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Home > “Yu Yu Hakusho” (2023): A Review

“Yu Yu Hakusho” (2023): A Review

“Yu Yu Hakusho” (2023): A Review

Better Off in the Spirit World

Yu Yu Hakusho is a beloved anime within the shounen genre. Many of the modern tropes of anime can be traced back to this classic. Common tropes like life or death tournaments and “the power of friendship” can be traced to this legendary series. The live-action adaptation includes some of the anime’s central plot points. The protagonist is Yusuke Uramishi, a rebellious student suddenly given the responsibility of Spirit Detective. Aided by his spirit guide, Botan, Yusuke meets a variety of fan favorites from the anime, such as Kuwabara, Kurama, and Hiei. Directed by Sho Tsukikawa and with Scanline in charge of visual effects, this five episode adaptation is certainly a ride for fans and first time viewers alike. For better… or worse.

Plot 

After Netflix’s surprise home run with the live-action adaptation of One Piece, anime connoisseurs around the globe became excited at the prospect of their favorite anime receiving proper live-action adaptations. So when the news hit that Yu Yu Hakusho was getting an adaptation, fans were optimistic. The adaptation both failed and succeeded in meeting fan expectations. The main reason behind the adaptation’s failure boils down to the studio’s attempt to cram the entirety of the show’s 112 episode run into just five episodes. This is exactly as bad as it sounds. The original anime was a perfect example of pacing and character development done right. No abundance of filler episodes like One Piece, characters that were easy to fall in love with, and unforgettable pay-offs that were painstakingly set up with unimaginable foresight. All of this is lost as the show prioritizes fitting everything into five episodes. In essence, the plot feels like an abridged version of the first two major arcs of the anime.

By this point, fans are probably scratching their heads trying to figure out how and why someone would try to fit the first two arcs of the anime (around 60-70 episodes) into five episodes. The simple answer is that they don’t pull it off at all. The pacing is completely off, with viewers often not having enough time to process the events of the show as they occur. A major character from the anime dies? Expect next to no major acknowledgment from the characters until the last episode. Another odd choice was the setting and aesthetic. The anime is a prime example of ‘90s anime. The color palette and character designs were all at home for the time. The adaptation is off in this regard. While the characters maintain much of their original design (Yusuke’s green uniform and Kuruma’s beautiful locks of red hair) the world around them is seemingly modern. If this were a stylistic choice, then this would be excusable. The tone can also be switchy at times. For example, when Yusuke first becomes a spirit after dying, they decide to show the entire scene as explicitly as possible. Fans of the series are treated to Yusuke getting violently run over by a truck within the first ten minutes.

Characters

With the only other competition being One Piece, Yu Yu Hakusho is a good example of character development and a character-driven anime. The central cast are all comrades laying down their lives for each other. It is the best example of bromance in anime, even better than Naruto. Even the anime’s iconic theme is about friendship. The series follows a ragtag group of fighters; kind-hearted delinquent Yusuke (Takumi Kitamura), weak but brave Kuwabara (Shûhei Uesugi), the handsome and elegant Kuruma (Jun Shison), and cool yet cocky Hiei (Kanata Hongô). In the anime, watching these characters grow into comrades is genuinely heartwarming. They go from enemies to friends willing to sacrifice their lives for each other. Fan-favorite moments from the anime include seeing Hiei slowly open himself up to his comrades and Kuwabara getting stronger and holding his own. Moments like these are literally lost in the adaptation, which is arguably the worst crime that it commits.

“Yu Yu Hakusho” (2023): A Review
Image via Netflix Gô Ayano as Younger Toguro

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The live-action tries and fails to achieve the sense of camaraderie that the anime masterfully built. For the adaptation, however, it feels unearned and disingenuous. For example, live-action Hiei never fully opens up to the others until the end of the last episode, when he suddenly declares the group to be his comrades. It’s hard to take this scene seriously, as up until now, it never felt like his character felt that way. The chemistry also isn’t all the way there. While Kuwabara and Yusuke are still rivals, Kuwabara and the rest of the group hardly interact with one another. That’s right, the comedic chemistry that Kuwabara and Hiei had in the anime is nonexistent in the live-action. Had the adaptation been given more episodes to flesh out relationships, some of these moments would feel more well-earned. An especially annoying occurrence is how certain characters from the anime have little to no presence in the adaptation. Botan, for example, was Yusuke’s guide into the spirit realm; not only a sidekick but also a walking encyclopedia on the inner workings of the spirit realm. She has, at most, ten minutes of actual screen time, which is just pathetic.

Choreography/ Visual Effects

The saving grace of the adaptation is undoubtedly the fight scenes and visual effects. For all of the mistakes that the adaptation makes with its plot and characters, it (kind of) makes up for it with its fight scenes. No exaggeration, the action in this series will keep viewers coming back to rewatch these scenes over and over again. While the show is short, every single episode is action-packed and won’t give viewers too much time to ponder the shortcomings of the series. The fight scenes throughout the series are a prime example of how fights from anime should be brought to life for live-action adaptations. Utilizing meticulously choreographed fights with stunning visual effects, each fight scene is guaranteed to stick with viewers long after the credits roll. Yusuke’s signature spirit gun? Perfectly brought to life with love and attention to detail. Of the numerous fights that occur in the series, one that stands out in particular is Yusuke’s fight with the Red Ogre. Without spoiling the entire scene, Yusuke ends the fight with a spectacularly timed shot with the spirit gun. Every single fight in the show is high quality. 

The special effects go beyond the fight scenes. The yokai in the show can genuinely be terrifying to witness. Elder Toguro is just as off-putting as his anime counterpart. The same goes for the central villain, younger Toguro. The visual effects rarely, if ever, feel corny or out of place. At times, the CGI can enter the realm of uncanny valley, but it can actually work when it involves yokai, as it adds to their sense of monstrosity.

Final Rating 

The most frustrating part about this live-action adaptation is that all of its issues could’ve been resolved had it been given more episodes. The characters would feel more fleshed out and the plot would flow better. Had this show been marketed as a limited series or a  live-action abridged version of the anime, these issues might be easier to forgive. As it stands, however, it’s impossible to wholeheartedly recommend this adaptation to fans of the anime. The only thing that may really keep viewers coming back for more is the action and not much else, which is a shame considering how amazing the anime’s plot is and how iconic the characters are. While this may have been a miss, it seems like Netflix is at least starting to take things seriously with their live-action adaptations. This live-action adaptation would be better off in the spirit realm. 

The live-action adaptation of Yu Yu Hakusho is streaming on Netflix. Meanwhile, fans of the anime can always rewatch it on Hulu.

“Yu Yu Hakusho” (2023): A Review
Image via Netflix Meiko Kaji as Genkai

Yu Yu Hakusho (2023) Official Netflix Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Author

A lover of gore and over the top violence, no movie can make my stomach squirm. The only thing better than a bloody death scene is a well choreographed stunt. Whether it be action or horror, if it has blood in it, then I've likely already seen it.

Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration.  Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.