magically pulling him into a duel via VHS tape. He reveals that he also has a Millenium object – the Millenium Eye, which lets him peer into his opponent’s mind and predict their every move. Since that gave him a huge advantage, Yugi loses and Pegasus subsequently traps Grandpa’s soul.
The only way Yugi can rescue Grandpa is if he accepts Pegasus’s invitation to Duelist Kingdom island. There, forty participants compete in a battle royale. Each duelist must wager Star Chips – each player starts with two, and if they lost all of them, they are eliminated. On the other hand, the first players to gain ten Star Chips are entered into the finals and gain entry into Pegasus’s castle.
One of the most entertaining things about this arc is that the stakes are ridiculously high all the time. Not only is Yugi fighting for his grandpa, but Joey is fighting to win the prize money so that he can save his sister, Serenity, from going blind. They both start the battle royale with only one star chip instead of two, meaning that they’re in danger of elimination from the jump. AND THEN, on top of THAT, there are more kidnappings once Mokuba Kaiba pops up on the island.
The duels in this arc are really clever and fun to watch. Field advantages are introduced here, meaning that certain cards get stat boosts depending on the terrain. For example, water-based cards have an advantage near the ocean, as shown during the duel between Yugi and Mako Tsunami. This adds an extra layer of strategy to each game. On top of this new rule, a TON of the players are also cheating. Seeing characters like Mai and Bandit Keith get their come-uppance after Yugi and Joey beat them fair and square is so satisfying.
There are quite a few duels that take place over this arc – it is a battle royale, after all. Here are a few of the best duels that take place over the forty episode span.
Yugi & Joey vs The Paradox Brothers
The “Double Trouble Duel” is super gimmicky, since it’s a tag-team duel between two brothers named Para and Dox. Gimmicky or not, though, it’s still a ton of fun. Right from the start, Dox summons “Labyrinth Wall” which creates a maze in the arena. It adds an interesting dynamic to the game, since the maze is filled with traps. The twins bust out plenty of sneaky moves to try and keep Joey and Yugi’s monsters separated so they can’t combine their powers.
However, Yugi and Joey cleverly utilize trap cards and spell cards themselves. By using “Copycat” on Para and Dox’s “Riryoku,” Yugi is able to pull off a huge upset by halving the Brother’s LP. Then, with the help of “Monster Replace,” they’re able to destroy them for good. The duel is also neat because it’s the battle that wins Joey and Yugi their tenth Star Chips to enter Pegasus’s Castle.
Joey vs Bonz
Bonz is one of Bandit Keith’s cronies, and of course he’s a total cheater. Bonz utilizes a ton of spooky Zombie Monsters. Bonz’s entire deck here is really aesthetically pleasing – “Call of the Haunted,” “Clown Zombie,” and “Pumpking of the Ghosts” are all fittingly creepy cards for the creep Bonz to use. Joey pulls out some really risky moves here, like using “Time Wizard” in a way that actually halves his own life points, but ultimately, Joey is able to win. Joey’s cleverness during this battle makes it a great watch, and it’s a really underrated match.
While the duel is going on, Yugi and the gang have to maneuver through a ton of traps in the cave they’re in. There’s lots of shenanigans involving Bandit Keith and his minions, which add an extra fun dynamic to these Joey vs Bonz episodes.
Yugi vs Mai
Truth be told, all of the matches with Mai are pretty great – she attempts to trick Joey by spraying perfume on all of her cards during their battle, and Mai and Tea have a powerfully petty face off between one another. However, the best matchup she has is clearly when she goes up against Yugi. It might not be as thematically intense as his battles against Kaiba or Pegasus, but it’s still a wild ride nonetheless.
Mai uses cards like “Harpie’s Pet Dragon” and “Harpie Lady,” as she has a clear theme to her deck. She also busts out “Elegant Egotist,” which is always a treat to watch in action on the show since it has the ability to transform cards. However, though she puts up a strong fight, Yugi is able to use some clever delay tactics to pull off the win.
Yugi vs Weevil Underwood
Weevil is one of my favorite Yu-Gi-Oh! duelists, simply because he is such a sniveling little brat. This kid realized he would never be able to defeat Exodia if Yugi used it in a duel, so how does he handle it? HE THROWS THE PIECES OF EXODIA OFF OF A BOAT! Who does that? His English voice is so obnoxious, and it’s perfect – it fits him so well.
Naturally, when this little turd challenges Yugi, he tries his best to cheat. Weevil knew about field advantages since he had snuck a peek at the Duelist Kingdom rulebook. He lures Yugi deep into the forest in order to give his INSECT based cards an advantage. He even busts out the “Larvae Moth” card and equips it with “Cocoon of Evolution.” This lets him special summon “Great Moth.” He almost wins, but Yugi is one step ahead of him – he combines “Summoned Skull” with “Makiu, the Magical Mist,” and the increased ATK from “Makiu” is able to obliterate “Great Moth.” It’s so satisfying to watch Weevil get pummeled and snivel on the ground after his punk move with the Exodia cards.
