Moving along with the “chunk reviews,” we’re taking on episodes #79-84 today - - a stretch that takes the show through even more unpredictable switchback turns - - and I’m beginning to see the truth in a sentiment that’s been oft expressed by more seasoned fans of the show.
These YU YU HAKUSHO veterans say the show’s so influential that you can finger any number of shonen that followed it as rip-offs. I’m sure that influence manifests in other, more complicated ways but - - speaking as somebody who’s grown quite bored with how seemingly every third or fourth show these days has the premise of MMO’s gettin’ real - - it’s amusing to see 20-year-old material still handle a video game-themed threat with more wit and creativity than contemporary offerings.
This portion has the Spirit Detectives checking off the remaining evil psychics in Sensui’s tunnel-digging cabal; each bad guy requiring about two episodes to take care of. First, Yusuke follows “Sniper” into the woods after the rock-shooting villain derails him from a superhumanly-swift chase to save the kidnapped Kuwabara.
It’s tough for any one action sequence to ever seem too remarkable in a genre typified by relentless battling, but the mostly-wordless scene where Sniper changes tactics and Yusuke abruptly finds himself being stalked by a semi-trailer truck has an absolutely arresting focus. No other shonen fighter I’ve seen has ever quite capture the lean, vehicular thrills of a vintage Friedkin flick from the 70’s; but, there it stands. Indeed, the tension's so pointed that you wonder why more shows can't be like it.
After Hiei pops in to ruthlessly cut down Sniper and provoke the appropriate level of righteous anger out of Yusuke, the Spirit Detectives head for Sensui’s subterranean lair. There, they inexplicably wander onto the set of the arcade favorite, “Goblin City,” for a variety of contests against the “Gamemaster.”
Wouldn’t you know it - - this underage psychic can make video games real! And the dungeon-themed title he’s recreated seems to be this world’s equivalent of THREE WONDERS (look that obscure gem up on your own, friends). The heroes are forced to challenge him to a whole variety of mini-games; from tennis to aerial dogfighting and even to a TETRIS-like math puzzle that makes Suduko look like a basic multiplication table.
In the last write-up, I griped a little about how the Spirit Detectives’ sympathetic streak seemed at odds with the series’ generally tough and snarky attitude. This time, though, that honor code really proves to be what sets this series above… * AHEM * …brainless entertainment.
See, there’s an unexpected, and surprisingly gut-wrenching, twist in the “Goblin City” two-parter where Kurama realizes that the Gamemaster is just a poor kid who honestly doesn’t know any better. The disgraced ex-detective Sensui has not only duped him into this villainous agenda, but also set up an insidious morality trap to test whether these heroes are hard-hearted enough to kill him. And while the Detectives have generally been able to find a peaceful third option in dealing with the prior rogue psychics, no such happy alternative is possible here.
Sometimes, there isn’t a whole lot separating YU YU HAKUSHO from your disposable Saturday morning diversion on the surface. I won’t try to deny that. However, parts like this - - where the romantic Kurama is forced to do some heartbreaking, but necessary, dirty work which he'll feel true remorse about later - - really do evidence some greater dramatic depth.
Yes, it’s still a toon where the main character’s signature gimmick is a finger gun that shoots out ghost bullets. Fact is, though, we probably wouldn’t still be talking about this old show if there weren’t genuine pathos to give meaning to all the endless fisticuffs.
After the Goblin City business concludes, the crew at last brings the fight to Sensui; finding the arch villain casually lounging on a couch while his minions position Kuwabara before the gate to the demon world. The superhumanly-cannibalistic psychic “Gourmet” then steps up to fight and, after a grotesque act of mutilation, he’s revealed to actually be under the elder Toguro’s possession.
As in, the stringy-haired ophidian literally erupts out of Gourmet’s skull.
Considering how Toguro was gruesomely torn in half and eaten alive prior to this peak-a-boo, his resurrection here really recalls those of unstoppable slashers like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, et al. So, if we're to link this to the shonen that have successfully followed it, and if a series like ONE PIECE could be summed up as PETER PAN or THE WIZARD OF OZ with an injection of shonen kickass, then this show very much takes the same approach to the crypt of modern horror.
Great heroes are defined by great villains, and this portion of "Chapter Black" reveals a procession of monsters who are rather chillingly up to the task. They pose real threats to the Spirit Detectives - - to their flesh and to their souls - - and the conflict caused by those threats is another reason why YU YU HAKUSHO continues to be so relentlessly compelling