It’s time to look at an incredibly well known anime in the form of Yu Yu Hakusho. This anime is one of the all time greats and after watching it I can confirm that the dub is top 5. Purely in terms of script it may be the best one yet. The anime really nails Yusuke’s character and makes him even greater than he was in the manga. (Where he was already pretty great) The show is definitely a very complete one and certainly an anime that you should find the time to watch. It’s fairly long, but that’s a good thing.
The basic premise is that Yusuke is a delinquent. He doesn’t like going to school and the teachers don’t like him. One day, he dies when saving a kid from a passing car. Yusuke’s soul did not pass on though and he was chosen as a spirit detective. Eventually he gets his body back, but the detective gig is still going on. Yusuke must now live a dual life as he fights off demons and would be conquerors while still dealing with school. Although, the first half takes up most of the anime as he rarely ever seems to be in the human world during the show. From the Dark Tournament to the big Demon Tournament, there’s a lot of epic action in this show.
Right away you’ll notice how great the script is. There’s enough memorable quotes to make long video compilations of them. Yusuke has dozens of amazing burns and zingers throughout. You know he’s gonna say something cool whenever he talks. I think part of what makes him so great is how he really isn’t afraid of anything. Even when he’s tied up he’ll talk about how the villain’s boring him. His humor can range from defiant to even edgy, but he’s always got something to say about everything. I’ve never seen such an amazing script before. He can pull off pretty much every emotion as Yusuke goes through a lot of sad moments mixed in with the rage and defiant ones. He also gets a lot of great character development throughout the series. It’s hard to believe he’s the same kid who began the series as a normal boxer and eventually goes on to Goku levels of strength. It’s pretty uncanny. I think Yusuke seems a little more merciful in the anime version than in the manga as I seem to remember him being quicker to try and axe the doctor there, but it’s been a while since I read it.
The animation is definitely really sharp. It only gets better and better as the series goes on. It has that distinct 90’s-early 2000s look about it. The colors are sharp and you can feel the power behind the hits in the fight scenes. The series also has fun using some experimental animation from time to time like Yusuke’s fight against the doctor or some of Hiei’s shadow dragon techniques. It’s nice that the series is confident enough to try these things out. Nowadays you don’t really see that very much. I mean, the experimental stuff usually doesn’t quite hold its own to the normal animation so it’s not a bad thing if they skip that altogether, but I don’t mind the attempts especially if they’re infrequent.
We also have to mention the soundtrack as that one is an easy 5/5. There are a lot of incredibly tense themes throughout the series. Pretty much all the top ones are in the Dark Tournament arc. I don’t know the exact names, but the anticipation theme from when the battles are about to start is always good or the feeling of unease theme when the villain powers up. The Sensui arc also had some solid tunes like Sensui’s theme as well. The final arc wasn’t quite as solid with the new themes, but by that point the series already had a huge selection so it’s not like it needed more.
Naturally a show that is over 100 episodes will likely hit some pitfalls along the way. There is some animal violence in the show via flashbacks as we learn someone’s sob story. There are also bits of the story that are pretty dark with torture and stuff. Almost surprisingly the series manages to avoid fanservice although in trying to make Yusuke a big delinquent we do get some dicey moments with him and Keiko. Even though they’re friends it can be a bit iffy. Still, 90% of the time the show avoids these things and it’s long enough where the positives manage to overpower these negatives. That’s a luxury that a shorter show would not have had.
After all, the show is not lacking in positives. Top notch dialogue and fights for over 100 episodes will do that to you. The show also has an incredible main cast and a lot of solid supporting characters. I already talked about Yusuke, but now lets take a look at the rest of his crew. First you’ve got Yusuke’s best friend Kuwabara. He starts out as a fellow delinquent, but gradually begins to hit the books more. Throughout the series a running theme is that he is trying his best to put down the fists and pick up some knowledge. At the same time he’ll never back down from a fight though and has a strong honor code. It’s pretty rough for him since he’s still just a human though and can’t quite keep up once the enemies start getting really high tier. He even missed out on the entire final arc as a result. He’s a fun character although from the main 4 he is certainly the weakest one both in strength and character.
Next up is Kurama, the brains of the group. He’s always thinking up a plan of action for the others, but can also fight quite well when necessary. He’s quite possibly the best executed brainiac type character. He’s not one of those smart characters who lacks common sense or is terrible at fighting. Part of being a top strategist is knowing how to defeat an opponent. He’s also got human ties which end up giving him a ton of character development. An opponent may get the upper hand against him temporarily, but this never lasts. Kurama always wins the end game.
