So, I didn’t post anything for the month of November. This was largely because I decided to complement watching the entire One Piece series with the entire Yu Yu Hakusho series. Yu Yu Hakusho was a show I was aware of before. I had seen bits and pieces of it when it aired on Toonami back in the “good ol’ days” but I always seemed to catch it in the middle of a fight and with no context I couldn’t really get into it. I also didn’t find the premise of a “Spirit Detective” to be too interesting at the time. Of course, once I watched the show I realized that a “Spirit Detective” isn’t really what I thought it was.
I thought a Spirit Detective would be, you know, someone doing detective work and solving crimes. Apparently, it’s actually a guy running around getting into fights with demons. Oddly enough, a lot of these fights (I believe more than half) happen within the context of some kind of tournament. So, in short, it’s a tournament fighter anime (or at least the good parts are). The story of Yu Yu Hakusho centers around Yusuke Urameshi (which often sounds like it’s being pronounced “Hirameshi”). Yusuke is a teenage delinquent who unexpectedly dies when he jumps in front of a car to save a small child. He’s brought back to life by the authorities of Spirit World and given the job of being “Spirit Detective” where his job seems to hunt down and defeat troublesome demons.
The first 20 or so episodes of the show are actually kind of slow. It mostly deals with Yusuke dying and then his ordeal in becoming the spirit detective. That’s followed by episodes that introduce his team: Hiei and Kurama (reformed demons), Kuwabara (a human friend of Yusuke’s) and Genkai (his martial arts mentor). Yusuke’s girlfriend Keiko and his spirit world boss and helper Koenma and Botan (the pilot of the River Styx) are also introduced. All of this leads to Yusuke’s first big case as spirit detective which leads him and his team into a series of fights to take out the 4 “Saint Beasts”. This starts a series of events that move the group along from one series of fights to another, each one requiring the fighters to cultivate more power and abilities. This starts a cycle of Yusuke constantly having to enter into one fight after another throughout the series. After several different types of battles, Yusuke ends up fighting in something called the Dark Tournament in the Demon World. Once there, Yusuke learns the true source of his powers and has to make a choice between two different sides of himself.
Even though it sounds like a standard shonen anime, it actually stands in a few ways:
1 .The pacing (outside of the first part of the series) is actually pretty good.
The fighters don’t spend a lot of time training on screen. New powers and abilities are usually introduced for the first time in an actual fight. Even when there are times that a character (usually Yusuke) is off powering up, the other members of his team are likely already involved in a fight. The show also doesn’t get bogged down by filler or by the romantic relationship. I was kind of surprised that the show didn’t spend more time focusing on Yusuke and Keiko since she’s obviously very important to him. It was really more like a Goku/Chi-Chi relationship, except that Keiko’s not really a Tsundere.
2. You don’t get the sense that the good guy will always win in a fight.
In fact, Yusuke’s team loses quite a few fights. Although things have a way of working out in the end for them, there’s a lot of times where the fighters will make big sacrifices to win their fights or they’ll find themselves outclassed or tricked into losing a fight. It also helps that the other fighters around Yusuke are actually competent so you feel like they’re actually worth watching. It’s not quite like a DBZ style situation where they’re just helpless until the main character shows up.
3. The show’s pretty well planned out
Sometimes, shonen story lines feel like it’s just one random event piled on top of another. In this series, each event is somehow tied to a previous battle or plot. I think the exception to this is the “Saint Beasts” story line but, after that the stories are tied together, usually being introduced by a character that was important in the previous story. The one exception to this may be the last story line involving Yusuke’s previously unmentioned demon ancestor, who’s dormant blood turns Yusuke into some kind of demon hybrid. This is the one point in the show where it really feels like the writers just fell back on to the “let’s just pull some Deus ex machina solution out of thin air” trope that can plague this genre. Otherwise the solutions felt very organic to the characters and situation.
I really enjoyed watching this show and I’m glad I went back to it even after all this time. The animation style is dated, but they put enough effort into it (especially in the later episodes) that it’s still very much watchable. As I mentioned before the pacing and planning of the show are actually pretty good and make the show enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend someone watching this as an introduction to shonen or as a good example of it.