'YuYu Hakusho' review: Breaking bad at a breakneck pace

Koenma always found that his pacifier helped him with focusing his hadouken. Photos: Handout

Hold on to your hats, people, as well as your copies of the well-regarded 1990s manga on which YuYu Hakusho is based.

Why? Because this is one accelerated adaptation. Not just that it flies by at a lightning pace, and is just a meagre five episodes in total; but also because it jumps so far forward in the story, and so quickly, that anyone expecting a "regular" adaptation might get whiplash.

Yoshihiro Togashi's (Hunter x Hunter) creation, one of the best-selling manga of all time, tells the story of Yusuke Urameshi – a juvenile delinquent who gives his life saving a small child from being run over.

His selfless act not only shocks his mother and childhood friend, but the Spirit World as well, since no one ever expected that of him.

So without a place readied for him either upstairs or downstairs, Urameshi (Takumi Kitamura, Tokyo Revengers) finds himself in a sort of undying state and is recruited to become a Spirit Detective and investigate cases involving otherworldly perpetrators or "yokai".

'Take in this breathtaking view while you can ... this season is too short for us to pass this way again.''Take in this breathtaking view while you can ... this season is too short for us to pass this way again.'

Well, at least that's how it went in the manga and anime (also on Netflix, like this live-action version). In this thoroughly abridged adaptation, series creators Akira Morii and Kaata Sakamoto compress two major story arcs (the Spirit Detective and Dark Tournament sagas) into five episodes.

In doing so, they've changed things considerably, going off on a completely different tangent in several areas (including a surprising bit of closure for a key antagonist).

But is it good? Heck, yes, if you're here for mortal-on-yokai and yokai-on-yokai mayhem that just keeps escalating in scale and stakes.

If, however, you're expecting a live-action enactment of the manga's more touching moments of human drama and struggles, particularly from Urameshi's early experiences as a neither-here-nor-there spirit, well ... manage those expectations before you hit "Play".

(I particularly miss the early arc of Urameshi's frenemy Kuwabara, where he struggles against his impulsive nature – and suffers a lot for it – for the academic survival of his school buddies.)

'Why are our belts so high? It helps us gird our loins for battle, of course.''Why are our belts so high? It helps us gird our loins for battle, of course.'

There's just enough room for some basic outlining of Urameshi's character as the JD with a heart of gold, his redemption arc, and a sprinkling of background on his ties to childhood friend Keiko (Sei Shiraishi) and Kuwabara (Shuhei Uesugi).

As for his "spirit guide" Botan (Kotone Furukawa) and underworld "judge" Koenma (Keita Machida), they're largely reduced to being supernatural sources of exposition and not much more.

Even the obligatory training montage is shoehorned into a sequence even shorter than your typical Rocky movie, bringing the double-episode finale – where our hero and his newfound allies go up against an array of creepy/annoying/just plain awesome bad guys – upon the viewer in less time than you'd take to read a couple of volumes of the comic.

While the final showdown proper is somewhat overwrought (and reins itself in just when it begins to grate on the nerves), the overall tone of this short, sharp initial season is brisk, loads of fun and just the right kind of "hero's journey" for the end-of-year holidays.

So, hey, forget about everything you know from the comics and anime, and look at this as a decidedly different present that you can unwrap, unbox and be done with between Christmas lunch and supper.

All five episodes of YuYu Hakusho are available to stream on Netflix.

8 10


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