Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie
Confusingly, there are in fact two different productions commonly referred to as 'Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie' (a.k.a., 'Poltergeist Report'). The one this review will concentrate on is the 1994 feature-length cinematic instalment in the same universe as the popular television series. (More on which below.) By far the meatier animation, it weighs in with a respectable 90-minute running time and has received a good DVD presentation by CPM.
(For the curious, the other 'movie' is actually a half-hour OVA and to my knowledge is only available on DVD as a Media Blasters double feature, sharing a disc with an unrelated 30-minute production called Ninku.)
Although Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie is an enjoyable watch, it does suffer from the standard failing of any film spin-off of an established series... which is to say, it makes little (or in this case, no) provision for introducing the audience to the show's key characters, instead assuming that there's no way people would be zany enough to just pluck the DVD off the animé shelf down at the local video emporium unless they were already fans of the TV series.
Fortunately, the basic premise and core characters of Yu Yu Hakusho can be summarised easily enough. Juvenile delinquent Yusuke gets killed at age 14 in the one noble and selfless act of his life... leaping in front of a car to push a small child out of harm's way. While his spectral form hovers about pondering what to do next, Botan (a guide from the ghost realm) sweeps down on a flying broomstick and helps him come to terms with the afterlife. After consulting with her superior (Koenma, the dummy-sucking son of the true lord of the Spirit Realm, who seems to be perpetually on holiday), it is decided that Yusuke will become a 'spirit detective' and troubleshoot problems on behalf of the Underworld.
He's given corporeal form once more and is trained in how to focus his spiritual energies for combat, and he discovers to his amazement that a few of his fellow mortals had actually mourned his death. Two of these are his 'girlfriend' Keiko and long-time rival Kuwabara (inexplicably changed to 'Kuwahara' in the English version). After the initial shock at seeing him walking around wears off, they decide to help, forming a trio which soon grows even larger with the addition of a couple of ex-demons (Hiei, Kurama) that decide to throw in with Team Yusuke after a few initial confrontations.
And that's about all the essential background you need to enjoy the film, which plays out like a lengthy episode of the TV series. (Only, obviously, with much higher production values.) The story here is that the Spirit Realm is under seige by Yakumo, the once-banished lord of the Netherworld, who seems to have some supernatural control over water. By the time Koenma realises what's going on, the River Styx has overflowed its banks and is flooding his palace. Before it's too late, he entrusts Botan with the mission of delivering a 'power sphere' to Yusuke, which will somehow help in the battle against Yakumo.
Of course, as is always the way, everything goes wrong for our heroes. First, Botan barely makes it out of the Spirit Realm in one piece, and by the time she reaches Yusuke she's in such poor condition that she can barely even deliver a message, much less the power sphere. While she's convalescing back at the local shrine that Yusuke and Company use as a headquarters, the lads seek out Hinageshi, who as far as I can work out is sort of a 'spirit guide in training'. (My impression is that she's a new character created just for the film... but I haven't seen all 112 episodes of the TV series, so I may be mistaken.)
With her help the gang is able to work out that they need to activate five key sites which act as spiritual foci to channel power from Earth to the Spirit Realm. (And yes, as usual all five are conveniently located not only in Japan, but within a few city blocks of one another!) Too bad then that Yakumo's demonic henchmen are already pursuing their own (slightly modified) plan... to destroy each of the five sites, which will allow Yakumo to harness their power instead, and convert Earth itself into a new Netherworld.
The rest plays out just as you would expect for a supernatural fantasy/action flick, with only one actual plot twist. As is to be expected for a shounen [boys'] title like this, there's a lot of epic battle sequences, flashy special attacks and super powers, and smirking villains. Although for much of the film the odds seem stacked hard against our heroes - I found myself on more than one occasion grumbling that the baddies seemed to be getting all of the lucky breaks - eventually Yusuke's mates go for the time-honoured 'one-on-one' approach to distract each of the three demon lords while Yusuke goes after Yakumo himself... and then onwards towards a very satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps it's just because I've seen them so recently, but it also occurs to me that Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie bears more than a passing resemblance to Demon City Shinjuku and X... which only goes to show that this particular story formula is both popular and successful in modern animé. It also means that if you liked either of those films, you're almost certain to like this one as well.
