Hello, Gaspar here.
Alright… as I am done with the articles dealing with reviewing the 3 groups of main characters in the Yu-Gi-Oh! ZeXal anime, I shall get onto the writing.
This article deals with the writing around the characters. I was originally going to deal with everything in one go, but… it became a bit longer than expected.
ZeXal’s characters in general are very one-dimensional. This is not bad when you limit your amount of these characters and develop the rest of the cast, but making almost every single character one-dimensional? That is not good. You cannot have a single trait being the only thing holding up a character for an entire series and then apply it to absolutely everyone.
Oh, sorry, we are talking about Shin Yoshida here. My mistake. We should probably be thankful they are not literally the same thing. Except they all end up like that when it comes to dueling. And lots of them are also generically hot-blooded, because those are easy to put in a situation in which they duel while yelling every single line at the top of their lungs. The main difference between them really is just their designs.
Characters in ZeXal are much closer to character archetypes than to actual characters, with a couple of exceptions.
That is pretty much it about the characterization. Let’s go on.
ZeXal usually disregards its already-available cast pretty badly.
Yuma’s school friends who are introduced early in the series? Useless. All of them. Even the ones that duel. Even after fighting (not dueling; fighting) two robots. They do not join the scuffle against the Litterbots in Heartland Tower for some reason, yet Kotori does. They all become Yuma bait for the Barians at the beginning of ZeXal II and eventually admit they would only slow Yuma down so they stop getting involved… but Kotori and Rio still show up.
Tetsuo gets hit with this the worst, because they tried making him look like a better duelist than Yuma but then they make him fodder. And Yuma only goes onwards because of the Numbers. And Tetsuo never gets better. Cathy gets her own version of this with a one-shot character beating her in a full-fledged duel during an episode of the WDC – and the one-shot does not even make it to the Duel Coaster.
Fuya Okudaira, more known as Star Robin? Shows up only twice in ZeXal I despite being added to the credits like Yuma’s other friends. His second duel only happened so that they could make him lose and to hype Gauche’s Heroic Deck, which at least they did not do too badly. Then he disappears – until the very end of ZeXal II, where Misael fodderizes him off-screen alongside Anna.
Heck, everyone who gets fodderized for the Barian Emperors at the end. Not only we do not get to actually see them dueling, but some of those face-offs would have actually been worthy of full-fledged duels. Gauche vs Alito and Tetsuo vs Merag are the most glaring examples because there is some actual investment of sorts: Gauche was brainwashed by Alito before and did want to help Yuma out, and Tetsuo is legitimately worried about Rio. But nope, they are not Kaito or Yuma. Away they go.
As most of the cast is pretty… bare-bones, and I have mentioned by issues with the antagonists in ZeXal I and ZeXal II in their respective pages, let’s go onto the specific complaints for the main characters now.
Yuma himself is part of the problem.
He is a mostly good person, do not get me wrong. But he is just an awful character at first: he sucks at the game for no reason at all other than someone believing this was a good idea. It was not. Besides sucking at the game, he is obnoxious and has no reason to improve. This is a recipe for a terrible lead character for any show, unless the goal was to make us dislike him.
Even after he starts growing out of that, he is too dense and thick-headed, and too often. And the narrative sides with him even when he is wrong and acts as if the other side was, except for the few times Astral corrects what he is saying. Yuma rarely learns as a character, and that is partly because, for his reality, he is usually right. There is this one time his reality actually admits he is wrong, but he ignores it by the end of the next episode. Fantastic.
For the sake of an example, there are many episodes where he wonders why people either “cannot have fun dueling” or “are dueling like that [for some selfish purpose]” and asks that out loud. Usually by yelling it. This is a legitimate question from his perspective, but for many other characters, and for many of the watchers, it sounds like him trying to shove his own beliefs as the gospel truth. Some are actually possessed and react like generic cartoon villains, many are dueling for something they hold dear and he has no idea about, Shark has more than good enough reasons to be angry with IV… It comes out as very pushy, and it is almost definitely unintentional.
I would like to point out that it sure was a good thing Heartland was much more self-deluded than legitimately doing the greater good, because otherwise Yuma would have just condemned a person who is not very different from the Barian Emperors and it would have made him a hypocrite on top of what I said above. But we all know he only let him remain dead because Kaito does not like him.
Astral is not a character. He is just a plot device.
