Shounen – Action, adventure, comedy, supernatural
19 Volumes (complete)
Yusuke is a junior high delinquent: he drinks, smokes, fights, and skips school. That’s why no one expected him to die saving a child, including those in the Underworld! With no place for him in heaven or hell, Yusuke is given a test in order to be revived. Can this bad boy do enough good deeds to pass? And will his life be any different the second time around?
YuYu Hakusho‘s best asset is probably it’s length: it hits all the shounen strongpoints in a fraction of the length of other series.
One of the things YuYu Hakusho is known for is its change of genres, which was (supposedly) planned. The series starts off with ghost Yusuke helping out other spirits and humans as he tries to make sure nothing happens to his physical body. He is aided by the cheerful grim reaper Botan, childhood friend Keiko, and rival with a sixth sense Kazuma. The first two volumes are full of Yusuke helping random people and ghosts out. Two volumes may not seem like much, but in a 19 volume series, this is still a decent chunk. The episodes themselves are fairly boring, only proving to show Yusuke is not really a bad kid. We didn’t need that much explanation. Snore.
The second arc (well, many would consider it still the first arc) picks up the pace as Yusuke is forced to use both his physical prowess and his newly-awakened spirit abilities in order to work as an Underworld Detective (i.e. a bounty hunter). This part is far superior to the extended prologue. Around the fourth volume, YuYu Hakusho finds its niche: tournaments, eventually leading up to the famous Dark Tournament. Anime News Network compiled a list of heart-pounding tournaments in anime, and if you read the comments, you will find many people shocked that the Dark Tournament wasn’t included. Quite frankly, it really deserves a spot. This arc showcases pretty much everything great about shounen battle manga: some comedy, light romance, friendship, good and bad rivals, and, of course, several life-or-death moments. The Dark Tournament is just that good.
After its climax, Togashi quickly sets up for the next storyline. Unfortunately, nothing comes close to the tension-filled Dark Tournament. The story is less interesting, and quite a few plot points seem jammed in. The manga ends without another tournament (despite setting up for one), and YuYu Hakusho tapers off (and skips ahead). The former can be explained by the fact that the Dark Tournament is so good and that it’s hard to find a reason why powerful characters are suddenly getting their butts kicked; the latter, however, feels like Togashi just got bored of YuYu Hakusho. I can understand not wanting to make a Dark Tournament clone, and it is nice not having to buy 5, 10, even 15+ volumes for a not-too-surprising result. I do like how instead of an endless battlefield, YuYu Hakusho wants its characters to have a real future, one they have to make themselves.
The real problem with the later volumes of YuYu Hakusho is the art. Overall, Togashi’s style is almost the antithesis of many shounen manga like Negima! and other Akamatsu works. He thrives on packing as much action per chapter, often including heavy shading, elaborate screentones, and detailed backgrounds. Togashi, on the other hand, tends to have large, bright panels and limited backgrounds. Basically, you are going to see punches and special abilities and not much else. I remember being shocked when I first read Yu Yu Hakusho because, artistically, it had little in common with most of the shounen manga I had read. I recall being impressed at how easy it was to follow along with the action, and it still is pretty surprising.
The main characters also tend to wear simplistic clothing, and some of the characters really don’t have any identifying features. Keiko hardly looks like a main character’s love interest, and even ice maiden Yukina is pretty much a girl in a plain kimono. In the early volumes, the side characters (especially Kazuma) often look like they’re super-deformed. Yusuke himself often appears in a dramatic, realistic format. Some shots reminds me so much of I”s or Video Girl Ai. Once Yusuke’s main team is established, the goofier images are cut down. At least the simplicity gives Togashi the time and energy to put a lot of effort into showing the injuries and blood loss during battles.
But towards the end, the art just gets sloppy. The quality just goes down. The finished product looks more like a draft sometimes, and the panels are often large to cover up the lack of detail. More than the story, the art is the real disappointment after the Dark Tournament.
But if nothing else, Togashi knew how to attract an audience. Create a group adventure so that fans can choose someone — not necessarily the protagonist — to really grab their attention and represent the hero of their dreams. Include a pretty boy for the female fans. Throw in some BL fodder. Make the main character a good bad boy. Romance without rivals. Make the mentor an old female. Skip long filler and dragged-out training arcs. While the manga does have filler (most notably the aforementioned ghost stories), the series is still much shorter than a lot of shounen epics. Heck, a lot of couples in a romance can’t get together in 19 volumes!
YuYu Hakusho is definitely at its best when Yusuke isn’t running solo. Yusuke is one of those “jerks with a heart of gold” along the lines of Ranma and Inuyasha. But he definitely has some less-than-admirable behavior with his drinking, smoking, and skirt-flipping. His mother is a boozer and his father is absent, but with Keiko around, I don’t know how he started down the wrong path. I’ve always had a fond affection for Kazuma, a kitten-loving, ghost-sensing, short-tempered honorable idiot. Whether it’s his rivalries with Yusuke and Hiei or his love for Yukina, the story is never dull with him around! Hiei, judging by the popularity contests, is a fan-favorite on both sides of the ocean. He’s snarky, confident, even more of a “bad
boy demon turned good” than Yusuke is, but he still has his comedic moments. Kurama is the logical one of the group, but he plays well off of the other three. He’s a close friend to Yusuke, advisor to Kazuma, and the only one who can needle Hiei. Despite the four male leads, quite a few girls show up. Unfortunately, they’re all pretty much cheerleaders. Keiko is smart and has a mean slap, but she can’t do much. Botan actually is more fun since she’s so happy despite being Death incarnate. Still, however, at best, she functions as a receptionist for Yusuke.
Honorifics are only used once or twice. The first volume includes quite a few translation notes, but these, unfortunately, don’t continue.
As an older series, the series features a rather unusual font for its text. Parts also seem a little more Americanized or even scaled down in order to reach a wider audience (i.e. tweens, stock in school libraries, etc.). Somehow, “holy cheese on rye!” or “yoicks” just never sounded appropriate for a delinquent in a life-or-death situation. Yeah, Yusuke and Kazuma are surely going to draw the line at using “damn” or “shit”. However, surprisingly, Viz Media did not just use FUNimation’s naming conventions for the manga. Yusuke’s attack is “Rei Gun” or “Reigun”, not “Spirit Gun”. (Footnotes are added to explain this.) The wonderful notes disappear, and several jokes and references will just go over most reader’s heads (like Kochikame). Some of the Japanese text is left alone, like the spirit stickers with group’s first character of their name on them. In one instance, names on the die are left alone, but no footnote is added. So you have to wait until the next page until the characters announce who is up to battle. Ironically, the next chapter has the names edited out and written in (ugly font) English. There were a couple of I suspect mistranslations or misadaptations (like “very hard” instead of “he’s strong”), but at least this is one series where the English team sticks with the entire series.
It may be shadowed by Togashi’s later hit Hunter x Hunter, but the fact that YuYu Hakusho is finished is a huge advantage. Some will argue the anime is better since it skips the boring introduction and fleshes out the ending at the expense of the epilogue. But I think this debate will come down to whether you prefer anime or manga and, perhaps more significantly, if you were one of those people who watched it on Toonami and helped spur your love of anime and manga. At the very least, skip the first two volumes and read up to the Dark Tournament.
Viz Media is releasing Hunter x Hunter, and FUNimation released the YuYu Hakusho anime.