Yu Yu Hakusho: The Best Shounen Anime Adaptation Ever?

If there was ever a collection of legendary anime, Yu Yu Hakusho would have to be on the list. The 112-episode series was based on a manga by Yoshihiro Togashi that spanned 19 volumes. Both anime and manga ruled alongside the likes of the heavy-hitting shounen Dragonball Z. Still considered one of the top series of all-time by the Japanese, its television treatment was something of a debacle in America, though it has done well enough to run through 32 single volumes and two re-releases. The dub is widely considered one of FUNimation’s best and has a surprising popularity among a fan community that is normally subtitle oriented.

Yu Yu Hakusho is the story of junior high student Yusuke Urameshi. He is a punk who rarely attends school and beats up on rival gang members in his free time. His mother is a drunk and his father is nowhere to be seen. The only people who seem to care about him are his childhood friend Keiko Yukimura, a stellar student who tries to encourage Yusuke to attend school more often, and his rival Kazuma Kuwabara. With his life going nowhere, Yusuke one day shocks everyone by saving the life of a child who was about to be hit by a car. However, he saves the child at the cost of his own life and becomes a ghost. He meets the bubbly Grim Reaper Botan, who takes him to the land of the dead: Spirit World.

The ruler of Spirit World, Koenma, happens to take the form of an infant and informs Yusuke that no one had expected him to sacrifice himself that day and thus there was no place for his soul. As a result, he gets a second chance at life but must use some special powers and act as Spirit Detective. Along with some friends, Yusuke must protect the Human World from demon and human alike that threaten the peace.

Yu Yu Hakusho has that special something that makes it a classic. The characters are very unique and are each developed enough to make them relatable. The main four-Yusuke, Kuwabara, Kurama, and Hiei-each come into their own while facing various demons, both literally and figuratively. Though they are fighting various demon threats, Kurama and Hiei are demons themselves, which leads to their establishment as outcasts among the rest of their kind. The main cast is one of the strongest of any series as each character has an individual personality that makes them stick out against everyone else while blending into the cast as a whole flawlessly. Each character is flawed but grows through the various death-defying experiences they share with the rest of the cast.

The series is unmistakably shounen with two tournaments and the traditional fight set-up that has the supporting cast taking on the supporting villains, leading up to the big fight between the main villain and the main hero. However, each fight is individual due to the various powers of each character. No two fights are the same and each round in the tournaments shapes up differently than the last, which keeps the series continually exciting. The fights themselves are well-choreographed and flow smoothly. They are never stretched out excessively, as is the epidemic that plagues many shounen fighting series.

While the fights are great, there are many other aspects of the series that make it great as well. There is plenty of character-driven drama that keeps interest high. That drama is balanced by plenty of comedic moments. That is one of the strengths of the FUNimation dub; the many one-liners that keep the dialogue moving smoothly. The interactions between Koenma and his ogre assistant Jorge keep the mood from descending too far during some of the darker moments, though the comedic timing rarely spoils the dramatic mood. The balance is just right. There is also romance, as Keiko and Yusuke work through the awkward phase of friendship that might be a little bit more while Yusuke risks his life on a daily basis. Also, the back-story of Yusuke’s master Genkai also involved a romantic relationship between her and Toguro, the villain Yusuke faces in the Dark Tournament.

The 19 volumes of manga are faithfully translated into 112 episodes, two movies, and the Eizou Hakusho OVAs (which have not been released in the U.S.). Though some of the details of the manga are cut from the anime, the adaptation is overall faithful-often considered better than its manga counterpart. The anime fleshes out some of the fights though never over-extends them. The anime also fleshes out some of the side characters that did not see much screen-time in the manga, such as Kuwabara’s older sister Shizuru. The manga ended abruptly with volume 19 due to problems between Togashi and the publishing company, but the anime fills out the final arc and creates an epilogue episode that leaves the series with a very complete feel.

Though much of the series seems utterly fantastic with the special powers, non-humans, and different worlds, the cast manages to bring it back down to a real level. Though not all the characters are even human, there is a very human element among the main cast that leaves the series coming off as very real and easy to relate to.

Because of all these strong elements, Yu Yu Hakusho is an anime that any shounen fan needs to see. Though the series feel into the purgatory of a 5:30 am slot on Cartoon Network after moving from Adult Swim to Toonami, it is a classic that continues to sell well and ranks up among some of the best of all time.