He does raise a lot of questions, mostly because he is the only being from the Astral World we see for a very long time, but those questions never get an answer. We never really know what he is thinking about, or his reactions towards things over time. He is not really a “dueling genius”, either; it feels as if he simply read the rulebook and does not have much practical experience.
Shark switches between being a good guy and a bad guy way too many times in ZeXal I.
Begins as a bully -> tries to protect the Emperor’s Key from Kaito -> rampage of revenge towards IV -> snaps out of it -> brainwashed by Tron -> back to normal.
He has no reason to duel against Faker. He was there just to be the Crow substitute in a duel that had no reason to copy the 5Ds Dark Signer Arc finale.
Then you remember Yoshida took over 5Ds from the Dark Signer arc onwards.
ZeXal II has Shark targeted by the Barians, although not as much as Yuma.
Eventually we learn Shark’s past life was a Barian and he might be a Barian. Somehow.
NO, NOT DRAMATIC ENOUGH. HIS SOUL IS ACTUALLY A BARIAN’S.
And because he is simply unable to do things without being evil, he tries to kill Yuma. Because.
And then a lot of things he says cannot be read as anything other than wanting to be defeated so he can go down. So basically Shark does become evil again for the sake of it and does not care about the things he does. And he does it again after Don Thousand is defeated, because destiny. It’s fine if he goes down in a fight like a TRUE BARIAN WARRIOR!
MY EXISTENCE IS DON THOUSAND’S CURSE AAAAAARRRRGHHHHH
Now that I am done talking about Shark, I’ll talk about Rio.
Rio is not a character. She is another plot device.
Hospitalized by IV and Tron before the series began, to provoke Shark.
Possessed by Abyss, to provoke Shark.
Poisoned by Kurage, to provoke Shark.
Defeated and absorbed by Vector, to provoke Shark.
That is all she does.
Alright, I promised you this part a while ago and I am really sorry for not doing so before. I was not sure how to put it as, or where, or when.
Kaito Tenjo is disastrous.
He is nothing but a clone of Seto Kaiba.
No, wait, he is nothing but a clone of a part of Seto Kaiba. Namely, the one people like to see. You know, the cool things, like being very protective of his little brother Mokuba, being real proud of his Blue-Eyes White Dragons for being the strongest monsters at the time and for more, and having a lot of money, and many gadgets, and antagonizing his tyrannical adoptive father.
Apparently someone forgot that Kaiba had flaws, and that those flaws plus his upsides are what make him a character.
Kaito has no flaws. Not that the story cares of, anyway. He also does not have any personality beyond being very protective of his little brother Haruto, being real proud of his Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon for some reason, and antagonizing his tyrannical maybe-adoptive father.
The writing can and will always agree with anything Kaito does, regardless of what it is. And Haruto is not used as a motivator, but as an excuse.
Kaiba is a jerk and a number of people in-series dislike him and/or call him out for it.
Kaito is a jerk and nobody minds it because HARUTO.
Kaito is stealing souls?! B-BUT HARUTO. AND NUMBERS. AND HE HATES STEALING SOULS.
Kaito has incredible tech at hand?! B-BUT HARUTO. Well, this is fine, anyway. He does need some special equipment to deal with Numbers, like a… Duel rope to force people to duel him? Hanglider? Villanous secret lab?! Time-freezing?! HE RETOOLED ORBITAL 7 INTO A TIME-BENDING MACHINE AND HE DID THAT BY HIMSELF?! BARIAN-POWERED EQUIPMENT?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE HAS BARIAN-POWERED EQUIPMENT?! This is not episode 70 yet, WHAT IS BARIAN?!
Kaito is so awesome his opponent’s Decks go out-of-character?! B-BUT HARUTO.
You probably need the context for this one, so here it is.
In Episode 22, Yuma leaves the Emperor’s Key in a locker for a while (he’s at school) and Kaito and Orbital 7 try to steal it.
Shark interferes because he wants to pay Yuma back from helping him out. There’s a duel between Shark and Kaito, with people expecting it to at least be epic and compensate for Kaito’s disappointing duel against Yuma and Astral.
Shark plays defensively from the get-go even though he always plays offensively by mixing up burn and beatsticks.
Kaito summons a 3000-ATK Number and Shark steals it with a Trap, even though he no longer wanted to use Numbers. Except he now wanted to.
Kaito uses a Spell to detach all of its Xyz materials. Acid Golem now cannot attack, does not let Shark Special Summon, deals him 2000 damage during his own turn, and has an anime-only effect that deals him 3000 damage if it is attacked. He sets an anti-burn Trap (more stuff he never uses) to try surviving until his next turn, but Kaito finishes him off by attacking Acid Golem.
