ICv2 has learned that the 26-episode Duel Masters anime series will start its regular Saturday night run on the Cartoon Network's on March 13.  Duel Masters will also have a 90-minute, 3-episode sneak peek preview on the Cartoon Network's popular late afternoon Toonami Block on February 27.  Duel Masters is a potential mega-property for pop culture retailers thanks to a collectible card game from Wizards of the Coast, which debuts March 5 (see 'WotC to Launch Duel Masters CCG in March'), a toy line from Hasbro, which is due later in the year, and a comic book series from Dreamwave Productions, which has already met with some success (see 'Duel Masters #1 Sold Out'). 


The Duel Masters CCG

Why is Duel Masters game likely to be a success, even though it is debuting in a highly competitive environment replete with numerous anime-based CCGs?  Since 1993 some 228 collectible card games have been released in Japan, but only three have become mega-hits, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Duel Masters, which has been the #1 toy in Japan for the past 11 months.  Duel Masters has sold over 100 million booster packs in Japan, where the magazine Toy Weekly estimates that one out of every four Japanese boys in the 8-12 age bracket plays the game.  Obviously Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh have done very well here in the States and around the world (at the height of the Pokemon boom WotC sold an amazing $2 billion retail in Pokemon cards worldwide during one 12-month period).


One of the little known facts about the Duel Masters CCG is that it was designed here in the U.S. by WotC's top CCG experts.  Back in the mid-1990s the Japanese publisher Shogakukan licensed Magic the Gathering from WotC as the basis for a manga series, which was called Duel Masters.  The manga was such a hit that Shogakukan wanted to use as a basis for an anime series to be produced in Japan by ShoPro.  WotC suggested that they create a new game in collaboration with Shogakukan and ShoPro.  Shogakukan used its connections with the top artists in Japan to provide the art for the new CCG, while WotC gave the task of designing the mechanics for the new game to Mike Elliott, who assembled a team that included the very best Magic the Gathering designers such as Tyler Bielman, Bill Rose, Charlie Cantino, Andrew Finch, and Mark Rosewater.


The results of their labor, the Duel Masters CCG is an exciting game with very fast gameplay, which also manages to teach the fundamentals of CCG play, such as the color-coded cards, which represent the five suits used in Magic.  Targeted at boys from 8-12, the Duel Masters CCG was released in Japan in 2002.  With nearly two years of tournament play in Japan, WotC has been able to tweak the game for its American release making sure that the cards from all five suits are balanced.


The Duel Masters Starter Deck, which should retail for around $9.99, includes two 20-card training decks, which can be combined into one 40-card tournament deck, an exclusive premium card, a mini-comic from Dreamwave, a rulebook, and two Play Mats.  The Booster Packs include ten regular cards plus one card from a 9-card puzzle.  The first series of Duel Masters includes 120 different cards.  Sixty-card expansions will debut in three-month intervals starting in May.


The Duel Masters Anime

Produced in Japan by ShoPro, the 26-episode Duel Masters anime series features traditional 2-D animation for the ordinary sequences and switches to 3-D computer-generated animation for the monster combats resulting from the game.  The creators of the Duel Masters CCG coined the term 'kaijudo' (based on the Japanese word 'kaiju' or monster) to describe the 'way' of battling monsters.  James Szubski, the Project Manager for Duel Masters, using the words of a fourteenth Century samurai for inspiration, created the 'kaijudo' code for Duel Masters players, and WotC with the help of the Plastic Cow animation studio is actually creating additional CGI 'kaijudo' battle segments for the anime series.  Negotiations for a second 26-episode season of the Duel Masters anime series are underway, but have not yet concluded.