This write-up covers episodes #104-112 in the “Three Kings” saga. Click here for the first half.
112 episodes, at about 22 minutes a pop, adding up to around 41 hours of total viewing. Factor in the intros, outros, recaps, teasers and commercial breaks, and you’d be sitting on your butt for two straight days if you opted to watch this whole series continuously. That is a staggering stretch of time
I want to lean away from making this last write-up too about me, but I can’t resist looking for some personal significance in all those numbers. It’s worth noting that YU YU HAKUSHO is the first shonen epic I’ve watched from start to finish. After relentless recommendations from our community, I started covering it, episode-by-episode, about a year and half ago (right here, in fact). The show hooked me from the beginning and, even when I figured it was time to step off once we got to the “Dark Tournament” arc, enough of you insisted I keep watching that I had no choice but to oblige.
Eventually, this became more of a stubborn exercise in seeing out a bet: another experimental “endurance run” for the internet. If you’ve stuck with me for all these write-ups, you have my deep appreciation. I’m sure it’s been just as much of a marathon on your end.
Anime fandom often harps on the drawbacks of incessant threat escalation in long-running serials. If the good guys have to keep “leveling up,” then they have to face increasingly powerful foes, and so on… until the plot hits one ceiling of redundancy or another. More relevant here is a question about the heroes’ continual aim to vanquish all evil in their world - - could viewers even imagine what’d happen if they succeeded?
Shorter form, semi-reflexive shows have dared broach the subject. GURREN LAGANN facetiously raced arms until there was a universe-sized mecha. MADOKA MAGICA presented an almost-legalistic solution that permanently relegated villainy into a more manageable nuisance.
YU YU HAKUSHO, by contrast, offers something of a paradise for the shonen fighter.
In the last batch of episodes, our brash lead Yusuke finally accepted that, in his heart of hearts, he craved a life of endless demon battlin’ over a normal, human existence. In this final stretch, the newly crowned knucklehead uses his royal inheritance to leverage what could be the most… healthy realization of that desire. Yusuke challenges the rival kings and all their minions to another tourney. This time, the prize is rulership of Demon World.
As many of you already saw on Toonami about ten years ago, most of the minor league “bad guys” from the Dark Tournament return, Hiei and Kurama obtain vengeful closure on their respective identity crises and, in a hilariously anticlimactic upset, control of Demon World is eventually awarded to a low-level goofball who looks like Togashi’s take on Ox King.
That last part occurs after Yusuke’s final explosive duel with this arc’s ostensible arch-villain Yomi more-or-less ends with a double knock-out. Young Mr. Urameshi wakes up from a minor coma (!!!) a few days after the fight, and learns that Yomi was actually too beaten-up to advance much farther in the bracket.
At the risk of reading too far into things (though, let’s be honest, that kind-of needs to happen when you’re meditating on one single show for more than 40 hours), the plot’s loose ends do seem to be Togashi’s way of showing how the wheel will keep turning in this world, even after the show ends. When the aforementioned “Ox King” immediately decrees that the tournament will be held every three years, and that demons are forbidden from getting into any funny business in human world in the meantime, we see a permanent leveling of stakes.
Maybe Yusuke will be strong enough to win next time? Maybe Yomi will concoct another scheme with his son that will actually get him victory? Or maybe another D-List demon will pull out an upset?
Because all this world-threatening conflict has been transformed into a sort-of extra-dimensional Goodwill Games, we’re now OK with any uncertainty over the good guys winning or losing. No actual threat is being posed to innocent people any more.
Endings don’t necessarily to be tragic (or even that dramatic) to be fitting. The full version of YU YU HAKUSHO’s theme song is unveiled in the series’ last moments, when Yusuke and all his pals are playing at the beach. When you actually listen to the lyrics, it’s even clearer that a light dance pop tune which Stock, Aitken and Waterman might have written wasn’t ever going to accompany a story about an angry young man finally accepting his violent nature in some sort of dark, other-worldly exile.
Actually, when the theme song closes the show (and the credits hang on the confusing slogan, “Forever fornever!”), it’s like the roll-out for some BEHIND THE MUSIC special about the brief, but spectacular, career of some early 90’s band called the Spirit Detectives. When Yusuke finally comes back and kisses his girl (another anime relationship that took dozens of episodes before any real consummation, natch), he’s putting his adventuring ways behind him; but still leaving the door to Demon World open a little for the occasional festival gig… er… tournament.
The final episode repeatedly stresses how young these characters are and, after so many arcs of ghoulish, world-threatening action, it’s funny to see them more-or-less shrugging and moving on. This was all just some extracurricular fun that they no longer have time for. Now that they're getting out of high school, they'll just go back into the world like a bunch of regular kids.
And that’s all perfectly fine. What more should we expect from something that's made no bones about being a straight-up shonen fighter?
The show's charm has laid in how it just unashamedly gives you the goods you're looking for in a heroic martial arts fantasy. Hell, it offers up a second tournament in this last arc just to pack as much brawlin' as it can before the clock runs out. It's that simplicity that's makes this something I'll always hold a real fondness for - - just as all you lunatics promised so many months ago - - and this whole marathon has been ceaselessly entertaining. Not a bad shonen epic to make your first.
Still, if Urasawa can do an adult take on an episode of ASTRO BOY and turn it into a celebrated eight-volume epic like PLUTO, I think YU YU HAKUSHO deserves similar treatment from some other contemporary anime genius. I nominate Gen Urobuchi. As nice as it is to see all the Spirit Detectives living happily ever after on the beach, my demonic side still wants to see the deconstructionist version that takes this to its darkest depths.