Yugi-oh!: Is this the next smash hit from Japan?

Think back, way back. Remember Pokémon? In Japan, the pocket monster phenomenon's country of birth, kids have a new passion, and it's the biggest mania since... well, since Pokémon....
March 1, 2000

Think back, way back. Remember Pokémon? In Japan, the pocket monster phenomenon’s country of birth, kids have a new passion, and it’s the biggest mania since… well, since Pokémon.

Yugi-oh! is definitely the hottest toy property in Japan right now. The manga (Japanese comic book) series, now in its fifteenth volume, has sold over 13 million copies. Including instruction books for YGO-related games and special edition ‘mooks’ (hybrid magazine/books), the total comes to over 15 million copies. The YGO Duel Monsters card game, first released in February 1999, has taken the country’s kids by storm, and its popularity may be surpassing even Pokémon’s, with millions of units sold and tens of thousands of players nationwide. The latest edition, Volume 7, sold out within days of its release, and YGO video games have sold millions of units as well.

In September, Konami held a card tournament and swap meet in Tokyo, and organizers were astonished when an estimated 55,000 children and parents showed up for the event at the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium. When about 10,000 were denied entry, the crush of irate people got so bad the organizers called the riot police.

Konami released Volume 7 of Duel Monsters on January 28, and a spokesman at Toys `R’ Us in Kameido, Tokyo, says the store’s entire shipment of Duel Monster cards sold out in two days. Each pack of cards costs about US$3, and each customer typically buys about 10 packs, the spokesman says. He also notes that the sales numbers are similar to Pokémon’s at the height of its popularity.

The property began life as a manga series by Kazuki Takahashi, first released in 1996 by Shueisha, publisher of the country’s biggest magazine for boys, Shonen Jump (circulation: 4 million copies a week). The manga-buying public (meaning virtually the entire country) took to the story, and sales quickly soared. Toei Animation produced an anime series in 1998, which was broadcast on TV Asahi.

Yugi-oh (the name means, roughly, ‘King of the Game’) is the tale of Yugi Moutou, a small and weak high school student who’s an easy target for bullies. His grandfather gives him an ancient Egyptian puzzle called the Millennium Puzzle, which, when he puts it together, unleashes the ‘Game King,’ a darker, stronger side of Yugi’s personality. In tough situations, that dark side takes over and protects Yugi and his friends from monsters and whatnot. The Game King uses games to defeat his rivals.

The property has spawned several successful video game titles. Duel Monsters for Nintendo’s Game Boy, featuring scenes from the manga, gave the brand a boost when it was released in 1998, selling 1.6 million units. The second Game Boy title, Duel Monsters II: Dark Duel Stories, has sold 1 million units, according to a Konami spokeswoman. In the latest game for Sony’s PlayStation, Duel Monsters: Fuuin Sareshi Kioku (translated roughly as Sealed Memory), codes printed on the real cards can be used to access secret cards in the video game.

YGO! has also spawned a host of character-based goods as well, including pencil boards, calendars, stationery, action figures and candy, all marketed by Bandai.

People speak of YGO! as the next Pokémon, but the game is different in several key ways, some of which may limit its appeal in other markets. Pokémon is a nonviolent game, and so it appeals to young children and to girls. YGO!, in contrast, is geared toward an older demo, and the story and art are more frightening. Glenn Kardy, owner of a toy store in Saitama and the Web site, says: ‘The artwork is fantastic, and if it is translated and released in the U.S., the artwork alone will sell the game. But YGO! imagery is very dark, very sinister. Probably a lot of parents in the U.S. wouldn’t let their kids play the game.’ But then again, popular State-side CCG Magic: The Gathering is no light romp either.

The Konami spokeswoman says one

reason for the card game’s popularity is that players can use the same game they see in the manga series, as if it had

been lifted out and made real-a very appealing aspect.

New YGO! products planned for the near future include a new volume of the official card game, due for release in April, and later (exact date is a secret), a new kind of game called Dungeon Dice Monsters (no details released).

Whether Konami is planning to release YGO! in the North American market in the near future is a matter of speculation. The company wouldn’t comment on rumors that it was in talks with companies in the U.S. for possible licensing tie-ups.

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