The film is presented in its original slightly-widescreen (looks like 1.66:1) aspect ratio, which gives it a very nice cinematic feel. The only drawback is that I double-checked my DVD player settings and this disc is definitely not anamorphic. (Of course, as far as I can tell from an online search there isn't another DVD release of Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie - much less an anamorphic one - available in any other region.)
The video quality here is generally excellent, only let down here and there by a persistent (albeit subtle) background grain and the occasional jaggies (aliasing) during camera pans. Colours are nice and strong, including those ever-important blacks. One thing that did annoy me - though not quite enough to dock the 'Video' score by another point - was seeing no less than seven instances of print damage (in the form of a muddy purple circle that hovers in the upper right corner of the frame) over the course of the show. Sure, these are small and each only lasts a second, but I'm pretty sure this visual distraction could have been cleaned up a bit for the DVD release.
Also, be advised that there is one (and thankfully only one) use of an overlay... at the start of the film, where the original Japanese title is partially-obscured by a clean-looking English version. As CPM made the overlay translucent, you can at least still read the original title through it, which makes it a lot easier to stomach.
As I said before, this show is packed with exciting, entertaining combat sequences, nice special effects, and fairly interesting monsters/demons. What I haven't mentioned yet are the relatively high levels of gore; although the violence here doesn't hold a candle to, say, Ninja Scroll, these are fairly bloody battles. Finally, on a personal note I wasn't thrilled with the character designs for Yu Yu Hakusho... for the most part they seem, well, unattractive. (Is it just me, or does Kuwabara look a lot like Beavis?)
This disc features a clean, basic Dolby Digital Stereo mix in both the original Japanese language as well as the English dub version. Everything certainly comes across clear without any problems, but don't expect to hear a lot of bass action, even in the heavy battle scenes; the sound here is always crisp rather than booming.
Dialogue is solid with no pops or dropouts. I watched the show through with the Japanese audio on, then spot-checked bits of the English track. I have to say, it's not a bad dubbing job... but the North American VA behind Hinageshi gave her this shrill, squeaky voice that's just a little too much for me to bear.
This is a fairly recent (end of 2002) Central Park Media release, and like some of the company's other newer titles, this disc features very professional-looking menus. First, however, you'll need to wade through the intro animations that play after you pop the disc in... my advice is to just hit the 'NEXT' button on your remote a couple of times to skip past them to the main menu.
It's a fully-animated design with two scrolling bands: one featuring headshots of the various key characters in motion behind the title font, the other a series of 'thumbnail' screens that fade in and out along the bottom edge. Underscoring all of this is a pleasant music track. The sub-menus offer all of the usual DVD functionality, including a still languages page, an animated scene-selection menu with a generous number of chapter breaks, and the standard CPM 'Special Features' and 'Sneak Peeks' screens.
The special features themselves are nothing that will have you dancing in the streets, but at least there're a handful of them. There's Central Park Media's standard hyperbrief advert for the 2003 'Big Apple Animé Fest', a trailer for Yu Yu Hakusho: The Movie, an art gallery with 18 still images, and a 'Meet the Reporters' section. Most of the work went into this last option, which gives you the opportunity to view capsule bios and short video clips for five of the protagonists (Yusuke, Kuwabara, Hinageshi, Hiei, and Kurama). This looks good and is helpful to YYH newbies, but we are left to wonder why newcomer Hinageshi makes the cut but a central character like Botan doesn't. Nor am I very fond of this policy several animé distributors seem to have of only listing the English dub actors' names, rather than giving equal credit to the original Japanese VAs, whose work in many cases is superior.
Anyway, these are minor complaints; the extras are what they are and the menus are interesting, attractive, and easy to navigate.
So what's the final verdict? If you're already a fan of Yu Yu Hakusho - not entirely unlikely, considering its immense popularity back in Japan and the fact that now it's been picked up for broadcast even by Western networks - then I'm confident you'll enjoy this film. (It even sneaks in a fair whack of character development for Kurama.)
On the other hand, if you're new to the YYH universe, this flick probably isn't the best introduction to it, and thus you need to decide whether you like supernatural fantasy/action shows (with lots of special effects and epic battles) well enough to chance not making heads or tails of the actual plot. If so, then it's still a buy.
Otherwise, I'd recommend taking in at least the first half-dozen episodes of the TV series before jumping into the fray. The fact is, although Yu Yu Hakusho is definitely built around the typical shounen animé model, it's the quirky characters that set it apart from other shows in that vein. But you won't work that out from just watching the film.