Yugi vs Yami Bakura
This duel is super fun – it takes place in the Shadow Realm, and everyone’s souls are at stake. Yugi and the gang wind up trapped in cards – Tristan is the “Cyber Commander,” Joey is “Flame Swordsman,” Yugi is “Dark Magician,” and Tea is “Magician of Faith.” Not only does this give the match an intense edge, it also makes it super fun to watch.
Bakura winds up trapped in a card, too – the “Change of Heart” card. In fact, technically, Yugi isn’t even dueling the “real” Bakura here. Yugi uses the Millenium Puzzle to switch the real Bakura back, and then promptly wins the duel.
Fun fact about this duel – when “Seven-Armed Fiend” is used in the original Japanese version, it has an ATK and DEF of 666. 4Kids changed this to be 1000 to avoid the Satanic aspect and keep it more lowkey for the kids.
Joey vs Bandit Keith
Bandit Keith was such a jerk to Yugi and the gang on Duelist Kingdom that it is so exciting to finally watch him get his butt kicked by Joey. Bandit Keith is equipped with his supposedly invincible Machine deck in this finalist battle. This battle really showcases how much Joey has grown over the course of the arc – he went from being beaten by Tea and not even knowing what a trap card was to whooping Bandit Keith.
Ultimately, Joey is able to win by stealing Keith’s “Time Machine” card from the graveyard using “Graverobber.” After reviving “Red-Eyes Black Metal Dragon,” he obliterates Keith’s “Slot Machine” and scores the win. To make it even better, Bandit Keith actually gets thrown out of the castle and dropped into the sea after he loses. Take that, you tacky clothed cheat! That’s what you get for being a grown man in an American flag bandana who picks on high-schoolers!
While Yugi and the gang are fighting their duels and trying to save Grandpa and Serenity, Kaiba is on his own mission – to save his little brother. Kaiba challenges Pegasus to a duel, and it’s a real treat to watch two powerful players combat each other like this. Once again, we get to see “Blue Eyes White Dragon” in action. The duel also features “Toon World,” an interesting card that introduces “Blue Eyes Toon Dragon.”
After an intense battle, Kaiba tragically loses due to his deck becoming empty. Pegasus then traps his soul inside a card. All this infuriates Yugi, who nobly vows to destroy Pegasus and undo all the harm he’s caused.
Yugi vs Joey
When best friends must face each other, you know the drama will be high. Not only is it Yugi vs Joey, it’s Grandpa’s fate vs Serenity’s. An intense rock anthem even plays throughout the duel to really escalate things. The two really go all out, and showcase all their signature cards like “Red Eyes Black Dragon” and “Dark Magician” in the process. There’s even a neat Fusion Summon in the duel that shows “Black Skull Dragon.”
In the end, Yugi bests Joey. Joey tries to use “Time Wizard” to turn “Dark Magician” into a fragile old man, but it actually turns him into the powerful “Dark Sage.” Yugi is able to turn the tables, but luckily for Joey, Yugi agrees to give him the prize money for Serenity.
Yugi vs Pegasus
Here it is – the finale of the arc, and it does NOT disappoint. This epic takes place over the course of five episodes. Once again, Pegasus’s all-seeing Millenium Eye presents a challenge, but Yugi outwits him by switching back and forth between himself and Yami Yugi. Tea, Tristan, and Joey even manage to block some of Pegasus’s mystical powers by cheering Yugi on and wielding the much stronger power of friendship.
In addition to the friendship powers and Millenium Puzzle action, there are also a lot of great cards showcased here. “Brain Control,” “Kuriboh,” “Magician of Black Chaos,” and “Mystic Box” are used in interesting ways, and of course, “Dark Magician” appears, too. In the end, Yugi manages to win, thus freeing his grandpa and the Kaiba brothers.
Once Yugi defeats Pegasus and frees all the trapped souls, there are a few more episodes left in the season. We meet Rebecca Hawkins, who duels Yugi after claiming his grandpa stole the Blue Eyes White Dragon from her. KaibaCorp’s Board of Directors, the Big Five, are introduced, which leads the gang into the Legendary Heroes mini-arc. After that, we get the Dungeon Dice Monsters arc with Duke Devlin, who humiliates Joey by making him wear a dog collar. Season one pulls out all the stops, and is an absolute blast to watch. There’s so much nostalgia present throughout this first arc – it really makes you want to pick up some cards and d-d-d-duel!
What did you think of the Duelist Kingdom Story Arc? Be sure to let us know in the comments down below!