There aren’t many fighting series more unapologetically about fighting than Yu Yu Hakusho. Throwing Hajime no Ippo and Baki into the mix is arguable, but those are about “real” fights; you want larger than life monsters and spirit blasts and stadiums that put even the audience at risk, then you gotta go all the way. Though you don’t see any live-action movies being slapped together by American studios for this series, its staying power has obviously endured from reissue to reissue, and this might be the best time to hop in on the cheap for a couple dozen episodes of face-pounding on the brink.
Yusuke Urameshi and his team—comprised primarily of Kurama, Kuwabara and Hiei—are in the middle of facing off with Toguro’s team in the Dark Tournament, and the matches aren’t getting any easier. Since the first disc and part of the second close out this arc, expect some of the most ridiculous feats of strength and intimidation yet. For example, as Kuwabara readies to face off against the elder of the Toguro brothers, a delay occurs thanks to the literally earth-shattering abuse Hiei gave the ring in the previous battle. These delays don’t last long, though, as the younger and bulkier Toguro enters from stage right, hoisting the new stone ring on his shoulder like it’s nothing more than a papier-mÃ.chÃ© construct.
The final rounds are some of the most brutal yet, but Yusuke’s climactic match with Toguro does slow down the show a bit. It’s exciting, but it would be even more so had it been condensed some, paring it down to the bullet points that act as the punch-to-punch highlights. Instead, we have Toguro constantly changing his physical makeup, from big and bulky to lean and mean and back again. Given the nature of the genre, it’s amazing that they don’t drag more fights out this far, so it seems like a fair compromise to sit through this particularly long showdown before moving on to the next arc.
Offering a reprieve from the Dark Tournament, the “Chapter Black Saga” turns the fighting back a notch for a bit and brings the darker elements of the series toward the forefront once again. Yusuke is kidnapped and held in a creepy mansion, Kurama plays a soul-wrangling game of Taboo, and a nefarious doctor spreads his poison throughout a hospital. There’s even an episode on the fourth disc that features a young boy with the power to make video games real… I swear I had a dream like that once. This is the type of storytelling the first few episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho heralded, back when it seemed like Togashi had more of a supernatural sleuthing serial in mind. It all comes back to fighting, of course, but there’s dread and suspense in the rest of season three that goes beyond the simple question of whether or not our heroes will survive the next round in the stone circle.
The aforementioned volley of endless battling may sound eye-rolling to those that aren’t acclimated to the rigorous task of marathoning shonen anime, but there are some key differences between YYH and its contemporaries. As much as I love Dragon Ball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho hits a better blend of training, which is sparse, and actual fighting. Most of all, I just love the universe Togashi has created. As with Toriyama, there’s a lot of care put into the finer details, like making even the insignificant denizens of the world’s different locales his own. This is just one of the reasons that watching episode after episode of tournament action isn’t a chore. The characters are neatly fleshed out at this point and it’s hard not to care what happens to them.
Yu Yu Hakusho, like many long-running series still being distributed in this ever-changing domestic anime climate, has seen quite a few releases over the years. In fact, this collection arrives just a hair under a year after I reviewed Eight Finalists, the final volume in FUNimation’s last set. Keeping that in mind, I won’t waste your time going off again on how much I love the dub—this coming from a guy that watches shows in Japanese 99% of the time—and I’ll leave fighting fans with a casual nod in this set’s direction. Obviously it’s not worth picking up if you own these episodes in any previous form, but at an MSRP of $34.98 ($24.99 at Amazon) for 27 episodes of action, it’s an absolute steal.
Images © Pierrot/Shueisha