Full Series Review: YuYu Hakusho
Plot Summary (Beware Spoilers!):
Spoiler Warning: This review WILL contain spoilers of the show, including information relating to the ending of the series and of various story arcs within it.
YuYu Hakusho is the story of Yusuke Urameshi, a tough delinquent teenage boy with a bit of an attitude problem. He manages to surprise the spirit world by sacrificing himself to save a child from getting hit by a car, dying in the first episode. The following episodes revolve around Yusuke eventually earning his life back and then being recruited by spirit world for a position called Spirit Detective.
Basically, the world of humans exists in a balance with spirit world and demon world. The idea repeated throughout the series is that neither humans nor demons are all bad or all good, there are good and evil humans and good and evil demons. In the beginning, demons who threaten the laws spirit world has in place to protect people from demons have to be dealt with by Yusuke, the new Spirit Detective. Along the way he makes two enemies, Kurama and Hiei, into allies, and also gets help from his friend Kuwabara, and the four become an unstoppable team of fighters. He also gets training and guidance from Genkai, an elderly woman with amazing psychic abilities.
The second season is about a fighting tournament in Demon World called The Dark Tournament. Most people think of this as the most iconic part of the show, and it's probably what stands out in the minds of most fans when they remember YuYu Hakusho.
The tournament is all-out fighting to the death (or until a fighter is severely injured to the point of being incapacitated) between teams of five. Normally, humans do not participate in the tournament, so the appearance in Demon World of Koenma (the son of the ruler of spirit world), Yusuke, Kuwabara, and Keiko, Yusuke's girlfriend, and Shizuru, Kuwabara's sister, cause a bit of a stir. The crowd at the tournament is fanatical and impatient, demanding to see action and bloodshed. Every fight in this arc is dramatic and intense, without the viewer knowing much about what to expect. But the best fight comes from two villains known as the Toguro Brothers.
The Toguro Brothers are fought at the end and probably pose the greatest challenge to "Team Urameshi", because the team is in a severely weakened state at this point and because the brothers both have amazing special abilities that rival those of any of the other demons in the tournament. Elder Toguro looks fragile, but is incredibly hard to kill permanently and amazingly tough and resilient, making him a near-miss for Kurama who goes up against him. Younger Toguro is much bigger and stronger, and possibly the strongest villain in all of anime, and definitely in this series. Younger Toguro's multiple-episode-spanning fight with Yusuke concludes the Dark Tournament in a most impressive finale. It's a very exciting battle, and learning about the Toguro brothers' history makes you see how Younger Toguro and Yusuke are alike and different.
Then, Season 3, called the Chapter Black Saga, is a personal favorite of mine. This saga explores the ambiguity between good and evil and the fact that there is both potential good and potential evil in all sentient creatures. It also iterates that life circumstances outside an individual's control can often have a profound impact on who they become. It is revealed that there was once a former spirit detective named Sensui, who was incredibly gifted at fighting demons. However, he became sensitive to the fact that demons were not always evil and became a demon sympathizer and enemy of humanity after watching a forbidden tape known as Chapter Black. Koenma explains to Yusuke that Chapter Black, which shows all the evil and disgusting things humans have done, was part of a training exercise, and was normally followed by showing Chapter White, which contained scenes of all the good things humans have done.
Sensui is now trying to open a portal that will allow powerful demons, who are normally restricted from entering human world, to do just that. He kidnaps Kuwabara, who has developed, through the Dark Tournament and after it, the ability to tear holes in barriers between worlds. Sensui has a small group of devoted and powerful henchmen that Yusuke has to fight. He becomes allied once again with Kurama and Hiei, but the audience doesn't really know if they're really in it to save Kuwabara and the human world, or if they just want to grab Chapter Black for their own purposes, at first.
Like with Toguro, this story arc concludes with a massive battle that involves a lot of talking and a revelation of Sensui's past and emotions. Sensui, however, is more complex than Toguro was, since his personality is split into seven people, each one created to deal with the inner moral confusion and mental turmoil caused by his own actions. He proves to be formidable for Yusuke, but of course, Team Urameshi emerges victoriously.
After that experience, Yusuke is a little psychologically shaken, and decides to seek advice from another former spirit detective, a woman named Kuroko Sanada, who has now retired in the woods to live in peace with her two terrifying demon-slaying twin children, and her husband, a novelist. However, their little chat is interrupted by the intrusion of three visitors from demon world who say that Yusuke has been summoned by a demon king: who just happens to be Yusuke's own ancestor.
So, although the possibility that he will be able to return home to see Keiko and other people that he loves again is basically nil, he decides to return to demon world to see what all the fuss is about with the old man. The deal with demon world is, there is a delicate balance of power between three kings. Yusuke's ancestor, Raizen, is one of them, but he is dying, because ever since his affair with a human woman that makes him Yusuke's ancestor, he has refused to eat humans, which he must do in order to live.
Although the starvation doesn't happen overnight, Raizen has gotten to the point where he may die soon, which will result in war waged for power in demon world by the rival kings. Around the time that Yusuke is finding all this out about his own ancestor and the fact that he might have to train to become Raizen's successor, Hiei and Kurama are also recruited to be seconds-in-command by the two rival kings, due to various associations we learn about that are from their past, before they met Yusuke.
However, when Raizen dies, the power in demon world ends up being decided by Yusuke, who, not being all that interested in ruling demon world, chooses instead to have a tournament to choose someone, much like the Dark Tournament, but with individuals rather than teams. So, every demon dude with even the slightest interest shows up and they all start wailing on each other, until a new demon king is found. I won't say everything, but each character gets a happy ending, and you get the feeling that there will be peace and a balance between demon, human, and spirit worlds for a long time.
