Bringing any series back to life after it concludes is a risky endeavour, even moreso when it’s been more than a decade. While fans are often eager for such projects, resurrecting a formula that worked in years past is a process that can suffer the effects of time, the creators misunderstanding what worked in the first place, or just not taking the risks required to remain fresh. Thankfully, I can report that Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions mostly avoids these problems, delivering a pleasant two hours that is steeped in nostalgia, and great moments from the characters which fans love.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions revolves around two storylines, the first involving Kaiba attempting to recover and reassemble the Millennium Puzzle. Kaiba does this in order to face off against Atem, so that Kaiba can prove that he is the better duelist. The second revolves around new character and villain Aigami, who is attempting to prevent the Pharoh’s return. Aigami is doing this so that he can use the eighth Millennium item to invoke the power of the Prana Realm, in order to alter reality and create a perfect world. If that sounds convoluted, its because it is. The Dark Side of Dimensions manages to cover a rather long and complex narrative to a surprisingly passable degree, however, it suffers from inconsistencies, a lack of explanation for certain events, and a lot of jarring changes between plot threads. In addition to the main plot threads, the film also includes side narratives, such as the backstory for how Bakura came to be in possession of the Millennium Ring, and Yugi and friends preparing for graduation and the next stages in their lives. Herein lies the main theme of The Dark Side of Dimensions; this is a film about letting go, a strange concept considering that the movie exists because fans don’t want to let it go.
This theme of not being able to let go, is most present in Kaiba’s singular desire to bring back the Pharoh by any means necessary. Having suffered multiple losses at Atem’s hand, Kaiba simply cannot move past the fact that, despite seeing himself as such, he has never been able to prove himself as the best duelist. This is a Kaiba who is somewhat unrecognisable to audiences; years of being haunted by his defeats have made him more egotistical and abrasive, to almost villainous degrees. However, he is also incredibly hilarious, with almost every other line being a quip or joke of some descript, and thanks to Eric Stuart’s fantastic performance 9/10 of these jokes actually hit their mark. I didn’t go into The Dark Side of Dimensions expecting much, if any, laugh out loud humour, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it from Kaiba. But this humour is needed, because Kaiba has never been a villain; determined, derogatory, and egotistical as he can be, these comic elements help balance the darker side of him that his obsession has exposed. Again to my surprise, it’s also Kaiba who is having the most difficult time coping with Atem having left their world, with Yugi having accepted that Atem is gone and looking to what his own future holds. I went into this movie wanting to explore more of Yugi and Atem’s relationship, what but The Dark Side of Dimensions demonstrates is just how strong the rivalry and bond between Kaiba and Atem is. Kaiba quite simply steals the show thanks to the mix of great and intriguing writing, and the aforementioned fantastic performance by Stuart.
In terms of Yugi, Tea, Joey, Tristan, and Bakura, while they inevitably get wrapped up in the events going on around them, the focus for them is on graduation. The film opens with scenes of them practising for the big day, and discussing where they will go next. Tea has arranged to move to New York to further her acting career, while Yugi plans to start creating his own games, and Joey still wants to pursue his dreams of becoming a world-class duelist. Once again the theme of letting go is present, as starting the next chapter in their lives will see the gang splitting up and going off in their own directions. It’s strange seeing these characters talk about their jobs and future lives, it’s a reminder that like the audience, they are no longer kids. This imposes an uncanny sense of sadness on the viewer – The Dark Side of Dimensions isn’t a revival of a childhood favourite, it’s a sending off which shows that these characters are moving on.
As for Agaimi, for the most part he is a throwaway villain, serving mostly only as an antagonist necessary to position the protagonists into certain situations. A large portion of the movie is dedicated to his personal backstory and the justifications he has for his actions which will be a familiar tale for most viewers; I.E. that of a young boy who has endured a woefuyl childhood, such that he is now soured to the whole world. Sadly these sections fail to create much empathy for Agaimi. Yes he has suffered through some horrible events that certainly could skew someone’s view of the world, but Agaimi blames everyone for his personal pain, even those who don’t deserve it. Again, the theme of not being able to let go is present, but even so Agaimi’s motivations and plan is a basic, trite, and well-worn idea, problematic in and of itself, not to mention that it detracts time that could have been spent exploring the more interesting narrative elements.
The plot also suffers from not fully explaining certain events, and while a throwaway villain is something The Dark Side of Dimensions just about manages to get away with, the same is not true for these plot holes. Aigami's quantum cube is referenced as a Millennium item only in passing, with no explanation behind its creation or significance to the other Millennium items. There's also a particularly egregious and unforgivable lack of explanation for how Kaiba is able to summon a certain monster [Mouse over to reveal spoiler: Obelisk the Tormentor].
Outside of the great material for Kaiba, The Dark Side of Dimensions main strength is the effective use of nostalgia. First off, the main cast are all back, even Tara Sands, the original actress who voiced Mokuba for the first four of the show’s five seasons (then known as Tara Jayne). After a decade, that’s no easy task, but the result is that there’s nothing better than once again hearing the voices that filled your childhood. There’s also more than few subtle references to past episodes ,and a couple of easter eggs (such as Joey donning the dog costume from Dungeon Dice Monsters), a number of surprise character appearances, and an attentive ear will catch a surprising volume of themes from the original series. The Dark Side of Dimensions is nostalgia at its best, reminding you of everything you loved while staying away from those parts of the original that weren’t so successful. If you are a loyal fan who loves Yu-Gi-Oh!, there will be plenty of moments that will have you smiling, and maybe even one or two that will bring a tear to the eye.
My biggest complaint about Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions is the throwaway and forgettable duels. The duels in the film are short (although there are a surprising number of them) revolving around a few quick bouts between high-level monsters that see’s the duelists 8000 life points (yes, 8000, and not the usual 4000) whittled down in a couple of turns. You’ll rarely see a monster on screen that has less than 2500 attack points. Character’s in Yu-Gi-Oh! summoning their most powerful creatures such as Dark Magician and Blue Eyes White Dragon was an event. In The Dark Side of Dimensions it has become standard, and as such, these monsters lose the sense of awe they previously held (although they do look stunning thanks to the gorgeous 3D graphics). Furthermore, trap and magic cards are criminally underused with few chains to speak of. The result is that The Dark Side of Dimensions lacks the sense of complex strategy, back and forth, and tooth and nail fighting that made episodes like The Master of Magicians, The Darkness Returns, Clash in the Coliseum and The Final Duel stand out so much, and provided the best moments of the first film, Pyramid of Light. Sadly, I won’t remember The Dark Side of Dimensions for its duels, but I will remember it for its characters, and this gives the film much more meaning than if it had been the other way around.
Even as a fan, and it’s not something that I necessarily want to say, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions is flawed. The plot is too convoluted, with too many plot holes, and the duels are far too forgettable. Personally, I think the film would have benefitted from a simpler plot that spent more time on the characters we know, than the ones we didn’t, with a focus on truly epic and gripping duels. However, these flaws are unable to outshine what makes The Dark Side of Dimension great; a fun and nostalgia filled jaunt with childhood characters, great voice acting, and gorgeous 3D animation. I don’t want The Dark Side of Dimensions to be the send off to original Yu-Gi-Oh! that is almost certainly is, but as a send off it offers a sense of closure, a sense that these characters are moving on. In the end, maybe its time for us to move on too.