The Yugioh franchise has been near and dear to my heart ever since I was a kid. I’ll never forget coming home after school everyday to watch the latest episode of the Battle City Arc of the original Duel Monsters, or catching the latest episode of Yugioh GX on the weekends. This series is responsible for getting me into card games, and I still keep up with the game to this day. Yugioh Arc-V is the fifth installment in the long running series, as well as the one that tied into the franchise’s 20th anniversary.

The Arc-V era attempted to celebrate Yugioh’s rich history, and both the card game and the anime featured plenty of nods to eras gone by. Yugioh Arc-V represents what I consider to be the highest highs and lowest lows that the anime series has ever seen. At one time, I considered it to be the best of all Yugioh anime (even better than Yugioh 5d’s), in spite of the fact that Yugioh GX is my overall favorite. And while that doesn’t mean I think the show devolved into absolute garbage, it definitely lost much of it’s charm during it’s almost 150 episode run.

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Arc-V follows the story of Yuya Sakaki, a young duelist who wishes to become the world’s greatest Entertainment Duelist. Similar to the Riding Duels in Yugioh 5d’s, Action Duels are a new variant of traditional dueling that has duelists riding their monsters on the field in order to find Action Cards. Entertainment Dueling is a style that was created by Yuya’s father, Yusho Sakaki, not long after the introduction of Action Duels.

In order to achieve his dream, Yuya attends Yusho Duel School, alongside his friend Yuzu Hiiragi. Yuya also has various friends and rivals from other duel schools such as Shingo Sawatari, Noboru Gongenzaka and Reiji Akaba. Arc-V has a rather large cast of principal characters (including other important ones like Sora Shiunin), but the first season does a really great job at slowly introducing us to them.

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The show devotes plenty of time to fleshing out each character’s personality and dueling style, something that goes a long way towards familiarizing the audience with the cast. Whether it’s Yuya’s patented Pendulum Summoning, Sora’s fast and aggressive Fusion Summoning or Reiji’s mastery over Fusion, Synchro and Xyz Summons, every character has a unique style of play, leading to many memorable and exciting duels.

While Arc-V’s early episodes are focused primarily on teaching us about the characters, Action Duels and Pendulum Summoning, they also do a fantastic job at slowly introducing us to the overall narrative. The first couple of episodes are fairly episodic, duel of the week type affairs, but everything changes with the introduction of Shun Kurosaki and Yuto, two Xyz users that have some type of grudge against the Leo Duel School.

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It is eventually revealed that Yuto and Shun are duelists from the Xyz Dimension, and that Arc-V’s universe is segmented into different dimensions based on the extra deck summoning methods, including Fusion (which Sora hails from) and Synchro. Yuya’s world is known as the Standard Dimension, the basis for all of the worlds, which is the reason it features every unique summoning type.

Yuto and Shun entered the Standard Dimension as survivors of the Heartland Resistance, a rebel alliance that was forged in order to combat the threat of the Fusion Dimension’s Duel Academy. Duel Academy, led by Reiji’s father, Leo Akaba, is invading the other dimensions in order to combine them into one complete world, as they were in the past. In order to do so, he must capture Yuzu, as well as three other girls that look like her: Ruri, Rin and Serena. I love the concept of the multiple dimensions. While the idea of worlds being separated based exclusively on summoning methods may sound silly (especially when you realize that each world can also Ritual Summon), it allows Arc-V to have various interesting and diverse settings.

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The first season ends with Reiji preparing a group of duelists known as Lancers, and their sole purpose is to stop the ambitions of Leo Akaba. I’ve referenced the first season quite a few times so far, and there’s a reason for that. It does an excellent job at establishing a world and narrative for Arc-V, and sets the rest of the series up for, what should be, and engaging and entertaining ride. The second season starts strong enough, as the idea of the Lancers going to the different dimensions in order to recruit more duelists is a super cool idea. But the rest of the show doesn’t do nearly enough with the foundation that was laid at the beginning.

The second season, while featuring some of Arc-V’s best duels and character development, brings the overall narrative to a very noticeable stop. This is because it is almost entirely a tournament arc, with any character that isn’t dueling being relegated to either standing in a hotel room, watching in the crowd or doing manual labor in the underground. However, I will say that the story picks back up in a somewhat satisfying way towards the end of the season.

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The first half of the third season is really strong. It gives us more backstory on the Xyz Resistance, as well as the remnants of the war torn Heartland City, making for a more personal experience overall. But once the story jumps dimensions for the final time, things take a serious and disheartening nosedive. Random filler duels are thrown in, characters and side plots are introduced but never concluded in a satisfying way and the true antagonist is so boring and generic that it almost hurts.

It is painfully obvious that Arc-V’s latter episodes were rushed, and many fans have argued that this, in addition to some episodes having really wonky animation, is likely the result of key talent from the production team being pulled to work on Yugioh: The Dark Side of Dimensions, a film based on the original Duel Monsters series. Regardless if this is true or not, it’s really no excuse for what happened to Arc-V. By the time we got to the final two episodes, I was truly confused as to how they were going to answer all of the lingering questions, and wrap things up in a satisfying manner.

