Yu-Gi-Oh has a long history with censorship and altered card art in the TCG.  Despite the Lost Art Promotion, there are still cards being released in recent sets with distinctly different art compared to their OCG counterparts. 

Lost Art has left us with a few questions: if something's changed at Konami that's given a green light to these art releases, then shouldn't that apply to every release going forward? Why continue to censor cards if the policy has changed?

To answer these questions, we have to dig into why Yu-Gi-Oh cards are censored in the first place, and how the legacy of another TCG continues to influence TCG card art today.

What Is, And Isn't Censorship

Card censorship is just one way that cards end up with altered art. Sometimes, localization is changed so that cards just make sense to foreign audiences. Words, letters, numbers, or other symbols are replaced with English equivalents. 7 Completed, Back to Square One, and Last Will are examples of art alterations that aren't actually censorship, but still result in dramatically different cards. Likewise, cards that undergo fixes or corrections in their card art, like Card Rotator, which incorrectly shows Jerry Beans Man as a Normal monster.

Corrections and localization are a small part of card art alterations. The bulk of the changes to card art in the TCG is the result of some form of censorship.  Broadly speaking, there are four major categories of cards that typically receive some sort of censorship:

Of course, there are plenty of card alterations that are definitely censorship but don't fit into one of these four categories. While it's a significantly smaller group, sometimes censorship is a preemptive response to potential copyright issues. Cards like Retaliating "C" feature items that look too close to products of specific brands, while other cards like Fairy Tail - Snow are just too similar to their fictional inspiration.

Fantasy Violence That's Taken Too Far

Yu-Gi-Oh is a game where characters battle each other, so it's hardly surprising that some cards feature an element of violence. Monsters need to look intimidating to justify their ATK, and weapons are the surest way to communicate their threat.

Firearm barrels are particularly common, and nearly all of them have been censored at some point. Barrel Dragon, Twin-Barrel Dragon, Roulette Barrel, and Barrel Behind The Door have all been changed to more cartoonish or fantastical weapons to prevent them from being compared to real weapons. Superdreadnaught Rail Cannon Gustav Max had its barrel changed to what I can only describe as a giant candle stick. Gustav Max was already an odd choice, given that it's clearly a reference to a World War II German super weapon, but the gun barrel was apparently a bigger issue.

Cards that show blood, like Ultimate Offering or Super Rejuvenation, were either redrawn or were altered so that the blood was a different color. Basically: if it bleeds red, it's not okay, but if it bleeds a rainbow, you probably just killed a Unicorn and that's totally fine. Tragedy featured a guillotine in the OCG, which is somehow less terrifying than the new art in the TCG.  We can learn another lesson here: a woman being stalked by a strange man is okay, but a tool used to overthrow monarchs is excessive. 

Joking aside, there are a bunch of cards that are shown in a state of pain or suffering. Trial and Tribulation was a TCG World Premiere that was altered when it arrived in the OCG to show the characters experiencing more grief.

The goal of censoring violence is fairly simple: no company wants their product to be blamed for encouraging someone to engage in violence. The idea that any Yu-Gi-Oh card could drive someone to extremes in that way is absurd, but that's not a debate that Konami wanted to get into in the early 2000's. Instead, altering the worst offenders was, and continues to be, a simpler solution.

Avoiding Advocating For Irresponsible Behavior

While media arguably doesn't create people who engage in more violence, irresponsible media can still lead to the consumption of dangerous products. Advertising for tobacco products is heavily restricted in most developed countries, including Japan, but it's particularly strict in America. Legally, there's some possibility that cards depicting smoking wouldn't be allowed in the US, especially in a product that's targeted at children.

