Yu Yu Hakusho Review & Analysis

Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files

(2002-2006) Adult Swim

From left to right in the image featured above:
Hiei = Chuck Huber
Kurama = John Burgmeier
Yusuke Urameshi = Justin Cook
Kazuma Kuwabara (top) = Christopher Sabat
Keiko Yukimura (bottom)  = Laura Bailey
Botan = Cynthia Cranz

Supporting Cast:
Koenma = Sean Teague
Genkai = Linda Young

Based on the Manga series created by Yoshihiro Togashi.
ADR Director = Justin Cook

(Note: ADR stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement. Essentially the person responsible for filling in music and audio for an entire show or movie. In addition, this position is “used to change original lines recorded on set to clarify context, improve diction or timing, or to replace an accented vocal performance.”

Humble Origins:
Yu Yu Hakusho was created, written, and drawn by Yoshihiro Togashi–credit where credit is due. However, the man’s work ethic leaves much to be desired. Although an artist, Togashi learned that he could churn out mediocre panels, pages, or even whole issues laden with stick figures and we’d still buy into it.


So, while one must respect the source material, there’s no reason it should be the standalone interpretation. And Justin Cook, ADR Director, succeeds far beyond Togashi’s vision with the English-dubbed Anime.

We begin with rebel, punk 14yo teenager, Yusuke Urameshi. He’s notorious for ditching school, wearing incorrect school uniform colors, smoking, and getting into fights. His father is a no-show and his mother is an alcoholic who lounges around all day. He doesn’t have any friends that he knows of, just Keiko Yukimura (Valedictorian) who desperately wants to see the kid succeed–and she may have the hots for him as well.

In short, Yusuke has nothing going for him, no future, no job prospects, and his teachers make no attempt to mask this from him. He fights because it’s the only thing he has control of. He can’t change the lifestyle he was born into, but if someone is harassing him, he can throw a good punch.

Yusuke is not a martial arts master, he has anger issues.

Justin Cook (ADR Director):
What the ADR Director does is adapt dialogue to fit the show and culture. While the animation in Yu Yu Hakusho may be dated to its origins in the 1990s, it manages to survive into the 2000s because the dialogue feels modern.

From quips like:
Kuwabara: I can sense something really off, but… I can’t quite place it.
Yusuke: Sorta like a fart in a cramped elevator?

To culture-specific subject matter:
Yusuke: (Running frantically from a villain operating a massive oil truck through a bunch of trees) You are so gonna hear from Green Peace about this!

Justin Cook has adapted an anime that matches our American culture despite being set in a very different world. The dialogue is key to illustrating what the characters want and what they mean. In Japan, there are very different values, not bad values, but it’s harder to relate to when you’re not enmeshed in their culture. For instance, the quest to become stronger is a very Eastern -centric value, but Cook counters this with a Western fear of death.Yusuke_in_car_accident

The show is the same in both cultures, but if we view it as a story told in images, then the dialogue determines the emphasis.

The Japanese interpretation is self-restrictive, as it promotes dialogue of Yusuke trying to get stronger, but the American version clearly shows a teenager trying to protect his loved ones from death.

The Eastern culture is indeed different with euthanasia being praised as a way to save honor (see the Samurai) and the dominant religion being Buddhism (so death only leads to new beginnings), but the story itself is very Western. Yusuke is a cowboy, a lone ranger rattled by his past. His quest is not to get stronger, it’s to find purpose through redemption.

To put it plainly, Cook’s vision is better.

All this time, we’ve thought you were a brilliant strategist, when really you’re just a lucky fool.” – Kurama

The Story:
Yusuke saves a child from a speeding car but dies in the process. As our protagonist starts floating around as a ghost, a bubbly grim reaper named Botan comes to tell Yusuke of some important news. Turns out, Yusuke was such a hopeless case that no one expected him to die saving a child; what’s worse? The child would’ve had fewer scrapes had he not pushed him out of the way, since the car would’ve veered off.

In short, they don’t have a place for Yusuke in the afterlife and the goal is to bring him back to life… but Yusuke doesn’t want to. As stated above (in the premise), Yusuke knows he has no future; he’s a nihilist from the onset of the series. Because of this, he tells Botan to “make room” for him; he “went out” in the most noble way a kid like him could’ve possibly gone; he’s tired of living and will happily embrace dying.

Er… yeah.

This tragic apathy is what causes Botan to invite Yusuke to his own funeral, to demonstrate that people need him.

This seems like a bad idea when they hear some kids scoff and ridicule his death. Some professors even accuse the late teenager of trying to steal the kid’s lunch money instead of purposely saving his life.

However, amidst this rude offense is his mother, grieving ad nauseam, and Keiko hardly able to stand due to her sorrow. While this does affect Yusuke, it’s the school principal and Kazuma Kuwabara (known for picking fights with Yusuke daily) that make him realize how much he matters to some people. They actually cry; they’re genuinely hurt.

