Iconic – Yu Yu Hakusho Anime Review

“One fateful day, Yuusuke Urameshi, a 14-year-old delinquent with a dim future, gets a miraculous chance to turn it all around when he throws himself in front of a moving car to save a young boy. His ultimate sacrifice is so out of character that the authorities of the spirit realm are not yet prepared to let him pass on. Koenma, heir to the throne of the spirit realm, offers Yuusuke an opportunity to regain his life through completion of a series of tasks. With the guidance of the death god Botan, he is to thwart evil presences on Earth as a Spirit Detective.

To help him on his venture, Yuusuke enlists ex-rival Kazuma Kuwabara, and two demons, Hiei and Kurama, who have criminal pasts. Together, they train and battle against enemies who would threaten humanity’s very existence.” – MAL Synopsis

Episodes: 112 – Studio: Studio Pierrot – Dub/Sub – Aired: Fall 1992 – Finished – MAL Rating: 8.45 – Genres: ActionComedySupernatural

After years of putting this anime off and hearing its praises almost two months to the date, I started watching YuYu Hakusho. This was my second attempt at it, as back in 2019, I never got past the first dozen episodes. I stuck with it this time, and that was definitely the right choice. What this anime does right, it really does right and I sit here after the credits roll on the last episode while the full version of the theme song plays just thinking about how much fun this anime was. I just want to talk about this show saga by saga.

Something that’s pretty much been lost over the years and was heavily used in DBZ is the term “saga.” Used to describe a group of arcs that connected together to tell a certain portion of the story. Yu Yu Hakusho has multiple arcs that span four major sagas. The first one, Spirit Detective Saga, was good enough to introduce the characters and the world. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the weakest, though. The first five episodes are great. It paints the picture of Yusuke’s character, his relationships with other side characters, and what’s coming perfectly. The next two arcs do a good job showing off the multitude of powers in this world, which Togashi is just amazing at coming up with unique abilities. I’ve yet to review or really talk about Hunter x Hunter on here but to me nen is probably the pinnacle of power systems but the different energy types in this anime are cool too. Even with that being said, these two arcs were kind of snoozy, outside of introducing important side characters. The next two arcs are when this anime picks up steam and pretty much never looks back. Maze Castle has amazing battles throughout, same for the Rescue Yukina arc. I love how that arc directly leads into the next major saga. This was the arc that really made me go “huh, this anime is pretty good and also there’s some problematic antics here (which I’ll briefly touch on later).”

I’ve been watching anime in some form since I was a small child, but when I have vivid memories of watching top ten lists on anime back in 2011ish and every list that had something to do with the best anime arcs or the best tournament arcs had a constant entry. That being the Dark Tournament. So, of course, I was more than looking forward to this. It was set up well with the previous arcs leading into it. The early episodes were great, and it kept being great. The stakes were high, but beyond that, the threat of Toguro is really amazingly built up in a short amount of time before the tournament begins and just lingers. There’s just this constant feeling that throughout all these battles Team Urameshi is going through, no matter how tough, he is tougher than all of that combined. So that looming tension added to some great fights. It was amazing. Togashi has a tendency to have very long and drawn-out arcs and sometimes it can get boring. Funny enough, at the point where I started to get kind of bored with the pacing of this arc, it immediately ramped up, and all that went out the window. There are so many memorable fights in this arc and Yusuke vs Toguro is easily one of the best fights in anime history. This saga had it all: great moments, funny moments, amazing power-ups, sad stuff, and a blockbuster ending. The Dark Tournament is a 10/10 on its own.

The only downside of The Dark Tournament being so great is that it very much overshadows the very next saga, which is also really damn good in its own right. Chapter Black was looking like it would be my favorite when it started. A new power system that introduced a lot of uniqueness within the fights and a new interesting, mysterious antagonist had me hyped, and really dark tone. Early on, it was really that great and I think it peaked during the hospital battle and then again a little after that in the cave. That animation and the brutality of these fights were just amazing, though. Speaking on the power system, introducing a domain type power in which everyone’s powers only work within a certain space really opened the doors for these unique fights. Which makes me even sadder that the final battle just ended up being power-up vs power-up, when was still cool, but I felt this arc was setting up for something a bit more unique than that. Don’t get me wrong, Sensui was an amazing villain with a great backstory and both his and Yusuke’s power-ups were cool, but it was a bit of a disappointing end to a great saga.

