Not too long ago I finished reading the Yu Yu Hakusho manga. After which the HunterXHunter2011DickridingAssociation asked me which I preferred, the anime adaptation or reading the original manga. To which I responded that to pick one or the other rather misses the point. The anime adaptation and the manga of Yu Yu Hakusho both expand on each other in necessary ways. Separating the two doesn’t really accomplish anything beyond reducing the enjoyment of the other.
For those who aren’t aware, the Yu Yu Hakusho manga is significantly shorter than the anime’s run time would suggest. Following the Shonen adaptation rule as in Ember Reviews video (that being 2 chapters for every 1 episode), it would logically follow that the manga would have a length of almost 300 chapters. Instead, the manga has a mere 175 in comparison to the anime’s 112.
As you can extrapolate the YYH anime has a large amount of filler, expanded content, and even some character arcs that weren’t present in the manga. On top of all of that, the anime also cuts out large swathes of content from the manga that expands on the story themes in ways both minor and major. While usually, the term filler causes most anime fans to groan with displeasure YYH is a rather exceptional case. Almost all of the added content only serves to further Yoshihiro Togashi’s vision of the story.
Almost all of it. After reflecting on the themes and ideas of YYH I can’t help but notice where the anime occasionally adds to much content or otherwise miss interprets the trajectory of the narrative. The game for me becomes a rather messy process of determining what anime content should be cut/revised/reinterpreted to make for the optimal viewing experience.
And that’s what I’m here to do today. In effect, we are going to examining both texts under a microscope and creating a context to ultimately enjoy YYH to it’s fullest. Throughout which I will be highlighting where the anime missed a few swings and where it knocked it into the solar system. I would hope that this is the sort of thing you clicked for as I don’t have any sort of interest in a spicy takedown of this series nor do I think I would be able to write one in good conscious.
With that out of the way… I, Cherryboywriter, will be your author for today and allow me to set the stage.
Setting The Stage: Back From The Grave, Once Again
Perhaps the most important part of viewing YYH is having an express understanding of the central theme of the story, pinning down such a task is shockingly harder than it sounds.
What gives Yoshihiro Togashi’s work such life is something almost intangible for outsiders looking on. The most powerful ability Togashi has in his arsenal is cohesion brought on by experience and appreciation for all aspects of life. It’s an idea directly touched on in the cooking section of the Hunter Exams in Hunter x Hunter. That things which you might consider trivial or mundane in nature are in fact things which people dedicate their entire lives to mastering for that joy alone.
This sort of appreciation for life can be seen (most prominently) in the ways Hunter x Hunter goes about conveying its messages. Whether it’s cooking, Togashi’s love of video games, referencing famous artworks, creating a logical puzzle, or even appraising, Togashi dives deep into many different subject matters learning what makes them tick and what people love about them, then uses that knowledge to elevate his own work.
I tell you all of that to put into context the theme of YYH in greater detail. Because of Togashi’s appreciation for life, it can seem like pinning down the themes of his stories are difficult as the specific focus seems to shift from place to place. But if in fact, you take a more broad view the scope becomes more grand and clear. If the theme of HxH is an appreciation for life, then the theme for YYH (which would logically predate it) is coming back to live your life after losing everything.
While YYH’s subject matter can also seemingly show this tendency to bounce around from theme to theme, this is the prevailing idea that ties together every major character. From Yusuke to his friends, to Toguro and Genkai, to Sensui, to Yomi. Keep this theme in mind as it will be the main thing informing my decisions of what I praise, alter, or cut from the YYH anime.
Alteration 1 (Insert): The Daily Life of Yusuke the Ghost
I have a confession. I love Daily Life Arcs Shonen arcs. One unique trend in Shonen manga because of their previously long run length to shift genre, usually from gag manga or slice of life to action. YYH proved to also have this happen, however, all of the interesting side stories that existed in the beginning volumes of the manga were almost immediately cut from the anime without anything even close to a mention.
Daily Life arcs carry a unique quality, particularly in Shonen, being that they are investment-based low tension arcs. Given that many people (not all) generally come to Shonen manga for high-intensity storytelling daily life arcs offer a unique time for the author to build more personal traits and connections between the world, characters, and readers all while expanding on the themes in a low stakes way.
