Review for Yu Yu Hakusho Season 2
To think that we in the UK have had to wait 16 years to see the rest of Yu Yu Hakusho, after an abortive DVD release back in 2005. Reviewing Season 1 was a bit of a mixed bag for me, as I have seen the first 19 episodes of the series so often at this point, that it was hard to remain focused on those episodes on Blu-ray, HD image notwithstanding. I won’t have that problem at all with Season 2, as these are all new episodes to me. I haven’t looked forward in this way to a new long running shonen series release for a long, long time.
Yusuke Urameshi is your average juvenile delinquent, making his way reluctantly through school, ruling the roost when it comes to who is top dog; although that means regularly facing off against his rival Kazuma Kuwabara. That all changes when he dies saving a toddler from being run down by a car. Death is only the beginning of his problems, as spirits soon appear to tell him that it isn’t yet his time. He has a chance to return to his corporeal existence if he completes a quest, and that will only be the start of a whole new life. Resurrection will mean being assigned the duties of a Spirit Realm Detective, to stop rogue spirits from flouting the rules and regulations of the human world.
At the end of the previous collection, Yusuke and his friends Kuwabara, Kurama and Hiei had been entered into a Spirit Realm fighting tournament, and along with a masked, mystery fighter, they had made the long journey to the island where the contest is taking place. In their first round, they face the Rokuyukai Team.
28 episodes of Yu Yu Hakusho are presented across 3 Blu-rays from Funimation. There is also a bonus fourth extras disc.
29. Flowers of Blood
30. Dragon of the Darkness Flame
31. Stumbling Warrior
32. Knife-Edge Death Match
33. A Day in Waiting
34. Percentage of Victory
35. Glimpse Beneath the Mask
36. Ambition Destroyed: A Trial of Light
37. Master of Disguise
38. Kurama’s Stand
39. Crushing Revenge
40. Jin, The Wind Master
41. Reverse Decisions
42. A Matter of Love and Death
43. The Masked Fighter Revealed
44. Yusuke’s Final Test
45. Hiei Battles On
46. Many Faces, Many Forms
47. Legendary Bandit: Yoko Kurama
48. The Cape of No Return
49. Genkai’s Strength
50. Suzuki’s Challenge
52. The Death of Genkai
53. Overcoming Grief
54. The Beginning of the End
55. The Beast Within
56. Yoko’s Magic
Yu Yu Hakusho is an old show. But most tellingly, it’s old enough to really benefit from HD, made before the industry made the shift to digital production specifically for 480i NTSC resolution. This show was made with cel and paint, cels that were photographed sequentially to film. And film, as we know is ideal for HD presentation. The aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 pillarboxed 1080p and the show looks fantastic at first glance, a world away from the NTSC-PAL standards converted DVDs that we got in the UK.
The image is clear and sharp, colours are nice and consistent, and the detail levels are strong, although this isn’t a show that is particularly cinematic and detailed. The animation is smooth, and there is no sign of age or print damage. There is the occasional soft scene, as if the original source couldn’t be found and had to be up-scaled, but as it seems that Funimation used Japan’s release as a basis of their own, it doesn’t look overly post-processed or manipulated for HD release. Having said that, I do feel as if some DNR has been applied and grain is very light, if at all present. Thankfully, the show doesn’t have the plastic looks of Funimation’s Dragon Ball Z Blu-rays, but it isn’t quite as filmic as you might have hoped for. Still, Yu Yu Hakusho is very watchable.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track These are discs that were originally released in the US back in 2011, which explains the lack of lock on the content, and the thin white font on the subtitles. The original DVD release also had the choice of HOH subtitles (dubtitles), but alas those didn’t carry forward to the Blu-ray. The Japanese audio was fine enough for me, although the volume level was a little low. The action and music comes across well, while the dialogue remains clear. It’s a nice audio track, with no glitches or dropouts. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
The discs boot to animated menus, and unlike the old DVDs, there are only English language credits on this release, no multi-angle functionality here.
Disc 1 autoplays with a trailer for Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood Part 5.
Disc 2 autoplays with a trailer for Soul Eater.
