Duel Masters: The '90s Yu-Gi-Oh! Clone Is, Somehow, Still Alive and Well
Duel Masters only had a brief time in the sun in the West after being vastly overshadowed by another, much more popular trading card game/anime franchise. Despite its lack of international longevity compared to Yu-Gi-Oh!, though, Duel Masters has found major success in its home country, where it is still running to this day.
Duel Masters' popularity has seen it gain multiple anime adaptations, as well as video games and, of course, a real-life trading card game. The franchise also happens to connect to another hugely popular trading card game through an obscure character. Here's what fans outside of Japan missed after Duel Masters flopped in the West.
What Was Duel Masters About?
Duel Masters began as a manga series by Shigenobu Matsumoto in 1999, and though the original incarnation of the manga ended in 2005, the series as a whole is still going. The storyline is a cross between Yu-Gi-Oh! (which had already launched its popular real-life trading card game the same year Duel Masters was published) and Pokémon, with protagonist Shobu Kirifuda battling to become the best player of the then-fictional Duel Masters card game. He and his friends bring the monsters of the game to life as they play, resulting in incredibly exciting matches.
The card game itself shares the elemental typing concepts of Pokémon, with the cards representing fictional civilizations of Fire, Water, Light, Darkness and Nature. Along with the manga and ensuing card game, Duel Masters would receive its first anime adaptation, which ran for 78 episodes. This would be brought to the West, though it didn't make nearly as much of a splash as Yu-Gi-Oh!. Neither did the card game, despite its being handled by none other than Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Magic: The Gathering.
Duel Masters Vs. Yu-Gi-Oh!
There are several surface-level similarities between Duel Masters and Yu-Gi-Oh! due to their mutual trading card concepts. Both began as one thing before being morphed into another, while also having anime adaptations that were censored quite a bit when they were brought to America.
One major difference is that Duel Masters has always been relatively light-hearted, whereas Yu-Gi-Oh! can become fairly serious and epic in its tone and scope. This less serious tone, exacerbated by its comedy-centric dub may have also been part of the reason why Duel Masters never hit outside of Japan. Also, whereas Duel Masters had to change the card game which it was based around, Yu-Gi-Oh! was initially not based on a card game at all. Likewise, they both have had continuations long after they were initially popular.
The Legacy Of Duel Masters
There have so far been 17 official seasons of the Duel Masters anime, including Duel Masters: Sacred Lands, which was an American-exclusive season. Also exclusive to America was Kaijudo, a 2012 American-original relaunch of the series that ran for 52 episodes and had its own series of accompanying media. This didn't hit it big either, however, and the subseries was discontinued after two years.
This past March saw the end of Duel Masters King, the anime's 16th season, which was then relaunched in April as the almost identically titled Duel Masters King!. Unfortunately, these new iterations have yet to be released outside of Japan, keeping the franchise's legacy in the West as one of an also-ran series.