What I have always loved about anime, and the manga that it is usually based on, is that I am always surprised at how relatable the characters are and how easily I get pulled into the story to the point where I feel like I am a part of it somehow. With Yoshihiro Togashi’s YuYu Hakusho, it took only a few episodes before I was fully sucked into what quickly became my favorite anime series of all time and a major pillar holding up the foundation of what kind of person I would become.
When I was a little kid, around seven years of age or so, I had many fantasies about being a superhero or being a special “chosen one” by some great entity that saw something unique in me and put me in charge of handling a conflict only I could handle. My childhood was largely spent with my imagination taking me to these faraway places solving mysteries and crimes that only I could solve or slaying monsters and ninjas of all shapes and sizes that only I could slay.
You know, before the internet was a common household play-thing.
And when I discovered anime, it was like my imagination had been brought to life by those who shared the same fantasies I did. Only they grew up having never let them go and wanted to share them with the world with many of them winding up on that afternoon Toonami block. And out of all of them, I had never felt as close to any series as I did with Yoshihiro Togashi’s YuYu Hakusho.
I contribute a lot of who I am and the interests I hold to those few hours in the afternoon when I got home from school. Rushing through the door after a long day of learning and daydreaming, tossing my backpack down at the base of the staircase while kicking off my shoes without untying them before I jumped in front of the screen and quickly flipped through to channel 99 to reach Cartoon Network.
For those few hours of that Toonami block, I was free. And I was in a whole new reality. Toonami had introduced me to anime franchises that I would grow to hold dear to my heart and would invest much of my time not only watching but reading and also writing about, including YuYu Hakusho. And what’s ironic about it is that at first, I could not have been less interested in the series when I saw advertisements for it. But thanks to a couple of ad spots narrated by Peter Cullen, my interest had been piqued and I decided to give the show a chance. This ad in particular, for instance, changed everything. Check it out:
Starting off with a slow couple of episodes of building the world around young Yusuke, I eventually found myself engulfed, fully immersed, and incredibly invested in what I found to be one of the most brilliant stories ever told. At least in my opinion, anyway. Watching a kid roughly my age being tossed aside like the burden he often felt he was, Yusuke had all too often felt out of place and unwanted. Then, by a stroke of luck, or more specifically, death, Yusuke once again found himself in a position of not having a place, not just in his own life but in the afterlife as well. But this was different.
After a rather curious ordeal to return young Yusuke back to the world of the living, he realized that he had a second-sight of sorts, allowing him to see those around him for what they truly were- demonic beings that not unlike him, did not belong. Now, destined to act as the detective of the spirit world, Yusuke had to step up to the task before him and bring balance and order to an otherwise chaotic existence burdened not just with monsters, demons, and unruly spirits, but being a teenager to boot.
I think that many people share a perspective that life, while it can truly be what you make it to be, can often feel boring or uneventful, leaving many feeling unfulfilled and spending countless hours daydreaming of something… more. Imagineers fantasize, like I did, about being something greater than themselves and having a purpose to serve and a destiny to fulfill. Like being chosen to be the detective of the spirit world.
In many ways, I was envious of Yusuke and the many fictional characters I idolized on manga pages and tv screens. I wanted what Yusuke had, even if he did not, and I watched each and every episode wishing that I were in his shoes or had found myself in similar circumstances. To be envious in such a way demonstrates the beauty and thoughtfulness of Yoshihiro Togashi’s YuYu Hakusho and the world he brought to life. But this is real life and such scenarios are nothing more than a child’s fantasy.
Now that I am older, I am able to appreciate so much more of what YuYu Hakusho offers in terms of the art, the character development, the writing, and the lessons and what they can teach a young kid trying to find his place in the world. Sure, you could generalize and say that it’s a just form of entertainment but to many people, anime and manga are so much more.
For some, anime can be a form of escape and to others, it can be a bunch of lessons that help you aspire to be great. And to others still, it can just be a form of entertainment. But I do not know anyone that watches anime that would say that is all it is to them. YuYu Hakusho is like that for me. It makes me want to be better in every way I can improve. And trust me, there are a lot of ways.
Of all the anime shows I have ever watched, I believe YuYu Hakusho had the greatest impact on me. It taught me about respect, honor, loyalty, hard work, and never giving up when facing adversity or obstacles that may at first seem larger than life. It taught me about perseverance, teamwork, and most of all, it taught me to think bigger and more broadly.
I had always been someone who spends most of his days thinking about the would haves, should haves, could haves, and what might still be. And Togashi’s series here motivated me in ways I never previously considered; to write about what I imagined and to never stop working toward achieving my goals.
