comScore At Its 20th Anniversary, Yu-Gi-Oh! Women Stuck in the Past | The Mary Sue

At Its 20th Anniversary, Yu-Gi-Oh! Is Still Stuck in the Past When It Comes to Women

yu-gi-oh original cast

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the hit manga series and anime franchise Yu-Gi-Oh! To commemorate the anniversary, there will be a movie released this spring in Japan that features characters from the original series. As someone who loved watching the English version of the anime series from elementary to high school, I’m super excited about this. However, behind the excitement is a bittersweet feeling that comes from not having a female duelist to look up to as fan.

Yu-Gi-Oh! was created by Kazuki Takahashi and is set in a world where characters play a monsters and magic card game called Duel Monsters. The protagonist of the original series is Yugi Motou, a boy who loves games and puzzles but is often bullied. When Yugi solves an ancient Egyptian artifact called The Millennium Puzzle, his body becomes a host to a spirit who is extremely skilled at Duel Monsters.

In both the manga and the anime, the spirit (known as Yami Yugi for a time) helps Yugi become the King of Games by winning the Duelist Kingdom tournament. Besides Yugi, there are other male duelists, such as his best friend, Joey Wheeler, and his rival, Seito Kaiba. However, the only female duelist in the original series was Mai Valentine.

Compared to her male counterparts, Mai’s dueling skills are average. Even though she has a card deck with cool female monsters known as Harpy Ladies, she’s never depicted to be as skilled as the guys. When Mai’s dueling skills are first shown, it’s revealed that she sprayed different perfumes on her cards to psych out her opponents by making them think she can predict her cards without looking.

mai valentine anime

It also doesn’t help that her character design resembles a blonde bombshell. When she first appears in the anime, Joey Wheeler is drooling over her. To Mai’s credit, she was a selfish and prideful character who learned to open up to others. Yet to have this be the only redeeming trait about her says a lot about her character development.

A similar thing happens with the secondary character Anzu Makzaki (Tea Gardner in the English version). In the manga, Anzu is a childhood friend and love interest for Yugi but is also busty enough to provide fanservice for male readers. In the English version of the anime, Tea was an annoying cheerleader who kept making big speeches about friendship.

Besides the human female characters, some of the female duel monsters have titillating factors that can overshadow their roles, the most notable example being Dark Magician Girl. As the female counterpart to the Dark Magician, you’d think they’d look more alike. Instead, Dark Magician gets an outfit that covers everything while Dark Magician Girl gets an outfit that bares her shoulders and shows cleavage. Furthermore, while Dark Magician looks regal and serious when he’s summoned, Dark Magician Girl is playful with sexy winks and poses.


On top of the lack of skilled female Duelists and the fanservice-y female Duel monsters is the lack of the ability to play as a female Duelist in the Yu-Gi-Oh! games. I’ve played three games from the franchise: Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories, Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monsters Coliseum, and Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Spirit Callers. In the first two games, you play as Yugi, but in Spirit Callers, you play as a random character that you can name and customize. However, there’s no option to play as a female character.

Even though the manga and anime were originally targeted toward men, it shouldn’t mean that the female characters have to be reduced to being second-best duelists, love interests, fanservice characters, cheerleaders, or some combination of these. It also shouldn’t mean that there can’t be a female lead character, but it seems like the chances of that happening are slim.

I stopped watching the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime sometime during the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX era. Based on the research I’ve done, little has changed in terms of how female characters are represented. Although I’ve mostly outgrown the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise, I know there’s a new generation of female fans who want to see themselves as the Queen of Games. The question is, will she ever arrive?

(images via Toei Animation)

Latonya Pennington is a contributing writer for Black Girl Nerds and Afropunk. In the past, she has also done pieces for Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, and Buzzfeed. She lives somewhere in the southern United States and spends way too much time listening to music, watching shows online, and reading. Find her on Twitter.

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