For these reasons, daily life arcs carry within them the interesting tendency to be only truly appreciated in retrospective. For a more in-depth example of this happening, I recommend reading Lethargic Rambling’s defense of the Daily Life Arc of Hitman Reborn. My point here being is that these early chapters do a large amount of leg work to establish who Yusuke Urameshi is, what his habits are, and how his relationships with other work and affect him. For those who maybe have not read Togashi’s other manga and having seen Level E it really is important to know that he is a very experienced author.
He is incredibly skilled in making all sorts of stories and is honestly a master of multiple genres. Hence why we call him ToGODshi. As such my first change to YYH is just to get these chapters animated. I’m my personal opinion if you are a fan of Yu Yu Hakusho you really do owe it to yourself to read these chapters and cry/laugh/be happy because they are just gems. Chapter 4 about how Yusuke helps a little boy who lost his dog cope and picks himself up will leave you misty-eyed every time.
However, another thing the Daily Life Arc of Yu Yu Hakusho did was really establish the ins and outs of Yusuke’s golden egg trial. And the details of this trial will lead me directly into the first of my (few) controversial opinions on the YYH anime.
Alteration 2 (Changes): Pachinko Machines, Fighting Games, and Goblin King
Perhaps one of my shortest and least interesting edits I will admit. But never the less I wanted to address it now before we get too deep into the complexities of Yusuke Urameshi as a person and the later arcs.
Throughout both the early chapters of Yu Yu Hakusho and at various points of the story, we get scattered scenes of Yusuke sitting down at arcades or pachinko machines. However, between the anime at the manga, the details get rather muddled. In the manga, we are shown scenes of Yusuke either gambling away cash at the pachinko machines or indulging in fighting games at the arcade.
But in the anime, despite the fact that Yusuke is a delinquent doing delinquent things, they could not actually show him gambling because he’s underaged. Instead, the anime opted for a 3rd option and instead gave us scenes of Yusuke playing the titular video game Goblin King which would become an important plot point to the Chapter Black Arc with the introduction of Gamemaster.
Now, of course, this is hardly even a major detail and in the long run, is less important than most things. However, the fact that Yusuke only plays fighting video games is something I consider to be an important point of characterization. By changing his gaming habits like in the anime you inadvertently change small aspects of Yusuke’s character in ways that just aren’t him. So my change for this section is to just imagine whenever Yusuke is seen playing pachinko or Goblin Slayer just mentally amend that to a fighting game. My reasoning for such a minor and unimportant edits goes rather deep.
Now before I continue I want to say I LOATH using this word to describe just about anything. Mostly because it’s a buzz word talking point people use to praise things they barely understand and thus muddy the waters around the discussion. But I see no other word to describe him so here it goes.
Yusuke Urameshi is one of, if not the most, complex anime characters ever written. By complex, I don’t mean by pretentious meanings as usual like just “being difficult to understand” or “dealing with deep issues or motivations”. No, what I mean by complex is that Yusuke legitimately just has many many different drives all conflicting and colliding within him at any given time. Much like an actual person.
Most characters, in general, are usually defined by one or two events, drives, or goals. For some short examples think of say Guts from Berserk. I’ve seen many people claim that he’s a complex character but really you can reduce his motivations down to a simple “love and revenge” if you want to be short about it. Try for another character like Vash the Stampede who simply wants to avoid violence and be a pacifist. It’s a fairly straight forward motivation. This isn’t to say that their plights aren’t given a significant amount of weight but they are more what I would describe as “deep” instead of “complex”.
In contrast, Yusuke has many faces that he must consider wearing because he has many desires that come into direct conflict. Yu Yu Hakusho is, at its core, a story about Yusuke exploring each of these desires and choosing between them. He never rejects them outright, but as the story goes on he deprioritizes them as he hones in closer and closer to finding his life’s calling.
