Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series: Has it Lost its Spark?

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Let me start this out by saying that this is not an attack on LittleKuriboh, a.k.a Martin Billany, a.k.a the Father of the Abridged Series style of Internet videos. I know that he has been going through a rough time recently and I have always respected the time and effort that he puts into his work. This rant has nothing to do with him as a person or the time it takes him to put out videos; while he does have an audience to please, anyone who isn’t a complete idiot can tell you that editing video takes about an hour or two for every minute of footage that you have.

People really should be more forgiving when content creators need breaks or more time to work in general, but that is a rant for another day entirely.

No, this right here is a look at his series as it has progressed over time and, in my opinion, has undergone something known as “seasonal rot”.

First off, what even is seasonal rot?

TV Tropes describes it in these terms:

“An installment in any long running series that is widely held to be of notably poorer quality than the other installments. Often tied to the dislike of a specific arc, but can also befall episodic shows. In some cases, a new director takes over and pulls the series in a different direction; this can give the impression of Seasonal Rot to those who liked the old way, but may also bring in new viewers who prefer it like this (in other words, a change in tastes or audience).Sooner or later, if a show runs long enough, Seasonal Rot always sets in. Sometimes it’s a temporary dip from which the series recovers (perhaps by bringing in new writers, changing the premise, or in severe cases simply ignoring the events of the rotted season). Other times, it proves to be irreversible and grows worse with each new season, at which point the series has jumped the shark… the Seasonal Rot (may occur) because of a poorly conceived major change to the status quo in an attempt to go in a new direction…”

For whatever reason, it’s a decline in quality, usually resulting from a major change in dynamic. Seasonal Rot has a negative connotation typically, but making significant changes alone doesn’t automatically make something bad.

And for those who don’t know, the term “Jumping the Shark” is an idiom that refers to an exact moment in the show that begins a downward spiral in quality, often to a point of no return.

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Now we can get into the nitty-gritty. Yu-Gi-Oh! is a title that comprises several popular manga and anime shows about youngsters saving the world and solving all of their problems with battle-style card games, the second anime of which came to America in the early 2000’s as its first ambassador. An infamous licensing company known as 4Kids Entertainment acquired the rights to the show and brought it to children all across America, all the while white-washing and censoring the ever-loving Hell (literally) out of it.

They, like many people unfortunately, didn’t realize that in Japan, cartoons can be and often are for adults just as much as they are “4kids”. And as silly as this show looks, and admittedly is, it had some hardcore stuff hidden within.

The original manga and first anime had heavy themes of bullying, sometimes to an almost comical extent (not that the bullying itself is funny, but the over-the-top ways that characters do it, like with pool balls), and in this incarnation of Yu-Gi-Oh! that first came to America, the in-show card game Duel Monsters was tied to an “ancient Egyptian legend” about real monsters, “shadow games” (which take place in actual Hell and kill people), sorcerers, and a reincarnated pharaoh with ridiculous hair who would save the world.

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No, seriously…

So 4Kids Entertainment extracted all of the weapons, edited any remotely sexual or religious (particularly pagan or satanic imagery) trading card art, and changed Hell into “the shadow realm,” where people would simply be “banished” until their souls were reclaimed, and boom! Instant children’s classic!

Despite its flaws, many people like myself still look fondly on Yu-Gi-Oh!, stupid though it was. The censorship is often obvious and irreverent, sanding down the content to make a lighter, frothier “friends forever” adventure show, but the story is so overly dramatic and takes itself so seriously in both the Japanese and edited English versions that it’s utterly impenetrable to new-coming adults and lovably laughable and hammy to its now-grown original fanbase.

And kids…well, I guess they love the silly hair and the trading cards.

Enter: Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, or YGOTAS as it is referred to now.

Begun all the way back in 2006 and currently up to its 64th episode, YGOTAS is what happened when a fan got himself a bunch of footage from the show, as well as some audio and video editing equipment, and he dubbed over the original English voice cast (quite literally all of the characters, even the women). He cut the average episode length down to about 5-10 minutes each (hence the “abridged” in the title), and attempted to sum up the plot of that episode and simultaneously mock it. He mocked the characters, censorship, drama, anime tropes, tacked-on morals, “cut corners” in the animation, the nonsensical moves in the card game and the sometimes frequent, blatant bending of the rules; and, perhaps most importantly, the very idea that everything in the world can be put on hold for, or saved by, adults playing a “children’s card game”.

“Genius!” cried the Internet.

Though the initial sound quality of videos was pretty poor, the YouTube sensation swept the nation. Fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! who had long outgrown the series came back in droves and they laughed hard. I know, because I knew some of them, and I was one of them. I distinctly remember a friend falling from her office chair and laughing hysterically on the floor for five minutes straight.

Overall, YGOTAS has done good things for the original show too. Though the “fair use” of the material might be (and indeed frequently has been) up for dispute, people had a renewed interest in Yu-Gi-Oh!. Its abridged series basically served the purpose of a great remake, or even a “let’s play”: it was entertaining by its own merits, and it got people to go  to the source material.