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I can’t really talk too much more about the narrative structure without this becoming a rant, so let’s shift focus to our protagonist, Yuya. I’m gonna go ahead and say this now, I think Yuya has the best character development of any Yugioh anime character ever, protagonist or otherwise. I like to think of him as a modern day Yugi that had to mature as a duelist without the influence of someone like Atem. He initially lacks the confidence and skill of previous heroes like Jaden and Yusei, but he’s not quite as incompetent as someone like Yuma in Yugioh Zexal’s early episodes.

Yuya’s lack of confidence is the result of an incident in his past. A few years prior to the start of the series, Yuya’s father disappears on the day of a very important match. This led to Yuya being bullied for being the son of a coward, and a fraud of a duelist. Yuya practically idolized his father, so having to hear his name tarnished for years took a serious toll on Yuya’s self esteem.

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This is why Entertainment Dueling is so important to Yuya, as it not only represents his father, but it serves as a means for Yuya to hide his true feelings behind a confident and cheerful persona.  As a result of the various challenges that he is forced to overcome, Yuya undergoes a pretty significant change. The core of his character remains consistent (a desire to make everybody smile with his dueling), but you could almost mistake Yuya at the beginning of the third season for a completely new character.

He’s much more cool headed and confident, and takes charge of the Lancers when he needs to. This newfound development even extends to his dueling. Yuya’s primary strategy used to be manipulating the attack points of his and his opponent’s monsters, and then finishing things with Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon, his ace monster. After learning a few new tricks, Yuya’s dueling evolves to incorporate Fusion, Synchro, and Xyx, as well as smarter and more efficient use of the Pendulum Summon.

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Although the second half of the third season makes it a point to undo and reverse much of his character development, he does recover in the show’s closing episodes. Yuya is my second favorite Yugioh protagonist, right behind Yugioh GX’s Jaden/Judai Yuki. His personal arc represents what can happen if you smile and persevere against the odds, all while not forgetting the lessons that you’ve learned from others during your journey.

I previously said that Arc-V has Yugioh’s lowest lows, and the most irritating one manifests in the form of Yuzu. She starts the show with such promise. She’s a duelist that is equal to, if not stronger than Yuya, she constantly seeks to improve and evolve her own dueling, and her growth even serves as a catalyst for Yuya’s own development. But from the climax of the first season to the very last episode, she is demoted to a damsel in distress who only knows how to say Yuya’s name while clutching her bracelet, and this is easily the most disappointing aspect of Arc-V as a whole.

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Arc-V was meant to celebrate 20 years of Yugioh, and one of the ways that it does this is by including legacy characters from past Yugioh series. This is a super cool idea, and is a great way to tug at the nostalgia of older fans like myself. The execution however, is somewhat of a mixed bag. The legacy characters start out innocent enough, but it is not long before they take significant duels, screentime and development away from Arc-V’s original characters.

And when they’re not taking importance away from characters like Gongenzaka and Sawatari, they are so pointless to the overall narrative that they might as well not be there at all. This is especially true in regards to the GX legacy characters, Asuka Tenjoin and Edo Phoenix. Edo is nothing like his GX counterpart, and his role in Arc-V would’ve been much better suited for someone like Kaiser Ryo or Jun Manjoume, while Asuka duels once to save Yuzu from Duel Academy (something she should’ve been able to accomplish on her own) and a second time only to lose to Yuri.

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Speaking of Yuri, I’ve neglected to mention Yuya’s counterparts up until this point. Similar to Yuzu, Yuya has three counterparts that exist in the other dimensions: Yuto, Yugo and Yuri. As far as the Yuya and Yuzu counterparts are concerned, they are honestly one of my biggest issues with Arc-V. They are all really unique and interesting characters, but we get so little time to see them onscreen together. While we do get a little bit of screentime between Yuzu and Serena, and Yuya and Yuto are bound at the hip for most of the show, we barely get any interactions between the rest of the counterparts.

I also haven’t talked much at all about Arc-V’s duels, but there are a ton of great ones. While my personal favorite is Yuya and Reiji’s second duel, there are a ton of other great ones. Shun vs Dennis, Yuya vs Jack, Yugo vs Serena, Yuzu vs Masumi and especially Shun vs Sora, all of these duels are fantastic. Arc-V’s duels are also accompanied by what is easily the best soundtrack of any Yugioh anime, special mention to “Swing! Pendulum of Souls”, “Unleash” and “Trump Card”.

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A common complaint with Arc-V’s duels is the overreliance on Action Cards, mostly by Yuya, and I can’t really say that this complaint is unfounded. Yuya’s deck uses almost no defensive spell and trap cards, so he ends up constantly running after Action Cards in order to protect himself and his monsters. While seeing this does get a bit stale, I never really felt like it detracted from the duels in a very serious way.

Even though the closing episodes of Arc-V’s run were really disappointing, I still had a great time with the show. I can’t give it a resounding recommendation due to the underwhelming final season (I really do think it’s that bad), but I still consider it my second favorite series (once again, after GX). It has the strongest character development, coolest worldbuilding, most exciting duels and a phenomenal soundtrack, and if you’re already a fan of Yugioh, I’m sure that you’ll find at least a few things to enjoy about Yugioh Arc-V. I’ll say it once more for good measure, it has the lowest lows of any Yugioh anime, but it’s high points are great enough to make even the most cynical viewer give praise to this show about a children’s card game.

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