Yusuke is torn between the things he loves. He has to repeatedly choose, “Am I Yusuke the Violent Thug, Yusuke the Hero, Yusuke the Fighter, or Yusuke the whipping boy of Keiko?” As summarized but a wonderful anime-only line at the beginning of the Three Kings arc Genki states to the group, “We owe it to Yusuke to allow him to fumble around in the dark and search for answers.” which is a great encapsulation of everything the story has been.
To bring it back to center, this is why I propose you change the various scenes of Yusuke goofing off to him playing fighting games. It reinforces the idea that he has found something that he loves and doesn’t want to give up. Fighting is one of the ways Yusuke connects to the world around him. He and Genki even have several scenes of them just playing fighting games together (and him losing badly). While you could keep the pachinko machines, they only really exist to reinforce the idea that Yusuke is also a punk and old habits die hard. But considering that if you are watching Yu Yu Hakusho and either listening to his hilarious foul language in English or just watching his quick temper in general… I think his punk nature comes across well enough.
We’ll discuss Yusuke’s motivations and masks as we go deeper into the arcs naturally but let us move onto the last alteration for Part 1.
Alteration 3 (Interpretation): Koenma Is Not Our Friend
After going through Yu Yu Hakusho I have come to what is likely going to my most controversial opinion. Not only to you all but also to myself as I am split right down the middle with how to interpret Koenma between these two versions.
My overarching opinion on our hell warden pacifier friend is that when it comes to what Koenma was meant to represent and do for the story and Yusuke was missed by the anime entirely. It becomes a decision that inevitably has rippling effects outwards to the later developments and themes of the narrative. In exchange for that, however, the anime turned Koenma into a thoroughly enjoyable character that is hard to imagine the series without as portrayed in the anime.
But I get ahead of myself, why DO I have this opinion in the first place? As always let’s return to our base theme, Yusuke’s theme of coming back to life and learning to live life.
In the YYH anime adaptation Yusuke, at the beginning is given a golden egg by Boton and Koenma that houses Puu and told that more good deeds he does the more positive energy the egg will accumulate. When hatched if the beast will be good it will lead Yusuke back to his body. If bad, the beast will eat him. Thus this explanation sets up the road ahead for Ghost Yusuke. In all honestly works more or less the same as it does in the manga, except with a huge glaring key difference.
In the manga knowledge of how the egg hatches are expressly hidden from Yusuke. He is not told that he has an express chance of dying from this egg hatching and it’s for good reason. At the beginning of the series, Yusuke Urameshi is not a bane or a boon to Spirit World or society in general. If anything, given his prior behavior Yusuke should probably be sent to hell regardless. It was only by chance that he died too soon before anyone expected him too. Given this why would Spirit World tell him the details of his trial?
Would not telling Yusuke Urameshi that he needs to be good thus coerce him into being good? Yusuke could very well have had a mind to play along and do good deeds and then continued to be a highschool bum after revival. It’s this logic that keeps the secret of the golden egg from being revealed from Yusuke Urameshi. They want to gauge his pure uncovered actions.
What you should be understanding form this is that Spirit World and Koenma are not explicitly on friendly terms with Yusuke. I make this clear because despite how much of Koenma’s commentary we get in the anime during this opening arc, after Koenma hands over the egg he’s barely heard from again. Not a loveable funny cast of the gang or a constant secondary narrator of the plot but an entirely neutral and mostly uninvested judge continually evaluating Yusuke’s actions.
These two portrayals of Koenma, one of a friendly and sarcastic ruler, and one of him being a judgemental enigmatic figure run rather contrary to each other. However, this is where it goes from playful interpretation to thematically harmful. Why? Let’s return to the main theme and Yusuke’s early state.
Let us pass over the obvious descriptors of Yusuke’s character that we are all familiar with. Punk kid, likes fighting, bad parents, borderline abusive teacher figures. There are several odd tellings that Yusuke’s heart and body are not in line which gradually becomes more clear in the daily life arc and ultimately becomes the reason Koenma decides to out Yusuke back into his body prematurely and permanently (until Puu hatches and decides to eat him or not).
