Sunday, September 2, 2012

Yu Yu Hakusho Season 2 Review

[Note: This blog was originally posted by me on Japanator.  I am not plagiarizing if it's my own work.]

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

I think I should point out that I am in no way blinded by nostalgia here.  I did not regularly watch Yu Yu Hakusho when it was on TV.  I only remember seeing a couple of episodes by chance when I woke up really early, and I only distinctly remember one in which the villain Karasu blow up a guy by touching him, and I didn’t even know what the show was called at the time. Knowing this should emphasize how much I genuinely like this anime.
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.

They look so huggable.

For something that’s apparently Funimation’s second biggest dub job ever, the voice acting is very good. Justin Cook shows off his range in a number of situations and characters, and the supporting cast is just as well-acted as the main characters. Above all else, they’re just fun to listen to. Of particular note are the characters of Chu and Jin, who are both given distinct foreign accents to spice up the diversity even further. Since they got a lot of experience from dubbing Dragon Ball Z, there’s also a lot of rather hammy acting when things get really intense, but if you weren’t expecting some screaming scenes, you clearly don’t know shonen.

What really makes the voices work is the script they’re reading off of. The English version of Yu Yu Hakusho is vastly different in its dialogue from the Japanese version. While the Japanese version has a lot of average, predictable, plain dialogue, the English version turns a lot of the main characters into smarmy, sarcastic teenagers… Which is exactly what they are. The fruitier adapted script makes them all sound much more natural and fun to listen to. There are several lines that are just an average piece of expositional throwaway dialogue in Japanese that the English version changes into some kind of smart-ass remark.
Yes, the digitally remastered frames are nice and sharp, and the animation and artwork is easy enough on the eyes, but I was more impressed with how great it sounded. I don’t normally give notice to a DVDs’ audio quality, but it bears mentioning here. No anime I own has come out of our HDTV’s speakers sounding so good and so clear. Sometimes I almost felt as though the characters were in the same room. No matter how loud the music and sound effects get, the sound mixing is always spot-on, and there is no kind of crackle or hiccup to be heard. This first came to my attention with probably the loudest, most destructive attack in the season, the Dragon of the Darkness Flame, which was probably the peak of the season’s volume.

For example, after an opponent purposely uses Hiei’s sword to badly cut himself, Japanese Kuwabara says “Is this guy an idiot?”, while the English Kuwarbara says “These guys are making it a little easy for us to beat ‘em.”
Much earlier, Kurama is ready to kill a demon that tried holding his mother hostage. In the Japanese version, the guy makes excuses to save his own sorry life before Kurama just says “Die”, and the demon promptly does. In English, the demon’s last words are “You believe in mercy, don’t you?” And Kurama says “No”. It’s those kinds of flavorful adjustments that make the English version superior to the original Japanese. Even the English openings and credit songs are better than the Japanese openings, and with this DVD release, they sound even better than before. 

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.


No comments:

Post a Comment