Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. #01 (of 32) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Monday, March 14, 2005
Release Date: Monday, March 21, 2005



What They Say
Fourteen-year-old Yusuke is living out a typical teen existence until the day he dies trying save a little boy. He is taken to the Spirit World, but because of his good deed, he is able to return to the earth as a Spirit Detective who tracks down evil spirits in order to thwart their diabolical plans.

Also available as a special limited edition with a box and t-shirt.


The Review!
After several years, Yu Yu Hakusho finally finds its way into stores with both an English dub and the original Japanese track with subtitles.

Audio:
I listened to the Japanese track for my main reviewing, and enjoyed the performances from the voice actors, particularly Yusuke, Kuwabara and Keiko. The stereo mix is basic, as you'd expect for an old show, but I noticed no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

I briefly sampled the disc in English, and the dub sounded quite well acted, though I didn't really listen to enough to form a great opinion of it. I noticed no technical problems with the portions I listened to.

As this is a FUNimation production, we also get dubbed openings and endings. And as they almost always are, these are really good. They're not particularly accurate to the original translations, but that's a lot more difficult with songs than it is regular dialogue. They do capture the spirit of the originals well though, and it's a practice I enjoy an awful lot so I'll always give kudos to FUNimation for being one of the few companies that still dubs their songs.

Video:
With this being an older show, it shows signs of age. I didn't notice any macroblocking or aliasing during regular playback, though the transfer isn't the sharpest (which seems more down to the relative age of the source materials), and there's a bit of grain throughout. Colours are quite well reproduced, and I didn't notice any instances of cross-colouration. Nevertheless, for a show made long before DVD was a consideration, the transfer comes across quite well.

We also get alternate angles for the openings and endings. This means that you can either watch the translated, English credits in the opening, or the original Japanese opening with kanji, and the same for the ending, depending on which language you select from the menu. Unfortunately, FUNimation don't credit the Japanese voice actors at all on the English translation angle, which is very annoying to say the least. Other than that, this is a practice I really like and would like to see many other studios adopt.

Subtitles are in a nice yellow font, as opposed to the white font used on the US discs, and I didn't notice any major grammatical or spelling errors.

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

Menu:
The menus are simple but functional, with the main menu screen sporting an image of Yusuke down the left side, with the episode selections and sub-menu options, as well as the series logo and disc title, down the right hand side. All the menus are static, and only the main menu has music playing (the ending theme in this case). The system is simple but functional, and does look quite nice and is fitting with the style of the rest of the packaging.

Unfortunately there's no scene selection menu, though a major oversight in my opinion is that Madman have only added a chapter stop after the episode title screen appears in each episode (just after a brief recap), and not one at the eyecatch, meaning the chapter for the meat of the episodes lasts almost twenty minutes. This is an annoying practice that I hope is corrected for the next release.

Extras:
There's not a great deal here (and nor do I expect there to be for such a long series), though we do get the opening and ending in textless form, which is always nice. There's also a bunch of textual character profiles which are decent if short, and a brief but nice series of translations for the character names. While it's not a great selection, it's not too shabby and I expect the rest of the series to be pretty much on par with this.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Yu Yu Hakusho has an interesting history in the UK. When MVM first signed their distribution deal with FUNimation, it was one of the first releases they announced, along with Blue Gender and some of the Lupin the 3rd movies. At the time, everyone was quite excited, especially since MVM had announced that they'd pretty much sealed a deal to get the show on TV, and it looked like it would be a regular terrestrial channel rather than a satellite channel. Of course, there was a bit of disappointment when it turned out that because of the costs of BBFC submission, they would only be releasing their DVDs with the English dub. Things then all went a bit pear-shaped when the TV deal fell through, and the release of the series was cancelled after just two volumes (as well as the release of the Lupin movies).

Flash forward two and a half years, and MVM now have a deal in place that sees Madman in Australia authoring their DVDs for them, reducing the cost of the release in the process and enabling them to release all their series in bilingual form. And there was much rejoicing (well, I was happy at least), when MVM announced last year that they would be restarting the release of Yu Yu Hakusho with both language tracks present. And so here we are, looking at the first disc.

Incidentally, this disc is also available with a series box and t-shirt for a very nice price, but at the time of writing I've not seen it as MVM don't supply packaging with their review discs.

On to the series itself, and it's an interesting one. Running for a total of 112 episodes from 1992 to 1995, it's based on a long-running manga series to Yoshihiro Togashi that ran in one of the world's most recognised manga anthologies, Shonen Jump. The DVD release is set to span around 32 discs, which makes it a very unusual series to see a UK release, especially given that it hasn't ever aired on TV.

