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Yu Yu Hakusho: Episode 1
TV Show
Cartoon Network
A classic shounen series done right by FUNimation. Who'd a thunk it?
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
Yu Yu Hakusho: Episode 1
By Glenn Bryce

When I first read Cartoon Network's new Adult Swim lineup, I couldn't believe it. Yu Yu Hakusho on American cable TV? Everyone has one anime series that gets them out of the Dragon Ball/Sailor Moon phase, and Yu Yu Hakusho was mine. I've seen every episode that's been fansubbed about a dozen times, and I know the series inside and out. Out of curiosity, I watched the premiere of Yu Yu Hakusho on Adult Swim - mostly because I wanted to know what kind of a job FUNimation did on it. We all know how bad their Dragon Ball Z dub was, and I wanted to see if their treatment of YYH would be similar. As a long-time YYH fan, I felt that if anyone was qualified to judge how faithful FUNimation's dub was, it was me.

In a nutshell, Yu Yu Hakusho is about a tough high school kid named Yuusuke who dies and is brought back to life as a spiritual detective. He and his companions solve cases and hunt down fugitives from the underworld. I'm not going to go into the story here in much depth, since there are plenty of places online with YYH info. This article is primarily a review of FUNimation's dub as compared with the original series.

So I hit record on my VCR, sat back with chips & pop, and watched with anticipation. The Adult Swim disclaimer came on, and the first thing I saw was Botan, the blue-haired oar-riding angel of death, doing a cute little spin with the "whoosh!" sound effect that signals the beginning of the Yu Yu Hakusho theme, "Hohoemi no Bakudan." This was a huge surprise; was Cartoon Network actually going to show the original Japanese opening to the show, complete with animation and music? Yu Yu Hakusho has one of my favorite soundtracks of any series, and all of the opening and ending songs are excellent.

But as the opening continued, I realized that even though the animation was the same, the theme song was literally translated into English. Now, the Yu Yu Hakusho theme, like many other anime theme songs, sounds good but doesn't really make any sense or have anything at all to do with the series. It's not as noticeable in Japanese, since I can forget about how inane the lyrics are, but the English word-for-word translation didn't sound half as good as the original version. Still, I saw promise in this, because the use of the original opening music and animation (including kanji for the credits, if I'm not mistaken) showed respect for the original medium that the DBZ dubs sometimes lacked.

I was impressed with the voice acting in the dub. Yuusuke's voice is perfect, as is his sort-of-girlfriend Keiko's. They both have semi-generic voices that aren't distracting, but have enough emotion to make their characters work. Yuusuke has this weird thing where he sometimes sounds like Fred from Scooby-Doo, but it doesn't happen enough to be a nuisance.

This is not to say that the voices are perfect, however. Yuusuke's rival, Kuwabara, has a voice that makes him sound like a big dumb muscle-bound extra from DBZ, which might get annoying in the long run. In the Japanese series, Kuwabara is goofy looking and has a goofy voice, but he's not stupid by any means. In fact, since he's the weakest of the spiritual detectives for a large part of the series, he has to defend himself with brains instead of brawn. He's even smarter than Yuusuke, in a pinch. Thus, my first impression of Kuwabara wasn't a good one. Later in the episode, however, there's a scene of Yuusuke's wake where Kuwabara shows a lot of emotion, and it was pulled off well. That scene redeemed Kuwabara in a sense, because it showed that his voice actor could, well, act.

The biggest letdown was Botan's voice. In the Japanese series, Botan has a young, girlish voice, but in the dub they gave her a fake British accent. Why? I mean, a British accent would be OK, but get a real Brit to do it! As it is, it fades in and out, like she can't decide what she's supposed to sound like. It gives her an almost matronly air, instead of the bubbly personality she has in the Japanese version.

The thing that impressed me most was how little they actually changed. All of the music is the same as the original. That blew me away. I was totally expecting DBZ-style video game techno music, but not only did they leave in the excellent original score, it sounded like they either remastered or rerecorded all of it for the dub, because the quality is excellent. They left in the classic YYH eyecatch, and had only one commercial break in the middle of the show, Japanese-style, instead of breaking it up into thirds like they did with DBZ.

The dialogue is almost word-for-word perfect, which has the added bonus of making all the characters faithful to their Japanese counterparts. There were only a few seconds of censorship, involving a boob or panty joke near the beginning, but I assume that was Cartoon Network's doing instead of FUNimation's. The only major difference was the preview of the next episode, for which they changed the music and the voiceover. In the Japanese version, Yuusuke always does the preview, but Botan did it in the first episode of the dub. Still, the faithfulness to the original series was striking. FUNimation put a lot of work into this series to make it a quality production, and it shows.

All in all, I'm VERY impressed with the job FUNimation did with this. It's like they're atoning for their treatment of DBZ, which many fans of that original series hated with a passion. I do want to catch the next few episodes, because there are a few more characters whose voices I want to check out. One voice I'm hoping they do right is that of Koenma, the interim ruler of the underworld who happens to be a baby. He's a huge character later in the series, and hopefully they don't make me listen to a whiny kid's voice.

But based on this first episode, there's not much I personally would have done differently. I never thought I'd be saying this, but FUNimation has an excellent dub here. I wouldn't mind filling in the gaps of the episodes I've seen with FUNimation's dub, although they are scheduled to release bilingual DVDs. That would be great, since right now the only way to see the whole series in English is on the atrocious Hong Kong bootleg DVD set, which seems to have been translated by Koko the sign-language gorilla.

In short, I liked this dub. It wasn't perfect, but it was damn close - way closer than I was expecting. To tell the truth, I'm really picky when it comes to dubs; usually I refuse to watch them. But not only did I not refuse to watch this one, I'll watch it again, and that's a huge compliment.

So bravo, FUNimation. All that mean stuff I said about you back when I was obsessed with DBZ, I take it all back. You have redeemed yourself.

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