The Hidden Genius Of 'Yu Yu Hakusho'
Yu Yu Hakusho is one of those "Oh, have you watched?" anime, where there's kind of an unspoken agreement among established and burgeoning anime fans that if you're talking about 90s battle anime, or just battle anime in general, one person asks the other if they've seen Yu Yu Hakusho. It's like a handshake, an obligatory sign of respect among friends, rivals, and weebs alike. "How ya doing? How's the family? How's the weather? Have you seen Yu Yu Hakusho?"
I adore it, and it's possibly my favorite anime ever for a parade of reasons. Its core cast is nearly unbeatable (Kuwabara will never not be MY BOY), its fight scenes are thrilling and emotional, and its aesthetic is downright beautiful. I would pillage The Louvre to make room for shots of Yusuke Urameshi hitting stuff. It's also got a one-two punch of arcs that both glorify anime violence and then call into question the glorification of it.
The second and third arcs of Yu Yu Hakusho are the "Dark Tournament" and "Chapter Black," respectively. In the "Dark Tournament," Yusuke, a Spirit Detective, and the gang fight their way through numerous rounds with demons and bad guys, all the while building up to a climactic fight with tragic final boss Younger Toguro (a wonderful fight that I wrote about in detail here.) There's a reason why it's one of the most lauded tournament arcs in anime history --- It's great on a fight by fight basis and on a long-term basis, all the while fleshing out the characters we love. Great punches, a lot of tears, every thumb I have is up for it.
And then, in "Chapter Black," a new villain named Sensui emerges. Sensui is a former Spirit Detective, but he got too old for this shit when he discovered just how violent and despicable humans were being toward demons. Realizing that he too has been a dang ol' jerk to demons drives him to develop alternate personalities just to cope with the damage he's done. I know. I want to rewatch the show now, too.
But wait. Wasn't beating up demons pretty cool, like, two dozen episodes ago? Yeah, it was. And that's the beauty of Yu Yu Hakusho. It asks that you go back and evaluate your enjoyment of the previous arc while also deepening it.
But this isn't like a, "Oh, you actually LIKED watching Kurama slaughter those enemies? YOU, THE AUDIENCE, ARE THE BAD GUYS! Voyeurism! WE are the walking dead!" theme. Instead, it re-contextualizes your love of the "Dark Tournament" to an extent. Because Yu Yu Hakusho isn't just about some chosen one character getting stronger and stronger and nothing else. Rather it looks at the cost as well.
It's kind of like how, if you watch Psycho a second time, you're now no longer surprised by the shower murder and the big reveal, but rather you're on the lookout for all of the hints that Norman Bates has gone bananas. Once you've seen the "Chapter Black" arc, you now watch the "Dark Tournament" knowing that Yusuke is on a path that threatens his connection with humanity.
Every battle anime created after Dragon Ball owes a little bit of itself to Dragon Ball. It's inescapably iconic. Yoshihiro Togashi's Yu Yu Hakusho took all of DB's messages about pride and angst (especially when it comes to Vegeta) and ran with them, creating a seemingly effortless tale about warriors that find themselves in combat, but lose themselves as well. Also, check out the opening! I hope to have it as my funeral march.
Daniel Dockery is a writer for the internet. You can follow him on Twitter!