Yu Yu Hakusho Anime Review
Yuu Yuu Hakusho
Report of Trip to the Darkness
US Release By
112 25-minute episodes
1992-10-10 - 1995-01-07
Yusuke Urameshi is a delinquent, and the best fighter at his high school. One day, he tries to save a kid from being run over by a car--and dies. Botan, an emissary of the spirit world who functions as "The Grim Reaper" comes to tell him that his death was completely and utterly unexpected, therefore, there's no place for him in spirit world. Because of this, he's been given a chance to complete a trial, and if successful, will be brought back to life. After much trouble, (and losing his chance to be brought back by using it to save his "girlfriend," Keiko Yukimura) Yusuke comes back to life. As a result of his brush with death, he's been given powers of the spirit world, to fight ghosts and demons, and to pay back his debt of returned life, he must become a spirit detective and complete missions for the spirit world. Overseen by Koenma, the ruler of spirit world (who looks like a toddler), Yusuke and his team, consisting of friend/rival Kazuma Kuwabara, wise and mysterious fox spirit Kurama, and malcontent triclops Hiei, must take on numerous demons striving for the destruction of humanity.
This review is based off of both the unedited version of YYH shown on Adult Swim and the edited version now on Toonami. Since the entire series comprises some 112 episodes, the show may become radically different as it moves on. I'm not sure of this, but I believe the Adult Swim version was not edited (though it was still the dub). However the changes between the two are extremely minor (some are kinda annoying, though). The only changes I could spot was that they changed the swear words into their watered-down equivalents (damn to darn, hell to heck, you know the drill), and took out one scene involving a cigarette (which really interrupted the balance of the episode). However, the TV series was edited in the first place (there was a manga which it was based off of, in which Yusuke did things like smoking, extorting money, and referring to shoplifting, which were not present in the anime). All content opinions will be based off what was present in the uncut version, although even the edited version is not exactly appropriate for kids. One more thing--I am not a fan of Dragon Ball Z, and Yuu Yuu Hakusho is very similar to it in many ways. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is complain about why Yuu Yuu Hakusho is better than Dragon Ball Z. I will endeavor to keep these comparisons absent from this review, but if one sneaks in, just pretend it was never there. That said, on to the real review.
Yuu Yuu Hakusho begins with a very interesting and original backstory, about Yusuke dying. How many anime have you seen where the main character dies? Okay, quite a few, but how many where he kicks the bucket in the first scene? This is also a very original way of explaining the special powers used by the characters, something that must be accomplished in every shounen anime. In Dragon Ball Z, it was martial arts; in Rurouni Kenshin, it was all based around sword techniques. In Yuu Yuu Hakusho, it's all based around "spirit energy," the power used by ghosts and demons. The storylines in most of the show are pretty average fighting anime fare (ranging from the "save the world from the all-powerful demons" to the "compete in the evil tournament"), but they work well enough as long as you're not expecting any more than that. They are essentially only to set up the fights, which are very entertaining because of the fact that almost every bad guy has some sort of unique strategy to defeating it, or some kind of gimmick to make them stand out.
Like most shounen anime, however, the characters are more interesting than the story, and also like most shounen anime, their characterization is accomplished just as much by their special attacks as by what they say and do. Yusuke is a pretty standard rough delinquent; his power is to shoot a Dragon Ball-like blast of energy called a "spirit gun," something he fires from a pointed gun finger like I used to do as a kid. His friend Kuwabara is an extremely ugly knight in shining armor with an honor code and a penchant for wanting to rescue damsels in distress. Both of these characters fight in a very delinquent way; get beat up until you can set up a really hard wallop with a special attack.
However, as most fans of the show would agree, it's not these two who make the show; it's the supporting characters, Kurama, Hiei, and Botan (who probably could have had their own show). Botan (so far) is the most shallow of the lot; an exuberantly cheerful, supportive helper. However, she is a lot of fun and brightens up a pretty grim show a bit. She might gain more depth later--than again, she might not. Kurama is a fox spirit, a reference to Japanese mythology (monsters like the kitsune and such) who was nearly killed and so possessed the spirit of an unborn child and was born a human. He is wise, mysterious, and introspective, and is also elegant--a true bishounen. He usually fights with a rose whip, a long thorned vine that he transforms from a rose, but has power over many different forms of vegetation. Hiei, Kurama's partner in crime is the typical dark loner, and it is easy to see why he would be a bad guy without any reason for it. He has a myriad of mysterious powers linked to a third eye (another mythology reference) that he had surgically put into his forehead, as well as super speed and a katana-like sword. These three characters are undoubtedly the most popular among fans, and, as I said, probably could have had their own show. There are many more characters (none having much depth so far) such as Keiko, Yusuke's childhood girl-friend thing, Koenma (who can be pretty funny) and the grizzled old psychic Genkai. The bad guys, other than their unique and much more creative than Dragon Ball Z powers, are pretty generic. It's a roster of evil, slimy, power-hungry demons and not-so-bad-after-all villains, essentially.
