With a title that could have come straight off a vintage prog-rock album and an expensive-looking CG intro that sees us zipping through the universe and down a space-elevator, everything about Dark Side of Dimensions seems to be screaming added-value scale, with a budget to match. Celebrating 20 years of the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise, the movie sees us picking up things six months after the end of the series’ original manga run (from 1996 to 2004). Touting an original story, the movie sees Kaiba Corp up to their usual tricks investigating the pieces of the Millennium Puzzle, until one of their excavations is interrupted by a shadowy figure, laying the groundwork for a new, mysterious antagonist...
All our favourite characters are back - all a little older (but probably not any wiser), and as soon as these lovable dorks start spouting lines about polishing duel disks and getting their decks out, you know nothing’s really changed from your classic Yu-Gi-Oh of old. Except perhaps Yugi’s gal pal Tea that is who, in the intervening years, seems to have been ‘fleshed-out’ a little... and, no, we don’t mean in terms of character development. Tea aside though, the characters are much as you remember them - from the ludicrous haircuts to the classic English dub actors reprising their roles (right down to Bakura’s dodgy British accent). Even Joey’s weird chin - which spawned an entire meme - gets a moment in the spotlight.
Like most guys my age - raised on a diet of Pokemon, Digimon and Cardcaptors on CITV - it wasn’t long before I fell for the Yu-Gi-Oh bug too; shelling out what little pocket money I had on precious booster packs to add to my collection of cards. Having enjoyed Manga Entertainment's earlier releases of the classic TV series on DVD, I was intrigued by what a movie-sized slab of Yu-Gi-Oh - clocking in at two hours - would entail. Previous cinematic outings for the franchise had been arguably forgettable, although that didn’t stop the 2004 Yu-Gi-Oh Movie becoming the third most successful anime release ever at the US box office behind only the first two Pokemon movies - a distinction it retains to this day.
In a visual sense, at least, this is probably the best the franchise has ever looked. The line-art is clean and crisp, while the duels are beefed up with CG to ensure sufficiently fluid action. What’s most striking about the film’s visual treatment though is the colour scheme, which retains every bit of the bold, brash primary tones of the classic TV series. While there’s a certain charm to this, it also feels like it weirdly dates the movie’s aesthetic - like some bizarre throwback to the days of peak-DigiPaint.
While the battles are certainly impressive visually, watching increasingly large CG monsters batter seven bells out of each other with beam spam while the duelists shout corny put-down lines starts to wear thin after a while. As the battles drag on, you start to feel like you’re no longer actually watching a film - rather, it’s like you’re sat staring over a mate’s shoulder as he plays a video game. You’re at a level of remove from the intricacies of the action, and they - inevitably - are having a lot more fun than you are.
It’s here too that the film suffers in its excessive reliance on verbose, jargon-filled dialogue - sometimes, even with the English dub switched on, it’s like you’re listening to a foreign language. Of course, the TV series did this too - but there at least it was tempered by the fact it came at you in bite-sized, twenty minute, segments. But with Dark Side of Dimensions you’re given the full-throttle, undiluted Yu-Gi-Oh treatment - two solid hours of duelling-themed dialogue. The overly wordy treatment kills any scope for a leaner, more cinematically daring approach to the story, and the end result is something that unfortunately feels far more like a (very) extended TV episode or - perhaps more accurately - a kind of greatest hits package. The visuals might be on-point, but any kind of soul is distinctly lacking.
In recent years, successes like One Piece: Strong World and the Blue Exorcist film have shown that shonen movies can be great standalone cinematic experiences in their own right when given a decent script and the right directorial treatment, but sadly Dark Side of Dimensions isn't one of them. For fans that still feel the ‘heart of the cards’ beating strongly inside them, there’s plenty to enjoy here - but for anyone else intrigued by the continuing juggernaut that is Yu-Gi-Oh, it’s best to start with the TV series itself.