Cook handles this poetically and the show quits being a cartoon for a minute to showcase real characters; real people struggling with loss. This sequence clearly comes from a personal place and it’s this moment that sets the tone for the rest of the series.

When Yusuke sees what he’s left behind, he chooses to return to the land of the living… so the action/adventure anime can start and we can see the cowboy’s quest for redemption.

So put down your soda, boys!
So put down your soda, boys!

There are four seasons to Yu Yu Hakusho:

  1. Detective Saga
  2. Dark Tournament
  3. Chapter Black
  4. Three Kings

And each arc shows a progression in character mentality due to this being a coming-of-age story.

  1. Detective Saga – Repentance
    After Yusuke is reborn — so to speak — he fights only for good; for the spirit world. It’s requested that he becomes a fully-fledged detective and Yusuke takes the opportunity. This change in character however is forced. Yusuke is not a good person yet, he’s simply living the “honeymoon” period. If someone saves your life, you owe them a debt, and the rest of the series is Yusuke determining for himself if “being good” is really what he’s cut out to be.
  2. Dark Tournament – Mortality
    Progressing organically from the previous one, Yusuke’s rebirth is over. He saw the evils of mankind and realizes that it’s not as cut and dry as he hoped. He also accepts that eventually he will die (for real) and he questions whether he should fight aging or go gently — and since fighting is all he knows…
  3. Chapter Black – New Purpose / Morality
    Yusuke has come to terms with his own mortality, but doesn’t feel fulfilled. It’s not death that scares him, but boredom. He wants something to occupy his time since it is so limited and he realizes the moral quandary he’s in; to have purpose, he needs there to be evil, so he has something to fight.
  4. Three Kings – Resolved Identity
    The final arc delves deep into Yusuke’s personal history and background. He learns about his heritage, where he comes from, and sees the other side of his life. Most importantly, he discovers how to fight without using his fists and still protect the ones he loves.

I’m the same, Yusuke Urameshi! Fearless protector of the good stuff with a healthy kicking assness and a general hate for authority. And nothing as trivial as a violent death or a few drops of demon blood mixed with mine is gonna keep me from helping out my friends and saving the world and kicking the bad guy’s ass.” – Yusuke Urameshi

Detective Saga – Repentance

As stated, this saga is Yusuke doing good because A) he wants to show his appreciation for his resurrection and B) he’s starting to see the lighter side of things, knowing that people do care about him. However, because the former trumps the latter, each mission Yusuke signs on to is immediately followed by his abject determination to get back out. He is miserable following orders, but he does so because he owes it.

Because we have to.

Three main themes in this arc are:

1. Amorality
2. Weakness/Inferiority
3. Yusuke’s (Im)mortality

The first is key because Yusuke does not think deeply into what he’s doing. Yusuke does what he’s told, trusting the people who brought him back to life to be good — this is reversed by the end of the arc.

The second is represented in his fights. Yusuke does not win a single fight due to skill or strength, but rather luck, chance, and guess-timations.

Ironically then, the third is demonstrated realistically in Yusuke’s demeanor. This is a 14yo boy who died and came back to tell the tale. Yusuke is a walking representation of the invincibility fable.

While the amorality is subverted through most of the saga, the inferiority and (im)mortality are clearly shown.
Below is a list of Yusuke’s fights in the saga:

1. Gouki
2. Kurama
3. Hiei
4. Kibano
5. Kazemaru
6. Rando
7. Suzaku
8. Toguro

The inferiority and general weakness can be demonstrated with a brief description of how Yusuke wins the fight.

1. Gouki – Wins by chance. Yusuke assumes the inside of Gouki’s mouth is not made of stone; a gamble, since he has one bullet to test this.Gouki_vs_Yusuke
2. Kurama – Wins by gambling, putting his stock in Kurama’s word that he’s not going to destroy the world.
3. Hiei – Wins by chance; guesses his Spirit Gun will reflect off glass.
4. Kibano – Wins due to a cigarette misplaced in the ring.
5. Kazemaru – Wins by slipping.
6. Rando – Wins by accidentally having moss in his ears.
7. Suzaku – Wins by sacrificing himself.
8. Toguro – Wins because Toguro forfeits.

Not one of these fights is won by skill or superior strength.

Now, in regards to the (im)mortality, invincibility fable, it’s true that each of the opponents also seem to suffer the same fable. All of them assume themselves too great and powerful to be defeated by Yusuke and therefore have nothing to fear. In this way, each villain in the first arc is a reflection of Yusuke’s self, since he believes himself to be unstoppable as well.


