Animes often pigeonhole themselves in one genre, which isn’t a bad thing. While they typically have elements of relationships, humor and the like, their major set pieces come from one type, building on that thread as the series progresses. Yu Yu Hakusho (translated as Ghost Files) bucks that trend, switching gears mid run from a horror detective story to a fighting/action story. What’s even more surprising is that it does both genres exceptionally well.
Yusuke Urameshi, a bully and delinquent, impulsively saves a young boy from getting hit by a car, dying in the process. Upon his death, he’s greeted by Botan, the grim reaper, who informs him that it wasn’t his time to die, and there’s no place for him yet. The prince of the underworld, Koenma, offers Yusuke a chance at life again if he completes enough good deeds. Yusuke quickly complete the tasks, returning to life and takes a job as Koenma’s Spirit Detective, solving mysteries and crimes for the underworld.
Yu Yu Hakusho started in 1990 as a manga, making the jump to anime two years later in 1992. The show ran for a bloated 112 episodes (more on that in a minute), ending in late 1994. Funimation scooped up the license, releasing DVDs and airing the show on Toonami and Adult Swim. The major difference between the manga and the anime was the amount of time Yusuke spent dead. Again, creator Yoshihiro Togashi’s original premise was horror and occult mysteries. As such, the mange followed this trajectory, at first. The first quarter of the show kept this path, but once antagonists turned heroes Hiei and Kurama joined the group, the direction changed.
At the time, Dragon Ball Z was the biggest I.P. in Japan, encapsulated everything. Its influence began to bleed into other stories, with Yu Yu Hakusho being the best example. Though the horror demon element was kept, the direction quickly changed course, dropping the spirit detective angle after one case and instead focusing on fighting. The Dark Tournament was the next long story arc that showcased this change, forcing Yusuke & co. to fight to survive. After the tournament, the show continued for another two arcs featuring stronger and stronger opponents. For a time, Yu Yu Hakusho was even more popular than DBZ in Japan.
As a fan of DBZ, I didn’t mind the shift. The fighting structure, with the opposition’s strength ever increasing was a carbon copy of DBZ, and maybe so was one of the characters (Hiei). The biggest weakness of the show, particularly during the Dark Tournament, was the stretched length of the episodes was painful to watch. It’s understandable why this was done, as the anime was practically on top of the manga, but not excusable. The last 5 – 8 minutes of every episode was recycled, starting the next. Watching them now, much like DBZ, is almost painful.
Yu Yu Hakusho had many unique ideas and added a new spin to the Dragon Ball Z formula. While it would have been interesting to see where the original premise would have lead, this was a satisfying conclusion, though your mileage may vary. If you can stomach the stretched out episodes, dig in, otherwise, stick with the manga.
Did you like the DBZ switch? Stretched out episodes bother you? Comment below!