In the manga daily life arc, Yusuke spends basically all of his time helping out random people and spirits to either live their lives, accept passing and grief, or being a good friend to them. Now to us the audience who have mostly seen only Yusuke’s good parts this is mostly familiar and to be expected. The inciting incident of YYH is Yusuke making a child smile then attempting to save his life. However, those are but mere sparks of humanity in the eyes of Spirit World who, as can be seen in their attitude and classification of Yusuke, have already written them him off as a punk kid with a pension for violence and gambling.
Yusuke may be a punk with a heart of gold but he doesn’t show it within his material everyday actions which is what Spirit World judges. Perhaps one of the most important roles Keiko plays in this narrative is being to anchor us to her and Yusuke’s past experiences and ensure to use that Yusuke always was a good person. If only to Keiko.
To Spirit World, and by that I mean to Koenma, Yusuke’s behavior appears to be entirely erratic. When he’s in his body he seems to only indulge only in violence and other sins like gambling. When out of his body Yusuke hardly even seems to give his vices a thought as he throws himself into other people’s problems in order to help them lead better lives and deaths. This struggle between love of violence, desire to help people, and later his love of Keiko is ultimately the dynamic that Yusuke will shape as he comes back to live his life but for now, we pin this conversation.
In chapter 15 we get the true explanation of why Koenma decided to let Yusuke back into his body. It was because they could not pin down the precise nature of his soul. The conclusion he comes to? Yusuke is geared only towards physical responses, he acts without thinking, as such he’s a total idiot. So just leaving him as a spirit does no good as it only measures his Nature and not how he acts when rubber meets the road. This Nature vs Nurture dynamic that stresses people are shaped by environmental factors is a staple of Togashi’s writing as noticed by Alexzandr’s many excellent Hunter x Hunter videos.
However, the take away from this is that the decision to allow Yusuke was not one bore out of empathy for him, as was my impression from watching the anime which treats Koenma and Yusuke as more familiar. Rather it was a calculated one. In his body, Koenma could have Yusuke fall victim to his old habits while still exploiting him for detective work and then Puu could have hatched and eaten him whole. It’s an angle of interpretation that’s much more difficult to arrive out solely watching the anime.
In that light, Koenma is little better than Yusuke’s mother, or teacher. Just another authority figure in his life using him to their own ends and largely ambivalent to his future. In more ways than one, it’s fair to say that Yusuke is alienated from the good life that he protects his fellow humans from by fighting demons. Alienated from his desires as a person and from his emotions. It’s a clash of interests that fits in line with the story’s theme, coming back to live life after losing everything.
It’s this thematic richness that’s lost in the anime adaptation. So do I recommend changing it to better fit the anime? Uhhhh… maybe? Here’s the thing, for as much as manga Koenma brings to the table in terms of tying the story together, it’s just hard to imagine Yu Yu Hakusho without that lovable manbaby Koenma commentating and sassing back with Yusuke as much as he does.
Call me bias but I enjoy both versions of Koenma even though they contradict each other in many ways. Not only that but it isn’t as if this idea of Yusuke being used and alienated really vanishes with Koenma’s role changed, it just reinforces it. In fact, when it comes time for the Chapter Black arc to role around one could argue that Koenma getting closer to Yusuke instead of keeping him at arms reach like he did Sensui helps show the contrast and the importance of connection and friendship and that’s just very Shonen.
I know this has been a very long with a section so some might have been expecting something more… conclusive… but I don’t really have any solid answers here. It might be a bit of a letdown but in my eyes, that’s part of the reason it was worth doing. That a story can be so rich and well crafted that it can be viewed from two conflicting angles that can be equally as engaging is in many ways it’s own reward.
That will close out what I will label Part 1 for now. Despite the fact that this is one of my longer works at almost 3500~ I want to stress I am not even remotely close to being done. Despite the fact that I pulled from all over the anime to make this analysis I have covered, at most, the first 2 volumes of Yu Yu Hakusho.
There’s infinitely more work for me to do, but for now, I hope this will tide you over until part 2.
Also subscribe to Evynne x Evynne. Couldn’t find a way to squeeze that into this post but also was not gonna end the post without doing so. So… go do that. You won’t regret it promise.