Genkai even says, “That’s why they get young kids to sign up for the military, because they believe they’re too young to die.” And sure enough, Yusuke fits that description. Below is the list of fights Yusuke’s in where he throws his life away without thinking.

2. Kurama – sacrifices himself to save Kurama.
5. Kazemaru – sacrifices himself, telling Kuwabara to win the tournament instead.
7. Suzaku – sacrifices himself to save Keiko.

Of course, this isn’t even including the child Yusuke saves in the very first episode. But with these later three, it seems to advocate that Yusuke would throw his life away as he already came back to life once. However, digging a little deeper reveals Yusuke’s true motives, in each event he’s sacrificing himself in place of someone else. Yusuke has very little self-worth and is therefore willing to throw out his life for the sake of others. This is what makes his cowboy-ian archetype so spot-on, in many ways, he wants to redeem himself, but doesn’t feel like he’s earned the right to live.

The fact that he only sacrifices himself when it’s for the benefit of someone else is the focal point of the whole series; in fact it’s his very reason to fight.

The final mission with Toguro is when the morality comes up again. The case involves investigating a bunch of humans controlling the apparition black market. They torture “demons” for fun, sport, and money. It’s what causes Yusuke to start thinking about demons on a sympathetic level.

If you have any noble plans to stop me, I suggest you write your will.” – Hiei

Dark Tournment – Mortality

After the Detective Saga, Yusuke is revisited by Toguro, who reveals that he threw the fight previously. After a brief demonstration of strength (knocking down a multi-tiered parking garage), Yusuke realizes just how weak he is; this episode is what makes him realize his own mortality. Fittingly, a car killed him the first time, now a proverbial tank, able to knock down a parking garage, is telling Yusuke that he will die. This is made all the more fearful, because Yusuke sees the car coming straight for him.

Yeah... it's kinda like that.
Yeah… it’s kinda like that.

It serves as his motivation for seeking out Genkai (his master) to train.

Unlike the Detective Saga, Yusuke willingly embarks on a mission. And, unlike the Detective Saga, he can no longer get by on luck and chance, but actual strength — it is a tournament after all.

This arc is particularly important as well because Yusuke continues to blur the line between good and bad. The Detective Saga left Yusuke with the image of the “Black Black” Club — a group committed to torturing demons. As a result, although the Dark Tournament is intended to be fought to the death, Yusuke ends up befriending almost all of his demon opponents.

In regards to his identity, Yusuke blends in with the demons and does not suffer from ostracization — as he did formerly at school. Even Keiko sees how Yusuke has more in common with demons than he does with people and this is where Toguro and Genkai enter in.

Genkai is Yusuke’s only role model and Toguro is his only male father-figure.

Genkai trained Yusuke to survive; Toguro is devoted to killing Yusuke.

Both give Yusuke their entire power.

They are a proverbial mom and pop (which also shows the anime’s superiority to the manga since Yusuke’s mother is present in the book format, but more appropriately absent in the anime).

Plus, Genkai & Toguro have a history as lovers. While both were human, Toguro won the Dark Tournament (previously) and wished for eternal strength — in other words, youth. While Genkai has aged, Toguro has not and, in a twisted effort to prove he’s right, he kills the aged Genkai before the tournament ends.


The loss of Genkai makes Yusuke realize his mortality and this makes him conflicted. He knows Genkai is the right path and he wants to avenge her, but her death shows how he will eventually grow old. He knows Genkai is powerful and could’ve defeated Toguro if they were the same age, but she made her choice.

However, Yusuke took his own life to save Keiko before, and so he finds his resolve when confronted by Toguro (who ran from his love). Yusuke tells him, “I actually look forward to growing old with her.” Yusuke accepts death, not defeat. He saw how Toguro ran from death and in so doing, he ran from his life (with Genkai).

Again, this is far more Western-oriented than Eastern. Yusuke rejects getting stronger in favor of mortality.

In the end, Yusuke satisfies Toguro’s desires by defeating him in combat, so he too (a seasoned cowboy) can die for the life he led. Toguro even visits Genkai briefly in the Spirit World and he opts to be punished as opposed to going to a place of paradise. He believes he should be punished for his past and repent.

You can’t end a good party without someone on the floor.” – Yusuke Urameshi

Chapter Black = New Purpose/Morality

This arc takes off where the previous two left our protagonist. After the resurrection, he was obligated to do as he was told to repay a debt, then he combined his newfound powers and sense of justice with his old life — his street fighting ways in the Dark Tournament. However, having completed both those stages, the question becomes: What do I do now? More importantly, What does the future hold?

Without detective work or personal vendettas, the human world has grown stale for our protagonist. Yusuke questions his role as a protector of his friends since they have nothing to be protected against. He struggles with that too, since he knows there are plenty of demons about.

Enter Shinobu Sensui: the Anti-Yusuke.