And until I saw the abridged series myself, about a year or so after it was posted, I never would have guessed that the characters dramatically pointing at other characters used to be holding guns in the Japanese version.

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The more you learn, the more you know. It’s a good thing that no one actually fired one of those.

…Or did they?

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This series had some absolutely brilliant satire…so why do I think it’s gone downhill?

Well, I can’t pinpoint an exact “jumping the shark” moment for the series, but when YGOTAS got into season two of the anime, I think that LittleKuriboh realized that there are only so many ways and so many times that you can point out that it’s a children’s card game before the joke gets stale. And I would agree; by now, it is best used sparingly, because it has lost virtually all of its “punch”. A popular show needs to stay fresh, or it peters out into nothing.

But I think history has proven time and again that it is better to bow out early while you are still great rather than to keep chugging along, straining to be funny, relevant, and at least somewhat new. That sort of burnout almost took the Nostalgia Critic from us for good, but ever since he decided to return, Doug Walker has proven that his schtick isn’t done yet.

Doug Walker still has room to grow. I’m not sure that LittleKuriboh does, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

He made the decision to focus less on the plot of each episode of the anime and more on what he could do with his editing. Thus, the show became all about pop culture and meta (self-referential) humor.

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Now I personally have always found meta humor to be an acquired taste. It can be done well, but I usually find it more annoying and distracting the more that it permeates someone’s work. It’s a cheap, easy kind of joke, assuming that you have strong enough foundations to mock yourself in the first place. The crucial key to success, however, is in the delivery itself.

If, for example, your joke involves you pointing out something that you did and having your characters say, “that’s not funny,” that can either be funny or it can make you look lazy. For, as many notable reviewers have iterated in some form or another:”Pointing out your problems does not make them go away.” Jokes that involve effort on the part of the writer tend to go over better than those that shoot for the low hanging fruit, but it is possible to put effort into making it look like you put no effort into something, and it can be incredibly funny.

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A recent trend (joke) in YGOTAS is that the characters have repetitive dialogue and jokes. For example, a character will say something (usually involving butchered hip-hop slang, song lyrics, or just something faux-cool, but not always) and then proceed to beat it into the ground, repeating it and/or trying to draw attention from the other characters; like an old person trying to be hip with the kids today. That has the potential to be funny…if it wasn’t hammered in so much. And if the joke isn’t really funny to begin with, or is generally hit-or-miss, just being repetitive in the execution isn’t going to improve it.

…Actually, a lot of the dialogue is much funnier to read (in transcripts) than it is to hear aloud. LittleKuriboh’s tone hasn’t really changed from earlier episodes, so maybe I’m just growing out of it taste-wise, but the long, verbose jokes and flat delivery can be especially tedious. That, and you can usually see them coming.

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The “Mr. Tweetums” bit from episode 31, for example, doesn’t have believable buildup. The joke comes from nothing besides Marik’s mincing, prissy evil (and his oh so original desire to take over the world), and it isn’t funny, surprising, or subversive (as it would be if he were a manly villain, for one example). If you want to argue that the joke is about contrast or juxtaposition, then it still would have worked better with a more noticeable change in the tone of his voice. As it stands, it’s just dead air that makes him look silly, but isn’t necessarily humorous.

How about this line here:

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Marik: “There are no women in Yu-Gi-Oh! There are only extremely girly men, and I am the most girly of them all!”

I think this joke is funnier because it’s a hyperbolic commentary on a ridiculous aspect of the original show (the fact that the men all seem to be lithe, wear eye-liner, and vaguely homoerotic). It is still redundant and reinforces Marik’s “character”, but it sounds less improvised.

It’s like when you watch a let’s play online, and you hear the gamer crack hilarious jokes on or off-screen. Deep down, you know that, if they didn’t script their dialogue on some level, they heavily edited their material at the very least. Otherwise, the video might be plagued by long stretches of silence and lame or poorly conceived jokes, which takes away most of the fun of watching in the first place.

His impression of the original English voice actor for Marik is pretty spot on though, considering that LittleKuriboh doesn’t have the widest vocal range. But sadly, the character didn’t have much to do and wasn’t very entertaining. And if an element isn’t funny and doesn’t serve a purpose in character development or the greater plot, you should ditch it.

In-jokes and iconic one-hit-wonder jokes like “screw the rules, I have money!” and Weevil and Rex playing Beavis and Butt-head have become running jokes. When used in newer episodes, they often feel like retreads; fluffy padding to fill the video’s run time. The episodes feel very disconnected with ones that came before or ones that follow (which shouldn’t be the case in a journey story), which gives me the impression that the series is just meandering forward with no real master plan while LittleKuriboh just does whatever he wants to in that moment. And I got this feeling way before he ever ended up in the hospital.

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Side characters can sometimes seem stupider and more one-note than in previous episodes. I can’t quite describe it, but the dialogue just feels like it’s reinforcing well-established but relatively shallow character traits all across the board; the characters are more parodies of their original parodies, rather than the characters from the actual anime.