Three Kings saga also started off really interesting. The changes in Yusuke and the darker tone were great. Seeing a lot more of the demon world and the politics there was cool. This arc just felt really rushed. The way it developed subverted my expectations multiple times, and it ended up being a really wholesome thing overall from the side of the demons they had been fighting since early on, which also tied back into a lot of what Sensui believed and also a bit of Toguro’s beliefs. So I loved that aspect of it but it really could’ve done for like maybe even double the amount of episodes. I would’ve liked to see more training. There were a lot of new interesting-looking characters introduced with like six episodes left that didn’t get any shine. It would’ve been cool to see more of them. I just needed more from this saga, but what I did get was still good, sweet, and wholesome. The finale was really nice too.

Something that I haven’t touched on that I initially was going to make a bigger point out of but opted not to was the tropey-ness of some of these fights. I had it written down on my notes that Yusuke’s first major battle in the Castle arc was super tropey and it was. So were a lot of the big fights in this anime but I can excuse that because this is like one of the ogs. These things don’t become tropes is YuYu Hakusho and DBZ don’t do it first. Even within that, the power-up stuff and power of friendship stuff is subverted and used in some really nice ways here. Ways I wish were used more often in anime that have come after. The other thing I’d like to mention is the comedy. This anime got some laughs and chuckles out of me. It’s not Gintama but still had some funny moments. It also had a lot of moments that made me question if I heard what I heard correctly. A lot of things that wouldn’t fly today, a fair amount of homophobic terminology, and there was this whole thing with a trans demon that just felt unnecessary. Along with the typical shounen pervert stuff. I won’t rag on this too much because it came out in the early 90s and things were different, but it was definitely head-scratching when it was present.

Yusuke is a fun main character. A smart-ass kid always ready to fight. His persona makes for some great interactions with everyone and I loved the subtlety in how he changes as a person with each arc. There’s a constant theme about what he’s fighting for that is wrapped up pretty beautifully in the final episodes. Outside of that, Yusuke is just iconic. From the attitude to the outfits, to his spirit gun. He is a worthwhile anime icon and an amazing main character. His relationship with Keiko and how that developed was really sweet. It didn’t really start to hit home for me until the Three Kings saga, but when I started to get it, I really appreciated all the moments they had leading up to that and after. Easily one of the best couples in anime.

Briefly touching on some of the other characters. Kuwabara could get a bit annoying, but still in a loveable way. Hiei is just awesome. He wasn’t my personal favorite, but I can understand why a lot of fans love him. He’s just cool. My actual favorite character is Kurama. The smart tactical one with a cold side and the best transformation in the show. Koenma and co were also fun and I might be in love with Botan.

Musically, YuYu Hakusho is special. The opening belongs in the anime opening hall of fame and it might be on mount Rushmore. It’s iconic. Not only did I never want to skip it, multiple times as I was watching, but I would also rewind it just to hear it again. The endings suffer the same fate as the Chapter Black saga, where they get overshadowed because the op is just that good, but they’re amazing in their own right. Various tracks of 80s Japanese pop/soul. This soundtrack is top-notch.

Animation wise, it’s par for the course with what was coming out in the 90s. What sets this anime apart, though, is the constant use of colors to convey tone. Whether it tinting the whole screen blue in a desperate moment or during some of the big fights using heavy contrasting colors. I loved the use of that. And then there are some random moments where the animation gets really fluid and good. There’s a particular fight early in the Chapter Black saga that took me back for a moment with that animation change.

So Yeah Yu Yu Hakusho definitely deserves its acclaim and classic status. The highest compliment I can give anything regardless of the score I give it is, that I enjoyed watching and I want to rewatch it eventually. And that’s exactly how I feel about this one. I could rewatch The Dark Tournament and Chapter Black any day of the week. Yu Yu Hakusho is an anime that I’ll never forget. Its highs were very high, and the soundtrack is iconic. I loved my time spent with Yusuke and co.

Yu Yu Hakusho – 9/10


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