From every villain in the first arc being cocky like Yusuke, to Toguro being the projected father-figure and what Yusuke wants to become, this arc features the opposite side in Sensui.

We have the previous spirit detective, a full human who excelled in every aspect of his life. A human who never faced his own mortality, because he never died (like Yusuke). Killing demons did not come across as murder to Sensui, his detachment from it is exactly what results in his meltdown. When Sensui saw demons being tortured and murdered for sport by humans, the demons became so shockingly “human” that Sensui actually shattered.

Sensui splits into 7 personalities as a result of his world flipping upside down. His head runs rampant with being akin to the people who would torture creatures this way and he saw how that was reflected in himself, having murdered previously without so much as a thought.

Of course, when Sensui steals a VHS from the Spirit World (because they have VHS… tapes…) titled Chapter Black, Sensui literally watches all the highlights of mankind’s flaws and faults. He witnesses all the evils of the world — throughout history — in one sitting. By showing others, he recruits followers.
Note: It’s called Chapter Black because the video is part of a set and, as Koenma says, “Is never meant to be watched on its own.”

Finding out that there’s just as much evil in his world as there was in the Demon World, put his whole life and purpose into perspective. Demons need to feed on humans, it’s their sustenance, and the Spirit World essentially jailed them from Earth, but Sensui’s logic is, “Who are they to make that judgement?” People kill people all the time and they don’t even do it for sustenance, they do it for sport. So his newfound purpose is to tear down that wall.

Then there’s Yusuke, the antithesis of Sensui.


Yusuke grew up on the opposite side of the tracks. He was never good at much of anything and never saw the good in anyone. He grew up believing the world inherently bad — as Sensui sees it now — and it was only in facing death — which Sensui never did — did Yusuke see the good. Yusuke’s sense of justice begins to make sense.

For instance, the first arc where Yusuke throws his life away for Kurama, he does so because he listens to the demon even though the Spirit World (Koenma) told him to just beat/kill him. Yusuke treats others the way he wants to be treated. He gives them the chance he wasn’t given; it’s his effort to abide by the golden rule that makes him have such a magnetic personality. It’s also why he’s able to befriend his opponents after besting them in The Dark Tournament and it’s the same reason he sacrifices himself for people like Kuwabara and Keiko, he truly thinks they are more deserving; he is there to protect them.

Yusuke is, in effect, the most unselfish person there is. It’s why he suffers the burden of “loss” more painfully than anyone else. When Genkai dies and Kuwabara (sorta dies-ish), Yusuke blames himself for being unable to protect them.

The only time you ever see Hiei laugh.

By facing Sensui, Yusuke actually treasures where he came from and appreciates his standing in life. Sensui had the best life imaginable and he was unable to recover from the shock of the real world, but Yusuke managed to find joy and success after being at rock bottom. Sensui is discontented with his life in the human world, so he’s trying to fit in elsewhere as was Yusuke at the start of the arc, but he sees how a guy like Sensui will never be satisfied.

However, when the two finally face off… Yusuke loses. Yusuke is simply not strong enough, so like Sensui, he decides to splinter himself, but instead of different personalities, he invests his morals and values into his three friends.

In the greatest episode of the series, The Death of a Spirit Detective, with the most epic battle music

Yusuke sacrifices himself so that Hiei, Kurama, and Kuwabara can reach a new peak and defeat Sensui.

I know I’m about to die and all, but I really hate when you guys ignore what I have to say!” – Kuwabara

Kuwabara is representative of Yusuke’s human side and it’s the part of himself he’s most protective of. Kuwabara is very outspoken about his emotions and is always trying to prove something for himself and others. Kuwabara wants to protect the people he loves and fears disappointing them. He doesn’t ask for help and is dedicated to his friends and family above all.

hqdefaultI know as much of games as I do of hugs and puppies, and care even less. Wake me for the end of the world.” – Hiei

Hiei is representative of Yusuke’s demonic half (quite literally as this arc wraps up and the final one continues). Hiei is a fighter and doesn’t waste time with words or feelings. He’s far more action-oriented and values strength over “good will.” Like Yusuke, Hiei finds himself “bad,” and thereby is very self-sacrificing towards people he believes to be more worthy or good. This is exemplified in how Hiei sacrifices his arm to win a match in the Dark Tournament, and sacrificed his entire net worth (in spirit energy) to keep his sister safe.


Ironic, after all his grave intentions, the one thing to unravel him was a laugh.” – Kurama

Kurama then, epitomizes Yusuke in capturing both his human and demon side. Kurama was a demon, living in demon world. He was a notorious thief and was a name to be feared. However, he was wounded and, in an effort to save himself, he reverted into a pure ball of spirit energy and escaped to the human world, where he inhabited a mother’s womb. Then, he grew into a young human and guesstimated that he’d be fully recovered by age 12 and could return to the demon world…

That was his plan anyway, Kurama didn’t realize that he’d get the full human condition. He actually cared about his mother. With a character like Kurama, who is so calculating anyway, to experience life as a human, he truly gets a taste for both sides and finds the human side — dare I say — better. Kurama is perhaps the most similar then to Yusuke, not only in containing half-human and half-demon blood, but also in growing up on the bad side and moving towards the good.


