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Looking back on 'Yu-Gi-Oh!'

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Our childhoods are ruled by borderline obsessions. At least, mine was. Often still indicative of my personality is my all-or-nothing approach to my interests. Either I loved something and would express that love at every opportunity, or I had no interest in it at all. I loved ancient Egyptian history, reptiles, hiking, rollerblading and watching television at home with my mom. All of these things I loved fiercely and still do. But some of my former passions have disappeared with age. I no longer have a collection of Polly Pockets hidden in my dorm room or a Tickle-Me Elmo sitting on my bed. 

But recently I rediscovered one of my childhood interests, an animated television series “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” based on the Japanese manga series by the same name. In re-watching the show that used to consume so much of my time, I was surprised to find that I can still learn from it, that it still applies to my life today. How much can our childhood interests tell us about ourselves now that we’ve outgrown them? And, perhaps even more importantly, what do they have left to teach us? 

“Yu-Gi-Oh!” first aired in North America in September 2001, though I wouldn’t discover it until 2003. By then, I was a first-grader who had just moved across the country from her small midwestern hometown to Denver, Colorado with her single parent. I had left all sense of familiarity behind — traded amber waves of grain for jagged mountaintops and started anew in a foreign school.  

I don’t remember much about my school days: the lessons we learned or even who I befriended as I grew more comfortable in my new environment. What plays instead in my mind like a soundtrack to that year is the “Yu-Gi-Oh!” theme song. Each day after school I had just enough time to make myself a snack of green apple slices and peanut butter before I’d be called to the couch at the song’s first notes. I followed along as Yugi and his friends climbed to the top of the Duel Monsters championship and won enough money for Joey to buy his sister’s sight-saving eye surgery. I collected trading cards so that I could duel longtime adversary Seto Kaiba alongside Yugi and his Pharaoh-spirit counterpart, Yami. I memorized each card in Yugi and Yami’s deck, and I sat as an armchair quarterback, coaching Yugi and Yami through their duels. 

The show ran for five seasons, all of which I watched with bated breath. But sometime after the series ended, my love and devotion began to fizzle. I soon forgot about the binders of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" Cards I had collected over the years, or the love I carried for Yami. I moved on to the next thing, my next fascination, as young children are wont to do. 

It wasn’t until recently that I rediscovered "Yu-Gi-Oh!" I don’t know what prompted me to seek it out, but suddenly I needed to see it again. I prepared to scour the internet for some bootleg copies, but I was pleasantly surprised; all five seasons of the original series and several spinoff series are streaming on both Netflix and Hulu. As I began re-watching the show, I was surprised to find that my love for the characters, my love for Yami, hasn’t died or dwindled. At 22, I feel no different watching than I did at seven. I still find myself telling Yugi which card to play when he’s being bested in a duel. But the series struck me differently on this second watch; I was able to finally grasp what it was all about. 

Without my even knowing it, my favorite childhood show had been instilling in me important messages of the power of friendship and self-confidence. Throughout the series, Yugi and Yami are able to win every duel they face not because they are dueling superheroes, but simply because they believe in the Heart of the Cards and are continually supported by their friends. They believe that the cards in their deck will work with them rather than against them. They know that their friends are cheering for their success. They believe they can win, and so they do. At the root of the show is this message: you can achieve even what seems impossible if you have faith in the universe and faith in yourself. 

Like the rest of spring-semester seniors, I’m facing the end of my college career. In a few short months, I will no longer be a Duke student, but a Duke graduate. I will have a million doors open to me, and no idea which one to walk through. The weight of this next step can be crushing. Perhaps now more than ever before — certainly more than in first grade — I needed to hear that my faith in myself and in my choices is what’s important. In re-watching “Yu-Gi-Oh!” I have rediscovered an invaluable piece of advice that this time, has come to me at the exact right moment. It is not that I suddenly know what to do, which route to take, but that I know as long as I believe in myself, the Universe, and can lean on friends and family for support, I cannot possibly fail. 

Although the uncertainty of life after graduation can be daunting, I’m learning to be a little more courageous each day. More confident like Yami, more supportive like Joey and Téa, more compassionate like Yugi. And I’m learning that once-important things may still have something to teach me.

Lexi Bateman is a Trinity senior and Recess design editor. 

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