Yu Yu Hakusho 1-3 review

I like Yoshihiro Togashi. I know it’s really popular to complain about his work ethic or mock his artwork based on handpicked examples. Some clueless people even claim that Hunter X Hunter is generic shonen. No, Hunter X Hunter is a mad and unpredictable masterpiece that perfectly showcases the wealth of Togashi’s imagination, as well as his openmindedness. It’s not constrained by genre conventions. For example, a story arc that you’d expect to culminate in an epic battle between sworn enemies instead turns into a tense hostage crisis. Then there’s Level E, Togashi’s previous, shorter series. The less said about this one, the better – because it’s best enjoyed without any prior knowledge about the plot or characters. JUST READ IT!

Togashi is creative and unconventional. If huge breaks and hiatuses are the price to pay for that … well, it’s not that I’m thrilled about having to wait for new HxH chapters, but it’s better than having him churn out stupid clichés and unoriginal stuff.

Anyway. I am new to Yu Yu Hakusho. There’s no deep reason for this, I just sort of came a little too late to shonen manga, and then put off the challenge of starting another shonen series … I was told that it was a relatively regular shonen, with fights and tournaments! And that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for at the moment.

But what’s this? Yu Yu Hakusho starts as anything but a battle manga. It’s all heartwarming little stories about life and death and real human emotions. In a way, it reminds me of Der Himmel über Berlin (the lesser  English title is Wings of Desire), with its wistful atmosphere and life-affirming message …

If Togashi tried to create an unlikeable protagonist with Yusuke, he kind of failed. Despite being told that he’s a bad boy for whom selfless acts are out of character, he proves to be genuinely interested in the lives of the people around him, and really possesses real emotional intelligence.

Many of Togashi’s works demonstrate a lot of tolerance, for different lifestyles, morals etc. It is an extreme sort of openmindedness that empathizes with man-eating aliens in Level E or presents assassination in Hunter X Hunter as just another lifestyle.

Well, there’s nothing so extreme yet in Yu Yu Hakusho‘s earliest chapters. But it’s absolutely nice that the manga is nonjudgmental towards Yusuke’s alcoholic mother, for example. Bad parents in manga are often not just negligent, but purposefully abusive. Yusuke’s mother Atsuko isn’t demonized for her failures or her alcoholism. She still cares about her son, she just doesn’t manage to be a good mother. It happens. It makes sense: She had Yusuke when she was just a young teenager, there’s no father anywhere in sight. And sometimes people fail even with good intentions.

A tangent: I recently reread 3×3 Eyes. Yakumo’s mother also had him very young, and his scientist father essentially ditched the family for his research. But Yakumo’s mother does not appear in the manga at all, since she was even more overwhelmed than Atsuko apparently, and abandoned Yakumo when he was still a little kid. (He was raised by a neighbour instead, and essentially grew up in a gay bar. I like Yakumo.) It’s nice to have realistically broken families in manga, and parents that are neither sanctified nor villified.

… then again, I’m much less sympathetic towards Hunter X Hunter‘s Gin and his brand of bad parenting, even though Gon doesn’t blame him. Hmm. Will we ever learn about Gon’s mother?

Anyway. No one told me that YYH was sad. I swear I teared up a few times. Completely unexpected. :(

By the end of the third volume, Yu Yu Hakusho has indeed morphed into a more regular shonen adventure manga, with a story arc that reminds me of Hunter X Hunter‘s first few volumes, the Hunter exam. Or Naruto‘s ninja exam.

You know what? I actually like exams in shonen manga. And yes, tournaments. They structure a story nicely and, in the hands of an inventive author, provide variation, as every new challenge can be unique and different.

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