Yusuke Urameshi: A 14-year-old boy with a bad attitude, who spends his time skipping school and getting into fights. Throughout the show, however, he undergoes a lot of maturation and personal growth as he develops his powers and abilities, as both an ass-kicker and as a leader of an ass-kicking team.
Kazuma Kuwabara: (Just called Kuwabara) A friend and classmate of Yusuke's, with psychic powers such as the ability to see ghosts, who develops a Spirit Sword technique, and by season 3 becomes powerful enough to make holes in the barriers between worlds with this ability. In the beginning episodes, Yusuke had to possess Kuwbara in order to get his own body back. During the Dark Tournament arc, Toguro fake-kills Kuwabara so that Yusuke will be motivated to fight without holding anything back, and this causes Yusuke to unleash his most powerful attacks. Kuwabara got kidnapped by Sensui in the third season because of his psychic abilities. However, since what happens later is a matter for demons, he doesn't do very much in the fourth season, except fulfilling his usual roles as comedic relief and Yusuke's loyal right-hand man. Kuwabara is brave, loyal, and loves kittens. I didn't like his dumb-sounding voice in the dub, but it was always funny how, for a psychic, he always seemed unaware of what was going on. I also like him because he shows that true power can come from training, not just from innate ability.
Shizuru Kuwabara: Kuwabara's older and much wiser sister. She's a sarcastic chain smoker. She doesn't have powers, which makes her a good friend for Keiko, and is mostly important in the Dark Tournament arc, but for the rest of the story she's mostly a background character with the occasional witty remark. Basically, she's a spectator.
Keiko Yukimura: Yusuke's girlfriend, a top student at his class and kind of a goody two-shoes type of person, in contrast with Yusuke's rebelliousness. She tries to nag him into going to school and taking it seriously for once in the early episodes, to no avail. She's important in helping him get his body back in season 1, and watches him participate in the Dark Tournament. Even though Keiko is not a very interesting character, she's god natured, kind, and someone to help Yusuke remember what he's fighting for when things get hard.
Hiei: An awesome badass demon who fights with incredible speed and kills without mercy. His technique, The Dragon of the Darkness Flame, and his powerful Jagan Eye (a third eye that gives him powers when opened, but is normally closed), along with his pure determination, make him one of the most interesting characters to watch. Personally I not only loved seeing him in battle, but his twisted sense of humor is really funny as well.
Kurama: A powerful fox demon who lived as a human for many years, like Hiei, he is a criminal leader turned good guy. He is not as cruel as Hiei, but should not be underestimated. His rose whip technique is incredibly versatile, and he can do interesting things involving a wide range of deadly plants. Kurama is probably the smartest member of Team Urameshi, and an excellent battle strategist who thinks several steps ahead.
Yukina: An ice maiden demon, revealed late in the show to be Hiei's sister. The ice maidens live on a mountain and throw male babies off the cliff, raising only the female ones, but Hiei managed to survive this. What I like is that, even though Yukina is introduced as a "weak" damsel in distress character in the beginning, over time she is revealed to be more capable, and becomes more confident.
Botan: A perky "grim reaper/angel of death/shinigami" girl. She flies around on an oar and usually wears a pink kimono, but sometimes wears disguises and civilian clothes. She has some psychic abilities, obviously, but isn't a fighter like Yusuke.
Koenma: The son of the ruler of the spirit world, he deals with the Spirit Detectives directly, and seems to do a lot of the paperwork and other business of running spirit world for his dad. He usually looks like a baby, but can turn into a handsome teenager as well, although when he does this he retains a pacifier in his mouth. In later seasons, he is more frequently shown in teenage boy form, and becomes less of a comical character and more of a serious one, because the plot takes a more serious turn from the end of the Dark Tournament.
Genkai: Probably the toughest female character in the series, aside from Mukuro (one of the three demon kings), and definitely the most badass human in the series besides Yusuke. She becomes a mentor to Yusuke and Kuwabara and trains Yusuke throughout the series and gives him advice whenever he needs to be stronger. Her crowning glory, however, is in the Dark Tournament, when she uses her psychic powers to look young again and becomes a temporary emergency replacement fighter for Team Urameshi so that the team will not be disqualified by not having enough fighters at one point. In those fights, you really see how Genkai earned her reputation. She's very hard on Yusuke, but fair, and she's highly capable of motivating him with tough love.
There are lots of other minor characters, many with interesting personalities, who add a lot of dimensionality to the show. There are a ton of cool demon fighters in the Tournament, there's the comedic and cute duo of Juri and Koto, the fish-like and fox-like demon babes who do the announcing for the Dark Tournament, and a whole bunch of totally awesome villains. There's even the occasional really badass human.
Conclusion and Rating
I love this show. For me, it has lots of things I like in anime in general, but the main reasons I prefer it to many other shounen animes include:
- Lack of filler. Every episode is intense, and every episode moves the story forward in some crucial way.
- The really cool looking powers and villains. The writer, I believe, expresses a lot of creativity in giving each character unique abilities. Even when the heroes are up against a minor villain who you know they'll destroy, the show can still throw surprises at you.
- The character development and team-bonding that happens with Yusuke, Hiei, Kuwabara, and Kurama becoming better people as they become better fighters, and learning to trust and rely on each other as teammates.
The show is funny at times, and at other times surprisingly sentimental and touching. It also has better action and fighting sequences than most other anime series, and any shounen fan should put it at the top of their list. I love this show, and rewatch it all the time, so this is probably one of few series I would say truly merits 5/5 stars.