Also Kaito steals Shark’s soul after that. For getting in his way.
Shark did not have any Numbers at that point either, so it was also uncalled for. Kaito noticed, but didn’t let it go until 2 episodes later.
What happened with all the souls Kaito stole throughout the series, anyway?
Kaito is disallowed to lose even against completely new power-ups introduced explicitly to beat him and save Astral’s life?! B-BUT HARUTO.
Context for this one:
Kaito breaks into the Emperor’s Key and forces Astral to duel him in Episodes 23 and 24. The duel is even worse than Kaito’s first duel against Yuma and Astral, with Kaito always perfect-countering everything Astral does and not even needing to use his Numbers. Eventually Yuma manages to arrive, initiate ZeXal for the very first time, and Shining Draw ZW – Unicorn Spear to deal with Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon.
Kaito forces the duel to end in a draw instead of taking the loss.
Against not only the newly-debuted upgrade that is Chaos Number 39: Utopia Ray, but also against ZeXal mode, which literally debuted right here and right now, to beat him and save Astral.
Are you kidding me?
Cannot we simply make him lose the 10 or so Numbers he has right now? It is not like he couldn’t simply start hunting a few more Numbers off-screen. Astral would not have taken his soul, unlike a certain someone who hates stealing souls. After dismissing the importance of those of other people.
Kaito is allowed to get new cards in the middle of a duel because his opponents, for once, knew about him and are prepared to deal with him?! B-BUT HARUTO.
Haruto was kidnapped by Tron and his minions in front of Yuma and Kotori, with Tron wanting to steal Haruto’s mysterious powers. So Kaito tries to rescue him, and Yuma tags along.
Tron sends III and IV to delay them while Haruto’s powers are passed onto Tron, and they come prepared for Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon and turn it into a hindrance.
Before Tron can steal all his powers though, Haruto passes a part of them to Kaito – which becomes Neo Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon. Which of course is a perfect counter to anime!Numbers by negating their effects and attacking multiple times.
Kaito gets carte blanche to defeat the opponents the plot designated for other people months ago?! B-BUT HARUTO.
IV was meant to be beaten by Shark. There is a lot of animosity between them, Shark has a vendetta against him, and both are shown to be pretty good duelists. Now IV is just yet another guy beaten by Kaito instead of someone we hope Shark can beat.
Kaito can appear out of nowhere and fly out-of-control planes that are full of people to prevent the WDC from being cancelled?! B-BUT HARUTO.
What do you do mean, you do not agree with Kaito’s methods?…
WELL THAT MEANS YOU DO NOT WANT HARUTO TO BE HEALED! HOW COULD YOU BE SO CRUEL TO A POOR CHILD?! HE IS FORCED TO LIVE UNDER THE WATCH OF HIS EVIL DAD AND THE EVIL MAYOR OF THE CITY, AND HAS BEEN SICK SINCE HE WAS BORN!
See what I did there?
You cannot not side with Kaito. If you do, you are a bad guy. Period. And bad guys are chased by Kaito and his Photon Hand.
Or are just guys who do not like robots messing with his friends’ lockers.
NO, BAD GUY. DUEL, THEN PHOTON HAND.
And he does not care if you do not have Numbers. He might even let you steal one from him as a justification. He did that to Shark.
I love how Kaito repeatedly insists he hates Dr. Faker (his father, remember) and then wins his duel against V by using a card given to him by the doc, not hesitating in any way, shape or form while sentimental music plays. Just to drive the point home, V comments he is dueling to try to return his father to normal and is met by Kaito saying he is fighting against his own father – but we are meant to feel emotional when he plays the card obtained from him. What gives? He never plays the card again, either.
I also loved the moment where Tron called Kaito out for his attitude about others’ souls being disposable and that he eventually came to enjoy hunting them. The story sided with Kaito and tried incredibly hard to change the subject.
The following is my favorite example of character manhandling in ZeXal. Even if it is just Yoshida doing one of his many Yoshida things.
Tron’s ultimate purpose in ZeXal is to have Kaito lose his Numbers while not having him lose to Yuma and Astral, and trying to make the watcher have another reason to cheer on Yuma for Tron’s defeat.
The interim between the end of the WDC and the beginning of ZeXal II has Kaito no longer needing to face Number Holders, which is a good thing for him as it allows him to get some rest from Photon Change, and a good thing for us as it allows us to get some rest from him.
