Remember Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal? The third spin-off of Kazuki Takashi’s Yu-Gi-Oh! manga series ran for 156 episodes between April 2011 and March 2014 on TV Tokyo in Japan. An English dub produced in New York by 4Kids Entertainment (and later, 4K Media) ran in the United States on The CW and Nicktoons between October 2011 and February 2015. Did you know there was an entirely separate English dub of the series?
The first 26 episodes of the series were reversioned in Los Angeles by Bang Zoom Entertainment. This dub starred Johnny Yong Bosch as Yuma, Vic Mignogna as Shark, Richard Cansino as Bronk, with Cassandra Morris, Sam Riegel, and Liam O’Brien also on deck. It featured an entirely new musical score, the addition of comedic sound effects as well as altered animation. The latter came as a result of the production team having been given largely unprecedented access to the animation files so they could tweak things as they saw fit.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of this dub’s puzzle is that it legally shouldn’t have ever been made. The dub was produced for Asatsu-DK, the Japanese ad-agency that owns Yu-Gi-Oh! animation studio Nihon Ad Systems. Together with broadcaster TV Tokyo, the two attempted to revoke 4Kids’ license to the property in 2011 over alleged unpaid royalties amounting to $4.8 million. In direct response to that, 4Kids filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, a move that would force a pause on the ongoing lawsuit.
This was when Asatsu-DK decided to go on the offensive. Viewing 4Kids’ license to the property null and void, the company paid Bang Zoom to produce their dub of Zexal over a period of 6-8 months in June 2011. They even started to promote the series at television trade events to get prospective broadcast and merchandise partners interested. The U.S. courts would find this information out and accosted Asatsu-DK and TV Tokyo for trying to circumvent the proceedings. They were forced to act as though 4Kids’ license was still valid while the legal cases were determined.
The finishing blow for this dub came on December 29, 2011. The U.S. courts ruled that 4Kids’ license to the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise was in fact still valid. A significant number of the alleged unpaid fees were either found by the court to be without merit, or were already withdrawn by the Japanese companies. Additionally, the court noted that Asatsu-DK and TV Tokyo failed to enact the proper license termination protocol dictated in their contract with 4Kids Entertainment. All told, the actions of the Japanese companies cast serious doubts over the legitimacy of the lawsuit. Truthfully, it may have been too late for Bang Zoom’s dub anyway. The 4Kids dub had already premiered on U.S. television more than two months prior.
In May 2012, 4Kids and the two Japanese parties eventually settled their differences with 4Kids receiving a cool $8 million from them. It was as though the New York-based company activated their trap card. Maybe a super charged Magic Cylinder? As a result of the bankruptcy proceedings, 4Kids later sold off their production arm, 4Kids Productions, and the Yu-Gi-Oh! license to a newly formed branch of Japanese gaming company Konami, 4K Media. Konami was already involved with the franchise through manufacturing the video game and trading card game tie-ins. 4K Media has handled the English language adaptions of every Yu-Gi-Oh! production since.
Asatsu-DK’s dub hasn’t been entirely lost to the Shadow Realm, though. Footage from it did sneak out to the public. Kristi Reed, who was the voice director at Bang Zoom working on the show presented a panel at Armageddon Expo in Australia in 2012. Fans on a Yu-Gi-Oh! forum called Neo Ark Cradle managed to dig up the opening theme song and its demo, the former of which was sung by Bosch.
So, without further ado, this is the Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal dub you weren’t supposed to see: