When something in pop culture makes an impact on the world, it is important to recognize it and, when enough time has passed, to look back on it with proper respect and admiration. Sometimes, this has been done well (like Blade Runner 2049 or Battlestar Galactica) and sometimes poorly (such as Zoolander 2 or Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) . Big anniversaries should be celebrated, not overlooked.
Twenty-five years ago in 1993, several important things happened in the pop culture world. Classic movies like Jurassic Park and The Sandlot were released. TV shows like Frasier and Animaniacs debuted. Bill Clinton was sworn in as president of the United States. Some of these moments are fondly remembered, and other milestones are forgotten. The Jurassic Park franchise continues to churn out movies (some for better, some for worse). But when was the last time to you watched (or even thought about) Animaniacs? As for Bill Clinton…well, I guess he’s still around. Let me turn our attention to a landmark anime first released at the same time.
Twenty-five years ago, Yoshirio Togashi’s graphic novel series Yu Yu Hakusho received its anime adaptation. Never heard of it? You might be more familiar with the more popular series Dragon Ball Z, which is best known for its muscle-bound characters who are always trying to get stronger and its near-endless fights (and increasingly ridiculous stakes).
The seminal work Yu Yu Hakusho, though not as popular as Dragon Ball Z, has made a major impact on the world of anime. Why is this impressive? Consider the fact that the anime finished airing in 1994, and no new content has been released since then. 1 It was a short run of just over two years, which is brief when we think about television series. Some of the most acclaimed series take two years just to warm up before they start releasing their best stuff. Think of Breaking Bad or Seinfeld. Great series from the start, but few people would contend that their first seasons are their best.
The impact of Yu Yu Hakusho is seen in the anime that followed it. 2 Along with overt influence played out in other anime series, there are also an abundance of subtle influences the series has had in terms of solid character-development in an action series. We can think about the way that Star Wars impacted science fiction movies or how Die Hard changed the action movie genre. Yu Yu Hakusho similarly had long-lasting effects in anime.
To celebrate this milestone anniversary, Studio Pierot, the people who produced the original anime series, decided to release a series of four blu-ray box sets for the series, each covering a major arc of the series. The last of these will be released tomorrow, October 26, along with something additional included.
Two stories, previously exclusive to the graphic novels (including how two central characters first met) will come on this box set. 25 years later, and we are getting new content! In addition, the studio is bringing back the original voice cast for the specials (both for Japanese and English). 3
This, to me, is how you honor a classic series. You recognize what was already good about it and present it to a new audience of fans. In addition, something new is added, but that something new fits in the story and doesn’t change it. Both stories take place within the context of the original anime (even though one occurs just before the closing episode) and further flesh-out the world.
A bad attempt to honor a classic series will just to try to make some money. Think about all the movie sequels being made these days and reboots of old TV series, with little efforts at adding new refreshing content. Movie studios and television companies can simply toss out a recognizable character or storyline, and the past success will be enough for it to turn a profit. 4 Instead, Studio Pierot decided to stay within the world and build on the already established characters and relationships. It does not alter the source material nor change the trajectory of the final episodes, but instead honors them.
As we look back on the stories that shaped our lives, it is important to see them as they are. Yu Yu Hakusho had a beginning, middle, and end, and in a world where other anime series like Dragon Ball and One Piece never seem to end, that is refreshing. I for one hope that this new release helps a new generation to come to know a classic.
Isn’t that one of the best hopes we can have for a new release or a tribute? That it will point us back to the original and inspire a new generation to see it for the first time?
Yu Yu Hakusho was the first anime I watched in its entirety, back when I was in high school. And the story itself left an impact on me. I marvelled at the way the characters faced incredible odds, and I never lost my suspension of disbelief as the stakes got higher.
What were some of the first series that you watched? How did those series impact you?
As I look back on it now, I am thoroughly impressed by the nuance given to each character and the way that they all grew (even the minor characters) as the plot progressed. Here’s hoping that somebody else will take the chance to encounter this beautiful series and grow from it as well. That’s what a good tribute is all about.
Cover image courtesy of FlickrCC user Robert.
- When I went to St. Louis’ anime convention this year, I bonded with a person over our love of this series and still saw a number of people dressed as characters from the series. ↩
- Most notably in Togashi’s other famous work Hunter x Hunter (which received two separate anime releases and whose manga continues to the present day). Bleach, one of the most popular anime from my teenage years, draws heavily on Yu Yu Hakusho. ↩
- As someone who remembers how Yu Yu Hakusho’s two movies were dubbed by different voice casts, I cannot overstate how grateful I am for this piece of news. ↩
- I’m looking at you, Dragon Ball GT ↩