Does it sound silly? I suppose it does, to an extent. But as a child of divorce, often left alone for long hours of the day without any parental supervision or guidance, what more can you do? Confined to a two-bedroom apartment, with explicit instruction not to go outside or let any friends come in, day in and day out, a child left alone is accompanied only by their imagination. The imagination can be a great ally and an even greater comfort when trying to overcome that sense of loneliness and somehow, putting it all on paper makes it more real, tangible.
THE REVIEW PART
Yusuke Urameshi is a teenage punk who has it rough. A homelife with little to no parental guidance, a school that shuns him, and the streets that challenge him. Fighting in the schoolyard or outside the local arcade, facing his challenges with a fist is the only way Yusuke selfishly knows how to solve his problems. But on one curious day, fate is surprised to see the arrogant boy selflessly put himself on the line and save a child from certain peril. Now, walking through death’s door himself, Yusuke is shocked to meet a female reaper named Botan who informs Yusuke that his act of selflessness was one that no one saw coming and that the afterlife does not have a place for him yet.
Having to go through the trials and tribulations to return back to the living world and re-occupy his body, Yusuke surprises even himself once more when he succeeds and returns home safely. However, things are not as they seem. Yusuke begins to see things through a new lens, so to speak, and starts noticing monsters occupying the bodies of the living.
Realizing that he is not crazy, Yusuke comes to terms with the fact that monsters are indeed very much a real thing and that now it is up to him to repay his debt to those who brought him back to life and act as a detective for the spirit world and send demons back to their own plane of existence.
Along the way, Yusuke’s rival Kazuma Kuwabara joins him on his cases and the two team up with a couple of demons that assist on their journeys. Together, the four of them learn to cooperate and work together and form an unstoppable team that faces some of mankind’s greatest threats.
I said this before but the story is one that I find to be brilliantly told. It starts off in such a calm way before taking a more dark and exciting turn once the introduction of the spirit world is brought on. Yusuke is reluctant to take on such responsibility as being a teenage spirit detective but he finds a knack for solving cases with the help of his close friends. Yusuke goes through such a massive change in personal growth (as well as other more demonic ways) that it’s hard to believe that at one point, he was nothing more than a common street punk getting into fights and being tossed out of school. And while many of us were not so edgy in our youth, it was hard to watch and not be envious of his character development.
I think that is why anime in general, and YYH in particular, has had such a profound impact on my childhood and even in my young adult life. When a work of fiction, even animated, inspires you, motivates you to do more with your life, to aspire to greatness, then you know the storytelling and the characters are of a higher quality.
As the story continues its natural progression, everything sort of finds its proper place. New bad guys with new ideals and motivations make each story arc feel unlike those of the past and more welcome. It’s not like in Dragon Ball Z where a new enemy shows up every couple of months who is conveniently more powerful than anything before with a mindset of world domination- that gets tiresome fast. Instead, YYH expands its worlds and opens up more broadly in order to introduce the characters and the viewers at home to something bigger and more exciting than before. From solving spirit cases to winning a fighting tournament to facing an ex-spirit detective with a warped worldview, all the way to the bowels of the treacherous demon world, each new story arc is bigger and better than the last.
Togashi tells it better than I do, obviously.
YuYu Hakusho‘s comradery is one of its finer points, with the four leads in Yusuke and Kuwabara, and the demons Hiei and Kurama, all having to work together to face a common adversary and reach a common goal. Each of them shoulders the weight of their own burdens and finds solace in cooperation and friendship. It isn’t forced, however, as they all sort of find their own paths to walk that lead them to each other in naturally congruent ways. Except for maybe Hiei, who starts out as a major foe for Yusuke in his earlier career but even the three-eyed demon eventually comes to respect the others and finds peace among them.
Not just the leading men, the supporting cast in Botan, Koenma, Genkai, and many more all assist in creating a living breathing world that you constantly desire to know more about. And I am not just talking about the good guys, as villains from each story arc have unique motivations for what they do and none of it feels like mindless domination. Their villainous perspectives, whether demon or human, are full of thought-provoking ideals that make you question whether humanity really is on the side of good or if it’s all just one great big manipulation.
Villains, almost always, are the driving force for a good story and without proper reasoning, without a justification for their actions, they can feel hollow or mind-numbingly dull. But none of them ever come across that way and oftentimes have a truly sad or emotional backstory that has inspired them to go to such great lengths that they become seen as an adversary, perhaps none more so than the Toguro brothers.
I have said quite a bit about what anime and manga mean to me and as you can tell, it can be rather difficult to place it into all the right words that make sense to someone who didn’t go through the same thing growing up or see the same things at that age.
My point in all this is to say that works of fiction can be thought-provoking, emotionally moving, or downright inspiring, especially on the pages where the words are written or the panels are illustrated, or the shows that they are later adapted into. And of all the anime, of all manga, I have never truly felt a connection to any works of fiction, animated or otherwise, that moved me as much as YuYu Hakusho has over the years.
To put it bluntly, YuYu Hakusho just makes me want to be more than I am.