Yugioh is the Journey through the Duat
The main arc of the original Yugioh franchise is the journey of the diseased pharaoh Atem. He dies when he seals his soul in the Millennium Puzzle, resurfacing 3,000 years later as “Dark Yugi” by possessing Yugi’s body. Atem forms a deep friendship with Yugi and his comrades as he overcomes many tests through the form of games. Eventually, he recovers his lost memories and overcomes his final test by losing to Yugi in the Ceremonial Duel. With all his tests finished, Atem passes on into the afterlife.
Atem’s entire arc is the journey a dead person makes through the Duat, the celestial realm/underworld, to reach the afterlife, the Field of Reeds. In Egyptian religion a dead person had to pass through many different tests of purity. In order to pass, a person needed to recite spells and summon creatures to protect her. When encountered the Guardians of the Gates she needed to recite their names in order to pass through them. Once she passed through the final test, the Weighing of the Heart, she could enter paradise.
Atem’s journey is very similar. The Shadow Games he routinely plays are tests of purity. This is especially emphasized in the early manga chapters. A Shadow Game is a high stakes game that uses dark magic make game pieces come to life, or at least cast the illusion of them being alive. The magic of a Shadow Game reveals the true nature of the players. If a player is wicked, his dark emotions like jealousy or greed will seep out and cause him to lose. The loser then faces a penalty or enters into oblivion. In Egyptian religion, the heart was the seat of a person’s consciousness. When it was weighed it would reveal the sins a person committed. If a person was deemed wicked, he faced oblivion.
For Atem, the spells and servants he used to aid his journey were the Spell Cards and Monster Cards in Duel Monsters. The monsters of the game itself come in a huge variety of forms, from beasts, to demons, to spirits, to aliens. The Duat of Egyptian religion itself contains such a diversity of creatures, some helpful to the deceased, some malevolent. It is not difficult to imagine that the many monsters in Yugioh are in fact creatures in the Duat, summoned to the human realm through magic.
The final demon Atem faces is Zorc Necrophades, the ultimate evil entity that represents all human evil. He represents Apep, the great snake, the primordial Egyptian god of evil, darkness, and chaos. According to some accounts, Apep was the first god to form from the Nun, the primordial waters. Then from Apep formed Atum, the ancestor of all the gods. They waged a battle, Apep tried to swallow Atum back into his being, but Atum won and went on to create the world. Each night, Ra (the pharaoh) and his servants would ward off Apep, cutting him into pieces. But Apep would always return, needing to be warded off again. Evil and chaos was an ever-present threat that needed to be beaten every night. In many religions around the world, a primordial serpent or dragon of darkness needed to be defeated before the creation of the world could take place. Zorc is that serpent.
Atem’s final battle was the Ceremonial Duel, where he dueled against his Yugi. He played to his fullest potential and lost. Like the Weighing of the Heart, this was the final and greatest test he needed to pass. This test was the culmination of his life, where he traveled down the straight and narrow path to his final judgment. By losing to Yugi after playing his hardest, he proved he was ready to move on to the afterlife. The Wadget Eye that oversaw his duel with Yugi judged him worthy and thus let him pass through the door to the afterlife. This reflects a primitive form of Egyptian religion from the earliest dynasties. A deceased king simply needed to walk through a magical door.
Dark Bakura’s Identity and the Nature of Evil
The identity of Dark Bakura was never stated clearly and even now is contentious among fans. Yugioh Wiki simply states that Dark Bakura is a shard of the soul of Zorc. TV Tropes goes two ways, either saying Dark Bakura is a fusion of Thief King Bakura and Zorc (which seems to imply he is made of two equal halves) or saying Dark Bakura is Thief King Bakura with a shard of Zorc inside of his soul (which implies he is mostly Thief King but corrupted).
In my personal opinion, Dark Bakura is just Thief King Bakura corrupted by Zorc. He does call himself “Zorc”, but so does Akhenaden after he makes a pact with Zorc. Zorc seems to be a gestalt entity or hive mind that assimilates people into his being by corrupting them. When a person is fully corrupted they become a part of Zorc and identify themselves as part of the hive mind. In that way, Zorc is a lot like Sauron and the One Ring in LOTR. Dark Bakura and Akhenaden are like Nazguls, so corrupted they have little identity outside of Zorc.
