Yu Yu Hakusho – Spirit Detective Arc (Episodes 1 – 13) Review

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We kick the Shonen Jump! 50th Anniversary Debut Arc Top 5 with Yu Yu Hakusho, an influential series for sure (none more evident than in another series later on in the list…), that probably would have been an even bigger hit had it not been published / anime adapted during the peak of Dragon Ball popularity in Japan and, ironically, localised in the US on the back of Dragon Ball Z’s popularity, meaning it also fell in its shadow too! So the debut arc, known as the Spirit Detective arc (or Saga, because that early FUNimation buzzword!) really goes all the way to Episode 25, but its clearly split in half by a “lead protagonist returns after a length of time training” break, so I’m classing the first 13 episodes as the debut “arc” here. Much like other titles on and off this list, the first bunch of episodes doesn’t really represent what the story would become down the line, which makes it a fascinating watch, retrospectively. So… let’s look at it, retrospectively!

Official Synopsis:

A 14-year-old narcissistic, street-fighting slacker Yusuke Urameshi dies an unlikely hero, after he is hit by a car after saving a young child who was playing with a ball in the street. He soon learns that the child would have lived anyway, and that the Spirit World was not expecting him to die. For this reason, he is then offered the chance to be revived by the mysterious Botan, Guardian of the river Styx. At first, Yusuke initially refuses the proposal, but ultimately accepts after seeing the people he thought did not care for him, including his childhood friend Keiko Yukimura, his mother Atsuko, and his rival Kazuma Kuwabara grieving for him at his wake. The conditions of his return to life would be anything but simple, however…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

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Yusuke, Kuwabra and Botan look serious and yet somehow not that bothered at the same time…

Yusuke Urameshi (Nozomu Sasaki / Justin Cook) – Yusuke is known around town as a thugish school kid not to be messed with. Entire groups of miscreants shy away from him, despite the numerical advantage. That being said, Yusuke isn’t such a bad guy, be he alive or dead…

Botan (Sanae Miyuki / Cynthia Cranz) – Botan is a Shinigami who helps those who have died reach the next life to be judged. She also takes on other tasks on those rare occasions something goes wrong…

Kazuma Kuwabara (Shigeru Chiba / Christopher Sabat) – Kazuma isn’t the brightest bulb in the box, but as a gang leader and fighter he’s pretty good! I mean, he always loses to Yusuke, but second-most-feared man on the streets is still impressive…

Hiei (Nobuyuki Hiyama / Chuck Huber) – Hiei has a complex and troubled past that has lead him to have the Jagan, or Evil Eye, implanted in his forehead. In order to find what he seeks he has enacted a plan to steal the three powerful artefacts from the underworld…

Kurama (Megumi Ogata / John Burgmeier) – Kurama was born a fox demon who fused his soul to an unborn human child in order to survive fatal wounds. He came to truly care for his human mother, and has in fact stayed in the human form instead to reverting back and leaving her. His “mother” is now gravely sick, leading to Kurama agreeing to help Hiei steal the three artefacts to help save her life…

Genkai (Hisako Kyoda / Linda Young) – Genkai is a famous martial arts master who lives deep in a forest and rarely takes on any students. Realising her time is running short however, she has decided to find a successor to her unique skills…

Rando (Yo Inoue / Eric Vale) – Rando is a demon who has, so far, killed 99 masters and stolen their unique abilities. He has plans to make Genkai #100…

Keiko Yukimura (Yuri Amano / Laura Bailey) – Keiko is a regular, everyday school girl who is one of the very few people who sees Yusuke’s softer side…

Koenma (Mayumi Tanaka / Sean Michael Teague) – Koenma is the son of Enma, the great ruler and judge of the spirit world. He is occasionally left in charge of smaller matters, like the death of a boy who wasn’t supposed to die yet…

Plus many more!

The Good:

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Yusuke grabs Botan’s sort-of broomstick to avoid falling and… re-dying?

