Review for Yu Yu Hakusho Season 1
Naruto was the first successful release of a long running anime show in the UK. Manga Entertainment chanced upon the magical mix of a breakout property in terms of popularity (When Bill Bailey wears a Naruto t-shirt on QI, you know you’re reaching a wider audience) and the realisation that fans will thank you for releasing a 100 episode plus series in 13 episode chunks. But it wasn’t the first attempt to release a long running anime show in the UK, and the second hand DVD market has strange wonders like Sailor Moon, the Dragonball movies, Voltron, Initial D, MAR, and Blue Dragon to be discovered, shows that never really got going.
One of the earliest attempts to release a long running show on DVD came from MVM in 2005, when they kicked off releasing Yu Yu Hakusho, albeit on single volume DVDs. Back then, they released series at the rate of one volume every two months, but releasing a 112 episode series at that rate, on discs containing three episodes apiece, four at the most, just wouldn’t let it get traction with fans. After five volumes, Funimation pulled their distribution deal with MVM, and that was that. Now that Funimation have a UK presence in their own right, they’re trying again with Yu Yu Hakusho. But it’s the HD age now, and Funimation actually released the show on Blu-ray back in 2011 in the US. Those countless DVD volumes have now been condensed to just 4 Blu-ray releases, 4 seasons worth. We begin with Season 1 across 4 discs, now localised to Region B, and in just one release, Funimation release more episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho than MVM managed in 5 DVD volumes.
Yusuke Urameshi is your average juvenile delinquent, making his way reluctantly through school, ruling the roost when it comes to who is top dog, although that means regularly facing off against his rival Kazuma Kuwabara. That all changes when he dies saving a toddler from being run down by a car. Death is only the beginning of his problems, as spirits soon appear to tell him that it isn’t yet his time. He has a chance to return to his corporeal existence if he completes a quest, and that will only be the start of a whole new life. Resurrection will mean being assigned the duties of a Spirit Realm Detective, to stop rogue spirits from flouting the rules and regulations of the human world.
28 episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho are presented across 3 Blu-rays from Funimation. There is also a bonus fourth extras disc.
1. Surprised To Be Dead
2. Koenma Appears
3. Kuwabara: A Promise Between Men
4. Requirements for Lovers
5. Yusuke’s Back
6. Three Monsters
7. Gouki and Kurama
8. The Three Eyes of Hiei
9. The Search Begins
10. Kuwabara’s Spirit Sword
11. Hard Fights for Yusuke
12. Rando Rises. Kuwabara Falls.
13. Yusuke vs. Rando: 99 Attacks
14. The Beasts of Maze Castle
15. Genba, The Stone Beast
16. Byakko, The White Tiger
17. Byakko’s Lair
18. Seiryu, The Blue Dragon
19. Suzaku, Leader of the Beasts
20. Seven Ways to Die
21. Yusuke’s Sacrifice
22. Lamenting Beauty
23. The Toguro Brothers Gang
24. The Deadly Triad
25. Kuwabara’s Fight of Love
26. Toguro Returns
27. The Dark Tournament
28. First Fight
Yu Yu Hakusho is an old show. But most tellingly, it’s old enough to really benefit from HD, made before the industry made the shift to digital production specifically for 480i NTSC resolution. This show was made with cel and paint, cels that were photographed sequentially to film. And film, as we know is ideal for HD presentation. The aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 pillarboxed 1080p and the show looks fantastic at first glance, a world away from the NTSC-PAL standards converted DVDs that we got in the UK.
The image is clear and sharp, colours are nice and consistent, and the detail levels are strong, although this isn’t a show that is particularly cinematic and detailed. The animation is smooth, and there is no sign of age or print damage. There is the occasional soft scene, as if the original source couldn’t be found and had to be up-scaled, but as it seems that Funimation used Japan’s release as a basis of their own, it doesn’t look overly post-processed or manipulated for HD release. Having said that, I do feel as if some DNR has been applied and grain is very light, if at all present. Thankfully, the show doesn’t have the plastic looks of Funimation’s Dragon Ball Z Blu-rays, but it isn’t quite as filmic as you might have hoped for. Still, Yu Yu Hakusho is very watchable.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track These are discs that were originally released in the US back in 2011, which explains the lack of lock on the content, and the thin white font on the subtitles. The original DVD release also had the choice of HOH subtitles (dubtitles), but alas those didn’t carry forward to the Blu-ray. The Japanese audio was fine enough for me, although the volume level was a little low. The action and music comes across well, while the dialogue remains clear. It’s a nice audio track, with no glitches or dropouts. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, although there’s an inconsistent translation I noticed in episode 26, where “2 weeks” in one scene becomes “2 months” in subsequent scenes.
The discs boot to animated menus, and unlike the old DVDs, there are only English language credits on this release, no multi-angle functionality here. I miss the “Sun of a Gun” karaoke subtitle on the Japanese end credits.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Dragon Ball Z Kai Part 5, while Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood Part 4, and Disc 3 with Heroic Age.
Disc 3 has some more extras, including the textless credits, and further trailers for Sgt Frog, D. Gray Man, Spice and Wolf, Disgaea, Hero Tales, Kenichi, One Piece, and Yu Yu Hakusho.
Disc 4 has just one extra on it, Yu Yu Hakusho: Looking Back at a Legacy, which lasts just 17:39. This is a voice cast roundtable with ADR Director and voice of Yusuke, Justin Cook, John Burgmeier (Kurama), Chris Sabat (Kuwabara), and Cynthia Cranz (Botan).
