In 1996, the world was introduced to a juggernaut.
That unstoppable force was the Pokémon series, and its global popularity gave rise to what can now be dubbed the “Monster Collecting” genre. Valiant challengers such as Beyblade, Medabots, and Monster Rancher tried to swipe as much money as the Pocket Monsters did from parents everywhere, but had nowhere near the same staying power. Yet among the competition, two staunch outliers, the Yu-Gi-Oh Trading Card Game and the Digimon series, have managed to survive — and even put up a good fight — against the undisputed king.
One eternal question spans all of pop culture: "Who would win?" That's why we're dedicating an entire week to debates that have shaped comics, movies, TV, and games, for better and worse. Prepare yourself for Polygon's Who Would Win Week.
Pokémon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh are now the global “Big Three” of the monster-collecting genre. As such, each series’ mascot has garnered fame of their own: Digimon’s Agumon, Yu-Gi-Oh’s Dark Magician, and Pokémon’s omnipresent, effortlessly cute Pikachu have all stepped up to the plate. And fans, as they do, have long debated which mascot would take home the W in an old-fashioned slobber knocker.
So, in the spirit of Polygon’s Who Would Win Week, we decided to put that speculation to rest. Let’s start by breaking down the monsters and their abilities.
Dark Magician is a spellcaster who was made famous as the ace monster of the original (and most popular) Yu-Gi-Oh protagonists, Yugi Moto and Yami Yugi. Dark Magician can transform into several powerful variants, including the Dark Magician of Chaos, Dark Magician Knight, Dark Eradicator Warlock, and Dark Sage. However, each of these transformations requires items that aren’t normally equipped with the base character in the card game, anime, and manga. For the purposes of this battle, we’ll abide by the same rules. (We’ll also avoid the blatant rule-breaking the Magician sometimes does in the anime.) So, while Dark Magician does have some transformational tricks up their sleeve, they’re just that: Tricks that won’t and can’t factor into this particular fight.
Yu-Gi-Oh cards don’t go too deep into the actual abilities of monsters, so it’s hard to know their exact stats. However, using the anime and manga, we can compile a few useful details. Dark Magician has many abilities he can use to completely blitz anyone in combat, including his Thousand Knives ability, with which he throws an excessive barrage of literally 1000 knives at his enemy. He can also fire black-magic blasts and open black holes to redirect incoming attacks. These offensive powers, in conjunction with speed that could dizzy even the monster Diabound, who was powerful and fast enough to defeat six of the Pharaoh’s Sacred Guardians, make him an ample threat. On the flip side, Dark Magician isn’t very durable — he takes massive damage from strong energy blasts and, in the Yu-Gi-Oh manga, got knocked through a pillar by Diabound. He’s basically a glass cannon with ancient Egyptian powers, and while that may be badass in its own right, it might not slide here.
Next up, there’s Pikachu, who’s a force to be reckoned with, even in its base form. The electric rat has shown various instances of going Mach speed, firing fast electric bolts, wielding strong power in its tail, and the ability to jump several stories high. None of this is to mention its great durability against even legendary Pokémon. It can also (apparently) dispel dark energy with its Thunderbolt attack, as seen against Mimikyu in the Sun and Moon anime, when it blasted a Shadow Ball attack into nothingness. It sounds very dumb, but when you factor in the fact that we’re talking about a rodent with electric powers, it makes as much sense as it should.
Despite all of its strengths, Pikachu is also easily caught off guard by surprises — such as when it was caught by its own deflected thunder bolt in The X and Y anime. It also can’t break anything as hard as diamond, as seen in a battle with Golispod in the Sun and Moon anime, and it’s super vulnerable while it charges Thunderbolt (something many of you may know from spamming down-b in Super Smash Bros.).
Finally, there’s Agumon, wthe initial weakest of the three. Agumon is basically a cooler (yes, I said it) Charmander, and possesses a small Pepper Breath fireblast, fast jab, and sharp claws. The catch? Digimon have the latent ability to Digivolve into new forms, but aren’t always limited in the way that Pokémon are. These transformations can take place through age, training, a Digivice forcing the change, or, most relevant to this argument’s purposes, the anger and will to survive in a tough battle — say, against Pikachu and the Dark Magician.
This makes it possible for Agumon to transform into its stronger Greymon form, along with more powerful subsequent forms such as Metal Greymon, SkullGreymon, or RizeGreymon. For this fight, we’ll focus on the most likely transformations to occur: Greymon and SkullGreymon.
Agumon’s first evolution, Greymon, is an aggressive yet intelligent dinosaur Digimon, which is scary enough on its own. It’s also huge, has a protective shell on its head, and can shoot heat blasts that turn whatever they touch into ash. None of this is to mention Greymon’s highly durable body, which allows it to tank various attacks from other powerful Digimon.
What’s more, if Greymon begins to lose footing and cling to life, it will most likely shed all non-combat intelligence — along with its literal flesh — and become SkullGreymon. This ultimate-level Digimon can shoot tracking missiles from its spinal cord, move at high speeds (why wouldn’t a giant skeleton be quick on its feet?) and tank planet-buster level attacks. It can also paralyze and poison opponents. Is that not broken enough for you? Well, don’t worry: SkullGreymon can transform once more into BlackWarGreymon. This Digimon has even more speed, durability, intelligence, and power. No wonder it’s the series’ mascot!
Now, to the action: The battle begins with Agumon getting washed, whether by Dark Magician’s wide assortment of attacks, or Pikachu’s overwhelming speed. And while Agumon undergoes its first desperate transformation, the fight basically becomes a one-on-one between the electric rat and the purple-clad magician.
The two are evenly matched at first: Pikachu easily weaves through the Magician’s Thousand Knives, thanks to quick reactions and lightning-fast speed, and the Mage takes a bit of damage every time Pikachu lands a hit with its Iron Tail. Dark Magician can answer back with dark energy attacks, but as we’ve covered, Pikachu can dispel dark energy with its bolts, making them a non-issue. Despite Pikachu’s valiant efforts, though, it’s clear that Dark Magician dwarfs Pikachu in power and durability, seeing as how he’s fought with much stronger foes than a starter Pokémon throughout his martial tenure. In the end, Pikachu has to dodge volleys of blasts, constantly jump to Dark Magician’s airborne height, and lower his defenses to charge his Thunderbolt attack. Eventually, it’ll exhaust itself, and Dark Magician will emerge victorious.
Though Pikachu is out of the way, the battle is far from over. Agumon would have transformed into Greymon by this point, who could have easily put down Pikachu like I could an ant on the sidewalk. However, while Greymon is an extremely powerful Digimon, its might isn’t quite on that level of a spellcasting monster that’s taken on near-god-level enemies. The result? A 6-4 matchup in Dark Magician’s favor ending with him standing, battered and victorious, over a sleeping dinosaur. This all brings us to the next transformation. (See where this is going?)
SkullGreymon’s live-for-combat mentality and heat-seeking missile barrage would finish what his previous forms started. Even if it was unable to paralyze or poison his target, its near-unbreakable durability and gigantic size would clinch the victory, despite costing is mind. And of course, if this all somehow wasn’t enough to earn the dub, it can keep evolving. Agumon’s ability to transform into so many broken messes rivals that of your favorite Dragon Ball character. And we weren’t even close to its final form.
The battle of the big monster-collecting three ended with the initial underdog of the trio winning. Pokémon, for all of their grandeur and ubiquity, lost their mascot first. That’s got to count for something, right?
Pikachu may be laughing its way to the bank every day of the year, but Greymon is stomping on that bank and using the leftover rubble as a makeshift bed.