There’s a give and take when I’m doing episode-by-episode write-ups for Watch & Learn. A lot of times, I don’t get to view a show I love all the way through to its conclusion. There’s a seemingly-endless amount of material to get through, as you’re all well aware, and there’s only so much time to devout to its coverage here. Maybe more to the point, there’s only so much audience interest to sustain that coverage for any single show for that long.
YU YU HAKUSHO clearly made a profound impression on a whole generation of American otaku when it ran on Toonami in the aughts. It’s one of those brands, on the level of DBZ, in which fans seem to have a perennial interest, no matter how long it’s been. From the very first episode, I could see why that was so, and it ended up being the longest-running show I ever covered for W&L. Every time I reached a benchmark and figured I’d have to stop, you lunatics begged me to keep going.
When we got all the way to episode #66 last summer - - the conclusion of the “Dark Tournament” arc - - it was finally time to take a break. Ever since, the desire to see what lurked for Yusuke and his pals in the “Chapter Black” saga has been gnawing at the back of my mind.
There’s just something about this show.
By my best reckoning, much of YU YU HAKUSHO's appeal lies in its simplicity. For over 22 hours of screen time, it has a mythology that’s notably sparse when compared to other big shonen epics. Things don’t ever get that much more complicated than a couple of badass teen delinquents kicking the crap out of the most fiendish ghouls, ghosts and demons in existence.
It’s an effortlessly-addictive show to watch, but it’s a tougher show to do episode-by-episode write-up’s on. Especially during the “Dark Tournament,” which got so comprehensive in depicting every bracket of its titular competition, there proved to be only so many ways to say, “Hey! The fights are awesome and the dialog’s funny in this episode.”
So… I’m experimenting with something here. I’ve watched episodes #67 through #72 (about the first quarter of “Chapter Black”) and I’d love to do “block reviews” of the rest of the saga. Maybe even for the rest of the series. I’d cover six or seven episodes at time, for as long as there's interest exhibited in the Anime Vice community.
If it isn’t, then… well… I’ll have to find some other way to watch the rest of the show at some other time.
Anyway, while my preamble here got lengthy, episode #67 wastes no time returning to what hooked me on YU YU HAKUSHO in the first place. Actually, it cuts closer to that than “Dark Tournament” did, stepping away from relentless mega martial arts competition and getting back to the earliest episodes’ premise of basically dropping some suburban knuckleheads into familiar gothic horror scenarios. Indeed, the sort-of bare-knuckle Beetlejuice vibe gets even more pronounced in this part, as Yusuke’s crew is lured into a black magic funhouse that looks like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse after some redecorating for a Halloween special.
As if to cheekily address “power creep” (wherein it becomes increasingly difficult to devise suitable foes for a hero to fight after he’s leveled up to absurd degrees), this arc opens with Yusuke inexplicably getting kidnapped by a handful of normal, human punks after they challenge him to a schoolyard scrap. Kuwabara, Hiei, Kurama and Botan are forced to rescue their pal from the spookiest place on the block - - a twisted, angular house where the laws of physics have all seemingly been arranged by some kooky quiz master.
Having to rely on cleverness and wordplay instead of punches and projectiles, the good guys eventually retrieve their ostensible leader and learn that his capture's only been a test for them to handle a hitherto-undisclosed master plan left over from the Dark Tournament. As it turns out, a shadowy cabal's scheming to open a hole to the underworld which will unleash hordes of demons unto Earth (cheekily addressing power creep again, these demons turn out to be "S-Class" and "A-Class" above all the "B-Class" ones we've met).
And so, the Spirit Detectives finally have to do some actual... y'know... detecting and root out the seven cabal members hiding in their city.
Granted, this chunk is largely a prologue for the 21 episodes that'll make up the body of "Chapter Black." Like any proper shonen, the show takes a... thorough approach to the details of its plot. As crazy as it sounds, though, part of the fun actually comes in seeing the assorted abstract diagrams used to illustrate things like the demon tunnel's sieve-like qualities and the particulars of the letter game Kurama plays with one of the bad guys.
Actually, for a series so clearly designed for the long view, the three-parter in the funhouse works quite well as a standalone unit - - a delightfully ghoulish send-up of many an "edu-tainment" game show. Again, like any proper shonen, it isn't something you can pluck an episode out of and use it to adequately explain the larger appeal to somebody who hasn't been watching from the beginning. At this point, most viewers are watching just to hang out with old pals and, by now, the Spirit Detectives' personalities are so well-realized that I'd down to just watch them doing anything. Fighting demons, solving puzzles... anything.
Still, if there's any candidate for a YU YU HAKUSHO sampler - - a suitable example of what makes this show so fun - - it's this portion. Once more, I find myself faced with the challenge of finding how many ways I can re-phrase a basic statement of my enjoyment for the show. If it means I'll finally get to wrap up this saga sooner in the new year, then I'll gladly take on that challenge, and I hope you'll let me know in the talkback that you're ready to take it on with me.