Yu Yu Hakusho – Review

It’s been a spotty run for live-action adaptations of anime and manga over the years, with the likes of Dragon Ball Evolution and Ghost in the Shell being the rallying cry of those burned by these efforts. However, Netflix has taken up the mantle of producing more of these adaptations and, after the success of One Piece earlier this year, Yu Yu Hakusho not only has to live up to the high standard but also the legendary status of its source material.

Originally released in Weekly Shonen Jump in December 1990, Yoshihiro Togashi brought us the thrilling tale of the young delinquent Yusuke Urameshi and his battle against the Yokai of the Demon Realm. While he is now best known for Hunter x Hunter, Togashi reached critical and commercial acclaim with this series and its second arc, The Dark Tournament, is widely lauded as the greatest tournament story in manga, besting even the greatest efforts of the legendary Akira Toriyama.

So why am I telling you all of this? I want to provide some background on the history of this series to help inform you of how monumental an adaptation like this is. This is a series fondly remembered by children of the ’90s when the anime aired on Toonami and a legacy that runs to this day as inspiration for manga authors. Even Gege Akutami of Jujutsu Kaisen fame cited Togashi and his work as a source of inspiration.

Our story begins as many do, with our protagonist standing over his lifeless body. Ok, so perhaps not many stories but it is certainly quite the hook to begin with. Yusuke Urameshi is a delinquent, aged up from 14 to 17 for this adaptation he smokes, drinks, gambles, fights, and skips school. Yet he has a strict moral code that he abides by, even with teachers and other authority figures telling him what a waste of space he is. After being run over in a frankly brutal collision with a truck while attempting to save the life of a young boy, Yusuke is offered the chance to return to life, in return for becoming a Spirit Detective, an agent of the Spirit Realm in the human world to fight against invading Yokai.

Yusuke (Takumi Kitamura) looks over the site of his death

The Netflix series predominantly covers the first arc of the source material, the Spirit Detective arc, while cutting a great deal of the fluff and incorporating elements of the aforementioned Dark Tournament arc. While some may lament the exclusion of this content, particularly the character buildup for Yusuke’s rival Kazuma Kuwabara, the show handles itself well enough that this becomes something of a non-issue. The show keeps a rapid pace, particularly in its first episode, that keeps you engaged, though it can feel a little rushed at times.

Kuwabara (Shûhei Uesugi) flees from a demon dog

For a shonen battle manga in a similar vein to Dragon Ball, I was concerned about the visual effects of the characters’ attacks, weapons, and different forms. However I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it looks. A glance at the credits though and the scale of VFX artists shows just how much work and manpower went into making this series look as good as it does. From the effects used for spiritual attacks to the grotesque forms of many Yokai, you can tell just how much effort has gone into this series and it’s all the better for it. Excellent fight choreography combined with the effects and CGI means you are rarely – if ever – taken out of the action. It is however a very violent show with some truly gruesome imagery that gives a distinct horror vibe that may be off-putting for some, but is in keeping with the story and source material.

Yusuke and Botan sail through the Spirit World

The acting too is superb with Takumi Kitamura and Shuhei Uesugi breathing true life into the characters of Yusuke and Kuwabara, respectively. You can see that they went to great lengths in their characterisations from their demeanour and their speech to even how they stand and walk. Go Ayano makes for a truly intimidating younger Toguro brother, the main antagonist of this series. The English dub is fine, however I feel that many like myself will be disappointed that the voice cast for the original anime did not return to reprise their roles as many did for the Bleach film.

Toguro the Younger, powered up, beckons his foe to fight

Even with the recent success of One Piece, I believe that this may be the best example of manga to live action I have ever seen. At five episodes it’s a bit of a strange length and I think could have done with being a bit longer to flesh out both the characters and world a bit more. Furthermore, the decision to include story elements from the following arc does mean that a second season is probably unlikely, though not impossible.

Yusuke fires a Spirit Gun at an opponent

In all, I believe the Yu Yu Hakusho live-action adaptation is probably as good of an adaptation as we could have gotten, and it leaves me hopeful for what other adaptations we could see in the future. If this series leaves you wanting more, the original anime is also available on Crunchyroll both subbed and dubbed, and the manga is available from Viz Media physically and digitally, or through the Weekly Shonen Jump app.

9/10 star rating





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