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Yu Yu Hakusho - A Retrospective

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Before buying the season sets, I had not seen Yu Yu Hakusho en masse since its run on Toonami. I had seen a few episodes since then, but this is the first time I got to actually sit and watch them in order from start to finish. I didnít marathon it, but I did finish off in a couple of months or so. In a world where a 4:3 set of Dragonball Z is really expensive, itís nice to know this series exists.

If you havenít seen it, itís worth a watch. Assuming of course you are into action anime of this type. Yu Yu Hakusho is nicely character driven and tends to get some neat camera angles, lighting, and colors as needed for effect.

It has all of the standard archetypes, such as Yusuke, the protagonistís protagonist, punk kid with a smart mouth and a heart of gold. Then thereís the comic-relief sidekick Kuwabara, Hiei the demon antihero, and Kurama the half human, half demon strategist of the group.

As I said, they are archetypal, but the show takes them on a nice twist. Even though Kuwabara is mostly comic relief, being consistently the weakest of the team, he does have his moments of real character. Also, the Spirit Sword Monster Beast Doughnut is by far the greatest name for an attack in this show.

Kurama has to actually deal with his human/demon hybridization, balancing his former life as a powerful demon with the significantly weaker persona he has become, and choosing what it is he wants. His fights are a lot of fun to watch as they tend to stray from the, use a stronger attack to outdo your opponent formula. One of the best matches in the show is one where nothing violent happens at all. He is simultaneously cold and calculating as well as merciful. He can offer a clearly outmatched foe an option to flee but kill without hesitation upon their refusal or out of necessity. Not to mention that Kurama fighting seriously is perhaps the most deadly force in this show.

Hiei, as many antiheroes do, starts as a villain, reluctantly joins the side of good, claims his motives are his own, that sort of thing. Throughout the show, he is driven by honor and respect, as well as a bit of complicated backstory shenanigans. Heís not exactly like Vegeta either (I tend to compare this show to DBZ and all antiheroes in general to Vegeta). Whereas Vegeta was a character who would let his pride and arrogance drive him to take on stronger foes, or even let weaker opponents become stronger than him, Hiei tends to take the fight smarter approach. He isnít without his pride, but it rarely drives him to attack without thought and is more centered on what he is willing to show the other characters about himself.

And of course Yusuke Urameshi, the main character proper. He probably follows the standard formula most closely of the main team. He always takes on the big bad of the season and when he does, the fights will revolve around him being weaker, then training and becoming stronger, but oh no the bad guy was holding back the whole timeÖthat whole thing until he has to put his entire being into a single attack. If youíve seen most any show like this, youíve seen this formula in action. What I love is that they give a reason for the clichť based on his personality, offering some meaning. Sure, Yusuke is following the standard protagonist formula actions, but his personality is far from the Goku-esque all around good guy characterization one might expect. As I said, he is thug who would skip school, get into fights, all that stuff. Ok, this is starting to get formulaic again. However, they use that to his advantage as a character. For instance, that whole thing with the using all of his power in one strike, thatís actually a lesson he had to learn. Being a kid with a no-show Dad, a city population that just didnít understand that he has the heart of gold, and so on, heís developed this shell of sarcastic toughness without ever actually giving his all to anything. As his mentor says, he holds back in case something doesnít work out and has to learn to care about something with his entire heart. Itís actually slightly less hokey than it sounds and is something he is able to accomplish by the end of the series, not just in combat either.

Ultimately, I think what Iím getting toward is that each character starts with an archetypical base, and then develops as the show goes on. They build relationships with each other, come to different understandings about the world and themselves. Most importantly, they finish the series different, and largely better, than how they began it. I have to give credit to a show that can do that. With its entire main cast no less.

Thatís not to say Yu Yu Hakusho is without its flaws. The series does rely on some standard tropes and it loves tournament arcs. The animation is pretty standard as well. As I said, they get some nice lighting and angles at times, but there is also obvious recycling and shortcuts that are taken. This isnít unexpected for a show with the budget this would have had, so in the end, as I said, standard. It also felt the need to add power levels, something I found unnecessary and formulaic.

Finally, I have mixed feelings on how it deals with death and killing. On the one hand, it actually does delve into it. So many shows avoid that, or worse. For instance, in the case of DBZ, death becomes meaningless. Entire planets can be destroyed, and the characters will make such a big deal of it at the time, but in the end, it doesnít matter since the dragonballs can always be used to bring them back. Naruto (manga) is looking like another one to fit this mold. I wouldnít call myself a fan of that series, but I am familiar with it and lately, as it gets more like DBZ actually, it has gotten much, much worse, particularly in this regard. Something like Fullmetal Alchemist or Avatar The Last Airbender (not anime, I know, but I donít actually watch a lot of other anime and this came to mind) deal with the consequences death and the justified kill much better.

Getting back to YYH, as I said they deal with it, but then cross the finish line each time in a clumsy way. The second to last arc of the series directly focuses on this as the main villain puts the heroes into situations where they have to fight humans. Up to this point, they had only been fighting demons. Perfect, the villain makes them question their own morality by seeing if they are willing to kill others to stop his plans. A kind of sacrifice the few for the good of the many. There could have been some really nice development and questions raised in this arc had the creators stuck with their guns on this. Or rather, had they been allowed to do so.

Despite this, I really enjoyed the show, just as I really enjoyed DBZ despite its flaws. Do I think it changed the face of animation, anime, narrative, or anything. Nah, probably not. Nevertheless, it is a worthy addition to the collection. I think I actually appreciate it more now than I did back in the day. That is to say, I like my reasoning for liking it now.

One more flaw. They constantly refer to Yusuke, who is a spirit detective by name, as having ďcracked the caseĒ or some such. Just referring to investigative stuff when none of it is actually happening. Yusuke doesnít really research anything, look for clues, or none of that. He goes out, the enemy typically identifies themselves for him, and then he beats them up. Detective indeed.

As a last note, abridged series of shows like these are a thing. Usually when I watch one, it makes me want to watch or rewatch the original show they are parodying. In this case, this is an example of a show where I watched the original and wanted to rewatch the abridged series because of it.


Thanks for reading. Later all.

Updated 09-20-2015 at 03:21 AM by xxMATEOSxx