The story revolves around Urameshi Yusuke, a young man who gets run over while saving a little boy right at the start of the series and dies. Right from that moment, you know it's going to be a bit unusual. After realising he's dead, Yusuke recalls the day leading up to his death, and it's just another day in the life of the young troublemaker. His mother's an alcoholic and holds a bit of resentment towards her son. There's a girl at school, Keiko, that he regularly bickers with though she seems to like him a bit more than that, and it seems that he might just happen to have a soft spot for her. Yusuke's always in trouble with the teachers, and he gets in fights a lot. He also has an archrival called Kuwabara, who's really no match for him but they fight all the time anyway. In his spirit form he watches over everyone as they either berate him, in the case of some the teachers, or mourn for him.

A spirit called Botan stays with him (on her broomstick), and offers him the chance to be returned to life – but for that he has to overcome a trial. So she takes him to the spirit world to meet Yama-sama, the leader of the spirit world, who turns out not to be some gigantic monster type, but instead a young child. Nevertheless, he gives Yusuke his trial. He must hatch the egg of a beast of the spirit realm. It grows with energy from the human heart, so if Yusuke does good things, it'll grow into an angel, but if not, it'll grow into a devil that'll devour him. But even as his trial begins there's one other problem – he can't be returned to life if his body is cremated!

OK, so it does sound a little bit silly, and when you think about it, the nature of the trial really is, and it's not particularly unexpected either. But the series pulls it off well, because the whole story is actually quite unusual. After all, the main character is a dead boy and as such he can't interact directly with people, meaning he has to be creative in coming up with different ways to communicate. There is something of a way out, in that he can inhabit other people's bodies on certain occasions, but it's thankfully not something that's dreadfully overused, at least at this early stage. There's some great banter between Yusuke and the other characters, especially his mother, Keiko and Kuwabara, and it's a bit of a shame that it doesn't last very long because he dies. But it's something that will run through the rest of the series as he watches over the people he cares about and certain situations arise where they do end up interacting with each other in different ways, including in their dreams, as that's the other thing Yusuke can do at any time, appear to people in their dreams.

Watching the first couple of episodes there's some good drama in there, thanks to Yusuke's death and the natural feelings that brings out in some of the characters, but there's also a lot of dark comedy what with the situations that the characters get into. But just as the first two episodes provide a good introduction to Yusuke and Botan, and a taster of the other characters, the next two episodes really flesh out a couple of other characters.

Episode 3 revolves around Kuwabara. He and his gang are caught fighting for the umpteenth time, and one of the nastier teachers who wants to get rid of the troublesome kids decides that one of Kuwabara's friends will be made to stop working his job, which he does to provide for his family, if the gang don't fight for a week. While this proves a bit troublesome, Kuwabara comes up with an inventive way to still "fight" with the people who are after him – he just doesn't hit back. But the teacher moves the goalposts, and says they all have to get over 50 on the next science test. Not a problem for everyone else, but on the last test Kuwabara scored 7! So Yusuke tries to give him a bit, as the teacher goes all out to stop them from succeeding.

Kuwabara is an interesting character, but what really makes this episode is that it shows him as a lot more than the goofball who just wants to fight that he was portrayed as in his limited screen time in the first two episodes. Here, he is caring and very loyal to his friends, and does all he can to make sure he succeeds for their sake. He comes off as a lot more noble here, and it really adds an extra dimension to what could have been a very shallow character. His interaction with Yusuke is also a lot of fun, and it's nice that it brings out the better side of Yusuke as well.

The final episode sees Koenma send an investigator to look into Yusuke and those that care about him, to see if it's even worth him being brought back to life. Sure enough, much of the focus is on Keiko, but when Yusuke's house is the victim of the local arsonist and Keiko tries to save his body, Yusuke is forced to make a difficult choice.

Here, we get to see Yusuke's true feelings for Keiko, though they're somewhat unspoken, and indeed her feelings for him. While the story plays out quite predictably, it's very watchable just for the reactions of all the characters. Kuwabara is thrown into the mix and his appearance works on several levels, both with relation to Keiko and also Yusuke. Though the outcome is expected, it is nice and it's certainly going to be interesting to see where this is going, especially considering the preview for the next episode hints at Yusuke returning to life already.

While Yu Yu Hakusho does show its age in a lot of ways, the animation is decent considering the series' length, and the character designs are quite old-school compared to most newer series, which actually helps make it a little more refreshing. But what really works for the series, outside of the story which is a little silly at times but always watchable, is the cast of characters and their relationships and conflicts. They provide both drama and comedy, and that's a pretty good combination for any series.

In Summary:
It's a bit of an investment, though MVM alleviate things a little with a very sweet retail price, but from this first disc Yu Yu Hakusho is off to a promising start. Its premise provides ample opportunity for the characters to shine, and though sometimes it can be a bit silly it knows not to take itself too seriously, so it remains very entertaining throughout. I've waited a long, long time to see the series, and so far I'm not disappointed. I only hope the quality can remain for most of the long, long run.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Textless Opening and Ending,Name Translations,Character Profiles

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: C+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
MSRP: £14.99 / £17.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Yu Yu Hakusho