Hello, Gaspar over here again.
This article deals with the duel writing in the Yu-Gi-Oh! ZeXal anime. Which is a pretty important little thing, as duels are not only the way most conflicts are resolved but they are also the main way to advertise cards.
The duel writing in ZeXal is pretty underwhelming. Something that you probably heard about a bunch of times if you went to some forum and discussed ZeXal there, as it is a frequent thing to complain about. At first, we have the writers thinking Yuma being a disaster of a player was a great idea. Later on, we have a broken record because, again, they thought that was also a great idea.
They have lots of great ideas.
Let’s get onto them.
Xyz in general
There is way too much focus on Xyz Monsters in duels. I get that it is obvious that would happen, Konami is trying to promote Xyz, but it becomes absurd before too long and there is no reason for not seeing anything else during, say, the World Duel Carnival. As in during the actual WDC, not the mess that is the Duel Coaster where not even the writers have any idea of the rules.
Most Xyz seen are bosses of sort, but they are constantly slapped on the field, and too easily. That is a problem with the Xyz mechanic itself, of course, but the fact that it happens in more than half the duels makes it very grating, and it happens regardless of the character. And they get constantly upgraded after the series’ middle point.
There are exactly 2 Fusions and 1 Ritual that showed up in ZeXal, they are all one-shots that debuted in those episodes, and you can guess who used the 2 that were actually released just to emphasize how special and awesome he is compared to the filth that is everyone else.
As I mentioned in my Numbers article, the Numbers have an anime-only effect that prevents them from being destroyed in battle by non-Number monsters under normal circumstances. This protection logically leads towards ways to get past it. The most frequent one is effect negation… which was introduced in Episode 10. Which was way too soon. It caused a massive influx of negation effects to show up all over the place, both in and out of the card game, and it undersells the battle protection the Numbers have.
Widespread negation gets much worse in ZeXal II, with most one-shot opponents having Numbers of their own, or Rank-Up-Magic Barian’s Force (granting their CXyz an effect that specifically negates the Numbers’ protection effect, which was lost in its transition to the card game) or outliers like Unformed Void or Gorgonic Guardian that can also bypass it. Suddenly it is no longer meaningful except for the… what, 2 times it actually mattered again?
The Numbers having battle protection means Yuma rarely ever deals with them in any way other than beating over them with Utopia even after getting other Xyz Monsters. Only 1 of his non-Number Xyz can actually destroy things, and many of the things he runs into are protected from effects too. And in every single case he uses something other than Utopia, it is almost immediately destroyed or becomes counterproductive. It is a very mean-spirited jab from the writers.
Why are there Number support cards, anyway?
ZeXal overuses and misuses its CGI.
Why are most of the Numbers, but not all of them, rendered in CGI? It is pretty annoying to the eyes even when applied properly, which is not always the case.
Many of the CXyz also had a lot of CGI going on in them, which made them too distracting to the eye due to being so out-of-place. Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon and its related cards have plenty of CGI on themselves too. I am still a bit scarred by Neo-Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon’s and its shoulder heads and its horrible shade of red and constant camera spinning.
Numbers have an adverse effect on Astral when he is facing them. They cause him to flicker whenever he takes damage due to them, and they also seem to cause real damage… for some reason. There is no explanation given for the Numbers to cause actual real damage, and they are not consistent at it either.
The point is, Yuma and Astral cannot lose duels that involve Numbers because he would disappear if that happened, and the series would have no reason to continue. It makes duels between Number holders lack a lot of tension because they are simply not going to let them lose, and it becomes much worse in ZeXal II when basically everyone either holds Numbers or is brainwashed by the Barians. Barianwashed for short. Trademark.
On top of that, Yuma rarely has duels that do not involve someone that tries to kill Astral directly or indirectly, he wins most of the non-deadly duels anyway, and the vast majority of his losses are just the last 1 or 2 turns of a duel showing him losing, meant for us to go “lol he sucks”. Why does this happen, and who thought it was a good idea? It is not funny. Is it to show he sucks without the Numbers? That is not going to make us like him more, you know.