As I’ve mentioned already, Yusuke is resurrected again, but this time, not on Spirit World’s behalf. He’s resurrected by the Demon World — giving a taste of what could have been. Yusuke goes to Demon World and fights Sensui. Yusuke and Sensui duke it out and are about on par until Yusuke’s ancestor commandeers his body to awaken his full potential; in so doing, the demon-occupied Yusuke brutally beats the living hell out of Sensui… winning the fight.

But once again this is where the Western-interpretation resounds more prominently than the Eastern values. Yusuke regrets defeating Sensui because he wasn’t in control. Although his ancestor gave him unlimited strength, Yusuke, once again, rejects it.

Of course, this actually wraps up Sensui’s life in a neat little nutshell. With the sudden realization that Yusuke is a demon (part demon) and a Spirit Detective, Sensui’s life is resolved. He’s beaten by a less jaded Spirit Detective who is also half-demon. As Sensui felt limitless guilt for killing demons, he feels that Yusuke is justified in defeating him.

And although, Sensui was by no means a hero towards the end, he does repent like a cowboy, believing to die for his previous misdeeds.

Look, I’m not dumb, or blind. We all know I can see supernatural stuff a whole lot better than Yusuke, and I’m not gonna sit around my house while Yusuke doesn’t see things and lets big monsters and insects take over my city – cause I’m Kuwabara! And in case you guys forgot, I’ve got a sword!” – Kazuma Kuwabara

Three Kings = Resolved Identity


Chronologically, this is really the first arc as it gives the main characters backstories. And while Togashi may have just made up the backstory at this point, it serves the betterment of the anime, since Cook saw the whole series 3 times before putting pen to paper, so it never feels inconsistent.

Each character is given detailed backstories that help establish where they come from (with the exception of Kuwabara who is sorely missed).

Yusuke leaves Keiko behind for 3 years with the promise that he’ll return and get married, but that he needs to know where he comes from.

He spends the majority of the time training and while Hiei and Kurama warrant their own analysis, I’m going to keep the focus on our protagonist.

Yusuke finally gets a father figure who is a full-blooded demon. He had the half-demon, Toguro and the all human in Sensui, so now he gets the all-demon, bona fide dad.

So much of his identity crisis and going through adulthood has been, “What am I here for? Why do I exist?” But the resolution comes from his ancestral demon dad, who chose to not eat humans. Yusuke gets such a resolve from this; it affirms that he is on the right track and to do what he’s felt is right because even his heritage purports him as a good, sacrificial hero (since not eating humans means his father starved to death).

With that in mind, Yusuke approaches the remaining two kings of the demon world and entirely reworks their government system (through a tournament, but hey).

This succeeds and everyone signs up, so when the time comes for Yusuke to be in the ring with one of the other kings (Yomi), he suddenly stops dead in his tracks and wonders “What am I fighting for?”

By this point, Yusuke has had his closure; he has his purpose; he has everything he could possibly want. So, it’s a pretty straightforward question: What am I still doing here?


He has even resigned from his post as Spirit Detective, so he’s a free man.

For the first time, he’s not fighting in a life or death scenario and he’s not a Spirit Detective fighting the “good” fight.

And that’s when it hits him, Toguro and Sensui both died fulfilled because they had wanted someone like Yusuke (not knowing it was going to be Yusuke) to defeat them. As Yusuke doesn’t have a purpose in the tournament — knowing full well he’s not fit to run an entire country (hence, why he didn’t take his ancestor’s place and held a tournament instead) — Yusuke wonders if he’s just waiting for his own opponent (his own Yusuke) to finally defeat him.

But that’s when he satisfies his lurking thoughts with the final realization. He has only ever fought on behalf of the ones he loves, to protect them from harm. It’s what he’s fully capable of doing. Even if they’re not in harm’s way now, he’s choosing to fight because he wants to reform demon world to prevent the need for him in the future. He wants demon world to be safe so that he doesn’t need to leave Keiko for 3 years again and won’t need to worry when he is an old grandpa.


This resolve in identity finds its way into Yusuke’s fight. Rather than relying solely on his “Demon Gun” or “Spirit Gun,” he actually formulates a whole new taxonomy of energy, suggested “Yusuke Energy,” that only someone of his mixed heritage and resolve could form.

And he loses.

But it’s okay because a friend of his wins and demon world is reformed. People like the democracy. The wall between the two worlds is evaporated and you can bet Yusuke makes good on his word to Keiko.