It looks like a waste of disc real estate, a featurette short enough to fit on Disc 3, but it turns out that these bonus disc 4s are new additions for the US 2019 Steelbook re-release, and weren’t part of the original 2011 releases. It’s a retrospective featurette recorded in 2019, 18 years after the show was originally dubbed.
I haven’t seen the retail release to comment on the packaging or any physical extras.
I’ve been waiting for fifteen years to find out how the Beasts of Maze Castle story ended. You won’t be surprised that it didn’t live up to the expectations I had built up in all that time. For one thing, I had an idea that it was the kind of epic story arc that would reach until the end of this first season, but in reality, it’s just three more episodes past the point where the DVDs stopped. Then this first season of Yu Yu Hakusho squeezes in another story arc, and starts another one before the end credits roll on this collection. In reality, nothing could ever live up to fifteen years of expectations, and in the end, I really enjoyed this first season of Yu Yu Hakusho. It’s a fairly standard, long running shonen action show, in the vein of Naruto or Bleach, a whole lot of fighting action and tournament arcs, the formula established pretty much by Dragon Ball Z. But I like Yu Yu Hakusho more, certainly more than DBZ, and a lot more than Bleach, which thematically is the most comparable show.
It’s not an uncommon trope in anime, that of the protagonist essentially dying and being reborn, before gaining power and embarking on his adventures, but I think Yu Yu Hakusho was the first time that I encountered it, with Yusuke Urameshi dying in the first episode having been run over, and getting the chance to come back to life, thanks to the (deputy) ruler of the underworld, Koenma. Yusuke’s a delinquent, apt to pick fights and skip school, but he died doing a good deed, and that gives him a second chance. He goes through no few trials before he comes back to life, and this opening arc introduces us to the world, and the people in his life, his single mother, his childhood friend and romantic interest Keiko, and fellow delinquent and archrival Kuwabara. We also meet his guide to the next world Botan, a blue haired spirit who rides an oar the way a witch rides a broom, and who can take corporeal form as we learn.
Yusuke has talent, spiritually speaking, and Koenma drafts him as a spirit detective, to solve those mysteries involving errant spirits and monsters in the human realm. The next arc involves some thieves that have stolen three spiritual items and are intent on causing havoc on Earth. Of them, two are of interest, as Kurama actually has altruistic motives, while Hiei, obnoxious though he seems at first glance, actually has a decent, honourable core beneath an antagonistic nature.
Another cliché in shows like this is that former enemies tend to become friends and allies, and after a training sequence tournament arc, where Yusuke has to ferret out a yokai intent on stealing a martial arts master’s secret abilities, and get some training in the process, their first real mission is the Beasts of Maze Castle arc. Demons in the underworld have a plan to possess people in the human world, turn them evil, and turn the human world into hell in the process. By this point, Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama have pretty much signed on as part of the gang, and we get teamwork and spiky interplay in-between the one-on-one battles.
Kuwabara’s a simple guy, driven by his emotions, and he’s compelled to help Yusuke in the next mission, when it turns out that a pretty girl needs rescuing. An ice maiden is being held captive by a particularly malicious human, dabbling in the underworld. Her tears are of great value, and he has a gang of yokai bodyguards protecting his estate. It seems like a relatively simple challenge for Yusuke and his friends compared to what has transpired before, but there is a twist in the tale, when the real motive of some of the players is revealed, leading into the final tournament arc which is only just beginning when this collection ends.
Really, this show is all about the tournament arcs, official or unofficial, especially after the opening story about Yusuke’s resurrection. Somehow each of these stories resolve into a series of one-on-one battles, between the members of Yusuke’s team and whatever villain they have to get past, allowing everyone to shine. And in true shonen fashion, there’s plenty of levelling up and succeeding through superior willpower at work here.
You may be wondering what makes Yu Yu Hakusho so memorable, and indeed so likable, as it seems pretty generic on the face of it. The first thing is brevity. I’m currently re-watching Naruto, and I’m in the middle of a one-on-one battle which is now past its sixth episode. When you’re watching a show at the rate of one episode a week, that’s the last thing you need, unless the fight is really, really good. Yu Yu Hakusho’s battles are short and sweet in comparison, usually taking an episode at most, if not less. It’s the rare battle that runs past the end credits into the next episode, so you can get the anticipation, execution, and satisfaction in a nice, discreet twenty-minute chunk, even if the story arc stretches longer.
The second thing is the sense of humour. Yusuke’s a delinquent with a good heart, answering to no one but Keiko, Kuwabara is delightfully goofy, ridiculously adherent to his principles, and apt to fall in love at the drop of a hat, Kurama is elegant beyond the means of the premise, while Hiei’s antagonism is taken to occasionally daft extremes. Botan’s a nice foil for Yusuke, while Koenma’s a bureaucrat in the body of a baby, complete with pacifier. These are not characters to really take seriously, and quite understandably they don’t take their predicaments seriously either. Even when a fight sequence might be getting too threatening, or bloody, Koenma’s off in the other world, watching it all unfold on TV, bickering with one of his clerks, supplying commentary to the proceedings. This deft silliness is the big selling point of Yu Yu Hakusho, and one reason why I still think fondly of it after all this time; ever since MVM’s abortive attempt to release it here on DVD.
Now that Funimation are bringing the Blu-rays across, we might get to see the rest of the show to completion, and with the bonus disc in this collection, it’s clear that we’re getting the most recent release of the show, for anyone thinking of complaining that it’s a show that has been out on Blu-ray in the US for ten years at this point. Yu Yu Hakusho has scrubbed up really well for its high definition release, and is well worth picking up.