Yu Yu Hakusho Vol. #01: Yusuke Lost, Yusuke Found (Mania.com)
Review Date: Friday, June 21, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Yu Yu Hakusho will invariably be compared to Dragonball Z if only for its emphasis on fighting, the fact that it is being aired on Cartoon Network and the fact that it is released by DBZ licensors, Funimation. The two series could hardly be more dissimilar, however. Yu Yu Hakusho's emphasis on characters, irony, and compassion have given us a much more human drama, with enough wit and intelligence to satisfy even the most discriminating anime fan.
This release includes both the original Japanese language version and an English dub. Both tracks are clear, but the English track is louder and fuller, and ultimately more satisfying. The Japanese track is effectively monaural, and sounds a little thin.
The video looks decent, although it is an older show, and subject to a little over saturation. The color balance seems a little off, skewing a little more to blue than is natural. The opening and ending credits are presented in both Japanese and English through the use of alternate angles. The English version seems a little cleaner, but suffers from more over saturation. The Japanese version is darker, and softer, but the color balance is more satisfying. During the actual episodes, there is no difference in image quality.
I really like the look of the disks, with a nice framing design around an appealing cover illustration of the main characters. The disc comes with an attractive one-page insert with a full-sized version of the cover illustration on the front and episode information on the reverse.
The menus are stylish and simple, two very good things. Funimation has been releasing very nice, high-concept, highly intuitive menus lately, and this continues the trend. My only complaint is that the main page is a little slow to get going when returning from an episode or a submenu.
To start with, the disc includes creditless openings and closings, always a welcome addition. The video in these is of the same quality as the English credits included in the episodes, which is to say clean and a little over bright. The set also includes character information, which is nice, but the file-folder motif wastes a lot of screen real estate. The best extra here is the inclusion of some translator's notes, which are actually quite informative and interesting. I'm glad to see that more companies are thinking to include these with their releases.
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)
You just know that Yu Yu Hakusho is going to be something special when the protagonist is killed less than 30 seconds into the first episode.
In a lesser show this may come off as something of a stunt, cheap theatrics for early ratings. It Yu Yu Hakusho it is just a natural extension of the character and the plot. Yusuke Urameshi is a junior high school student with something of a bone to pick. Not necessarily too bright at school, and plagued by a troublesome home life, Yusuke has little to look forward to but the endless harassments by mean-spirited teachers, and fights with rival street thugs. When he sees a young child running into traffic, he selflessly rushes after the boy, pushes him safely out of the way of an oncoming car, but is struck himself and killed immediately.
His reward for the only kind and selfless act of his short life was death. As the disembodied Yusuke watches the ambulances arrive and pass over his lifeless body, he begins to wonder if this was all really for the best. His life was going nowhere, and at least he gets to go out on a high note. But death is not Yusuke's ultimate fate. Boton, a pretty girl riding a boat oar, claiming to be the Grim Reaper, shows up to inform Yusuke that he will be given another chance to regain his life. At first Yusuke refuses, thinking that his death will pass unmourned, but after attending his own funeral, and seeing the effects of his passing on his family, friends, rivals, and even his teachers, he decides to embark on a quest to return to life and reclaim his life.
With a little help from his not-quite-girlfriend, Keiko, lifelong rival, Kuwabara, and Boton, Yusuke sets in motion a series of events that will teach him more about himself than he could learn while alive. What is perhaps most delightful about the show is its refined sense of irony and witty black humor. The early episodes are full of clever sight gags and genuinely charming plot twists that play off of a variety of legends about death and the afterworld. But even more surprising is how much more heart and emotion than you would expect the show contains. The scene at Yusuke's funeral is truly touching, without being maudlin or melodramatic.
This warmth is helped, in no small part, by the character of Yusuke himself. Though he is an almost superhuman fighter, he is at the same time a truly an everyman hero. His mother, who has raised him by herself, is an alcoholic without any sense of responsibility. Keiko is a not especially attractive girl, something of a nag, without any other admirers. He himself is a delinquent whose future only holds the promise of disappointment. There is something very appealing about a hero who is not intrinsically better than us – who is, in a way, one of us with our own flaws and disappointments.
I started watching the show, dubbed, on the Cartoon Network, and the show has rapidly become one of the few shows I make time to watch each week. The dub is very, very good, generally more satisfying than the original Japanese version. Boton in the English is a wry and experienced woman, playing at cuteness, but the Japanese version comes off as an absent-minded twit. Yusuke is a toss-up, but the Japanese version has a mean pride to him that makes him less likeable. English Yusuke has a warmth in his voice that makes him more vulnerable, more human. Only Kuwabara is hands-down superior in the Japanese. He is a rough and tumble street thug, with limited intelligence, but infinite courage. In the Japanese, he sounds tougher than smart, but the English version pushes him a little too far over the edge into idiot territory, giving him the aura of a clueless professional wrestler. Even so, the actor puts enough range into the role that he is still compelling at Yusuke's funeral.
The original run on Cartoon Network snipped a little out of the show and changed some of the dialogue in order to meet broadcast standards, though I would hardly consider the show to be inappropriate for anyone over the age of 9. The DVD restores the edited scenes, but unfortunately the English language version keeps some of the modified dialogue (like a running joke about Keiko's panties.)
In all, this is an excellent production of a clever and satisfying show. At the end of the disc, Yusuke is still dead, but getting closer to regaining his life, and looking forward to coming back and living his life better than he did before. It remains to be seen whether Yu Yu Hakusho can sustain this high level of humor, excitement, and compassion, but even if not, these four episodes are pure delight. Recommended.
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Yu Yu Hakusho