Someone may point out that Zorc sealed a shard of his soul in the Millennium Ring, but this is not so special because Zorc sealed a part of his soul in ALL of the Millennium Items. Pegasus said they were all part of an evil intelligence. That means that even Dark Yugi himself had a shard of Zorc in him. As a Tumblr OP (imaginative-spirit) pointed out, that is probably why Dark Yugi was such a psycho in the beginning of the series. Yugi and friends helped drive away that shard but even still Dark Yugi always had dark streaks in his personality, mainly his fatal flaw of pride. It’s not until Dark Yugi passes through the Millennium Arc and into the afterlife that he is fully purified of evil.
So I can conclude that both Dark Yugi and Dark Bakura are Atem and Thief King respectively corrupted by a shard of Zorc inside of them. But they went through two very different ways. Dark Yugi was Atem with a shard of Zorc but eventually completely purified himself of evil. Dark Bakura was Thief King with a shard of Zorc but went in a downward spiral until he became a minion and part of the hive mind.
Also, remember than in Ancient Egypt the soul wasn’t a single, whole entity where “all of you” resided. People were thought to have multiple souls, multiple shards or selves that combined to form the whole person. (Ka, Ba, Heka, one’s shadow, one’s heart etc.) When Thief King Bakura was sealed in the Millennium Ring, a shard of Zorc became one of his many selves. Eventually, that shard completely corrupted him.
The Nature of Evil
This topic opens a discussion of how evil is depicted in Yugioh. Evil is a part of darkness and chaos, a malevolent entity that surrounds the world and always threatens to swallow it. In the early manga and anime, people simply acted evil because parts of them were evil. However, as we move later into Yugioh we often see characters turning evil because they were corrupted by darkness or brainwashed in a certain way. In these cases evil is presented as not being a natural part of humans. It is something that corrupts people from the outside.
I explained before how Bakura was Thief King corrupted by Zorc into being part of the hive mind. Evil is especially portrayed this way in Yugioh. It is a monster that steals a person’s identity. It doesn’t just corrupt them morally. It eats away the most essential parts of who they are. They become absorbed, dissolved in dark chaos until they are merely a minion of the darkness and an enemy of Ra. As a person slips more and more into evil she loses more and more of her humanity until she is barely human at all. This is reflected by the fact that the most evil Yugioh characters are literally insane.
Throughout Yugioh moral conflict is played as a sharp black-and-white contrast between good and evil. (Technically it’s really a black-and-grey contrast as most protagonists are antiheroes.) The forces of friendship, love, and hope are pitted against hatred, despair, and envy. Unsurprisingly, friendship, love, and hope win most of the time. Takahashi said the black-and-white portrayal had more to do with the medium he was working with, the manga, but it draws its roots from Egyptian religion. Egyptian religion portrayed morality in stark black-and-white terms of the gods and light versus chaos and darkness.
Dark Bakura Character Development
As a fanfic writer I sometimes wonder how to write a certain character out. Sometimes I do criticize Takahashi’s work as well as praise it. Because he lives the crammed and exhausting life of a mangakan I can understand if he doesn’t develop characters their fullest capacity. My fanfic writing is not my profession. No matter how much dedication I put into it it’s part of my leisure time. So I have all the time in the world to develop my characters. I didn’t write my first Yugioh Children of Prometheus chapter until five years after I first thought up of the idea.
If I was the one to write Dark Bakura’s character, this is what I would write…
Dark Bakura’s character development is fundamentally a slippage from a rowdy tomb raider and brigand to a minion of Zorc. In Ancient Egypt, Dark Bakura (as Thief King Bakura) was a hot-blooded risk-taker and swashbuckler. He was the sole survivor of the Kul Elna massacre and as such his primary motivation was revenge. He also had a Bart Simpson streak in him, loving to cause chaos, steal, gamble, and do dangerous things for the sheer thrill of it.
In a twisted way, Dark Bakura was even noble at this time, because he wanted to avenge his family killed in the massacre. Regardless, the loss of his family in a brutal massacre made him into a deeply scarred person, both physically on his face and emotionally as someone who can’t understand loyalty and friendship. Like Satan from Christian religion, his pride, unfailing arrogance, and inability to comprehend good becomes his downfall.
Dark Bakura makes a pact with the great evil god, Zorc Necrophades, and from then on his life is bound to Zorc. Dark Bakura, Akhenaden, and Zorc wage a great battle against Dark Yugi (as Atem) and his priests. In a desperate move to stop the battle, Atem shatters the Millennium Puzzle, taking Akhenaden and Zorc with him. Dark Bakura seals himself in the Millennium Ring to save his soul while Zorc splits bits of his soul in all the Millennium Items.
