Judging by the reaction to the last write-up, it looks like enough of you are down for these “chunk reviews,” so let’s carry onward with Episodes #73-78 in this revisiting of the "Chapter Black" saga.
At this point, the Spirit Detectives have run into the better half of the seven hidden psychics who’re conspiring to breach open a tunnel to the demon world. Being a psychic in the world of YU YU HAKUSHO works about the same as being a mutant in the world of X-MEN, as far as I can tell - - each of these nefarious espers possesses unique and diverse abilities which all still somehow fall under the same loose catch-all of “mind powers.”
First, Yusuke must save a hospital from an imposturous doctor who commands a hive of invisible, poison-packing insects and wields deadly, chi-powered “finger scalpels" (for lack of a better term). Then, Kuwabara has to rescue his friends from the unfortunately-named “Seaman”; a sort-of aquamancer in control of several gelatinous water creatures. There’s also the plainly-named “Sniper,” who can flick marbles out like high-powered rounds (just like you’d expect), and finally the arch-villain Sensui, who is a corrupt predecessor to Yusuke and therefore possess all of his abilities at a greater level.
Since YU YU HAKUSHO was something like a Pepsi to DRAGON BALL Z’s Coke for a while, I always found it a little amusing how the show seemed to intentionally step away from developing much of a mythos. For over two seasons, there was no cosmology of alien princes, fighting clans and assorted levels of Super Saiyan; there was just a heroic, undead delinquent teen and the pals who shared in his hobby of ghost fighting.
Well, the show weaves a greater tapestry in earnest with this portion, not only establishing a hierarchy of demons, but also revealing that Yusuke isn’t the first of his kind in this world. There’s even a shocker about the linchpin of the psychics’ scheme turning out to be the ginger sidekick Kuwabara; and the fate of the world maybe even resting on his silly, nose-twitching “ghost sense.” The title of this saga gets revealed, at last - - referring to the video tape “Chapter Black,” which documents all of man’s most inhumane cruelties. As Sensui asserts (and as Yusuke’s boss, Koenma, fears), watching the tape is so vile an experience that it’s sure to make even the noblest viewer lose his faith in humanity.
Of the qualities I enjoy about this show, I most especially appreciate how it feels like an 80’s horror flick where all the players just happen to be martial arts experts. Imagine PHANTASM with the kids engaging the Tall Man in brutal wuxia brawls or perhaps the evil cable channel set in VIDEODROME serving as a chamber for bouts of spectacular mortal combat.
It’s a very precise tone and mood that - - pardon the pun - - is wickedly underscored by the show's menacing, Carpenter-like synth soundtrack. Even while the theme song might be a note or two away from delightful elevator muzak, the bulk of the show really crosses your synesthesist wires by presenting typical shonen action with this menacing accompaniment. As such, even the most kickass moments always have an ever-present sense of doom tugging on their edges. Put a snarky, self-effacing dub track on top of this odd concoction of heroics and horror, and we’ve got a show with a truly unique mood.
Indeed, as much as I enjoy the brilliantly-rendered fights (and damn, is Studio Pierrot drawing like this is their last shot), I love how this show freely swings from furious fisticuffs to intriguing, terrifying notions like a cursed, RING-like video tape that's a greater threat to our heroes' souls than any muscular demon.
Obviously, I’ve long since admitted myself as a total mark for this show.
Still, if there’s a criticism I want to put out there, it’s that the show does try to have its cake and eat it, too, during the scenes where the good guys are dealing out retribution on the bad guys. Yes, in the real world, mercy is a virtue that is to be encouraged. Yes, conflict is interesting, and it probably makes for better drama to have heroes conflicted about killing villains instead of avengers dealing out unflinching revenge.
Still, it feels a bit conceited to have these ruthless, anti-social tough guys hesitating to do what’s needed to save a hospital full of innocents. It's even more so when a mentor like Genkai swoops in to mollycoddle that choice for them. And it bides worse with me, knowing that the main motivation seems to be to provide more cool "bad boys" to do face-turns and join this entourage of heroes.
Maybe I'm just approaching that trope-saturation point a touch, now? Let's see how much closer I get to it in the next chunk!