This show is fairly average technically for 1992. The animation moves a lot like the second half of the original Bubblegum Crisis (okay, maybe that's not a good comparison--actually, it's nearly identical the three-year-younger G Gundam). The character designs are distinctive; despite the fact that everyone has the same eyes, no one looks quite the same, or the same with different hair like certain other shounen anime that I won't name. Everyone's costume and hair were generally well-done and creative, although it seems like they got stuck on using boy's school uniforms a little too much (in the beginning, all of the main characters except Hiei wore differently-colored boy's school uniforms). I suppose, however, that after playing Tokimeki Memorial for five minutes any complaint about too many school uniforms in Yuu Yuu Hakusho would instantly vanish. The bad guys were also designed well, and many of their superfluous bizarre appendages actually had a purpose in their powers (such as the guy who has two red antennae on his forehead that function as an aiming mechanism for his special attack, a sort of weird bow and arrow made out of lightning).
The music is fairly standard; the openings and endings are good, but most of the BGMs are just BGM versions of the opening. There are also only about two or three of them in the whole show. One thing--in the dub version, the songs were translated and re-sung in English. Having learned a little Japanese, I can say that the translation is almost nothing like the original lyrics (in the opening, the line "hohoemi no bakudan," smiling bomb, was changed to "thank you for waking me up").
The voice acting in the dub completely blew me away. I'm sure a lot of their fans will have complaints about the voices of Kurama and Hiei. True, Hiei's acting was a little rough at times, but the voice fit him well enough, being deep and somewhat menacing and having the ability to whisper furtively or yell evilly. Kurama's voice and acting were both nearly perfect, and probably the best in the show (also probably very close to the Japanese version). Botan was very good as well, with an upbeat voice that could still sound angry, and the slightest hint of an accent. Yusuke's voice was the same as Goku, but sounded less big and stupid. It adapted itself perfectly to the character, but there was something missing. Kuwabara's voice, while not terrible, sounded too much like a talking while throwing up GI Joe cartoon voice for my taste. Most people probably won't mind, since cartoony voices are one of my personal sticking points in anime dubs.
Just one more thing to say, which has very little to do with Yuu Yuu Hakusho's overall quality; many of the somewhat brutal or cold-blooded death scenes were left in the edited version. Skip this last paragraph if you haven't seen it or don't care about some non-purist raving. Unlike old Cartoon Network edits, the characters actually throw around the noun "kill" and use the verb form when speaking of their own actions. In one scene, a demon whom Kurama was fighting in a tournament had been threatening to have his friend kill Kurama's human mother if Kurama didn't give up and let himself die. Kurama had secretly planted a small seed on the demon's chest that he could use to kill him with a thought. During the last moments, the demon begged for life, saying, "Don't you believe in mercy?" Kurama replied simply "No" before triggering the plant and killing the demon. The point? A lot of anime fans complain about Cartoon Network editing anime too heavily. Being someone who's nearly always broke, I've continued watching the anime they show. I used to complain as well, but I think leaving in scenes like this means they are making some effort to leave the anime as close to the original as possible, and really, people, what difference does it make whether the characters say "hell" or "heck?" It's the same idea. Just thought that bore a little mentioning.
Anyway, Yuu Yuu Hakusho is darker and more cutthroat than Dragon Ball Z, so it's really not for kids. For older fans of Dragon Ball Z, you might like it, and if you don't like Dragon Ball Z, don't let that stop you from seeing it. After all, I hate Dragon Ball Z as much as anyone else who hates it and I still like Yuu Yuu Hakusho. And keep in mind what I said--don't let the changing of a few swear words stop you from watching it on TV. It's free, after all.
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Notes and Trivia
Based on a 19-volume manga series by Yoshihiro Togashi that originally ran in Shonen Jump from 1990 to 1994. The manga version is available in English from VIZ.
US DVD Review
FUNimation's DVDs come with four episodes per disc, and are uncut with both Japanese and English audio and English subtitles. They don't boast of any special features. They're also sold in 7-disc box sets of sagas. The series is being re-released on inexpensive 2-disc sets with about 14 episodes each.
The uncut version is in the 13-up range. The edited version is appropriate for most ages.
Violence: 2 - There is blood, but not much. Can get pretty brutal.
Nudity: 1 - Just a few panty shots in the first episode.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - A couple dirty jokes, and some more realistic crime lords in later episodes.
Language: 1 - Light profanity, sparingly. None in edited version.
Available in North America from FUNimation on uncut hybrid DVD as "Yu Yu Hakusho, Ghost Files." Comes in both individual discs and box sets. Was also available on edited and unedited dubbed VHS, and shown on TV.