Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the most popular and acclaimed action anime series ever produced. It is the story of a Spirit Detective named Yusuke Urameshi and his group of friends: they make up a group of warriors who are bent on fighting the truly bad guys of the spirit world and protecting the stability of our entire planet. Yu Yu Hakusho is also a story of friendship, loyalty, love, and honor. Yet at the core, this is a series that places its biggest interest in appealing to action fans that are looking for something well-orchestrated in terms of the varied (and frequently bizarre or extreme) battles that so often occur throughout the series. It's definitely safe to say there are aspects that make it comparable to Dragon Ball Z (the biggest juggernaut of action in anime) but this is a distinctive, unique series (far from being a rip-off) and a show with a creative team that cares enough about the characters to make audiences care about them as well.
In the first season, Yusuke faced a great trial against himself when he sacrificed his life to save a young boy. He met a blue-haired woman named Botan who informs him that he is dead and that he can come back to life (phew!) if he agrees to use his strength and spirit energy to face off demons that are threats to the living world. There are openings where the often brutal and corrupt demons can come through and wreck havoc. The universe, it seems, must rely on strong warriors with physical strength and also even more powerful spirit strength to protect us all. Yusuke becomes a spirit detective and his duty is exactly as such - to protect and serve others. Without even realizing it entirely himself, Yusuke (the so often rebellious teenager) is in actuality a hero. Outside of just fighting the baddies, he has a girlfriend named Keiko and a close friend (who used to masquerade as an enemy) named Kuwabara. Kuwabara is sort of the comic relief and Keiko brings much of the heart of the series to light. Yusuke trains with the master martial artist Genkai, an elderly woman with amazing skills. Genkai turns out to be one of the most important characters in the entire series with this second season.
Yusuke and Kuwabara eventually do battle and befriend the loner Hiei and the compassionate Kurama. These are characters who are actually demons (?!) but who have human characteristics and these are characters who grow and develop over the course of the series storyline. It's particularly interesting to see these characters change over the show as they initially start off as enemies but they somehow transform into characters with some (let me repeat: some) likeable qualities.
Season two takes the four characters into a definite team-mode where Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hiei, and Kurama must fight for their lives (and the safety of others) in the Dark Tournament. This tournament brings together the fastest fighters and they must battle it out for the grand prize: anything they want. Yusuke and the others must try and win the entire tournament so that the baddies can't mess up things even more. It's a challenge that brings to them their biggest challenge in the series yet.
It is unfortunate and dissatisfying to state that the second season of Yu Yu Hakusho is a significant step down from the first season. This batch of episodes somehow manages to be both highly entertaining and underwhelming at the same time. Gone are the smaller story arcs that dominated the first season. Gone are the more nuanced and appreciated character developments that made the entire show feel particularly different from other action series. Instead, the series shifts some of its focus towards the action in such a way that things start to become a bit repetitive and far less involving. There is also the unfortunate nature of some of the battles seeming far more violent than they needed to be and it does distance the entire second season from the more lighthearted first. What was once an always fun action show becomes a sometimes hard-to-watch series with grueling moments that amp up the tension and dramatics but not in as successful a way as things could have been.
The first half of season two doesn't deliver immediately on the promise of genuine action excitement either as most of the early challenges are pretty easy to figure out: Yusuke and the others probably stand a pretty good chance of beating many (most?) of their opponents because of the fact viewers anticipate them entering the final stages of the tournament and battling it out with opponents faced during the first season and who are the primary cause of their participation in the first place. This does remove some of the sense of urgency that the series needed to maintain itself as a truly compelling and worthwhile experience.
It is with much relief that the second half of the season does pick things up considerably. There are a number of surprising twists and turns in the main storyline (including the revelation of which the masked fighter was - the fighter who also participated in the tournament with Yusuke and the others). Things are revealed about the actual tournament itself and that shakes things up considerably - at least from the viewer perspective. The element of surprise being heightened and employed in the storylines is an important element that made the final run of episodes in season two more successful than early ones.
Ultimately, I was glad to continue the storyline established within Season one and excited by a number of events that occurred in this second season. It just doesn't manage to be anywhere near as involving as the first season was. The Dark Tournament also managed to not conclude by the end of the set and that was a major drawback to the entire set as viewers will absolutely want things wrapped up by the time the final disc is done, but the satisfaction of seeing a conclusion to this arc won't arrive until the season three Blu-ray set hit shelves at a later date (this is understandably a less significant problem for viewers who purchase the set down-the-line when all four seasons are available in High Definition). Does the second season live up to the first? Yes, but it does stumble. If you already enjoyed the first season though there is little reason to stop watching these adventures as the second set still offers plenty of entertainment and the hope of an even more varied storytelling approach in the future.
Yu Yu Hakusho: Season Two arrives on Blu-ray with a frequently stunning and natural High Definition image that is natively high resolution (and not a significantly less desirable upcovert as Funimation has been prone to do with some shows - those not natively animated in a format able to properly benefit from all the increases in resolution Blu-ray has to offer). This is the best the series has ever looked. The series was restored frame-by-frame from the original elements and the hard work done in restoration shows quite clearly and with beautiful results. There are moments where grain and minor damage appears in the image. This is a disappointment. Still, few classic anime series have been given such a deluxe treatment and the show is as close to pristine as any fan can reasonably expect to ever see. The image is sharper, cleaner, and with stronger colors. These elements all provide a significantly improved presentation that greatly enhances the show in comparison to the DVD's.
Yu Yu Hakusho: Season Two is presented across three 50 GB Blu-ray discs with AVC encoded video in the original television broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33.1 (full frame).
The artwork on this release indicates that the release is Region A/B compatible, which means that overseas fans should be able to import and enjoy the series in High Definition as well.
The images featured in this review are from the Season Two DVD release and do not represent the High Definition Season Two Blu-ray picture quality.
Yu Yu Hakusho doesn't just receive a notable upgrade in the video department. The original season sets on DVD only included 2.0 audio for both the English and Japanese dubs. The set features upgraded audio to high-resolution Dolby TrueHD for both dubs, and the English dub also receives a nice additional boost by becoming a 5.1 surround sound release that is a better quality soundstage than the original DVD release. It is a more powerful and convincing audio presentation.
English subtitles are included for viewing with the Japanese language track.
This is the one area where the set seems to completely falter and disappoint. There are almost no extras on the release whatsoever. Included are textless opening and closing credits for the songs "Smile Bomb" and "Sayonara Bye Bye". Funimation has also provided trailers for other new and upcoming releases on the third disc.
While the song is certainly enjoyable, it is also worth noting that "Sayonara Bye Bye" lacks the energetic vibe given by the significantly catchier "The Homework Doesn't End". Minor nitpick (and not related to the extras per se).
Yu Yu Hakusho: Season Two is a fun thrill ride with a lot of intense action sequences and some good revelations towards the end of the season. It also features one of the best characters in the show, the martial artist Genkai, in a stunning and unforgettable way. The unfortunate thing is that the series is significantly darker season two and less comical or character-focused. Those moments spring up occasionally but more fleetingly than before. The season is also slower to fully develop. The Dark Tournament Saga isn't over just yet and viewers will want to discover the third season and soon as this one ends. It's a wild ride, one with mixed results, but it is still worth taking. The vastly improved PQ/AQ makes this a set worth purchasing as either an upgrade or for the first time. Recommended.