Then we have Hiei, the best character in the show aside from Yusuke. He starts out as a villain very briefly, but then plays more of a Vegeta type role for the rest of the series. He’s probably one of the only characters who got a power boost from being good rather than evil. As a villain he was very weak, partially because the author likely hadn’t thought of what to do with him at the end. By the end of the series he is able to trade blows with all of the big shots. Hiei’s confidence always makes him a winner and makes for a lot of hype scenes. As I said, the core characters are very solid here.
Moving on to other big characters, we have Yusuke’s mentor Genkai. She’s far better than the average Shonen mentors like Jiraiya and Roshi. She actually knows how to fight and teaches Yusuke a lot of important life lessons. While she is old, Genkai is still able to fight with the stronger characters in the series. Keiko is the main heroine. She’s pretty solid although it would have been cool if she could have learned how to fight by the end of the series. She always protects Yusuke’s spirit animal though and never lets the villains get her into a hostage situation. She can take care of herself pretty well.
Botan is the more charismatic heroine though. Her accent is handled well and she does like trolling Yusuke quite a bit. She’s mainly here to drop off information from Spirit World or give the heroes a push in the right direction when they need it. Koenma is her boss, but he spends a lot of time panicking. He doesn’t actually intervene in the action until near the end of the series. He’s not really much of a fighter but his pacifier makes for a very powerful tool. It’s actually a very satisfying reason as to why he still uses one even though he’s grown up. I was blown away at this revelation.
Yukina is an ice princess who appears early on in the series and sticks around as a supporting character. While most of the characters know that she is Hiei’s sister early on that plot runs all the way through to the end as they keep it a secret from her. She’s not quite as outgoing as the other characters, but always presents herself in a very dignified manner. Rinku’s a yoyo user who’s definitely very confident. He’s not one of the more powerful characters in the series, but I suppose just making it into the Dark Tournament is enough to say you’ve earned the right to be confident. He’s not my favorite villain, but he’s not bad I suppose.
Chu is one of Rinku’s teammates and he is certainly a lot tougher. He definitely makes for good fight scenes although his character starts to go down towards the end of the series. Toya is a fierce ice ninja who’s definitely cool. There isn’t a whole lot to say about him but when the chips are down he is ready to help Yusuke. Jin is another ninja and he just loves a good fight. His accent is so strong that you might have a difficult time understanding anything he is saying, but that’s part of the fun with the character. He’s definitely eager and one of the more memorable characters from the tournament.
Then we have Younger Toguro who is certainly one of the most important characters in the series. He’s extremely powerful and serves as an impressive roadblock for Yusuke. He has a pretty solid backstory and his motivations for fighting aren’t bad either. Toguro is the kind of villain who does have an honor system while battling. I definitely think he wouldn’t have lasted long in demon world, but I think a part of him knew that from the start. He got greedy for power and paid the price, but it’s easy to see why he is one of the most popular villains. He certainly is cool.
Elder Toguro isn’t quite as solid. He’s definitely more of a trickster and is willing to achieve victory at any price. Definitely not a villain you want to turn your back to. You can’t deny that the guy is persistent though. With his regeneration and quick attacks he is one of the most deadly villains in the entire series. Not my kind of villain but he makes for good fights. Then we have Karasu who is certainly quick and manages to stay competitive in his fight even when up against Yoko Kurama. He’s slightly less engaging than the other members of Team Toguro but another big hit overall. Then we have Bui who has a really cool design with the armor. His weapon is comically large to the point where it seems impractical but that speaks to how strong he is. His fight with Hiei is definitely a lot of fun and we get a lot of DBZ visuals as well as abstract moments. He doesn’t talk much until the very end. Then we have Sakyo, who is the guy who orchestrated the events of the tournament behind the scenes. His backstory is definitely iffy and so he would have been a dicey villain had he not changed. Fortunately in the present he’s much better. He’s a tactician and not a fighter, but has the courage to stand next to villains who could wipe him out in an instant. Sakyo is ambitious and makes for a very interesting antagonist. He does give up a bit easy in the end, but definitely adds to the atmosphere.
Then we get to Sensui who is definitely an iconic villain. He’s basically insane and has a lot of split personalities. Sensui simply couldn’t deal with the pressures of being a spirit detective and so he became a citizen of evil. Still, he didn’t lose his tactical mind and what makes him such a dangerous villain is that he has super strength as well as a sharp intellect. He continues to get stronger and stronger throughout the arc and is definitely a villain that you’ll miss once he’s gone. He’s definitely one of the greats. He has a band of minions who all get a bit of a role. The smallest role likely belongs to Gourmet though. That guy just got too overconfident for his own good. He’s not nearly as dangerous as the other members of the group since his “Territory” abilities just aren’t too potent.
