Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the most popular anime from the 90’s and is still one of the best in shounen genre. Specifically, it is known for its dark tournament arc that is crowned as the best tournament arc in anime from the 90’s.
What does it take to become one of the best Tournament Arcs in all of Anime history? Thrilling action, character development, new character introductions, awe-inspiring visuals, fluid battle sequences, exhilarating audio, solid plot, unforeseen twists, emotional weight, and memorable battles; there are so many aspects that work together to make the best setting for such a legendary competition. The premise is just as important, as beloved entities come together to put their skills to the ultimate test and dedicate themselves to emerge victoriously.
Yu Yu Hakusho Overview
Yu Yu Hakusho was originally a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi. It was serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump from December 1990 until July 1994.
It tells the tale of protagonist Yusuke Urameshi, who is a teenage delinquent who got killed by a car in an attempt to save a child’s life.
In the afterlife Underworld, Yusuke is revived and appointed as an “Underworld Detective”. He is tasked with investigating various cases involving demons and apparitions in the human world. To this day, the legacy of this iconic series remains revered and memorable through it all.
The Legendary Tournament Arc
The “Dark Tournament Saga” is the second arc and longest saga of Yusuke’s story. In the Manga, it spans from chapter 52 to 112, and in the Anime, from episode 26 to 66, making it the longest arc in the series.
This arc’s main focus is the Dark Tournament, a competition associated with wealthy humans held on the Hanging Neck Island.
This Dark Martial Arts competition consists of sixteen teams, each consisting of five fighters who battle for supremacy. Even now, the dark tournament arc is widely recognized as the Best Tournament arc of the 90s in all of Anime.
Dark Tournament – Summary
The tournament started with the Preliminary Round, which featured the return of Toguro and the departure to Hanging Neck Island.
Note: If you don’t know the characters mentioned below, you can read this post to get an idea about them and the world setting in Yu Yu Hakusho.
It is followed up by Round One, which features Team Urameshi versus Team Rokuyukai.
Round Two showcased Team Urameshi versus Dr. Ichigaki Team.
Round Three with Team Urameshi versus Team Masho.
And then the Semi-Finals boasting Team Urameshi versus Team Uraotogi and Genkai’s Death.
Following suit was the Finals with Team Urameshi versus Team Toguro and it concluded with a satisfying Epilogue.
So What Makes This Tournament Truly Iconic?
Despite first impressions, the Dark Tournament is a vile martial arts competition.
It is organized by greedy and sadistic human crimelords, which draws the attention of wretched demons in the Spirit World. Wealthy human gamblers and businessmen flock to the tournament, aiming to place bets and to derive entertainment from the fights. The demons enter in search of blood and the enticing chance to wish for anything they want.
The very idea of mercy does not exist within this bloody tournament, and any tactic to defeat the opponent is accepted. The stage is one where only the strongest combatant may prevail.
The Versus Fights
The Final holdings of the Dark Tournament included Team Urameshi, Team Rokuyukai, Dr. Ichigaki Team, Team Masho, Team Uraotogi, Team Toguro, Team Gokai Six, Spirit Warriors, and Team Gorenja.
Urameshi vs. Rokuyukai started up the battles eventfully, with action-packed one-on-one fights.
After which, Team Urameshi vs. Dr. Ichigaki fight took place. It was a three-on-three battle royale where both teams end up missing two fighters.
Team Urameshi vs. Masho consisted of one-on-one elimination matches.
Urameshi vs. Uraotogi had one-on-one matches, determined via rolling six-piece dice, with each face representing a team member.
Finally came the Urameshi vs. Toguro brawl, featuring one-on-one matches with the overall victory determined via most points. The Team Captain match, however, was granted two points instead of one. This is the pinnacle of the tournament, featuring interesting matchups and game-changing battles. It had the biggest handicap of them all: the Team Owner dies if their team loses.
The Exciting Final Round
Starting it off was the Kurama vs. Karasu battle, which yielded the ultimate victory to Karasu. Karasu won posthumously and was also killed in the fight, but being able to down Kurama for more than 10 counts first granted team Toguro victory.
