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Yu Yu Hakusho - Ghost Files
volume 1: Yusuke Lost, Yusuke Found
volume 2: Artifacts Of Darkness

director: Noriyuki Abe

200 minutes (PG) 2005
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning
Yusuke Urameshi is a 14-year-old delinquent hoodlum: fighting, cutting school, probably stealing and being rude to the elderly too. He's a bad egg. One day, as he's blithely playing truant, he sees a small boy run out into oncoming traffic. Yusuke dashes out into the road, pushing the child out of the way, and gets knocked down himself. Yusuke dies, and meets Botan, a remarkably youthful female ferry-person. She's waiting to ferry him to the land of the dead, but because he wasn't supposed to die yet (presumably he was going to be killed in a gang shooting or something), she's been told by her superiors to give him a second chance at life.

Perky and irritating Botan takes Yusuke to see Koenma, the son of Enma, ruler of the spirit world. Koenma gives Yusuke an egg, and tells him that unless he keeps the egg safe, he'll go to hell. If he keeps the egg until it hatches, the emergent animal will take on one of two forms: if Yusuke's managed to redeem his worthless hoodlum life by good deeds, the egg will bring him back to life. If not, a monster will emerge and eat his soul. Yusuke's got problems though. How is he supposed to redeem his life when he's a ghost and can't interact with the world? And, more pressing, how can he stop his body from being cremated? If he's got no body, he's got no way of returning to life!

Such is the story of volume one. The setup is refreshing - a thoroughly bad kid is forced to change his behaviour. There's a big plot hole though, or so it seems at first. If Yusuke is only doing good deeds to get his life back, what'll happen if and when he succeeds? He won't have learned anything except possibly new ways to exploit people. He'll be all set for a business career, but not improved at all. The writer (Yukiyoshi Ohashi) gets around this by having Yusuke attend his own funeral, and finding out that there are some people who actually liked him (or at least are sorry he's dead) and thought he had potential; and by letting him overhear some of his enemies' (teachers, in this case) plans to deal with other less-desirable children at school.

The series then becomes less about Yusuke and more about the other characters. As they develop, Yusuke and the audience learn more about them together. As he learns of their problems, he realises he can help other people and get back at his enemies at the same time, thereby not completely changing his spots overnight, but still improving as a person.

The first disc is an interesting and entertaining story, leading to Yusuke regaining his life. Disc two begins with Yusuke being told by Koenma that his troubles aren't over. He's only on probation, and now has to act as a 'spiritual detective', tackling monsters from the spirit world. And that's where the series falls down. Clearly, after the sensitive and thoughtful (but still entertaining to children) setup, the show is going to become a repetitive story: Yusuke's told about some monsters. He defeats them, with some help from his friends. Everyone learns something, and the world is safe again. Repeat ad infinitum. It's a disappointing descent into insipid storytelling, but children will love it, and the show is aimed at kids, after all.

What they might not love, however, is the quality of the animation. It's not of the highest quality: though it improves later in the series (so I'm told), the first two discs look decidedly old-fashioned, and children brought up on a diet of Yu-Gi-Oh, Monster Rancher and the like might be a bit disappointed. The voice acting is decidedly average here, and the show should really be seen subtitled if it's going to be enjoyed. Children aren't usually over-enamoured of subtitles, but at least it teaches them to read actual English rather than that atrocious 'text' ghetto-speak they're all fluent in. As a children's show, it's interesting, though far from the best. There is quite a bit of violence, which might not endear it to some parents, but it's no more violent than Dragonball Z, for example, and there's no blood. It's unlikely to captivate older audiences for longer than the first few episodes, however, unless they're fans of the genre. Solid, but hardly groundbreaking, the first disc is worth watching, as is the second, to a lesser degree, but there's a sinking feeling upon finding out that there's a total of 112 episodes, four specials and two movies...

Audio options are standard: Japanese and English 2.0 tracks. Subtitles come in English only. Special features are mostly standard, too: text-less opening and closing credits and character profiles. There's a nice set of 'name translations' too, detailing what the character names mean translated into English, which helps flesh out the characters a little more.

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