At last, I’m getting to go back through one of my all-time favorite shonen classics. Read my thoughts on earlier episodes here, then check out my write-ups of PART 1, PART 2 & PART 3 of "Chapter Black."
It just wouldn’t be a shonen fight series unless the leveling-up was eventually marked by wild and spontaneous hair growth, now, would it?
There’s a lot of brawlin’ going down from Episode #85 to #94, to say the least; enough so that I’ve opted to cover both the penultimate and the ultimate portions of this saga together. See, when I reached the end of my usual 5-6 episode stretch, there was a rather amusing predicament. I was really only able to type out a blow-by-blow recap because, none too surprisingly, Yusuke and Sensui’s climatic duel gets about two-to-three hours of solidly cathartic screen time.
That’s not to say there aren’t a fair number of plot twists peppered throughout - - nor is it to say that the fight wasn’t a bloody marvel to behold - - but I’m sure you’re about as interested in reading a chronological list of martial arts maneuvers as I’d be in drafting one. As such, I went ahead and “powered through” to the end, so as to cover enough plot here to substantiate all the commentary.
“Powering through,” of course, suggests a viewing experience that isn’t wholly enjoyable, and this portion of the show honestly holds the threat of “jumping the shark” over its viewers at numerous points.
See, the appeal of a shonen serial is akin to watching a guitarist compose an improvised solo whilst he’s pedaling a bike along to a recording session. The guy is openly inviting any number of little flukes to disrupt what he’s setting out to do - - a bump in the road under the wheels, or a slip of a finger of across the strings, or whatever - - and you’re just watching him twist around as he goes, all the while knowing that lucky forward momentum is all that’s getting him to his studio without a pratfall. And, even if he does get there, he’ll surely want to revise much of what he’s just composed on the fly.
In less metaphoric terms, the testosterone-pumped gauntlet of surprises in these episodes was rather obviously made up on the fly. During the climactic fight, it’s revealed that the corrupted Sensui’s “seven psychics” are actually the seven personalities of his fractured mind, and it’s revealed that there’s a hitherto-hidden elite guard in the spirit world that handles disasters like this, and it’s revealed that Yusuke has had these supernatural powers all along because he’s actually the human descendant of a demon, and… well… you get the idea.
These are all twists that Togashi doesn’t “cheat” to get. They all tie neatly within this series’ mythos; even if the lack of foreshadowing clearly means they’re just clever knots in the narrative (much like the notes in the previous analogy’s improvised solo). You can’t help but picture some “rebuild” or “recut” of YU YU HAKUSHO that (with the benefit of foresight) would hint at its main character’s demonic nature, or at the existence of a vanguard of spirit detectives, much earlier on.
You also can’t help but wonder if such a redux might allow some of this saga’s sharper edges to play out, unhindered. Things like Sensui’s right hand man’s gay infatuation, or Yusuke’s cavalier acceptance of his own sadism, do feel like they’ve been muted a bit due to network standards and practices. Indeed, the latter sub-plot actually has been hinted at, prior to this portion. However, the rather saccharine happy ending that Sensui’s disciplines get still feels like a cop-out on the show’s part to mollify the implications of the hero who perhaps enjoys slaying the bad guys too much.
Seriously, the scenes of Kuwabara, Hiei and Kurama pushing themselves through several dimensions of hardship to avenge their seemingly-fallen friend are enough to earn sympathy points for these ass kickers. Hitting the magic restart button so all the evil psychics get to live out perfectly-happy endings seems rather jarringly counter to the show’s attitude - - especially after some of them met such movingly-tragic ends.
Togashi’s occasionally awful taste in costume design also rears its head in Yusuke’s dramatic transformation and in the various armors that Sensui’s personalities rattle through. The outfits are garish enough to threaten the tone, honestly, but at least Funi’s heckling dub track frames it all with enough self-effacing humor that the tone isn’t irreparably broken.
Brining the discussion back to analogy of the guitarist, these last points of critiques are just awkward hiccups in the performance. The show barrels forward confidently enough to regain its footing rather quickly after each one of them. You wouldn’t ask for a calm, calculated recording session over this wild stunt of a jam, and I wouldn’t sacrifice the energy of the show for the sort of polish that inhabit these mad ideas.
I still would like to see redux that refined this whole narrative a bit more, though. Hopefully, the show's final arc will address some of these issues.