ZeXal II as a whole show him being the only one taking one of the Barian Emperors – Misael, in his case – one-on-one from the get-go. Which… *sigh* …is much better than usual, so I am going to let it pass.
Misael has an interest in obtaining both Galaxy-Eyes dragons and considers himself a dragon tamer, which the writers use to make Kaito also consider himself a dragon tamer and force a rivalry of sorts. Because Galaxy-Eyes is apparently THE awesome.
“Because Blue-Eyes White Dragon had a bit of backstory in the last DM arc, you see. So now I am taking that idea for myself. Hee hee I am such a genius”.
Yes, Yoshida, we get it.
And then we switch Kaito’s focus from Haruto to Galaxy-Eyes. Which at least does not let him hijack the entire second half of the series…
Kaito does not bend the plot any further.
Until the second part.
And he more than makes up for the time wasted.
No, I am not making that up…
Back then around Episode 11, Astral mentioned finding Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon vaguely familiar. Which was a massive red flag from the very beginning.
120-or-so episodes later we get an explanation.
It is a Number.
Are you surprised? I am not surprised. Astral did make that remark after all. It does not make sense for this reveal to have taken so long though.
And for good measure, Kaito declares Number 62: Galaxy-Eyes Prime Photon Dragon as HIS Number, not Astral’s. Because.
Do you know why the two Galaxy-Eyes always react to each other?
It’s because Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon and Galaxy-Eyes Tachyon Dragon are two dragons of legend, created by the Numeron Code itself, and are the key necessary to revive the creator of the universe – Number 100: Numeron Dragon.
They must battle with all their might in the moon, which is where Numeron Dragon currently is. Doing so would awaken the dragon – and Numeron Dragon itself is necessary to access the Numeron Code, which is somewhere on Earth.
Also Dragluon shows up in it too.
How did we learn all that?
An ancient mural in Dragluon’s temple created by the Numeron Dragon itself says so.
Remember the very early comments between Dr. Faker and Heartland about how they made Kaito’s Deck out of technology from another dimension? How would he get that?
If we flashforward to the end of ZeXal I, we see Faker is associated with Vector. Vector is a Barian. Faker has no other way to get anything from other dimensions. There is only one explanation.
And at the end of ZeXal II, Misael’s snarking before his last duel against Kaito confirms it.
Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon, and most of his Deck, is made by Barian technology.
ALSO IT IS A NUMBER.
ALSO IT IS ACTUALLY A LEGENDARY BEING..
Oh, yes, you read all of that right.
Yes, the creator of the universe is a memory of Astral. Or it might not, depending on whether you believe Astral’s memories is made of 99 or 100 Numbers. And Astral himself does not know about Numeron Dragon at any point, nor does anyone mention it even vaguely before its reveal.
Yes, a card created by Don Thousand was not created by Don Thousand. It was created by the Numeron Code instead. No, Donny does not ever corrupt it or anything. It simply is Number 107.
Yes, Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon gets to be so special that it is a Barian card that is also a memory of Astral AND it is half the key to awaken the creator of the universe.
No, I am NOT making this up. I really wish I was, though.
Yes, you are welcome.
Let’s sum it up for those who do not have a billion years to read it all.
Kaito vs Yuma? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs Shark? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs IV? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs character consistency? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs Aliens? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs Biology? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs Galaxy-Eyes? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs plot consistency? Kaito wins.
Kaito vs space? Kait- Well, actually, space wins.
GUESS THAT MAKES SPACE EVIL.
And of course Yuma revives him at the very end of the series, making his overdramatic death completely pointless.
Do you get what I mean?
The main writer loves Kaito way too much and it shows, putting him on-screen as much as possible and making anyone who opposes him a bad guy who must be crushed. He is a creator’s pet.
Trying to get us to like him, the head writer made Kaito literally perfect: Kaito has no flaws, he is never wrong about anything, he has all these amazing things at hand, he has a dramatic backstory, he only gets more awesome as the series goes on, and is amazing at things that are completely irrelevant to what he does. In other words, not only is Kaito the creator’s pet, but he is also a Mary Sue.
I was originally going to write about the plot, the characters and the duels all in one go. But look. Kaito literally hijacked this article on top of everything else.
Kaito is terrible in every regard and I consider him the single worst thing in ZeXal.
Yes, even worse than Nasch or the “YUMA LOST HIS [something]! AGAIN!” gag.