Spy-C-Spy has it all: a redrawn dress that's less revealing, cigars and alcohol replaced with a thicker mustache and a bottle of juice, and even a pair of heart-shaped eyes in the background that were redrawn to be slightly more sensible. Number 41: Bagooska the Terribly Tired Tapir used to be terribly drunk, but now it's just a little sleepy. Neither of these changes are a big deal, and the Bagooska TCG art is honestly one of my favorites because it's so inventive. Spy-C-Spy feels like a throwback to the original Yu-Gi-Oh anime and the 'invisible guns' wielded by some characters in the international release.

Characters Who Could Use More Clothes

Whether it's Harpie Lady or War Rock Skyler, the number of cards that have had their outfits changed in the TCG is immense. Lost Art Promotions are loaded with cards arriving in the TCG for the first time showing off their original outfits — nearly all of which show significantly more skin. The TCG is very careful about respecting the gap between the sensibilities of card game players in Japan and the west, especially where the outfits of scantily-clad characters are concerned, both male-presenting and female-presenting.

Card games marketed to children need to keep the perspective of parents in mind, and there are more than a few cards that are totally unacceptable to parents. I think there's plenty of space to agree that not every instance of cleavage needs to be censored, but cards like Harpie Lady and Harpie Girl also warranted a change in art. Cards with artwork that could be taken as suggestive, like Mist Valley Shaman, were also deemed unacceptable. These cards aren't just awkward to explain to parents, they're also understandably uncomfortable to play around younger duelists or women competitors.  

The Impact Of Western Religion On Yu-Gi-Oh

Card art censorship is perhaps the most obvious when it involves religious symbols. Monster Reborn was famously changed from product-hover id="158233" to a jeweled ribbon. The goal was to remove a symbol that could be interpreted as a religious element and replace it with something that wasn't immediately objectionable. To be clear, the ankh isn't explicitly a religious symbol, but the potential to conflate it with Ancient Egyptian mythology — since it's often shown in art alongside Egyptian deities — led Konami to completely alter the art for its international release.  Personally, I initially associated Monster Reborn with Native American dreamcatchers, so even the international artwork didn't totally remove the spiritual aspect of the image.

Censoring religious themes isn't exclusive to card art either. The Fiend monster type is effectively a substitute for 'demon', and Fairy takes the place of angel. Burning Abyss cards get a pass because they're largely a creation of Dante Alighieri and not directly referenced in official religious text, but most cards based on demons or angels get some sort of change to their name. So what's the deal? It's not like religious references aren't fair game for derivative art, after all. 

Ultimately, the biggest challenge is overcoming the way westerners perceive religion as a core part of their identity. It's important to remember that America is significantly more religious than other developed nations.  Japan doesn't have the same level of religious affiliation as the US, and those who are religious don't treat their religion in the same way that western countries do.  People in the west express their religion in their apparel, their activities, and who they spend time with. Places of worship are frequently the centerpieces of the community, and it's not surprising to see media that trends into that space receive extra scrutiny. Like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh was accused of spreading evil despite the attempts to remove the more overt religious references.  In Japan, there's no grassroots movement to fight against a perceived threat to religious beliefs in the form of trading card games. That oddity is reserved for western nations.

Some forms of censorship age poorly. The decision to remove or alter religious references feels like a change that didn't need to happen, but it's impossible to know if Yu-Gi-Oh would have survived the controversy of keeping Summoned Skull's original name: 'Demon's Summoning'. Seriously, it's easy to look back in hindsight and think that censorship didn't need to happen, but when you're introducing your million dollar, now billion dollar, franchise to western audiences a little discretion can go a long way. After all, Yu-Gi-Oh's still a game that targets children, and most censorship doesn't negatively impact the game in any meaningful way.

Lost Art is a good first step to giving players a bit of agency over the censorship process.  Konami gets to maintain Yu-Gi-Oh's mass market sensibility while still serving up die hard fans a treat. There are plenty of cards that I think shouldn't get alt arts, which makes the Lost Art process even better. It's a curated selection of cards that are now significantly less problematic, especially towards collectors who aren't likely to play them anyways.

Until next time then.