Hello. Gaspar here.
For those who do not know me, and for those who do, I am just a simple guy who likes to play or watch things, and then maybe write about them.
I decided to write a few articles about Yu-Gi-Oh! ZeXal now that both its anime and manga series have ended and we can look back at them without the looming threat of any PLOT TWIST that would wreck everything.
I know, I know, people love to complain about ZeXal and say it sucks and then not even actually check it out. Or they check it out and have a bad first/second/third/tenth impression and then abandon it. I know I did the first thing at some point myself, but that would not have been fair from me.
Given that this little project is basically an analysis of an entire Yu-Gi-Oh! series, I separated it in several articles so that I can pick one subject and then tackle it properly.
This first article is about the main plot point of ZeXal: the Number cards.
Beware spoilers if you are currently watching it.
As the Numbers are an actual thing in the Yu-Gi-Oh card game, I shall split the article into two chunks: them in the anime/manga, and them in the card game itself.
Here is a quick recap for those who might need their memory jogged. Those who do not need it can skip straight to the text immediately after the two pictures.
The Numbers are 100 Xyz Monsters that comprise the memories of Astral, the deuteragonist of the ZeXal series.
In both the anime and manga, the Numbers were released onto the human world by Yuma, who accidentally summoned Astral when interacting with the Emperor’s Key.
Astral tells Yuma that he had 100 of these Numbers, and that he only has 1 of them left (Number 39) which holds one of his memories: his name. He would like to gather all the Numbers back so that he recovers all his memories, but as he cannot duel or even interact with elements in Yuma’s world, he needs Yuma’s assistance.
So there begins a tale about a boy who tries to help the alien so that he goes away because he does not like being called an idiot when he is an idiot. And maybe he would get better at dueling at the same time, which is bound to happen because he is positively awful at it.
Sorry, got carried away there.
The Numbers in general seem to be blank cards to begin with. When they come in contact with a duelist, they mold themselves into a specific form related to that duelist’s desires and possess the person, causing them to become a more evil version of their usual selves, or to mistake reality and fantasy. Those who hold the Emperor’s Key cannot be possessed by a Number. Do not think about it.
Astral had 100 Numbers. He now only has Number 39. 99 Numbers left to go.
For the first half of the series, also known as ZeXal 1 or just ZeXal, Yuma and Astral face a number of duelists possessed by Numbers and obtain them after winning duels. After Yuma obtains Number 25: Force Focus around the middle point of the World Duel Carnival, there are no duelists possessed by Numbers for the rest of the series, and every Number they get comes from someone else who is not possessed by their Number. Mostly other Number Hunters or Barians.
Aside from mere Numbers, in the anime there are also many Chaos Numbers: Numbers infused with Chaos, a power that is unlocked when the holder of a Number is feeling powerful emotions in a dire situation. The first two Chaos Numbers featured in the series were created during similar situations, yet for opposite reasons (an outburst of hope and an outburst of hatred), and every single one that came after them is instead summoned through the use of a Rank-Up-Magic Spell Card – a card infused with Chaos that evolves a single Xyz Monster and unlocks further power even if its holder does not possess the powers of Chaos themselves. The manga instead uses Shining Numbers, and while some Rank-Up cards do show up, the Barian World and other Chaos-related points do not exist there.
We did not get much information about the Numbers as a whole until very late in the series.
Don Thousand states that the 100 Numbers are parts of Astral, but only half of them are his memories. The rest of the Numbers are Astral’s powers, which were separated from him in the aftermath of the battle between Astral and Don Thousand an unspecified amount of time ago.
These Numbers tied to Astral’s powers are what sealed Don Thousand in The Barian Sea or The Sea of Ill Intent (either name works), with the 7 Numbers of the Ruins sealing away some part of Don Thousand’s powers, and the Numbers that go from 1 to 4 being “the Guardians of the Planet” as the Don calls them.
But what about the other 39 Numbers?
“What about them? They determine the location of the Numeron Code”
Which Numbers are based on Astral’s power and which ones are Astral’s memories?
“Have I told you how much I hate useless things?”
Ah, yes, there is a bit of stuff to say about the writing… But I am not going to talk about it right now, as that is not really Number-related. So, let’s move onto the next part.
There’s too many of them.
There is no if, but, or anything. 100 Xyz Monsters – all of them belonging to a single archetype – to be collected throughout an entire anime series is simply excessive. Not helped in the slightest by the creation of upgrades to Numbers as soon as episode 17, other upgraded forms for Numbers, Numbers that go from 101 to 107 (which thankfully do get a justification), and upgrades to those monsters too. Expecting a duel against a new Number or a new form of a previous Number in every single episode would be ridiculous.
The issue of having 100 Number Xyz Monsters as a plot point is compounded with 2 other issues: how to encourage people to use Xyz Monsters at the time, and how exactly would the 100 Numbers and their inevitable upgrades be released.
How do you encourage people to use Xyz Monsters when all you have to do is to add ones you can summon to your Extra Deck?
Think about it.
Got an idea? Good.
Now take that thought, scrunch it up and bin it.
Because Konami does not care about what you think.
Konami’s idea of encouraging people to use Xyz Monsters was to terminate all other summon mechanics for years and pump out nothing but cards that are only good for Xyz Summon purposes at best. The amount of cards that got slapped with the ominous and almost-always comically unnecessary “Cannot be used as Synchro Material” line is higher than the amount of cards people actually used from most ZeXal sets at any point in time, and was the source of a lot of mockery from the fandom.