While most Shonen Jump! lead protagonists are happy-go-lucky, funny characters, it’s nice to see Yusuke be a lead with a bit of an edge to him. He has a “bad attitude” in that very 80s “cool” way, and has had a troubled up-bringing, but at the end of the day he’s a nice guy still (obviously…) The first five episodes tell the story of his death and rebirth, and sides far more on comedy and drama than the action it would later be known for (like a lot of these series!) All in all it’s perfectly pleasant. He thinks no-one would miss him if he were dead, but then he sees his deadbeat drunk mum mourn him, along with classmates and even his gang rival Kuwabara, and this leads to him wanting back on this whole living thing.

He has to run through a few amusing hoops before a dramatic kiss from his school sweetheart brings him back. Soon after he’s back alive he’s told he is now a “Spirit Detective” and has to basically do side jobs for ruler of the Spirit Realm…’s son (who looks like a floating baby). Episodes 6 to 8 jump full force into a more standard set up, with Yusuke displaying an energy projectile move and fighting other humanoid foes with powers, two of which will later become allies… so, yeah. That’s not a bad thing, really! It’s part of why we all like the genre, and while Yusuke first opponent is nothing to write home about, his confrontations with Kurama and Hiei are much more fun.

Kurama is one of those tragic foes who are doing bad things for the right reason, and sure enough Yusuke manages to make it so he spares Kurama’s life and saves the life of his human “mother” (see Kurama’s bio above for more info on that… weirdness) on top of that. We then get the big action showdown between Hiei and Yusuke, with the former being a pure villain at this point, clearly written with no real intention to bring him back as an ally. Yusuke is vastly out-powered, but manages to sneak out a win and not only defeat Hiei but save the life of Keiko, the aforementioned school sweetheart who had saved his life earlier. Kurama and Hiei wouldn’t reappear until the next batch of episodes, but it is fun to see them here in such a raw and unspectacular role.

Finally episodes 9 to 13 are the first of many Tournament arcs in the series, as famous master Genkai holds a tournament to find a successor to her fighting style. Its this arc where former rival Kuwabara really shows he has special powers as well and becomes a proper companion to Yusuke. By the end of the tournament Yuske has to face of with powerful demon Rando, who apart from being annoyingly spelt (I swear it should be Rondo…) has the abilities of 99 now-dead masters. Of course our hero not only overcomes him but creates a more powerful version of his signature attack while doing it, though it seems he only won by taking a huge gamble, or just plain luck (at least, that’s how he sees it). It’s a really good fight though, with a bit of comedy coming in the form of an attack that shrinks Rondo’s foes. A really good fight in a tournament setting is certainly setting the scene for what’s to come…

All in all, Yu Yu Hakusho does a good job with its debut, it sets up the idea of the Spirit World well, creates a good lead protagonist and a couple of people around him (Botan is a good comedy sidekick, and Keiko is a fine “helpless love interest”. Kuwabara is also a great slow-witted by kind-hearted ally as well…), with more to come shortly. Much like a lot of Shonen Jump! series, it starts with a far lighter tone before become more action heavy, which then sticks until its end. The animation is still good too, it’s got that 80s hand-painted charm, and the character designs are pleasingly of-the-time as well.

The Bad:

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Rando looking perfectly innocent… with a black film line on the left of the picture that I somehow missed editing out! (Rrrrr)

I found some of the earlier episodes a bit of a slog, though I appreciated the story it was telling. Beyond that, and some unavoidably old fashioned portrayal of women being around just to say how great the men are or to be saved by them (which is just how it was, so I won’t be too harsh on it for that…) it’s a good start.

Overall Thoughts:

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Hiei shows how he’s going to become a helpful and cheery ally in the future!

Yu Yu Hakusho earns it’s place in my Top 5 by giving us a likable and unique protagonist and an interesting world, and although its slow to start, it begins to build a fun cast around Yusuke while amping up the action. The show gets a lot better, but starts off well enough.

4 Star Watch

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