This was followed by the Hiei vs. Bui match where the winner was Hiei.
The Kuwabara vs. Elder Toguro match gave Kuwabara victory. In this legendary battle, Elder Toguro reveals that Genkai was killed by his own younger brother just two days prior to the tournament finals.
The following Yusuke vs. Younger Toguro match gave victory to Yusuke.
Finally came the Koenma vs. Sakyo match, from which Koenma emerged victoriously. Sakyo and Koenma were the only ones there to fill up the space for their own Teams in order to compete rather than fight. What made this last battle even more iconic was the fact that Sakyo bet his own life and match on Yusuke and Toguro’s battle, essentially making their fight worth 2 points. However, the Tournament ends with victory for Team Urameshi. Sakyo stayed true to his word and activated a self-destruct protocol on the arena, which in turn collapsed and killed him. With the Black Black Club dead, the Dark Tournament was permanently canceled.
The Committee Behind The Tournament
The Dark tournament is headed by a committee of several wealthy humans, who possess limitless power in all event circumstances. They are also responsible for awarding the champions the granting of one wish. The saga showcases just how corrupt this committee is. They are often abusing their authority to overrun legitimate decisions by referees at the expense of multiple teams.
However, this unfair cycle is stopped at the semi-finals, as younger Toguro kills Butajiri, the man who was paying the committee to make unreasonable decisions against Team Urameshi. Albeit all their corruption and greed, they showed disgust at Sakyo’s plan to open the gate to the demon world and swore to stop him. The committee also invites Special guests to fight in the tournament. But under the guise of this honor, they are given no choice but to fight, all leading up to unnecessary deaths. If the fighter is absent, they are included in a kill list to be murdered by an assassin.
The Grand Prize
The Grand prize of the Dark Tournament was one wish for each person of the victorious team. While the Toguro Brothers wished to be converted into demons of the highest class, Genkai wished to never be a part of a tournament like this ever again.
Following their victory, Team Urameshi collectively wished for the resurrection of Genkai. What added to this finale was the irony in the fact that Toguro granted Hiei’s wish when he secretly murdered the committee for Sakyo.
Kuwabara simply wished for fame, enough reputation to scare off would-be attackers from Yukina.
Following the fight with Younger Toguro, this Saga served to change Yusuke’s perspective on power. Yusuke’s beliefs were challenged when he witnessed a human-turned-demon desperate to draw out his inner strength. It showed him what the desire for power can do to a person. He realised that power was meant to protect rather than destroy.
Furthermore, this tournament fueled Genkai’s desire for a successor. Her backstory was expanded upon, and her desperation to ensure Yusuke completely mastered her techniques before she passed on was evident during their training. The arc showcased how she knew her time was coming and wanted to make sure she didn’t regret choosing Yusuke.
Furthermore, the main characters had an incredible opportunity for growth and development as a result of this saga. Each fight revealed a character’s history, as well as the source of their strengths and weaknesses. Fans would be able to better understand and relate to them, as well as root for them.
Team Urameshi grew closer as well, demonstrating that even demons and humans can work together. It’s a treat in and of itself to watch them gradually overcome their initial awkwardness and begin to trust each other. Hiei gains the ability to be himself in the presence of others, which is more refreshing than it appears on paper.
The cherry atop the cake is that the Dark Tournament was the one that popularized Tournament Arcs in Shounen anime to this day. This has become a common trope in Modern-day battle series, giving characters a chance to show their skills and an avenue for character development. Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the first-ever anime to popularize tournament-style fighting and the Dark Tournament is the absolute pinnacle of it in the 90s.
In conclusion, the Dark Tournament Saga featured numerous distinct characters with minimum cliches, a compelling plot, major character development, multiple unprecedented twists and turns, an absolute roller coaster of emotions, and epic fights which are ever so unique. What does it lack? Absolutely nothing. This is the pinnacle of an awesome tournament arc and it is what every other Battle Shounen anime out there must aspire to have. To this day, Yu Yu Hakusho’s Dark Tournament Saga is legendary and is without a doubt the best tournament arc of 90s Anime by virtue of all the aspects done just right!
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