The English translation of this anime is what makes it survive the test of time. Cook’s vision, and voice-acting prowess, aid in developing a character that is wholly Western-inspired with a tempered fear of death. Yusuke wants to protect his loved ones and that trumps concrete strength any day — just look at how Toguro failed to save his loved one despite being Super Strong.

Toguro is a perfect representation of why I feel the Eastern culture would get less out of this television series than the Western. Toguro is what is commonly sought from anime characters: to be stronger. Yusuke resolves that he doesn’t need to be stronger, he just wants to protect the people he loves.

In fact, he actually loses the final fight, which may come across as weakness to an Eastern audience, but makes it stand out in Western culture. The reason Yusuke loses is because his opponent has his son in the audience. When his son shouts for his father, Yomi (said father) keeps his stance, winning solely because he maintained his footing. More importantly, winning because he had his loved one in the audience. Yusuke doesn’t win because his loved ones weren’t in the audience; it’s final confirmation that he’s made the right path.

In the end, the English Dub is better and it’s not just because of what the story means, but the voice acting and dialogue are better as well.

Cook should get the credit for writing phenomenal dialogue and interpreting scene meanings and emphasis. It doesn’t hurt however that Justin Cook has the most unique voice to hit the action/adventure anime to date. It perfectly fits the tone and style of the writing, matching the rebellious angst with the moments of genuine compassion. When Yusuke tells Toguro, “I’ve never really had a father in my life… but I looked up to you,” it’s sincere. It adds a level of investment to the battle because you feel the struggle Yusuke is going through.


And when Yusuke screams… oh… you’ll just have to hear it for yourself. He doesn’t make Yusuke sound tough, he makes Yusuke sound genuinely angry or severely in pain. It’s incredible and best of all, his laugh is infectious!

The voice acting altogether is phenomenal.

Christopher Sabat (Kuwabara) comes across as a bit overwhelming at first, but quickly grows on you, delivering some of the most memorable lines and showing more range in emotion than with his previous craft (DBZ). Kuwabara, in a matter of frames, can go from panicked to cocksure, to near-death to indefatigable ambition. He’s an impressive actor, and is wholly engaging with voice alone.

John Burgmeier is a delight, providing the calm and mother-like Kurama with the ominous and sinister — when the time calls for it. He encapsulates both sides of Kurama without ever leaning too far in one direction.

Chuck Huber is definite and concise and while the majority of Hiei’s lines are, as he even said himself, “Hm” and “Rrgh,” Huber does elevate the material when the time calls for it. Plus, his comedic timing and cocky dialogue also provide more than enough re-viewing material.


It’s a show that deals with some very existential concepts and it was masterfully handled by ADR Director Justin Cook. The whole team and voice cast made this show what it is and I’m fortunate enough to appreciate them for it. There is a movie that’s dubbed by a different cast and it’s tragic how misinterpreted the characters are. Hopefully the team will get together and redub the movie, but if not, there’s always the show.

It’s a good time with some imaginative superpowers (i.e. the Doctor) and some not so imaginative (i.e. Yo-Yo Boy). The action sequences are incredible and you feel good when characters succeed. It is worth watching and there is value to be drawn from it. And if you’ve ever struggled with death or angered by your placement in life, this is a good place to start confronting it.


Maybe there have been times when I’ve been pissed and hated things, but it wasn’t from this work. My dad’s a no-show, my mom’s a lush, and school sucks. But this job is the one damn thing I’ve ever been good at. And if all the crap in my life hasn’t screwed me up yet, then neither will this. And neither will you.” – Yusuke Urameshi



(The background colors here (at sunset) are the same as the sky in demon world, showing a resolution of both worlds/identities.)

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18 Comments on Yu Yu Hakusho Review & Analysis

  1. Great review and analysis. I didn’t realize the depth that was in the series, even though we watched it together, but I do remember being surprised at the ending and the fact that Yusuke doesn’t win because it IS so antithetical to anime/Japanese tradition. Your analysis puts this in great perspective. And I definitely agree that the English dub is superior. I think this is the only series I can say that about. (I take the dubs of Evangelion as about equivalent, with some drawbacks for both.)

    Also, my favorite moment in the series is probably Toguro knocking down the parking garage. It’s simultaneously awesome and absurd, which is par for the course with Yu Yu Hakusho.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it too! I love this show and every time I reflect on it, I pull something new out.

      Toguro really is the meat of the series. I mean that scene in the parking garage is just… ah man, so good. Plus, he road in a motorcycle (steed), how much more badass can you get?

      I had to cut out the lengthier analysis of the villains, as well as Hiei, Kuwabara, and Kurama, but I’m hoping to give them another review in the future. Kuwabara is such a great surrogate for the audience and Sabat’s voice actually epitomizes this better than any Japanese voice actor could — but alas, more on that later.