Due to the very way the Xyz mechanic works, Konami might or might not have realized it does not need actual support beyond easy Special Summons and at least 2 or 3 Xyz Monsters for a Rank to have a small toolbox to go into. Level-altering effects as a whole are not much beyond a cute gimmick, and very few of those are usable at all. There is one card in particular, however, that I shall make a separate article about later on due to a dawning realization that… does not really go here.
Of course, Numbers were not the only Xyz Monsters Konami released, but as I said before, Xyz were the only summoning mechanic that Konami paid attention to for several years. This caused massive stagnation for the card game as the Xyz mechanic, for all its special rules involving Xyz Materials and them not having Levels, is actually very simple: get out 2 or 3 monsters with the same Level, now they’re a bigger one with a good effect.
The deeper you go into the ZeXal era, the less of a reason you have to not simply Xyz Summon, as more and more cards that do nothing but slap themselves or each other onto the field with variable effectiveness become the norm while more and more Xyz Monsters, each being better than the last, are released, eventually power-creeping themselves into oblivion. The solution Konami comes up with, ever the lazy bum, is to drive the game off a cliff in the Arc-V Era.
Looks like I went on another tangent there. I apologize.
There is another side-effect the Numbers had on the game: in the anime and manga, Numbers have an effect that makes them indestructible in battle against non-Number monsters. For sensible reasons, this effect is not present in any of the real-life Numbers… but many of the cards used to counteract said effect – mostly via effect negation – did make it into the game and most of them did not lose their negation. The ZeXal media in general is oversaturated with effect negation, which translated into a surprising amount of such cards being added to a card game that otherwise had a comparatively small amount of such effects.
The second compounded issue, and last thing I’ll talk about for now, is the actual release of the Number crew onto the card game.
Just as it was feared, Konami has not been doing a good job at it. For a long time they only released the Numbers that were featured in the ZeXal anime, with specific ones having their releases delayed for a variety of reasons. Once (one of) their manga series diverged into its own similar-yet-different direction, all-new Numbers were featured, yet it ultimately ended in a similar note the anime does: Yuma and Astral obtaining around half the Numbers at the very end of the series without actually showing them, so they can make whatever they want out of those. They have almost-absolute freedom to finish the Number set now.
But… they are not doing anything with that.
There are not even ninety-something Numbers released or even revealed by name. They are closer to the lower-eighties.
And with Konami’s past history about completing card cycles – or should I say not completing them – many are worried about them simply killing off the idea as a whole before finishing it. They have already managed to make their summoning requirements inconsistent. Why are some of them generic while others need things such as monsters that belong to the same archetype?
Many of the Konami-original Xyz Monsters could have easily been Numbers and help complete the archetype one card at a time, with the Number Hunters obtaining them off-screen and Astral absorbing them all at the end. Japan’s love for multiple readings of a singular string of moonrunes would have facilitated the task, and they could have even used the monsters involved with the CXyz series for this… instead of creating another new archetype that went almost completely unused.
Mind you, they did try their hand at creating Numbers specifically for the card game in two different opportunities.
The first case was in a product aptly called Number Hunters. It released 2 Numbers that debuted in the anime, and 5 all-new Numbers that were not featured in any media. The names, looks and effects of these 5 new Numbers are not tied to any specific character in the ZeXal series, which is something that makes them feel at home in a group made of so many different monsters carved by the desires of people from all around the world.
The second case was done throughout cards initially exclusive to the OCG, and it consisted of releasing several cards to support the Decks used by some ZeXal characters with obviously good effects and at least 1 Number for each of those characters. Basically a “What if they found a blank card that molded itself to their Decks?” Number… which was not necessarily a good thing.
Several of the Numbers released this way have literally nothing to do with their all-too-likely holders, and would easily be seen as out-of-character of them to use those cards.
Gauche and Anna are hot-headed, attack-then-ask-questions duelists. Why would they use cards that do not let the opponent summon anything, or indiscriminately make effects completely pointless instead of punching through? They would not. Even if we assumed they were possessed by a Number, Numbers only twist the person they possess while not actually changing their desires, a little detail Konami forgot when designing these. Yet these OCG-first Numbers go against their characters’ traits for no reason at all, and the only argument there is to defend them is “B-but they are so good!”.
Let’s close this up…
The analogy of Pandora’s Box that is the Numbers was opened in March 2011, with the release of Number 39: in the OCG’s Starter Deck 2011.
More than 4 years have happened since, and as of today, October 3rd, we are just getting close to having 70 of them released. After both the anime and manga series finished. There are around 12 Numbers that are unreleased but we know their names due to being featured in media, and the rest are a complete mystery.
They are not doing a good job at releasing these cards, made worse by the fact they encourage you to collect them all while throwing them around the whole spectrum of release outlets: core sets, special sets, and Shonen Jump promos. Leaving the money argument aside, it is asinine for them to do this as it means there are many Numbers that are ridiculously hard to get in either the OCG or the TCG – if not outright impossible.
With no ZeXal anime or manga left, all that is left to do is wait for Konami to complete the 100-card series and release all of them in both sides of the globe… and not simply leave a bunch of them in printer limbo, like the Legendary Planets from the GX manga.