Graphic by staff graphic designer Angelica Jacobs.
It’s 2000. Your bulky TV screen lights up and Yugi Muto appears. Seconds after, you’re faced with quick flashes of duel monsters like Yugi’s Dark Magician and Seto Kaiba’s Blue Eyes White Dragon.
Yugi’s iconic catchphrase “It’s time to d-d-d-duel!” echoes in the room. Yugi was about to kick some ass.
Sunday, April 18, marks 21 years since “Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters,” an anime that follows the battles of Yugi, a high school freshman, first premiered in Japan. Though the English-version of the series didn’t air in the U.S. until Sept. 29, 2001, the trading card game and anime now have an all grown-up generation and continues to have a thriving community — even after over two decades.
“I was probably 8 years old at the time,” Alex Cimo laughed. “… It’s been a crazy journey.”
Cimo, better known as Cimoooooooo, is now a 26-year-old YouTuber who hyper focuses on the “Yu-Gi-Oh!” trading card game. On the six-year-old channel he battles his friends with different decks and also educates his audience on cards that could strengthen their own decks.
He has over 269,000 subscribers.
“I still have these nostalgic feelings from the very first episode when Yugi played Kaiba and you know just the whole, ‘Draw your last pathetic card so I can end this, Yugi,’ like that is one of the most nerve-tingling moments from my childhood that I still vividly remember,” Cimo told Slice of Culture.
The plot of the series is divided into several story arcs.
The anime starts in Duelist Kingdom, which picks up from the fourth story arc of the original manga — comics originating from Japan, which many animes are adapted from. It focuses on a tournament hosted by Maximillion Pegasus, the duel monsters’ game creator, who uses the power of the Millennium Eye to steal the soul of Yugi’s grandpa, Solomon Muto.
Yugi must save him.
After solving the Millennium Puzzle, which Yugi wears as a necklace, he gains guidance and knowledge from the spirit of Pharaoh Atem and transforms into Yami Yugi — or Dark Yugi — whenever he or his friends are in danger.
Other main characters in the series include Joey Wheeler, Tea Gardner, Tristan Taylor, Ryou Bakura and Seto Kaiba.
Cimo, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was drawn into the game in 2002 with the Legend of Blue Eyes White Dragon, the first set of the “Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game” (TCG). Starter Deck: Yugi and Starter Deck: Kaiba were card sets also released during that year.
Like the anime, duels involve two players who have their own curated decks. Each player starts with 8,000 Life Points and must get their opponent to zero with monster, attack, trap and spell cards.
Cimo took a hiatus from playing competitively between 2007 and 2008, but eventually he was reeled back in.
“One of my best friends from high school, who still did play but he lived in California, I was talking to him one day and he was like, ‘You know you should get back in it and play again,’” Cimo said. “I said, ‘Nah, I got college stuff going on’ and he says, ‘I’ll tell you what — I’ll buy you a deck so you can get back into it,’ and that was super generous of him.”
“… So he got me a deck and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m back!’”
Meanwhile, for Jersey City native Dev Solanki, 30, he had a similar upbringing.
Aside from 11-year-old Solanki watching the anime when it aired along Saturday morning cartoons, he was surrounded by the “Yu-Gi-Oh!” cards in local card shops, bookstores and even FYE. He bought a Starter Deck: Yugi and “the rest was history.”
“I thought (the anime) was cool. For some reason it drew me in more than other shows,” he told Slice of Culture.
“Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters” is the second anime based off of the “Yu-Gi-Oh!” manga.
The first was called “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and is sometimes referred to as the “First Series” or “Season Zero” by fans. It aired in Japan on April 4, 1998 and only had 27 episodes. “Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters” has about 224 episodes.
Neither are directly connected to each other as they have different plots.
Solanki said he took breaks over the years from the card game between work and school, but he was always following what was happening. But, like Cimo, Solanki has played competitively at some points in his life.
“It’s fun, I’m a competitive person and I enjoy that aspect of the game,” Solanki said. “Duels are like chess, except there’s more flair to it. There are over 6,000 unique cards in “Yu-Gi-Oh!” … Variety and trying to outskill your opponent as well. The game’s also evolved a lot over the years with different ways to interact and use the cards you have.”
Cimo agreed, and said that’s one of the reasons why he started his “Progression Series” on YouTube, which now has 42 episodes.
He and a friend decided to take a “massive nostalgia trip” throughout “Yu-Gi-Oh!” where they start with the very first card set — Legend of Blue Eyes — and would open a booster box — 24 packs of the set — build a deck and duel one another in a best two out of three games. The winner is the champion of that round.
In the next episode — the “progression” — the two go into the second card set, which is Metal Raiders, and they add the cards from that into their pool of cards. It’s the same format each episode and the two are able to add new cards and create “stronger” decks.
“It’s very reminiscent of how it was like when you played in elementary school,” Cimo said. “You might have gotten some packs when you went with your parents to go to the store… It just really reminds (people) how they used to play and how you just had to make the best of the cards that you had at the time.”
One of the latest cards that’s been released is an archetype based on sushi called Suship. According to Dot Esports, Suship are giant warships. Three monster cards were revealed for the archetype, with the first being Rice Suship, a Normal Monster with 2,000 ATK.
And with new cards getting pushed out that means upgraded decks, which means tougher duelists at “Yu-Gi-Oh!” TCG Tournaments.
Cimo and Solanki agreed that their favorite memories related to the anime and card game come from the tournaments.
Solanki said he’d do road trips with a dozen friends and there’s “nothing like it.” They’d rent two cars, drive down to Philadelphia and spend the day in the city after the event.
For Cimo, his favorite memory comes from a young duelist named Phillip who lives in Toronto and has cerebral palsy — a disability that affects a person’s ability to move, maintain balance and posture.
Cimo said he thought that it was so “tragic” that someone could love something so much, but they can’t fully experience it. So, he told Phillip he wanted to do something for him — he would be Phillip’s hands while Phillip was the brain at the 2017 “Yu-Gi-Oh!” Championship Series (YCS) in Toronto.
He said he wasn’t even sure if the tournament would allow him to physically play for Phillip, due to his disability, but he flew to Toronto on a limb.
Cimo was successful. It resulted in “the best summer” for Phillip and caused Konami — who launched the card game in 1999 in Japan — to implement a rule set to benefit those who are disabled.
Due to COVID-19, the tournament has become a “Remote Duel.” Previously, events, including the world championship, would take place nationwide and overseas like Australia, Berlin and more.
At the end of the day, Solanki and Cimo said they’re grateful for “Yu-Gi-Oh!”
“I met some good people through it,” Solanki said. “There’s a good feeling when a community is formed through a hobby.”
“I’ve gotten to a place where I want to just help evoke those feelings for people, of nostalgia, and excitement for the game,” Cimo said. “… It’s so much fun and I think that just reminds people of an experience that they’ve shared with their friends or why they love the game so much.”