It’s always fascinating to see how horror from one culture can affect and influence another. America had a large fascination with J-Horror for a good chunk of the mid-2000s, producing remakes of staples such as The Ring and The Grudge. On the other side, while there haven’t been any outright remakes of American properties in Japan, the influences can be seen far and wide. But who would expect that the most prominent work of Clive Barker would inspire in part an anime and manga series about games, Yu-Gi-Oh! by Kazuki Takahashi.
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The premise of Yu-Gi-Oh! followed young Yugi Mutou, a reserved high schooler with a love of puzzles and the most ridiculous hairstyle outside of a Final Fantasy character. He receives an ancient Egyptian artifact from his grandfather called ‘The Millenium Puzzle.’ Naturally, he solves it, only to unlock a dark, magical spirit that possesses him called ‘Yami Yugi’ or Dark Yugi. Whenever Dark Yugi assumes control, he subjects a usually deserving bully, criminal, or foe to a Shadow Game, with the loser’s very soul and mind subjected to a hellish ‘penalty game.’
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For example, in the first chapter, Yugi and his friends are beaten up and mugged by a bully. Dark Yugi challenges him to a game that involves stabbing through held stacks of cash just enough without cutting themselves. When he loses, Dark Yugi drives him insane, forcing the bully to imagine everything around him as money. In another, an escaped convict holds Yugi and his friends hostage at a restaurant where Dark Yugi challenges him to a game involving lit cigarettes and cups of vodka, leading to him being lit on fire. Dark Yugi makes a rich, arrogant gamer named Seto Kaiba imagine he’s being attacked by his own monster cards. Needless to say, quite a lot for a series marketed more toward kids.
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The influences are pretty easy to see with the dark, magical puzzle box. Though, themed on puzzles and punishment rather than brutal pleasures/pains of the flesh. Dark Yugi having some traits in common with Pinhead, outside of spiky hair rather than a spiky head. Both being supernatural sticklers for rules and order. And horrifically punishing those to try and cheat, be it contracts or puzzle games. With much of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! plotline featuring Dark Yugi doling out some brutal punishments upon the wicked and those seeking wicked goals via these life or death games. Even some of the cards seem to have a bit of a ‘Barker’ style design, such as the Cenobite-lite like Jinzo card below.
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Takahashi even admitting in the 36th volume of the manga that the series was intended to rest in the horror genre, but as time went on, the series realigned toward the games (specifically the real life card game) and adventure rather than the horror, shifting the focus considerably. Dark Yugi revealed to be the spirit of an ancient pharaoh, and the more macabre elements toned down. So, while the original horrors of the plot dissipated, it made enough of an impression to give what is a substantially successful franchise its start. And while many would choose The Lament Configuration over The Millenium Puzzle, it would be interesting to see Pinhead try the pleasures of a tabletop game.
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