Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 3rd 2011
Yu Yu Hakusho
Blu-Ray - Season 2 Box Set
Yusuke and his friends have been invited to the Dark Tournament, if invitation is the word. Invitation usually implies that coming is voluntary, and that it's a place you'd want to go. Neither applies to the Dark Tournament. Being human at the Dark Tournament is like being Elton John at a Klan rally. While sponsors bend the rules to favor their teams of Yokai freaks and the demonic crowd works itself into a frenzy of bloodlust, Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, Kurama and the masked mystery man whose identity is no mystery must fight in round after grueling round of lethal, spirit-powered combat. Their aim is to face and defeat Toguro, the tournament's golden boy, but it's a long, hard road to the finals, and not all of them will necessarily survive it.
Get ready to rumble! Set one set up the Dark Tournament and set three will finish it, which means this set is pretty much 100% tournament smackdown. The quirky, funny, sentimental beginning of the series seems eons ago as macho posturing and nonstop pummeling completely consume the show. Bad news for us girly men, but it does mean that the opportunities for cage-match coolness are plentiful.
If only the show was better at taking advantage of them. Yusuke's main fights take the "sympathetic villain" approach, trying to replace good old fashioned bad-guy beat-downs with evenly-matched martial artists immersing themselves in the manly joy of the fight. As Yusuke is the main character, these fights tend to be the longest, and the most boring. Say whatever you will about hero vs. heel fights, they're a lot more compelling to watch than two guys bonding with their fists while their teammates look on and comment on how happy they seem. It's hard to get invested in a fight when no matter who wins everyone ends up happy. Not that the fights necessarily fare any better when the outcome does matter (or tries to matter). The match in which Team Urameshi battles a team of mind-controlled good guys (ooh, moral conflict!) is probably the set's worst. It's mawkish and long and Yusuke's sissy goody-goody-ness gets irritating really fast.
It's hard to fault the series' intent in all of this, which is obviously to provide some variance on the usual tournament fight structures. Half-hearted defiance of convention is worse than none at all, though; especially when you haven't got the narrative skills to back it up. Ironically, the only formulas so boneheaded that the show can't screw them up are the oldies-but-goodies that it's trying to provide an alternative to. Bad guy enters, bad guy does bad stuff, bad guy riles good guy, bad guy is removed with extreme prejudice—even pro wrestlers can't screw that up. Unfortunately, by definition of extreme prejudice, such fights also tend to be really short.
The series is clearly bored with itself here. It can't even be bothered to create credible opponents. Every team has a theme (sentai unit, Japanese folk-tales, street performers, element-based ninjas) and maybe one major player surrounded by lackeys so disposable they might as well have "cannon fodder" stamped on their soon-to-be-kicked butts. These aren't characters, even the major players, so much as devices to either demonstrate the powers of Teams Urameshi and Toguro or to kill time until the finals. Which is really all that this portion of the set is: a way to kill time before the tournament breaks out the big guns. Can you really blame the show for being bored?
You can literally see the boredom. And hear it. Aside from occasional bursts of Pierrot's trademark wide-angle, body-distorting fluidity, visually speaking this chunk of the Dark Tournament is most remarkable for being kind of flat and lifeless. Obvious shortcuts are more widely utilized, space less creatively used, and both images and whole sequences in general less carefully composed. Previous fights used abstraction and other stylistic tricks to heighten impact; the pre-finals Dark Tournament fights don't even bother. Some sequences, particularly running exchanges of blows, are just plain shoddy. Elsewhere quality control declines, art becomes variable, and recycled animation grows ever more blatant. Inelegant usage cheapens the score's better compositions—namely its darker ones—while highlighting its weaknesses, particularly its lack of variety. This is not one of Noriyuki Abe's better showings.
It is here, at the series' weakest, that Funimation's wild and wooly dub proves its worth. Sure it's brazenly unfaithful, but it's unfaithful in all the right ways. Strong performances and a generally accurate core cast (Kurama's female seiyuu is replaced by a male actor) preserve the episodes' one great strength, their likeable protagonists, while bold writing and interesting peripheral casting remove many of their weaknesses. The script ramps up the humor and toughens Yusuke's dialogue, which curbs the manly mushiness of the main fights, and also sharpens the wit of major supporting players like Botan and Kuwabara's scary sister, vastly improving the commentary from the peanut gallery. The real retrofitting, however, is saved for Team Urameshi's opponents. With a combination of rampant ham, severely altered banter, odd accents, and complete personality overhauls, the dub manages the seemingly impossible feat of turning the tournaments' collection of paper tigers into vibrant, interesting threats. The decision to make Jin, one of Yusuke's main opponents, a crazed Irishman (Scotsman?) was particularly inspired, as was the transformation of tournament ref Koto into a bloodthirsty canine pixie. Brilliant.
Of course, the tournament can't go on forever. The disposable enemies have to be disposed of and the big baddies braced. And that's exactly what happens in the set's last few episodes. The final round opens with the series' biggest shock to date, and hardly lets up. The show is instantly rejuvenated; the dark stylization returns with a vengeance and the tension is palpable. There's never a doubt that everyone is in very real and very lethal danger. Set three should be a real treat.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B-
+ Fantastic dub; loads of action.
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