The latter half of 2023 has had anime releases on Netflix almost every week, including new original productions and retellings and adaptations of older anime shows as well. A significant number of crossovers in form, as in video games made into anime and older manga and anime being made into live-action works, have also come our way this year. Netflix’s latest release in this context is Yu Yu Hakusho, a live-action adaptation of Yoshihiro Togashi’s famed manga by the same name, which was later made into an anime series as well. The live-action version on Netflix condenses the main story into a much shorter, five-episode-long affair, which is fairly welcoming to new viewers as well. While there are definitely some misses in Yu Yu Hakusho, most with regards to its duration, any anime or even adventure fan would surely enjoy the series.
Yu Yu Hakusho‘s story is set in a fictional Japanese city called Sarayashiki and in a reality where demons, or yokai, exist along with humans and other living beings. The world of the demons and the humans was separated many centuries ago in order to avoid frequent wars and massacres. However, someone at present was trying to bridge these two domains, to let demons into the human world with an intention to cause massive disruption. The show begins with one such incident, in which a demonic insect from another world enters our own and takes control of a truck driver to absolutely devastating effect. The driver is no longer human, and he wildly drives his vehicle through traffic and even into a small alley, about to crash into a little boy as well.
It is at this moment that the protagonist of the show, Yusuke Urameshi, steps in to save the child and instead gets run over by the truck himself. Therefore, we have the central character of the show die within the opening few minutes, and the story really begins from here. Yusuke is taken to Koenma, the ruler of the spirit world, but instead of being judged on his life’s actions, the teenager is given the chance to be resurrected. The only catch is that Yusuke has to work as a spirit detective, investigating any otherworldly activities in the human world. While the chance to be resurrected is a very uncommon offer, our hero himself is rather strange and different from most.
Yusuke had no dreams, aspirations, or even bare expectations from his life, and so his death did not affect him either. He is sure that nobody in the world has any attachment to him and that his death has not really affected anybody. Because of these very reasons, the protagonist refuses to be resurrected and wants to skip on the hard work of being a spirit detective. However, certain realizations that make him change his mind and some more emergency situations ultimately lead to Yusuke being resurrected to life. He gradually takes on the responsibility of investigating numerous incidents in which yokai from the demon world were making their way into the human world by some mystery.
The role of Yusuke Urameshi is aptly played by Takumi Kitamura, as the moody, delinquent teenager’s character comes off well enough. The fact that Yusuke is actually much more sensitive and sympathetic than he shows on the exterior becomes an important part of his character, and Kitamura is able to play out these shades well, too. Shuhei Uesegi acts as Kazuma Kuwabara, Yusuke’s rival, who later becomes an important individual in the protagonist’s fight against evil forces. Jun Shison and Kanata Hongo play the roles of Kurama and Hiei, respectively, both of whom are integral characters in the plot of Yu Yu Hakusho. Sei Shiraishi is the lead female, as is Yusuke’s best friend and secret lover, Keiko Yukimura. The overall acting performances in the show are convincing enough, which is commendable because it is a manga and anime that is being transformed into live-action.
The biggest complaint I have about the Netflix adaptation is its duration, which is just five episodes long, each of around forty-five to fifty minutes. Other live-action adaptations of anime, like One Piece or Zom 100, are also naturally shorter than their original versions for very obvious reasons, but Yu Yu Hakusho does not even reach the usual eight-episode mark. This results in some of the elements in the show feeling rushed, without enough time given for their development. For example, Yusuke’s bond with the master who trains him is expected to have an impact, but this bond does not come off as very genuine simply because only some portion of an already short episode is spent showing the two characters together.
It is also perhaps because of the lack of time that the show skips explaining certain instances or occurrences that are surely developed much more carefully in the original manga and anime. Koenma is seen with what looks like a pacifier always in his mouth, and the only reason for it I can think of is that he is the son of Enma, and so is the prince of the spirit world, which is visually denoted by the pacifier. Later on, a particular character being able to see people from the spirit world despite being a human himself is also not very well explained. My guess is that these elements, which were well-established in the manga and anime, are left behind in this adaptation.
In another instance, a central character sacrifices half of their life to save someone else, but the effect of this sacrifice is never felt in the show. The character does not ever seem to be only half alive or at half of their powers, which should have been the case because of their sacrifice. While this is perhaps not something purposefully left out, I am genuinely convinced that the plot could have also been better developed with some more time and a couple more episodes.
Overall, though, Yu Yu Hakusho makes for an entertaining watch, even if you are not familiar with the original works from which it is adapted. The action scenes and the VFX work are also adequately convincing and sufficient, adding to the experience. Although it is not one of the best Netflix adaptations in recent times, Yu Yu Hakusho can definitely be given a watch without disappointment.