Some kiddie franchises—noticeably Disney and Pixar's—attempt to boost their profits by appealing to adults as well as kids, fostering goodwill at all levels of a household's purchasing continuum. Others, from the vast multimedia Pokémon empire to Hasbro's toy-shilling television series, just aggressively target children with images conflating certain products with grand adventure. But the popular Japanese animated TV series Yu-Gi-Oh! goes a long step further toward exclusivity by obsessively targeting fans of the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, while throwing massive roadblocks in the path of anyone else who dares to tune in.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie follows in the TV show's footsteps by centering on extended scenes in which characters literally play the oh-so-real-world-purchasable card game. In the world of Yugi Moto (a wide-eyed moppet with a head shaped like a vomiting starfish), the collectible card game Duel Monsters is an international sensation. Thanks to his powerful "god cards" (a phrase repeated so often that it could become a lulling mantra, if every word in Yu-Gi-Oh! weren't stridently declaimed), Yugi is unbeatable at Duel Monsters, until the newly revived Egyptian god Anubis attempts to destroy the world by arranging a match between Yugi and his old rival Kaiba. That game is played out in excruciating detail, in a virtual-reality-esque environment where summoned monsters and activated spells act out the players' strategies, card stats and game scores frequently pop up on the screen, and lines like "Now my Obelisk The Tormentor is the strongest card in play!" and "I'll keep this card face down on the field until the time is right—right for me, that is!" pass for drama.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie is packed with wearying exposition, so it's easy enough for novices to jump in and suss out which colorfully but stiffly animated stereotypes are the good guys, which are the bad guys, and which just provide background noise. But only Yu-Gi-Oh! addicts could possibly care. The final Yugi/Kaiba duel is only one of a handful of punishingly lengthy games in which pointy-haired characters exhibit their love of Duel Monsters on a turn-by-turn basis. Effectively a strategy guide and commercial in vaguely filmic form, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie is admittedly aimed at an age group for whom "You duel worse than my mom!" is a huge laugh line. But even that tiny sub-segment of the population is likely to get whittled down by Yu-Gi-Oh!'s almost impossibly dull form of niche-marketed entertainment.