  2. Next time we hang out, we should get me through season 1. I think I left off right after the short bald guy turns into a demon, there like a couple episodes into their fight. Good review and thorough analysis! Have you actually watched the subtitled version? And I’m wondering, for longer posts like this, would it be better to post them as 2 or 3 parts? Even if their posted on the same day, it would add more “content” to the site, link juice stuff, right?

    • It would show that it’s updated more and we get indexed more, but the link juice comes from other outlets — like Facebook, Twitter and other websites.

      But yeah, I debated breaking it up, but that’s why I opted for more pictures as a way to break it up.

      Since I’m going once a week, I figured a huge thing wouldn’t be too harsh. I could have posted multiple times a day, but I just couldn’t find the the right place to stop.

      But I’m glad you enjoyed it and we will watch it!

  3. This is a great write up of the series and it totally deconstructs a lot of the themes of my favorite TV Show of all time. Thank you so much for writing this up and I’m saving it forever. Just hearing that music from the embedded youtube video and reading that final quote from Yusuke himself tied it all together for me. This series was one of the biggest influences of my adolescence and it defines the genre of anime for me.


    • Thank you for reading it! I’m glad you were moved by it too. It really is one of those rare shows that stays with you over the years and Cook’s dialogue is just incredible.

      I mean, when a director casts themselves in the title role, I think most people roll their eyes, but he got the material and just knew how each line should sound. That last quote, I just can’t imagine it without his voice behind it.

  4. I knew there was a lot of depth to the series and upon my fourth viewing i was starting to get a lot more from the villiains in the series- realizing that Toguro and Sensui follow logically together.

    I mainly focused on the idea of overcoming prejudice and conceptions (the demons and the humans realize they aren’t so different afterall). I think this spreads through to how people expect Kurama to act because he is a demon, and how the women of his village thought Hiei was evil. It also tests Yusuke’s ideas of right and wrong because he struggles with killing any human but has up to that point been killing demons easily. This right and wrong is exemplified by Sensui and is probably why Chapter Black is my favorite section of the show. I also think the different stances toward evil and good are provided by the three kings since they all have different interpretations of how relations with humans should be. Mokuro is more amoral, while Yomi thinks demons should have access to humans and Raizen is very much against it. I feel like the characters have figured out and broadened their perspectives by the end of it….though bitter sweetly I always have this feeling like something will be next and the issue isn’t sealed completely for the human world and the demon world …or even the spirit world, but for the characters i think things are resolved to where they need to be.

    I think I didn’t focus as much on Yusuke’s quest for redemption though as I did the overcoming conceptions thing. You are right and it is very much a ‘coming of age’ story for all the characters. You really broadened my ideas on the show, though I always knew that it had a lot of meaning. There is something about YYH that is special …I have heard people that like the japanese better but I have not watched it. I just started reading the manga, and I do agree that the anime, at least the western, is better, though I like the extra stuff at the beginning with the ghosts….and I thnk a few lines in the manga regarding Toguro and Itsuki and Sensui elaborated a little better or I just overlooked them in the manga. I have only read to the end of the Sensui fight for the manga so we’ll see how that goes.

    Also, I do like the movie and even if the charas might be somewhat off I thought the voices did a decent job- or maybe it was just the animation that made up for it….Vital parts to it to me are Hiei’s transformation and Kurama’s Kuronue scene. Kuwabara’s fight scene was good too but it didn’t feel like it added as much as Hiei and Kurama’s scene.

    I appreciate the good job that was done on the anime, but I can’t help but crave for a remake . I mean I love the anime but it has faults and it is such a wide source for material that a lot can still be done with it…But I doubt that will ever happen, lol…

    • This was awesome, Kayla — thank you for reading and your thorough response.

      There is so much more analysis to do on YYH and what you just said proves it. There is so much subtext on different racisms/prejudice and if you ever write more on it, email or send me the link and I’ll read it!

      I also agree with the manga stuff. The first three (four?) volumes were all ghost stuff and it was really different/cool. I mean it really took its sweet time and was such a different manga than you’d usually find in Shounen Jump. I mean I’m glad I saw the anime first but I was shocked at how much time was spent on him just being dead with existential thoughts. No fights, no breakneck action speed, it was just very personal, intimate and charming.

      I like the movie too, but I would love it if the Justin Cook and Co. redubbed it — like they did for Eizou Hakusho… which was awesome because it made all the intro and outro songs meta-textual. And likewise, I’d watch the remake if they kept the voice cast.

