Retro Review: Yu-Gi-Oh – The Role of Jobbers and the Glass Ceiling

BY JOHN CARTER JR

The term “jobber” in the television industry seems to find its origin from American professional wrestling. Jobbers are characters and actors whose role it was to lose to make another character/actor appear stronger, which often took place in professional wrestling matches. Sadly many story and interesting character arcs are spoiled with the use of jobbers. 

In many forms of media, and especially in anime, we find certain people of specific populations made into jobbers more often than not. These characters are usually LGBTQ coded or Women in general. The creation of characters from or alluding to certain populations in real life represent the problematic treatment of them in the real world. 

Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter x Hunter and Yu Yu Hakusho, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, and Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto are particularly problematic in this aspect. This situation is also true in the case of Kazuki Takahashi’s Yu-Gi-Oh, especially in the case of two major characters from the original Duelist Kingdom arc.

In the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise there is one well known character known in the community for being the jobber of all jobbers – the lovely and talented Mai Valentine. The character has always been known as a powerful and strong duelist. Most importantly she is the one of the only high ranking duelists who is a woman in the entire show. Mai was the fourth runner up in a major tournament and made it to the quarter-finals in another, which is no small feat, especially when we consider who the other final contestants are. The other three finalists were all men, two of which were main protagonists in the show. 

In the first season, Mai is built up to be a fabulously talented duelist and a powerful woman. However, she is up against Yugi in the Duelist Kingdom semi-finals. Due to story conventions and the ever-present rules in anime where the protagonist can’t lose and the main antagonist can only lose to the protagonist, Mai was created to lose. This trend of this character’s treatment wouldn’t end here. 

This idea is even more prominent in Yu-Gi-Oh’s second season in the Battle City Tournament, where only two women made it to the quarter-finals, both of which were defeated. In the case of Mai’s duel against the main antagonist of the season, Marik Ishtar, his defeat was reserved for Yugi at a later time, so of course Mai was pegged to lose. 

Being the positive female presence, it is sad to see them misuse this character’s arc. It is okay for a character to lose but to blatantly use them in such a way betrays the character’s depiction is a shame. Mai is supposed to be a badass woman who persisted to get to where she is only for her whole arc to be thrown aside. She is given moments where it appears she might actually have a heroic moment only for it to be robbed by other characters. She even has a god card — the most powerful card in the show — only for her to be put in literal chains and shackles by what I would describe as antagonist armor.   

Her only real significant win is against Pegasus in a flashback, which lasts just 30 seconds. However, in some versions/interpretations the arc wasn’t even canon. Not to mention that Mai goes on to lose more in that arc later. She literally has to become a minor villain in a non-canon arc to actually get a win, against another jobber. 

The barrier hovering above other jobbers in this show is nothing compared to the one over Mai. However the jobber status is more of a simple side effect or byproduct of a much larger problem within the media.  Her character design is a clear example of how women in the real world have been treated. Used for the purpose of serving the goals of men and making them look good. 

Instead of Mirror Wall, Mai Valentine’s Trap Card should be called Glass Ceiling for how ridiculous her obstacles are and how, even though she has all the right traits and is strong enough, she still loses. For example, the real-life versions of both Mai and Maximillion Pegasus’s (another infamous jobber) duel monster decks are more powerful than the decks of the show’s heroes such as Yugi or Joey due to being original archetype decks. 

That said, Maximillion Pegasus — who is the chairman of Industrial Illusions and the creator of the duel monsters card game within the show — is another jobber who was robbed of an intricate storyline. He happens to be the first main antagonist of the show and Yugi’s first encounter with a millennium item user. Pegasus, the wielder of the Millenium Eye, is one of the best duelists in the show and proves to be the stand out villain in his Heel turn Face storyline. 

What makes Pegasus even more fascinating is the way in which fans have received the character. Over the many years of parodying and community comments on the character, the character has always been interpreted as queer or had a level of gayness show through in his portrayal. 

In short, he was an odd case of gay coding, as he was described at one point to have had a woman lover but contained all the effeminate stereotypes of the gay villain archetype at the time. Some fans have even written the character off as bisexual in their interpretations given the heavy gay coding based on personality. This facet of the character is often debated. 

Pegasus had the makings of a great character arc, even with the challenge of overcoming an often-seen tactic in anime where characters are teased as queer only to have those traits walked back. He loses his lover, whom my headcanon would describe as a drag queen, due to illness and is trying desperately to find a way to revive them. He could be pegged as a great anti-hero, only for his arc to be misused to serve the purposes of the protagonist. In later moments he is used to make other characters look more menacing or strong.

In examining exactly what events made Pegasus into a jobber, the defeats he was made to suffer play into the jobber role all too well. His first jobber loss was a simple shadow game after being defeated (or in the case of the manga killed) by Yami Bakura in a laser shadow game, the type of which we don’t really see again. This is explained away by saying that Bakura was taking advantage of the situation in that Pegasus’ mind was “not fresh” and thus his performance in a shadow game weakened. 

Mai Valentine then went on to defeat Pegasus in a short duel in an uncanon flashback, which again speaks to the mistreatment of Mai and Pegasus. This pity win is used as an attempt to make Mai look like a worthy villain building her up as some evil woman. That being said the series attempts to give Pegasus a few moments to shine as a hero. 

In the Yu-Gi-Oh GX series, Pegasus comes back and becomes a pivotal piece in certain characters’ storylines. Inspiring Dr. Velian Crowler to fight on even after he assumes he is fired from the academy, hiring Cumley to make cards for his company, and even helping save duel academy by creating the Rainbow Dragon for Jessie Anderson. Pegasus – given his assumed strength – could have had more or better-written struggles that would have made his story feel more complete and less wasted.

The use of jobbers in the Yu-Gi-Oh anime series hinders a plethora of character arcs, particularly those of fan-favorite characters like Mai and Pegasus, but it isn’t because they use jobbers, but specifically how they use them. Through the use of the jobber role, the characters are made into the representation of the glass ceiling holding back multiple groups of people. In most media, especially anime, the character can’t be the protagonist or have winning moments if the character might be gay, or is very effeminate, or is black, or is a woman. It is even more evident in the case of Mai, the female heroine criminally misused as a character. When young viewers identify with characters like Pegasus or Mai only to see them constantly trounced, it can send a message. While Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links attempts to rectify this with some of the character dialogue for both characters, it fails to fix all the mistakes of the past. If Konami and Sheishia revisit the world of Domino City and Duel Monsters hopefully better attempts can be made.

Sound Off!

Top
%d bloggers like this: