In my experience, no anime has ever truly hit their stride until a number of episodes in. I like the first season of Yu Yu Hakusho, but it didn’t quite reach its first high point until the Dark Tournament arc, widely remembered by just about all Yu Yu Hakusho fans. Since this particular shonen arc is one that begs for acknowledgement, I’ll give it the recognition it deserves with this review of the digitally remastered release of Yu Yu Hakusho: Season 2.
I would like to thank my sister for giving this to me on Christmas
|Looks like he's been... Disarmed!|
First, I should give some backstory for context. In the last few episodes of the first season, Yusuke defeated a powerful gang leader named Toguro to rescue an ice apparition named Yukina. As it turns out, Toguro threw the match, and he came back later to confront Yusuke and show him his real, overwhelming power. There, Toguro told Yusuke that he wants him to compete in an upcoming demon world fighting competition called the Dark Tournament, and said if he doesn’t, he’ll kill Yusuke and his friends. Speaking of friends, Toguro gave the same invitation to Hiei and Kurama, who helped Yusuke fight the menacing Saint Beasts before, and in need of one more teammate after his buddy Kuwabara, Yusuke enlists the aid of a masked fighter, whose true identity is not known at the time.
The second season box set of Yu Yu Hakusho isn’t exactly the entirety of the Dark Tournament arc, unfortunately. It starts halfway through the first match with Kuwabara fighting the yo-yo wielder Rinku, and ends with the conclusion of the first round of the finals with the battle between Kurama and Karasu, leading to a feeling of a lack of self-containment. Still, while it doesn’t get everything, it does get the real meat of the arc, i.e. the epic fights with a variety of colorful opponents. It just feels a little anticlimactic to not end with the finale.
|Speaking of colorful opponents...|
If you thought Yu Yu Hakusho was a fighting anime before, you have not seen anything yet. This is the tournament arc common to shonen series, and that means there is an even bigger focus on the fights. Tournament arcs don’t always exactly work, as they can generate a sense of repetition if all it is is a series of fights that play by the same rules under the same circumstances with little time put aside for character development (the World Tournament Arc in the Yu-Gi-Oh anime comes to mind), but Yu Yu Hakusho is able to avoid such staleness.
None of the matches in the Dark Tournament play the same. At the beginning of each round, the team captains decide on the victory conditions. It can be best 3 out of 5, elimination matches, or, for one match, a 3 on 3 battle royale. That combined with the various specialties and powers of the combatants themselves ensure none of the matches feel the same.
For me, the best part of any shonen action series’ fight is the way the protagonists use their skills and their brains to come up with a way to win, be it using the enemy’s power against them, finding their weakness, or using what they know in new and creative ways. Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the best examples of this. In almost none of the fights in the Dark Tournament do conventional tactics work, and even when they use new and special tricks to beat one opponent, there are later fighters that anticipate them and are ready for it, meaning even more new ideas need to be made for the heroes to win. The resulting provision of new moves, techniques, strategies, and powers only further keeps the episodes fresh and unpredictable.
A lot goes on outside the fights as well, for extra character development and breaks from the normally tourney-structured action. There are corrupt tournament committees, chatty announcers, and Yusuke’s friends in the stands along with spirit leader Koenma and a blue ogre providing observation and commentary to add some comedy and exposition. The characters in the fights themselves are also fairly well-established with their own reasons for entering the tournament. Some of them are actually decent people that even Yusuke takes a liking to, and I guarantee there will be a favorite character for any viewer among this ensemble of combatants. For me, that'd be Shishiwakamaru, because he knows showmanship.
But as much as I love this season of Yu Yu Hakusho, and as much as I recommend it, I can’t quite call it, or the series as a whole, a masterpiece. It falls for some of the writing hitches that other shonen series have stumbled on, like plot or character-critical details and weapons never alluded to or given any foreshadowing, or powerful weapons and techniques that are only used once and then never again with no explanation. There’s also Hiei, who’s a bit of a Marty Stu, so much so that he only fights a few times in this season, but you likely won't be thinking about such writing elements when you're watching. If you want a written masterpiece from Yoshihiro Togashi, watch Hunter X Hunter or Level E. If you just want something fun to watch with a respectable amount of heart and thought put into it, Yu Yu Hakusho will definitely fit the bill.
If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, Yu Yu Hakusho Season 2 is well worth having. It’s even better than the first season, and although it doesn’t quite cover its entire story arc, it still gives several episodes of action-packed, well-paced, character-driven shonen goodness. If you can find it for $20, it is an absolute steal. Even if you haven’t seen the first season, the second season is well worth your money all on its own. I give Yu Yu Hakusho: Season 2 an 8.5 out of 10.