Hello. This is Mokugyo, MANGA.TOKYO’s anime analyst! While I do like recent anime and manga, sometimes I think about anime that were popular in the past. Today I want to talk about Yu Yu Hakusho, a popular manga and anime from the 1990s.
What is Yu Yu Hakusho?
Yu Yu Hakusho is a manga that was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1990 to 1994. It was adapted into a very popular anime in 1992. Weekly Shounen Jump had its golden era in the early 90s and the magazine sold over 6.5 million issues. People say that its popularity was thanks to 3 other contemporary works: Dragon Ball, which was being aired worldwide; Slam Dunk, which caused a basketball boom in Japan; and Yu Yu Hakusho.
Yu Yu Hakusho by chouran on DeviantArt | All Rights Reserved
Yoshihiro Togashi’s Reputation in Japan
Mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi has been active since the 1980s. He became famous with the great success of Yu Yu Hakusho. After YuHaku (the popular abbreviation for the title), he released a challenging sci-fi comedy called Level E. Years after its serialization, it was adapted into an anime in 2011. He also started serializing Hunter × Hunter from 1998, which went on to become a huge hit and spawn two anime seasons.
Yoshihiro Togashi was producing one hit after another, but as of March 2017, Hunter × Hunter is on hiatus. At first, Hunter × Hunter was published every week, but the publication gradually became more and more irregular. People talk about it every time it restarts, but the reality is, the gap between each publication is getting longer and longer. They say the reason is a bad ache in his lower back.
In Japan, artists whose manga are serialized in weekly magazines are expected to publish a chapter every week. Therefore, it’s rare that weekly manga artists like Yoshihiro Togashi go on hiatus this many times.
Yoshihiro Togashi is allowed to do that because of how big a hit Yu Yu Hakusho was. It’s impressive that a lot of fans are still waiting for his work. He was lately known as ‘the manga artist always on hiatus’ but there are a lot of people waiting for him to write again.
In recent years, it’s gotten more common for artists go on hiatus with a certain frequency. Japanese tend to overwork themselves in any industry, so it’s becoming more common to refrain from forcing overtime on employees.
Cosplayers of YuYu Hakusho | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Yu Yu Hakusho Started Out as an Occult Romantic Comedy
Yu Yu Hakusho started out as a romantic comedy with an occult element. Yusuke Urameshi, the protagonist, dies in an accident and then goes on various quests in order to come back to life.
Yoshihiro Togashi’s debut work is called Ten de Showaru Cupid, also a romantic comedy with an occult element. It is not well known in Japan but is a precious work that is evident of his early style.
The early period of Yu Yu Hakusho inherits the atmosphere found in these works. Yoshihiro Togashi has a tendency to use expressions you can find in shoujo manga, monologues, and subtle touches. He is quite influenced by shoujo manga and you can see it in the beginning of Yu Yu Hakusho.
Also, romantic comedy was very popular at that time and romantic comedy TV series and anime were big hits. It was natural that Togashi’s style would have been influenced by the hits of his times.
Action Suited to Shounen Jump
In the middle of the story, the action sequences increased and, like most Jump works, it started showing tournament-style battles. Yu Yu Hakusho became massively popular after it shifted into a battle manga.
For example, Kinnikuman is a Jump work which was serialized in the 80s. In its early period, it was a comedy manga with fights against gigantic monsters. However, it got really popular after it turned into a battle manga in which supermen fight each other.
The same is true of Dragon Ball, the worldwide smash hit. It was an adventure manga with a lot of gags in its early period. It got more popular after Akira Toriyama incorporated the famous tournament battle, Tenkaichi Budoukai. He never looked back and continued with that style of storytelling.
When Jump manga shift into a style that incorporates more battles, they become popular. Naturally, the same thing happened with Yu Yu Hakusho. Strong opponents appear one after another, and Yusuke, the protagonist, also gets stronger and stronger through training.
This is also a reflection of the Japanese bubble economy in the 90s. Japan had a booming economy in 1980s and an economy that soared. The escalating battles found in the anime are representative of the times in which they were published.
Mind Games and Intensifying Drama
In the last period of the title, there are more games of wit. Furthermore, there are no fight scenes as it gets closer to the end. However, Togashi-sensei created a deep drama that attracted readers. The middle of the story is basically battles between Yusuke as a human and his peers against bad specters. In the final section, dark aspects of human nature, refracted emotions, and the specters’ different situations are described.
This also reflects the times. In the 90s, the bubble economy collapsed. The booming economy suddenly turned into a recession. Yoshihiro Togashi reflected the atmosphere at that time in his works. The old fighting style didn’t work anymore. Then how do we fight? Is what we believed actually right?
This tendency of shifting into smart fighting methods was better expressed in Hunter × Hunter. Japan has been in a recession since the mid-90s. Worldwide, Japan is still relatively affluent, but a lot of Japanese people feel they are in a depression and are not making any progress. How do we survive in these times? From the late 90s to the 2000s, manga that show battles based on intellectual ability increased. This is a reflection of people seeking ways to fight in a confusing era. It can be said that the last period of Yu Yu Hakusho was ahead of its time.
A Title Ahead of its Time
Yu Yu Hakusho managed to gradually change its style from its early period through to its final one and still retain its main theme: that of a youthful story. This is because the characters are consistent! Knowing Yu Yu Hakusho is knowing Japan’ in the 1990s.