There are too many upgrades for too many ace cards, and they showed up too soon.
The very first upgrade we see – Chaos Number 39: Utopia Ray – debuts incredibly early. In Episode 17. Against a one-shot opponent. It does not take long for it to become underwhelming or outright pointless against most recurring characters, and Number 39 gets several more upgrades over the course of the series. Most glaringly, Utopia Ray Victory was obtained only 4 duels after Utopia Ray V.
Every Barianwashed duelist had an Xyz summoned during their first or second turn which was upgraded into a CXyz during that turn or the following one. Yes, one-shots get upgrades and they are not even using Numbers.
One of the worst cases of the trivialization of ace cards is the Barian Emperors’ access to Rank-Up-Magic The Seventh One – a unique Rank-Up Spell that summons an Over-Hundred Number from the Extra Deck or Graveyard and then summons its upgrade, with no set-up. It is too much of a toku-style power-up and too little of Yu-Gi-Oh, and Konami – again, ever the lazy bum – thought it would be incredibly funny to trivialize the ace cards for everything else too.
Long story short:
Everyone plays too much like everyone else and every duel is too similar to the rest.
Long story long:
RACE TO THE ACE is not fun to watch for long, and ZeXal II makes it happen almost every single time. And then it is just “negate, attack, negate, attack, OPTIONAL ACE UPGRADE!” ZeXal I has better duels in general, if only because a first-turn Xyz is meant to remark a character is serious business and it did not happen all the time until the WDC finals, so it had more of an effect on the watcher.
Life Points are meaningless. In fact, Yuma and Shark are at their best for a while when dropped to low amounts of Life Points due to the anime versions of Number C39: Utopia Ray and Number C32: Shark Drake Veiss self-destructing when their LP is higher than 1000. And you just cannot expect EPIC AWESOME COMEBACKS unless they are near the edge, right?
Duels constantly end by dealing at least 2000 damage to the opponent during the duel’s last turn with a single attack or effect. It is usually Yuma going ham with Utopia – maybe using its upgrades or ZeXal Weapons – but Shark and Kaito do it often too. And it is really grating because it is never an amazing and evenly-matched duel, but we are meant to see it as if it was.
Way too many one-shot characters have one-shot archetypes that end up doing the same things as each other: instant Xyz Summon, maybe changing their Levels. What’s with those cards? Some of those things were even released, like Gorgonics or Malicevorous or Super Defense Robots.
People in-series overreact to literally anything, making it hard to be surprised due to any actual combo they do pull off. Have you heard about Shark’s masterful signature combo of Aqua Jet and Aero Shark? Or Kaito’s one billion of ways to drop Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon onto the field with cards made specifically for that purpose? Or everyone’s favorites.
Due to how soon bosses tend to be summoned and how expendable most monsters are, Duels are too short. They become two-parters by going insane with padding, and most of the padding comes from the following point.
Fake drama is massively overused in ZeXal’s duels to make them longer and fill up an episode or two instead of actually do anything.
The slightest attack or effect can throw people around very harshly, and it does not depend on the amount of damage but on the amount of drama they want to cause. For any reason whatsoever.
The actual background is rarely shown when doing anything. It gets annoying very fast. You get SPEEDY LINE BACKGROUND instead, and very very often.
2-second reaction shot for everything. Minimum. And there are way too many reaction shots.
Excessive theatrics for everything.
Draw a card?
*dramatic 1-second close-up*
And 1 more second until it is actually done. Sometimes with light trailing off the card.
Set a monster? Same.
Activate any kind of card or effect? Same.
Placing a card on the duel disk and waiting until it is actually summoned or has an effect? At least 1 more second per card. And be grateful if it is just 1.
EVERYTHING is OVEREMPHASIZED. Lots of shots are repeated in qui-qui-quick succession and/or they have ACTION LINES! regardless of what they are doing.