And while I think that YGOTAS is one of those rare series that can pull of the “everybody’s an asshole and/or stupid version of their original selves”, the material is strongest when it doesn’t place such heavy focus on those particular jokes. Because honestly, it doesn’t take a lot of talent or subversion to make a character a straight-up asshole.

It takes talent to point out absurdities and plot holes in a humorous way, and I’ve seen LittleKuriboh do that many times before.

Pop culture stuff can be funny, but it runs the risk of becoming really dated, possibly to the point that you wouldn’t get the joke on a repeat viewing. Or it could just be distracting; a good reference is one that is apparent to its target audience, but isn’t overtly noticeable and frustrating to those who don’t get it, of which there may be many. The original show was not particularly timeless, what with its pseudo-futuristic technology, but there were no in-your-face American references (not counting character outfits),

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and in its benevolent “wisdom”, 4Kids Entertainment took out anything that was too Japanese, so there was almost no risk of confusing foreign references for the kiddies either.

Let me assure you: I still enjoy many of the episodes of season two of the abridged series and beyond, and the editing quality of both the video and audio has improved immensely. It also helps that YGOTAS has inspired other great abridged series on YouTube, increasing the acknowledgement and demand for good amateur voice actors and giving LittleKuriboh the option to outsource some of his voice roles in his own series.

I also feel the need to say that his side series for Yu-Gi-Oh! Season Zero (the original anime that hasn’t yet been dubbed or brought to the States) is, in my opinion, much funnier than his main abridged series. It has some of the same humor, but somehow, it just gels better.

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I like and respect LittleKuriboh a lot. I met him at a convention and he was very funny and friendly; even signing autographs in what should have been his personal time. The man made a great parody-esque series, can clearly laugh at himself as well as others, and just seems like an all around great human being. I wish for him to be always happy and doing what he loves.

But in my opinion, what made his idea great in the first place was its original style of satire. That was its very essence, its “heart of the cards”, so to speak.

And I don’t have a problem with the change in technically quality. Good equipment is much more affordable and a lot of people will click away from a video that looks like it was filmed next to a jet engine hooked up in someone’s garage. The writing and the overall technical quality of YGOTAS both needed fine tuning over time if it was going to keep going, but I don’t think that the former went in the right direction. I don’t even know if there ever was a right direction, but I definitely don’t think that this is it.

The main problem is that the shift from show-based contextual humor to internet memes and meta jokes practically takes the “YGO” out of YGOTAS. It’s still recognizable enough, of course, but personally speaking, its major charm has definitely mostly worn off for me. Now, I check in occasionally and don’t get my hopes up too much.

But tis better to have loved it and watched it let itself go than to have never seen it at all.

Feel free to share your own thoughts below. Just please keep them respectful, as I have tried to with my own opinions.

*Update (4/26/16):

I’m posting his most recent video because, while I suspected what was going on, it wasn’t confirmed until I saw this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLf7kwoFqTU

 

I have tried to give examples illustrating why I think the comedy is now lacking, but it has been clear for some time that he’s been losing motivation in his work. I feel awful that he is going through this emotionally and physically, but as a detached but hopefully respectful critique goes, this is all the more reason that he should retire.

If he himself is not happy, he should be finding what does make him happy, and if his fan base doesn’t understand that, then maybe they weren’t worth having in the first place. Well, some of them.

I’m glad this show came into my life and made me laugh while it did.

*All pictures belong to their respective owners. None of the images or sounds belong to me. Sorry for the lack of video clips, but I’d have to post entire episodes and just give you the time stamp. 

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5 thoughts on “Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series: Has it Lost its Spark?”

  1. I know its a bit late but I agree. For me it declined at around Battle City and more specifically at the final tournament. Maricks voice annoys me and it just really really dragged. The writing has really declined as well. I think some of it is because s1 of Yugioh was gold. There is just so much cheese in s1. So much material. Now there isn’t as much to work with. Also the loss of Pegusus and Bandit Keith is a big blow.

    The episodes are a bit too self conscious of itself now. Too many memes. Too much clunky dialogue that points to the stupidity of the show but not in a fun way.

    Like

  2. Sorry for the late comment.

    I love YGOTAS, they are so funny, but after a while and I almost forgot about this series but suddenly remember because there’s new yugioh movie last year, I re watched YGOTAS again, and really happy to see there’s new episode on it. Sadly the jokes for the Orichalcos arc is not as good as it used to be.

    I like it when littlekuriboh doing all the voices (except for several characters), but it gone bored after he have an increasing team, like that Mai Valentine, her voice is woman’s voice now. I like littlekuriboh one better, because it’s the humor.

    But I still eager to watch it, it still good, but it’s not as good as it used to be.

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    1. Have you seen his most recent episode? I think it’s Episode 73. That one was pretty good, I feel.

      I like LK best when he’s poking fun at the show; the choices of the original animators and those of 4Kids Entertainment. Memes come and go and tend to get old quickly, and personally, I was never one of the fans who hassled him to hurry up with new episodes or change with the times.

      Like

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