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Yu Yu Hakusho (Netflix)

Yu Yu Hakusho (Netflix)

Written by Ross Locksley on 22 Dec 2023

Distributor Netflix • Certificate NA • Price NA

Well perhaps lightning can strike twice, or at the very least someone at Netflix understands that respect for the property helps, but Yu Yu Hakusho's five episode demon-hunting series is a tight and well-crafted adaptation of the popular anime/manga by Yoshihiro Togashi.

As with One Piece, I'm familiar with Yu Yu Hakusho in very broad strokes; I've never read the manga nor seen the anime, but I'm well aware of the story of the Spirit Detective Yusuke Urameshi and his fight against the Yokai invading the human realm - I've even reviewed figures inspired by the series. 

As an origin story it's really quite hard to fault - our hero, "delinquent" high school student Yusuke is killed and resurrected to serve the spirit realm and keep demons from entering the human world. In true Shonen style, there's training, a looming threat, enemies become allies and we get a host of protracted but imaginative fight scenes to keep the adrenaline pumping.

Appropriately this adaptation is true to the spirit of the 30-year old anime that inspired it, if not the letter. This is a highly condensed retelling of events, much like One Piece with its 2-episode narrative arcs, but with only five episodes to the series, it has far less room to flesh out the characters and showcase the real charm of the cast.

Arguably it's the bully in blue Kuwabara who has the best arc, going from scrap-happy gang leader to determined warrior for justice. Watching his concern for others, especially the members of his own gang and his pitch perfect reaction to meeting Yokai Yakune beats out anything Yusuke accomplishes within the show. Actor Shûhei Uesugi is a lot of fun, especially his over-the-top reactions and natural swagger. The dude could win the Olympic medal for limbo dancing too with the way he slides under a shutter in episode 4!

Takumi Kitamura makes a likeable lead in Yusuke, he has a great delinquent stare and is believable as the rogue good guy accepting responsibility for those around him. His banter with Kuwabara isn't quite the same level as that between Zoro and Sanji in One Piece, but they spark well enough and keep things entertaining.

Special effects are actually quite impressive, and the fight choreography is genuinely clever and inventive. Yusuke being chased by a Yokai that eats child spirits, with lots of well-timed ducks, dives and environment set-pieces has the feel of a Jackie Chan movie, and this is where Kitamura really shines in the role as an action hero.

The supporting cast are enjoyable to watch, all being distinctive (Keiko's "what am I, chopped liver?" looks at Kuwabara as he becomes infatuated with the beautiful Yukina are great fun) and help to bring a level of authenticity to the fantastical events surrounding them. Fight scenes are full of scenery-chewing bravado on both sides, living up to the constant leveling up fighting absurdity that makes Shonen what it is.

Where One Piece felt very much "global" in terms of casting and culture, Yu Yu Hakusho is gloriously Japanese in tone. I loved seeing the local areas, traditions and fantastical Japanese demons brought together in live action, helped no end by some gorgeous cinematography. 

The costume design is delightfully true to the source material, which I honestly thought would be impossible to pull off in live action, and yet Yusuke's baggy green school uniform and his colourful friends (in red, blue and black) work surprisingly well on screen despite the "Power Rangers" vibe it risks teetering into. 

The bevy of baddies led by Gonzo Tarukane are wonderfully sinister and form a believable threat, all black outfits and supernatural weaponry. The final fight, with a 'roided up Toguro, is very entertaining, clearly riffing on The Matrix with his "come on" gestures and daft shades, all while the arch villain sits in his control room watching events with interest. 

There will be die-hard fans that miss the details of the original series, and certain characters do meet their ends much faster than the manga or anime depict, but taken as a standalone adventure it all makes sense and the pacing works.

I would urge anyone giving this a go to watch the original Japanese language version, as the English dub is a bit stilted and the lip-synch dubious at best. You might enjoy it for the throwback dubbing style of Asian cinema, but given the distinctive Japanese style of the show, the original language is far more fitting.

That aside, this is a great looking adaptation of a popular series. I seriously doubt it'll have the legs of One Piece, but a season 2 would be most welcome given the amount of love that's clearly been lavished on this production.

Solid if not stunning with the cast putting in a lot of heart to what many are hoping to see as a major new franchise

Ross Locksley
About Ross Locksley

Ross founded the UK Anime Network waaay back in 1995 and works in and around the anime world in his spare time. You can read his more personal articles on UKA's sister site, The Anime Independent.


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