The duels are mostly simple, but all the extra things thrown in make many of them hard to enjoy.
How do you exactly manage to go through an entire Yu-Gi-Oh! anime and a manga (and a second manga which was strictly comedic and non-canon so I let it pass) and not explain what the title is about?
I am not joking here. Other than “YUMA AND ASTRAL COMBINE!”, we do not know anything about ZeXal. And it somehow got evolutions, justifying them as them becoming even closer. It is pretty much there only to enable…
Shining Draw is a terrible thing in both theory and execution and it should not have gone past the first idea draft it showed up in. Yuma and Astral are already unable to lose to begin with – why do they get a power that allows them to actually create their perfect counters to whatever is the problem at hand? They do it quite a few times, too.
Final Boss Duels
ZeXal has five final boss duels. Admittedly too many, and none is very good because they are nothing but escalation. Though, to be fair, that tends to be a thing with them in general all over the franchise, not just ZeXal. What is an issue with ZeXal’s is the circumstances of three of those five duels.
Tron vs Yuma was… eh. The part where they start calling out what Number they are about to summon via the Sphere Field’s effect before they do is not good when it is supposed to be random, and the ending is lametastic, but the duel as a whole was not too bad.
The duel featuring Faker against Yuma and Shark and Kaito happened almost immediately after the duel against Tron (one filler episode in the middle) which caused a noticeable power discrepancy between the Decks involved. The writers were forced to make Number 53 immune to card effects in the anime because Kaito would otherwise make it pointless with Galaxy-Eyes Photon Dragon, for instance. And both are dropped on the field in their controller’s first turn.
The duel against Don Thousand is pathetic, and the less we say about it, the better. 10000-ATK monster that messes with the opponent’s field which was summoned in his third turn, with a 100000-ATK monster that wins the duel if the opponent did not attack being summoned when the previous monster was destroyed. Don can change an opponent’s move once per turn if he controls no cards for the first few turns, which would be actually kinda cool if it were not used the way it was.
The issues with Faker’s duel are repeated when Yuma is forced to have a FINAL BOSS duel with Nasch immediately after they defeat Don Thousand. They have no way to make this dramatic other than make Nasch slap the Over-Hundred Chaos Numbers on the field with shortcuts, one after the other, and turn them all into CXyz Barian Hope. And the last episode of the duel is a mess that has to be seen to be believed: Nasch constantly flip-flops between being Shark and being Nasch, and tries to end the entire universe by not letting either side win. And its end is impossible to write about in any language understandable by humans.
And guess what. Immediatly after defeating Nasch, Yuma is forced to duel Astral because CEREMONIAL BATTLE rip-off. Astral is using all the Numbe- of course not, he’s just spamming Utopia and everything else is fodder. Including Yuma’s friends’ Numbers.
Also Astral is saying that if he – Astral – wins, he is going to erase Yuma’s memories of him and then he is going to destroy the Barian World.
Also one of those Utopias is Utopia Ray V – a card made with Barian power.
Also this was done to make Yuma re-discover his love for dueling. When forcing him into a duel after telling him the above things. Just a friendly duel. Only Kazuma managed to notice this was an act, because it was not obvious.
Also Yuma is Astral’s other half that was separated from him during his ancient battle against Don Thousand. There was no hint at this whatsoever other than being able to perform ZeXal with Astral, and Yuma being able to Shining Draw in the Astral World in the very last turn of his duel against Eliphas – which could very easily be read as the Astral World itself supporting Yuma’s determination to save his friend instead.
Not making any of this up. I am too obsessed with having things make sense such as to make any of this up.
Let’s sum this up…
Man, what else can I say? ZeXal’s duels are underwhelming in general and it is not even a “hater” thing to say, because it is true. I said why above.
This is more of a personal opinion, but I think the duels were at their highest point during the World Duel Carnival… As long as certain someone was not involved.