Disc 3 autoplays with a trailer for Dragon Ball Z Kai Part 5
You’ll also find the textless credits and trailers for One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, Spice and Wolf, Burst Angel, RideBack, Blue Gender, Funimation.com, and Yu Yu Hakusho Part 3.
Disc 4 offers the bonus content ‘new’ to this release. Yu Yu Hakusho: Behind the Design lasts 12:56 and in it the brand managers and the graphic designer talk about creating the 2019 US Steelbook artwork.
Funimation’s partitioning of Yu Yu Hakusho into ‘Seasons’ turns out to be arbitrary, and unrelated to the story, more meaningful in dividing the series into equivalent numbers of episodes. In Season 1, there were five full story arcs, following Yusuke’s resurrection, his first mission, a mini-tournament and training with Genkai, a mission to the underworld with his new allies, and a mission to rescue a Yokai girl from an evil human. That collection ended with the start of another tournament arc. It turns out that all 28 episodes of Season 2 are devoted to that tournament arc, and it transpires that the arc won’t conclude until well into Season 3.
At the end of the previous collection, Yusuke encountered the formidable Toguro again, having caught his attention during the mission to save the Ice-Girl Yukina. Toguro’s always looking for a challenging opponent, and he set his sights on Yusuke, practically blackmailing him into entering a big tournament on the border of the Yokai and Human realms. Wealthy humans use the tournament to gamble, and advance their own position, investing in yokai fighters to battle and die at their whims. Toguro and his team are the reigning champions, and he wants to fight Yusuke in the tournament. So Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, Kurama, and a not so mysterious masked fighter ventured to a secret island to enter the tournament. Supporting them are Botan, Keiko, Kuwabara’s sister Shizuru, as well as Yukina, and the team ‘owner’ is Koenma, there with one of his minions.
Of course this being a tournament, Yusuke won’t be fighting Toguro straight away. He and his team have to fight their way through four rounds of one-on-one battles before they can hopefully get to the final and face their ultimate foes. And for all of the combatants, they’ll be pushing their limits during the battles, realising new abilities, and levelling up. Given the nature of Toguro and his team, and just how strong they are, Yusuke and his friends have to reach deep down and transcend their limits with alacrity. Given that most of these fights are to the death, things get serious pretty fast, but on occasion, they face honourable opponents that turn out to be friends and allies thereafter. There’s a passing of the torch moment in particular for Yusuke which is certainly emotive.
If there is one thing that turned me off Dragon Ball Z (aside from the interminable fight arcs), it was the tournament arcs. They always seemed to sacrifice narrative for meaningless spectacle, and became quickly and tediously formulaic. I got the same feeling from this arc of Yu Yu Hakusho, although there are a few mitigations here that meant that these episodes held my attention. One thing is that there is a narrative at the heart of this arc that unfolds during the episodes. That’s the back-story featuring Toguro and that not so mysteriously masked fighter. Parenthetically, these shonen action shows always have spoilers for episode titles. Another thing is that the fights in this tournament arc are delightfully short and sweet, with most of the match-ups beginning and ending in the space of one episode.
What really sells this arc to me is the usual Yu Yu Hakusho sense of humour. The tournament format allows for a peanut gallery making comment on the ongoing action, and seeing the girls supporting their team in the face of universal Yokai anti-human bigotry, and Koenma’s usual interplay with his right-hand-monster provides much levity. That and Kuwabara’s inability to take even the slightest thing seriously, even when his life in on the line, made this collection of episodes really quite enjoyable.
When it comes down to it though, it is just another tournament arc, and for me it still makes me miss the more concentrated and meaningful bursts of narrative, story arcs concentrated into a handful of episodes. Oddly I feel that a series is accomplishing more that way, and is a lot more satisfying, and I know that I’m ignoring the fact that often, the tournament arcs in shows like this are in fact the unique selling point of the series. In other words, your mileage may vary. This Blu-ray collection presents the show to excellent effect, with impressive imagery and robust audio, and it’s nice to finally see Yu Yu Hakusho that I never got around to seeing before.