Japanese Title: Yuu Yuu Hakusho
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 112 episodes
- Fun, likeable characters
- Good pace for a battle anime
- Surprisingly strong dub considering age
- Foreground artwork holds up…
- …most background artwork doesn’t
- Overuse of several battle tropes
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There are many classic battle anime from the hand drawn age, few of them any good. I thought I would look at one – just one – in full to get a feel for the classic era outside of Dragon Ball Z. Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files comes the highest recommended so let’s go with that. And at a mere 112 episodes, it can’t be that hard to suffer through if the worst comes to the worst.
However, to my delight, one of Yu Yu Hakusho’s strengths is a good pace. You don’t feel its length across the four arcs as no fight drags beyond a few episodes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Yu Yu Hakusho is about a 14-year-old delinquent who dies one day saving a boy from being hit by a car, which goes against his nature. The
kid baby in charge of spirit realm admin gives Yusuke a chance at revival if he can complete several tasks to prove himself as a Spirit Detective. Under the guidance of Shinigami Botan, he races against the clock to keep his spirit alive and his dead body intact. The story starts off, as most shounen do, with a series of smaller stories before it dives into longer arcs with bigger action.
Something I immediately like about Yu Yu Hakusho are these smaller stories. It avoids the tedious “monster of the week” structure found in the likes of Bleach, instead foregoing action in favour of a character focus. Early episodes are about Yusuke’s soon-to-be friendship with Kuwabara, another delinquent always hungering for a fight, who can’t handle that his rival is dead. He’s my favourite character, voiced brilliantly in the dub by Christopher Sabat (you wouldn’t know he voices Vegeta when you hear him here). Great dub, by the way. Kuwabara is such a meathead but you love him more for it.
These early episodes are the best of the show, for me. Perhaps I have seen too much shounen action – this action is good, mind you, and we’ll get there – but I like the character and humour focus of the first season, where Yusuke goes on mini capers taking care of incidents around town. The demon world is also a rather unimaginative setting (think a wasteland like any other). As such, later seasons aren’t as engaging. I suspect, however, I am in the minority for this opinion.
Yusuke also enlists the help of, begrudgingly at first, two demons when it comes to fighting the stronger denizens of the other realm. Kurama the fox spirit and manipulator of plants acts as the brains of the operation, while Hiei the fire demon born to a tribe of ice demons brings pint sized firepower. Get used to the idea of enemies becoming friends, for this writer loves the trope. As a set, the team make for a good balance of characters that don’t feel like usual archetype slots of a shounen cast.
Now to the action. Yu Yu Hakusho defies expectations of shounen action. Fights don’t last a dozen episodes – most are over in one. It knows when a fight is insignificant in the grand scheme and doesn’t drag it out. If this were Bleach or DBZ, every minor squabble would take 10 episodes at least. Here, the fight lasts long enough to have meaning and for the combatants to entertain, but then it moves on. It also mixes things up in who wins or loses. Only major fights take a few episodes, usually as the big finale for the season, and there aren’t many of these. Yes, one could tighten a few encounters, though not a major issue.
Villain designs, while dated, are entertaining at times. This anime has the most hilarious muscled villains. Muscles on top of muscles. It’s like a parody – “Oh yeah, you reckon going Super Saiyan was ridiculous? Check this out!” Straight out of botched surgeries.
Furthermore, Yu Yu Hakusho skips over training arcs. It shows a little to give the audience an idea of what Yusuke’s up to before the narrator says, “In this way, two months of training passed.” More anime should do this. The one notable training arc it doesn’t skip over in a later season has other threads woven through to avoid hitting a dead stop (rasengan training in Naruto still haunts me).
There has been a fair amount of praise from me so far, so let me temper this with criticisms, all of which revolve around the action. I despise the trope of enemies explaining how their ability work to the hero for the sake of the audience. This makes them stupid and I hate stupid. One opponent even tells of his technique before the fight. You can perhaps get away with a single enemy cocky enough to do this, not the majority, as seen here. Then we have the constant commentary from the sidelines that the hero can’t possibly win…right before they win. Lastly, it also overuses the trope of:
“You may have beaten my teammate, but he was weaker than me.”
“You may have beaten those two, but I am stronger.”
“I may be the last of my team, but the other guys were nothing compared to me.”
This happens with just about every enemy team, particularly in season 2, which is a tournament arc. These tropes are fine in moderation. Yu Yu Hakusho likes to wolf them down like a kid at the desert buffet going back for fifths. This repetition hurts the series the most and contributes to times when the pace feels off. And once you notice the pattern emerge, what’s to stop you from skipping a few episodes when you’ve seen this already?
Even so, Yu Yu Hakusho is an overall success. This isn’t the battle shounen to change your mind on the genre. It’s still for that core demographic. However, if you are part of that core and are tired of modern series going on forever, look no further than Yu Yu Hakusho with its complete story at a mere 112 episodes.
Art – Medium
The art is a mixed bag. We have moments of great animation (usually the battles) and some quality backgrounds. We also have sliding animation, bland backgrounds, and streaks. Done by hand with texture is a plus.
Sound – High
With a surprisingly good dub for such an old anime, you can go with either track here. The opening song, which stays throughout the series, doesn’t seem to fit a battle anime, but it grows on you.
Story – High
A delinquent and his unlikely allies have to deal with all manner of supernatural entities on the streets and in the arena. Fun characters, good pacing, and solid action make Yu Yu Hakusho a ride to the finish.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For classic shounen fans. Yu Yu Hakusho won’t convince those averse to battle anime to change their minds, but it is a good classic of the genre and doesn’t drag for 100s of episodes.
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