Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's is set in the not too distant future of the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise up to that point. Kaiba Corp is mentioned, and we see brief glimpses of Duel Academy but 5D's makes more of a clean break from Yu-Gi-Oh's past than GX did. The characters are all new and you won't find cameos from familiar faces, at least not in the season we are reviewing today. 5D's explores similar concepts to the original Yu-Gi-Oh such as mystic forces, the nature of destiny, and the power of friendship. What's more, it manages to tackle such plot threads without them feeling as stale as they might have.
Anime is often defined by story arcs rather than by numbered season, so while this may be listed as Season 1, viewers are getting two distinct story arcs instead of one. The first of these arcs is used to set up the principle cast and the second depicts that cast coming up against the first big bad of the show.
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's does include elements we saw in Yu-Gi-Oh and GX but it improves on those elements. Yu-Gi-Oh has always talked about the idea that friendship was important but this often felt like lip service. Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's succeeds where Yu-Gi-Oh fails in this regard by not favouring one character over the others. Yusei is the lead character but throughout the season everyone makes a clear contribution to winning the fight of good vs. evil. Just like Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's has characters that are chosen to win the day but having the rest of the cast as incompetent or ineffectual doesn’t prop them up. This is a series in which you don't need to be preordained to win in order to make a difference.
Because the show doesn't try to keep reminding us that certain characters are special they are allowed to flourish on their own. We get time to see them develop and they make honest choices that don't feel forced for the sake of the plot. The weak points are Yusei, who feels a bit too perfect to be a well-rounded character at times, and Ted Lewis as Jack Atlus. The veteran Yu-Gi-Oh actor attempts to play Jack with a cockney accent and you will get used to it but he does a poor job and it does stick out in early episodes.
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s feels like the best version of Yu-Gi-Oh so far. The first season takes elements of the show that fans are familiar with and improves on them. No one feels superfluous, and no one is here just to make someone with pointy hair look good. The humour avoids being cheesy and the serious moments avoid melodrama. Recommended for both fans and newcomers alike.
YU-GI-OH! 5D'S / CERT: 12 / DIRECTORS: KATSUMI ONO / SCREENWRITERS: VARIOUS / STARRING: GREGORY ABBEY, CASSANDRA MORRIS, JASON GRIFFITH, TED LEWIS, ERICA SCHROEDER, MADDIE BLAUSTEIN, OLIVER WYMAN/ RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW