Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 26th 2011
Yu Yu Hakusho
Blu-Ray - Season 4 (Anime Classics)
Deep in the cave where Sensui is opening his tunnel to the Demon Realm, the fight for humanity comes down to a duel between Spirit Detectives. Yusuke is his usual confident self, but that changes when the depths of Sensui's insanity become clear. The younger detective may emerge victorious, but not unchanged. Afterwards events force Yusuke to leave for the Demon Realm to confront a certain ancestor of his. Yusuke being Yusuke, it isn't long before he's embroiled in a standoff between the three great powers that rule the Demon Realm. Demon kings Raizen, Mukuro and Yomi have spent the last millennia in a sort of uneasy truce, but the truce is about to end. War is brewing, and Yusuke is caught right in the middle.
Yu Yu Hakusho's upswing continues through this, the last of the series' season boxes, hitting some hitches along the way but still finishing the series on a strong note. Strong enough, anyway.
If you're sensing less than wholehearted enthusiasm, that's because the very best of the series is actually concentrated towards the middle of this set, with the actual conclusion being a generally satisfying but markedly flawed stretch following the series' peak. The peak spans both the end of the Chapter Black and the beginning of the Three Kings sagas. The two sections are good for different reasons. Where Chapter Black excels is in its antagonist. Sensui only gets scarier the more Yusuke and his friends learn about him. Unlike Yusuke's previous opponents, he is truly and deeply insane—the calm, erudite insanity of a man whose madness is born of warped righteousness. So cogent and logical is he that it's a real shock when his surface cracks and the violence and rage come roaring out from underneath. Under his influence, the last stretch of Chapter Black becomes the series' most unpredictable. His next move is never clear, in no small part because Sensui himself is so mightily twisted that not even he really knows. He is a credible, palpable, and frighteningly capricious threat at all times—just as a villain should be.
He's also very much a tragic figure, which more than anything gives Chapter Black its emotional core. It isn't much of a core in truth. Chapter Black's charms are more visceral than emotional. The Three Kings saga, on the other hand, is—initially at least—remarkable for its surprisingly sophisticated emotional core. Chapter Black ended in a life-changing revelation for Yusuke, a revelation that forces him deep into the violent heart of Demon Realm politics and into potential conflict with longtime allies Kurama and Hiei. In addition to opening up a whole new world of butts for Yusuke to kick, the shakeup of Yusuke's life also opens up (and upsets) the personal lives of the protagonists. When Yusuke decides to leave for the Demon Realm, we get a taste of Kuwabara's feelings for his primary rival and, more importantly, our first real window into Yusuke's relationship with spunky gal-pal Keiko. We see more of their relationship in Yusuke's visit to Keiko's family's restaurant than the entire show prior to that point. What we see are two people who are very comfortable with each other and with what they mean to each other. It's warm and funny and underplayed in a way that the series very seldom is.
As the leads all enter the Demon Realm, the personal focus shifts to Hiei and Kurama. Extensive flashbacks flesh out their histories and also map out their primary internal conflicts: Hiei's mysterious childhood and the hate eating at his core; the clash between who Kurama once was and who he has become since occupying the body of Shuichi Minamino. As they explore them, alliances are shifting, power-bases are eroding, and battle lines are being drawn across which former allies can be seen gearing up for all-out war. Hiei ponders inscrutably, Kurama maneuvers stealthily, and Yusuke does what Yusuke does best: get stronger and stronger. At this point the only thing wrong with the series is that Kuwabara has been heartlessly cut out of it. The show is as complex and organic as it's ever been: bursting with activity and possibilities, poised on the cusp of a climax that will combine the political and martial intricacies of a Demon war with the very personal conflicts of its protagonists—all while pitting friend against friend in a deadly contest of kings. Never has the show been so promising: Chapter Black just showed that the series has the plotting chops and pitiless nerve to pull it off, and the Three Kings' own opening just proved that it has the heart to make the outcome really matter.
So what does the show do with all of that promise? Stage a tournament. Within minutes of the announcement the nations of the Demon Realm are dissolved, the war called off, and the tension more or less completely dissipated. Yomi continues to scheme for a little while and he has a son created for unknown evil purposes, but that too comes to nothing in the end. All of the pent-up political pressures, the newly introduced structures and relations of the Demon Realm, even the brewing bloodshed between onetime allies—all of it thrown out the window for one last chance to revel in the manly joys of guys in tournament brackets beating the hell out of each other. You can almost feel yourself deflate.
The good news is that it's a good tournament. The matches are unpredictable, the fighting suitably furious, and the main personal conflicts, at least, worked out even as the fists and energy blasts fly. Kurama's fight in particular has a poignant tinge, and Hiei and Yusuke both get their fifteen minutes of angst. The bad news is that it's still a tournament: Same rigid structure, same cheesy commentary from the sidelines, same misguided ideas about competitive masculinity. By the time that the third or fourth person has commented on how some spent opponent looks so happy and satisfied to have lost in a good fight, you'll want to do some pummeling of your own. Yes, guys can settle their differences by beating the tar out of each other, but no, it isn't every guy's dream to strive to be the strongest and expend themselves fighting a worthy foe, thank you very much Dragon Ball Z.
Yu Yu Hakusho's animation isn't exactly the most sophisticated out there, but Noriyuki Abe and his crew do what they can with the tools at hand. They're perfectly willing to animate the whole frame when the camera needs to move from one player to another and then another, or when some poor sap is sent plowing through the earth and the camera decides to tag along for the ride, even if the low frame rate makes the moves look less than polished. They make increased and increasingly effective use of extremely detailed close-ups, particularly when someone is getting the snot kicked out of them, but also when Sensui shifts personalities. The series does a fine job of making his face look recognizably the same and yet eerily different. The technical highlights, however, are still the fights. The series makes good use of high-impact compositions, canny stylization, jolts of fluidity, and bone-crunching sound effects to create hard-hitting fights on a limited budget. It also does away with the wilder visual affectations of earlier fights, leaving the brawling feeling cleaner and clearer.
This far in, you're unlikely to change your mind much about Funimation's shamelessly unfaithful English adaptation. On the plus side, the weaker tournament episodes benefit mightily from the English version's beefed up humor and fearless meddling. It's a lot easier to swallow a full dose of manly posturing when it's fed to you with good humor. On the minus side, the quieter episodes are clearly superior in Japanese and some of the more extreme changes do interfere with the continuity between dialogue and visuals.
If you're wondering where the extras were the last few sets, the answer is: here. The real meat is in the various commentary tracks, which cover everything from the acting to the Blu-Ray audio remix. Most date from the original 2003 DVD releases, but a few were made new for the current release, including the remixing one and another where a portion of the cast get together for a little reunion of sorts. There are eight total, one for episode 99 (remixing), one for 108 (reunion), two for 110 (ADR/mixing and supporting cast), two for 111 (writer and outtakes) and two for 112 (leading cast and retrospective). It's a fine send-off for the series, all told. There's also a lengthy video about the Yu Yu Hakusho trading card game along with a trading card pack-in, for those interested.
It isn't easy to stay mad at Yu Yu Hakusho. Its final arc may collapse into tournament power-ups and secondary characters gushing about what a great and interesting man Yusuke is, but it never forgets the important stuff: the long-running personal issues, the unresolved emotions, the relationships built between the characters and between us over its long course. When it follows the sudden and in some ways perfunctory end of the final tournament with a gentle episode-long coda during which each character gets a nice, last little bow before the curtain falls, you can't help but forgive its every trespass.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Chapter Black; the beginning of the Three Kings Saga; finishes on a satisfying note.
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