This write-up covers episodes #95-103. Click here for my thoughts on the previous arc, "Chapter Black."
It’s nice when what you feared was a case of “reading too far into things” actually proves relevant…
As far as I know, Togashi is solely responsible for YU YU HAKUSHO’s epic narrative. Even with that in mind, though, this final “Three Kings” story arc sure feels like the work of a new writer who’s been brought in - - like a proper top-level story consultant - - to weave together every seemingly-disparate plot detail into a cohesive statement. He took a good, long look at the pieces that’d been assembled on the board during all this (ghoulish) fun and (morbid) games, and he divined their dramatic potential.
Nobody can accuse YU YU HAKUSHO of “deconstructing” anything. It exists confidently in its own genre without apology. It’s a statement, and not a response; a standard that subsequent shonen fighters either try to live up to or subvert. Still, in this arc, the show prods rather pointedly at one of the biggest conceits of any action-adventure serial involving secret identities: namely, that a hero’s “double lives” could successfully co-exist for that long.
“Three Kings” picks up a number of threads that were dangling rather suspiciously at the end of “Chapter Black.” Remember how we learned that Yusuke’s powers were actually the result of a demonic lineage? Well, while seeking another retired Spirit Detective’s consul about the matter, he's summoned back to the Spirit World to meet the demon he descended from. Turns out that his living ancestor is really one of three kings ruling over the underworld and, because he’s sworn off eating human flesh in a contrite hunger strike, he’s actually quite close to death.
The two opposing kings see a looming power vacuum they can take advantage of, so they enlist outliers Kurama and Hiei to their respective courts in what amounts to a Lovecraftian headhunt. The three foes-turned-allies become enemies again; seemingly because doing so is just fundamentally more interesting than continuing on with their peaceful coexistence.
The three’s tragic “secret origins” are finally revealed as they help their respective new masters prepare for the forthcoming feud. Hiei completes further training that requires him to slay a former tormentor, Kurama uses political shrewdness to win over former opponents and Yusuke assumes his dying father’s throne after leveling up, yet again.
This write-up’s covering nine episodes worth of material, so that’s as deep a plot description as there’s room for. Honestly, the implications of what’s just been described are much more interesting than the details themselves.
Perhaps Togashi actually did have all of this in mind from the beginning. Throughout the prior arcs, there has been an undercurrent consistently bubbling under the surface - - our hero Yusuke just lives for fighting - - and it finally comes to a boil in this arc. The notion’s a little unsettling, actually; and it’s part of a conceit that’s rarely ever addressed in stories like this.
Think about it. For an “average Joe” to be this good at beating the shit of demons, he’d have to stop being an average Joe sooner or later. Not only would high-stakes adventuring render high school literally inconsequential to Yusuke, he’d also have to embrace a killer instinct that’d make it harder to even just relate to the “norms” in his life. This parting of ways with normal, teenage existence underlies a handful of powerful moments - - my favorite in this lot, to be sure - - that actually don’t involve any sort of super moves or spectacular spirit energy use.
See, you might have noticed that YU YU HAKUSHO’s red-headed stepchild, Kuwabara, doesn’t factor into this otherworldly intrigue. All he’s hitting are textbooks in “Three Kings,” trying to catch up on his studies because he’s realized he’s got a better future in a good school than on a battlefield fighting demons.
If you construe this Spirit Detective business as something of a metaphor for bawdy, youthful endeavors like garage bands or, say, amateur boxing leagues, then we’re seeing the lines being drawn here between those who’ve got what it takes to go pro and those who’ll just have to put their talents in a little box in the garage.
Yusuke’s ready and able to go all the way, for sure. Kuwabara, though? That’s looking less likely.
Of course, a more heartbreaking angle on this dilemma comes when proper time is finally allotted to Yusuke and Keiko's would be romance.
The show overtly presents them as just a couple of dumb kids without much point of reference to define their shaky relationship. Now that Yusuke’s “career” is taking him to places she can’t follow him to, the two are sadly starting to grasp how they just can't work together. Even when Yusuke makes a (half-hearted and ill-conceived) marriage proposal, we know he’ll never be content as a good husband at home with his girl. He said so, himself.
Proper heroic tragedies frame the archetypal "call to adventure" as a choice heroes are destined to make at the expense of the niceties of a normal life. Togashi shows himself to be well aware of this as he crafts this final phase wherein Yusuke and his demonic comrades finally accept their respective heritages. As much I wished for it, I honestly wasn’t expecting these subtexts to become the text of the show, as it were. Now that it's happened, I’m rather startled by the level of emotional honesty...
...and I'm dying to see what crescendo it's all building to in these last remaining episodes.