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"Yu-Gi-Oh! Bonds Beyond Time (UK Edition)": Having A Wibbely Wobbley Timey Wimey

In the late 1990s, Nintendo and 4Kids had a surprise hit on their hands with the success of Pokemon. After that, the race was on to find the next merchandise-friendly Japanese license. 4Kids profited from their early lead, however, and managed to snag one of their next big successes, Yu-Gi-Oh! For those unfamiliar with it, the series focuses on a Japanese schoolboy, Yugi Mutou, who, upon completing an ancient Egyptian puzzle, learns that he is the reincarnation of a pharaoh who long ago sealed away evil spirits. The magical rituals of his time have evolved into the popular trading card game Duel Monsters, leaving Yugi and his friends to play the game in an attempt to thwart those who wish to revive the evil powers in the modern era.

Though successful, Yu-Gi-Oh! also became the butt of jokes as one show (of many) built around the marketing theme “child’s toy is the most dangerous artefact in history!” It probably didn’t help that one of its sequel shows focused on a school where the art of playing Duel Monsters (referred to more casually as dueling) was the main curriculum, while the other was CARD GAMES ON MOTORCYCLES! However, there was no denying that the show was a success, and a decade on is still producing content. It was in acknowledgement of that milestone that this anniversary movie, ‘Bonds Beyond Time’, was produced.

In typical style for a milestone celebration, Bonds Beyond Time is a crossover movie that unites the protagonists of the first three series (Yu-Gi-Oh!, GX and 5Ds). A time traveling antagonist known only as Paradox targets Yugi, Jaden and Yusei in their native time periods, sowing destruction and stealing powerful monsters from their decks. Following the trail backwards through time, the trio become aware of Paradox’s ultimate goal: wiping out the Duel Monsters card game, no matter the cost.

I have to begin by saying that as a threat, that’s already pretty hokey; implying so much significance to trading cards makes the premise of the series seem melodramatic, especially when it’s clear the series has partly endured due to the success of the merchandise angle. It’s pretty silly that history would change so much if the Duel Monsters game was wiped out, but hurting things even more is that Paradox actually has a valid reason for what he’s doing and some valid arguments for the trouble the game always causes. He might be an extremist prepared to effectively kill a fly with an atom bomb, but it’s hard to deny he’s got some good logic behind him, especially compared to the heroes who can counter with little beyond “We have fun playing Duel Monsters, so we disagree!”

The movie is roughly an hour in length, and this means it doesn’t make best use of the premise. With a crossover story, fans will obviously be eager to see how characters that haven’t met before play off one another and interact. The problem is the movie seems keen to get to the main event of the duel against Paradox, which takes up the last half hour. This means the movie has the first half hour to establish Paradox attacking each of the three individually, coming to learn their time period is in danger, meeting one another, and then uniting to oppose Paradox. Since 5Ds was also the series airing at the time, it also has to use this time to tie the story into Yusei’s own ongoing development. Maybe the end result appeals to hardcore Yu-Gi-Oh! fans, but I kept thinking of much shorter crossovers like Doctor Who‘s “Time Crash,” which really got the most out of the script in the time available. Bonds Beyond Time seems to prioritise the mere visual thrill of putting the three protagonists together on screen instead of detailing their interactions; and in that case couldn’t you get all that from a picture?

The last half hour is the typical Duel Monsters face off, with trash-talking, Trap Cards and last-minute saves. Some characterisation does manage to emerge as each of the three uses a distinct style (such as Yugi’s clever gambit), but it’s basically the same thing you could see in any of the regular series when the duel against the big bad is had.

Bonds Beyond Time was originally conceived as a 3D project. That option is removed here (apparently it will remain on the Blu-ray release) though there are a few scenes obviously designed to have that extra oomph when viewed as intended. Thankfully these scenes are still pretty dynamic in 2D, unlike some Hollywood productions I could name.

The disc comes with three extras. The first is a 10-minute feature that quickly and clearly introduces us to the main protagonists. This plays before the movie itself, too, and for someone like me who hasn’t really watched since the original, it’s a big help. We’re given the character’s backstory, plus two or three of their big duels. It’s obviously not a replacement for watching the full series, but it’s enough to help this movie make more sense. There’s also a brief trailer, but the easy standout, though, is the original Japanese version of the film. Although it doesn’t wave a magic wand and offer a completely different experience, it does address some of my criticisms. Paradox is still an extremist with a point, but here it’s the extremist part which is much more clearly focused on, as he’s characterised as someone with no faith in humanity and completely willing to alter history to steer it in the direction he views as best. This gives our heroes a better stance than just a desire to save their hobby; they’re more clearly against him because they can’t support killing people in their relative present for a future catered to one individual. Interactions between them also come off mildly better as the script lacks most of the trash-talking seen in the English version.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Bonds Beyond Time is one of those projects I think is really aimed at fans. It can be enjoyed by others but really it’s aimed as being a treat for all those that have stayed with it over the last 10 years. If you qualify as such or even if you just remember it as part of your childhood, I’d recommend giving it a watch. But others will probably find it’s the standard hour long distraction you’ll usually find with a Japanese-kids anniversary work. It sadly lacks the rewatch factor or knowing self-parody of similar projects like Turtles Forever.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Bonds Beyond Time (UK Edition) is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.

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