  5. Your analysis is very thorough and well-done. I agree with a lot of it. I would say that it’s not that “even Keiko sees how Yusuke has more in common with demons than he does with people.” It’s very poignant that Keiko is the one who realizes this and says it out loud. All her life, Keiko has tried to get Yusuke to fit into the human world where he doesn’t fully belong, and now Yusuke has brought Keiko into a world where she does not belong at all. As the only member of the team without spirit awareness, demon world origin, spirit world origin, or any supernatural powers, Keiko is experiencing the ostracism that Yusuke felt for his entire life. This helps her to understand why Yusuke has to stay in demon world later on, and is one of the ways in which Yusuke and Keiko grow to understand each other throughout the series.

      • Oh you’re welcome, it was a very detailed analysis and I’m glad I read it. Keiko is one of my favorite characters as well. I wish that we got to see more of Keiko in the anime and see more of what she did on her own so that people would stop thinking of her as a “satellite love interest.” Keiko was very important for Yusuke’s development, but also important was that her origin and personality were so different from his. As much as Yu Yu Hakusho is about Yusuke’s redemption and discovery of values and identity, I’ve always seen it as the story of Yusuke and Keiko’s love growing from childhood sweethearts into a functioning, adult relationship between two people with a deep understanding of each other.

        • You’re absolutely right and it definitely warrants it’s own analysis. I didn’t finish the manga, but I loved when Yusuke was a ghost and we got to see much more of Keiko’s life. I mean they really made it so that she’s the reason he comes back. That and even their progression through each arc felt organic.

          There’s a Keiko/Yusuke parallel with almost every arc, with Toguro and Genkai, Sensui and the first spirit detective, and his Raizen and his love interest.

          Plus with Toguro and the four saint beasts, she is the one that consistently provides motivation for him to overcome obstacles.

          And again, I’m really glad she’s never depicted sexually (as many other shows are wont to do).

  6. A really great analysis that I entirely agree with. I won’t say it’s the only anime that has benefited from an English dub but I think it might be the only one that doesn’t necessarily have a western based or inspired setting. A show like Black Lagoon most certainly benefits from an English dub because it’s setting and western characters allows it to thrive in English. But Yu Yu Hakusho benefiting from a western perspective is entirely from a thematic standpoint which doesn’t happen often.

      • It’s, stylistically, very similar to Quentin Tarantino or John Woo movies. It’s about modern day pirate mercenaries and a Japanese business man who gets caught up in their world. It’s really quite good and one of my favorite animes of all time. The English dub makes more sense simply because most of the main characters are from the western part of the world. The original Japanese version can be really jarring at times because the voices don’t fit the characters. The dialogue also flows a lot better in English. I highly recommend it.

  7. This is dreadful. By which metric are you measuring “Western” and “Eastern”? You are essentially taking a story written in the East, and as you find something poignant about it, you are labeling these poignant things as “Western”. Your logic is nothing more than “I find it meaningful, therefore I categorize it as Western — even if what I found meaningful originates in an Eastern text. Because if it’s meaningful, it’s by default Western.” If that’s not your logic, then you need to make actual arguments for what you believe “Western” and “Eastern” even mean. If you don’t, it’s just something you grabbed out of thin air.

    You are also wholly wrong that the original does not carry the “Western” (your word, not mine) value that strength is not all-important, and Yusuke’s desire to protect his loved ones is what’s most important. That is in the original text.

    “Cook handles this poetically and the show quits being a cartoon for a minute to showcase real characters; real people struggling with loss. This sequence clearly comes from a personal place and it’s this moment that sets the tone for the rest of the series.”

    No, everything you describe here is not something Cook did. It was in the original text. I could point about a million other things you mention here are Cook’s credit, but I don’t have all day.

    “The English translation of this anime is what makes it survive the test of time.”

    You realize that Yu Yu Hakusho has an enduring fanbase not just in Japan, but in many countries of Asia, yes? The localization that happened in the US (however good it might be, and you are free to think it’s good) is not what made it stand out among its peers or what makes the majority of the world (the US is not the majority of the world) remember it.

    • Yeah, a bunch of people got upset about that. Clearly, I shouldn’t pretend to know about eastern or western culture and remind readers it’s an opinion piece. With that said, in my opinion, Justin Cook’s dub is far superior to the Japanese sub or manga.

    • The original text does indeed include a lot of themes he talks about. It’s just those themes are more Western influenced. Just because something is included in the original text, that doesn’t mean it isn’t influenced by Western themes. It’s the same thing with visuals and stylistics.

      For example, The Matrix is not, stylistically, a Western movie. It’s made by Western filmmakers but it takes a lot of influence from Eastern filmmakers. He’s not saying that people in Asia don’t value things like family, friends, or whatever. It’s all about what in the piece of work is more explicit or emotionally resonant. Yu Yu Hakusho works better in English because its emotional resonance are in places that you’d see more in Western stories rather than Eastern stories.

      Of course, this is all subjective. You don’t have to take it so personally.

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