Both Dark Yugi and Dark Bakura lost their memories. However, while Dark Yugi couldn’t surface until the Millennium Puzzle was put back together, Dark Bakura could still wander the earth through different hosts. This gave Dark Bakura a big edge over Dark Yugi because he had more time to peace back together his memories. However, this gave him much more exposure to the fragment of Zorc to corrupt him. Dark Bakura was no nice guy beforehand, but Zorc just made him worse.
This is where we see Dark Bakura’s character development take place. As Zorc eats away at him, he loses more and more of whatever humanity he had left. His corruption becomes so severe he abandons any human identity at all. He becomes a dark spirit and part of the Zorc hivemind and, as such, identifies himself as Zorc. His personality changes from a hot-blooded, audacious thief to a cold, calculating sadist. His bold cunning as a ruthless tomb raider and fierce fighter transforms into the cold cunning of a master manipulator. He no longer desires personal revenge. Instead, he is purely power hungry and evil. He simply wants to unleash dark chaos, the Zorc hivemind, unto the world. He “ices over”.
However, in spite of all of Zorc’s corrupting, he always holds some human spirit left. Yugioh, in spite of all of its macabre elements, is optimistic in its comments on humanity. People are fundamentally good and can always make the right moral choice and redeem themselves. I have intention of having Dark Bakura redeem himself. However, I want to add with my own comment. Even the humanity of someone as damned as Dark Bakura cannot be fully erased. Some things from his past life as a tomb robber always carry on.
Because Dark Bakura witnessed the massacre of his entire family and village, he has PTSD. It makes sense given the horrors he witnessed. However, if I ever was to write a fanfic about Dark Bakura, I would make sure to do my research into the disorder and to be accurate and sensitive in my portrayal. However, do not mistake this as me being sympathetic with Bakura. I have no intention of making him into a misunderstood woobie or someone to pity, as bad fanfics tend to do with characters. The man is a complete bastard. However, even complete bastards have vulnerabilities. Dark Bakura is a tragic character, which I think all villains are to some extent or another.
While he was a Thief King, Dark Bakura did have a lover, the woman who would eventually become Dark Necrofear. Dark Necrofear was originally a witch who lived in a remote area near the Valley of the Kings. Dark Bakura and Dark Necrofear originally formed a partnership with each other. Dark Bakura would present her with gifts he took from the tombs of diseased pharaohs. Dark Necrofear, in turn, would teach him the dark arts and how to strengthen his Ka, Diabound Colonel. Eventually, their relationship bloomed into a full love affair and Dark Necrofear became with child.
On the eve of an especially dangerous raid, Dark Bakura persuaded Dark Necrofear to leave the country for her safety. After his raid, he couldn’t find her. He desperately searched for her for months. When he finally found her, she had died. Their baby girl died at the same time when she was only a few months old. In the present day Dark Necrofear watches over Dark Bakura. Even though she doesn’t always agree with his decisions she is still loyal to him.
Dark Bakura and Ryu, his modern day host, hardly have a relationship. However, there are bits of feelings they have for each other. Dark Bakura is mostly coercive with Ryu, controlling him completely whenever he wants to. Whenever Ryu is without the Millennium Ring, Dark Bakura coerces him to put it back on. The Millennium Ring is itself a dark artifact, which causes an addiction in Ryu, which is why he keeps looking for it and needs to put it on. However, Ryu has sympathy for whatever shred of humanity Dark Bakura has left. This still doesn’t stop Ryu from studying the occult, trying to find a means of exorcising himself of the dark spirit.
Dark Bakura is defeated by Dark Yugi in the Shadow RPG game, and thus faces oblivion. Ryu is finally free of the malevolent spirit’s influence. Shortly after Yugioh ends, Ryu travels to Egypt to learn about Dark Bakura’s past life. While there, he meets Marik, who tells Ryu about his experiences with Dark Bakura. The two become attached because they both knew it was like to be unfairly possessed and coerced by malevolent personalities. They form a relationship.
Ryu returns to Domino City. Marik follows him, bidding farewell to Ishizu and Odion who stay in Egypt. Eventually, they adopt a child and start a loving family. The child is a reincarnation of Dark Bakura’s and Dark Necrofear’s child. Marik loves riding motorcycles, so he came up with the idea of Turbo Duels. Why not play Duel Monsters while riding a motorcycle? Marik gets a sponsorship from KaibaCorp, allowing him to perfect the game. It becomes a huge hit, which is why it’s so prevalent in 5Ds.
Sources (where I got my ideas for Bakura’s Character Development and Aftermath):