Itsuki is probably the only member of Sensui’s team who isn’t an underling. Without him Sensui’s plan wouldn’t have a chance and the ex detective knows this. Itsuki does a good job of maintaining the portal as well as buying time for Sensui. He’s not the most interesting villain, but he’s good at what he does. Minoru is a crazed doctor who worked as part of Sensui’s group. He’s probably the most psychotic as he doesn’t even care about the plan so long as he gets to murder people. There was definitely no reasoning with him. His episodes were fun though with the hospital being a very unique locale. You rarely see it being used for fights.
Kaname is definitely good with a weapon and gave Yusuke a lot of trouble during their fight. His ability is probably the most deadly in a typical situation since he has a ton of range. It’s hard to get close to him and he can shoot you at any time. If he fought almost anyone but Yusuke he might have won since even here it ultimately took a third party to stop him. Mitarai gets the most development from the group, but he also whines a whole lot so it’s a mixed bag. The guy ultimately sees the light, but I never became a big fan of the guy. He doesn’t really add much to the table. Then we have Amanuma who is a lot younger than the other characters and as a result it’s easy for Sensui to manipulate him. His end is actually one of the most tragic in the series. The kid was messing with forces beyond his comprehension.
Yomi is one of the 3 Kings and probably the one who gets the most screen time of the 3. He’s another master strategist as this series kept on its path to Hunter X Hunter levels of conflict. Like Sensui he is also ultra powerful though so don’t think that relying on his intellect is his only option. The voice they chose for him in the dub is perfect and he certainly commands the room whenever he appears. He’s always a few steps ahead of the other characters and seems to be ready for any angle. He only loses his cool once or twice during the series. I liked him a lot more in the anime than in the manga, maybe it’s just how the directing was or how they took the arc’s direction. Either way he was quite solid and so the series continued the trend of having great main villains for each arc.
Mukuro is another one of the Kings, although she is a little less impressive than Yomi. I think her character arc feels like it never had much of a final destination at times. By the time we get her origin story it’s pretty late in the game. Still, she’s a solid villain as well and we do get to see her fight quite a bit by the end. Then we have Raizen who lived and died by his ethics. At least he stayed strong so I’ll give him some props there. Still, I feel like he didn’t really handle any of his situations too well and ultimately came close to dooming his people. I never really became a fan of his in the end. There are quite a few other characters who show up in the final arc like Raizen’s friends and the lieutenants of each faction. The only one to get a really big role was Shigure I’d say. He definitely had a big part in Hiei’s origin story and made for an interesting wild card. The monks on Yusuke’s team were also interesting even if they did keep subtly saying that they were weaker than the other factions by a lot even once the tournament had started.
Naturally there are a bunch of other characters but if you want to see them all then check out the show. There’s not a whole lot to say about the pre arc adventures, but pretty much every story part of Yu Yu Hakusho is interesting and a lot of fun. Again, it comes down to the fact that this show was firing on all cylinders in every area. Each arc is also pretty different. The Dark Tournament is awesome because of the constant fights. It embraces its shonen nature and adds in a lot of danger and suspense constantly. The way the rounds are handled is also a lot of fun as you never know exactly how the next fight is going to be structured. This also makes things difficult on the heroes since they don’t know what to expect either. There’s a lot of backstabbing going on here as well.
Then you have the Sensui arc which is a big tonal shift in the series. We get a lot of new themes that fit in with this. It started out on an awesome note as well with Yusuke being kidnapped. It’s handled in a way that really makes you anticipate the next episode. Whether you watch the show weekly or binge it, you’ll be at the edge of your seat. Yusuke’s first encounter with Sensui in the city is also epic. This arc had the highest stakes and the most tension in the series. You really never knew what to expect and while Dark Tournament is certainly still my favorite arc, this one’s also dynamite.
In comparison the final arc is a little weaker, but it’s still pretty excellent. I think I enjoyed the build up and first half more than the tournament ironically. There were just so many players and plot threads moving early on that it was a lot of fun. In a sense it all climaxed when Yusuke went to Yomi’s base to discuss things. There were a lot of ways that could have gone. The tournament was fun and all, but I did like the idea of a 3 way war for the demon world. I think that would have made for a more enjoyable arc, but it probably would have been super long as well so it makes sense that the show shifted gears. The tournament was still a lot of fun anyway even if for the first time there were no real stakes here.
Overall, Yu Yu Hakusho is definitely one of the best anime out there. I highly recommend checking it out ASAP. The show is pretty great from the start, but it enters elite status once the Dark Tournament begins. That’s when the series really hits its groove. From there on the rest of the series continues to operate on that high level and never looks back. Even the transitions from arc to arc are incredibly smooth with new villains showing up and a lot of great fights. As the series is ending there are fights right up until the end. Whether we ever get a sequel or not, the series is definitely very complete. There’s so much to talk about in this series but at the end of the day you’ve really got to experience it yourself to see what all the fuss is about.