Get deep enough into pop culture and, soon enough, you stop appreciating stories for the sort of qualities that make the lesson plans in any number of “How to Write” books seem useful. At that point, you start appreciating them for the more... extreme qualities that set them apart. You know, like how RAMBO IV didn’t exactly “work” as a proper action movie since Rambo was never actually thwarted at any point in the runtime. Watch enough flicks in that genre, though, and you can’t help but see the beauty in how that movie's basically showing us what happens when Rambo’s slumming it in between harder adventures.
To whit, YU YU HAKUSHO earns my admiration for being the single most comprehensive execution of the mystical martial arts tournament that I have ever seen, in any medium. You’ve seen the concept broached in things like ENTER THE DRAGON or the first MORTAL KOMBAT movie or the various STREET FIGHTER animes… but they all basically cheat out of it. Typically, a lot of matches are glossed over, some treachery’s introduced and the whole tournament conceit is then dropped for your typical hero vs. villain plot.
Not so with this show, though! It shows every single moment of every single match of every single level of this tournament. It gets into such exhaustive that I really couldn’t fault somebody for getting tired of the repetition. However, there’s something sublime about that exhaustive level of detail. It fosters such familiarity in the viewer that he starts appreciating all the fine minutia of the fights enough to say, “You know, that was really clever how Elder Toguro impaled Kuwabara with his fingers! And that was really unexpected how he basically rolled out of getting disemboweled like that.”
Few shows have gone to this length. Maybe no other show has. You’ve got step back and enjoy the beauty of that.
Look up this episode, "The Shadow of Elder Toguro” and decide for yourself, then read my comments on the previous episode here.