Yu Yu Hakusho, based on the manga by Yoshihiro Togashi, is one of the greatest anime stories of all time and would be a big draw in theatres if done correctly. The catch is, of course, Hollywood would have to do it correctly, and the odds of that happening are not too high. Let’s take a look at why Yu Yu Hakusho needs a live-action adaption — and why it doesn’t.
Thatres could potentially be packed from top to bottom by fans around the world raring to see a masterful retelling of the supernatural detective’s adventures. For an anime that had its last episode aired in Japan in 1994 and 2006 for America, Yu Yu Hakusho’s story has stood the test of time and still has a hold to the hearts of its loyal fanbase. When Funimation released the OVA specials “Two Shot” and “All or Nothing” in 2018, it generated tons of buzz among fans, showing just how much the show is missed amongst the anime community even though Yoshihiro Togashi hadn’t released any Yu Yu Hakusho related content in quite some time.
2009’s Dragon Ball Evolution is a prime example of why anime adaptations to the big screen are so risky. The world will never forget the cringe-worthy casting for some of the series most beloved characters — Goku, Bulma, Yamcha, Master Roshi, and Piccolo. Yu Yu Hakusho doesn’t deserve that treatment — getting the right cast that embodies the spirit of the anime is one of the most important steps. Even with good casting, however, there are some anime characters who are harder than others to replicate in live-action — especially when those characters have the ability to transform. Yusuke’s demon Mozaku form, Hiei’s green body full of eyes and Kurama’s fox-eared Yoko form may be challenging to portray realistically without looking silly and ludicrous.
It’s nothing for studios to produce accurate replicas of whole cities pulled straight from the panels of comics and manga. There have even been some amazing fanmade live-action anime trailers for shows like Dragonball Z, Naruto, etc. In the hands of professionals, ideally working with Yoshihiro Togashi as an advisor, we could get a chance to truly see the world through the eyes of Yusuke Yurameshi. The human, spirit and demon worlds would both be more detailed than ever, creating a marvelous cinematic universe for the movie(s) to thrive in.
There’s nothing worse than horribly overused CGI in an anime adapted movie. Things didn’t work well for The Last Airbender when it released in 2010. The animated effects and unique special attacks from Yu Yu Hakusho looked amazing in the anime — hastily converting them into CGI form could take away from the original appeal. CGI can often look unnatural and out of place if used poorly — see 2015’s Attack on Titan live-action adaption for example. In contrast, there are many cinematic gems that prove CGI isn’t always needed to turn action-packed scenes into visual marvels of beauty. Jet Li’s Hero had some of the most amazing martial arts visuals in cinematic history with little to no CGI use. Such practical stuntwork might be the best way to bring Yu Yu Hakusho‘s fight scenes to life.
Yu Yu Hakusho has some serious staying power in the anime community. Its story arcs are almost perfectly paced and could easily be divided up into satisfying movies. A good showing with the first film could produce some serious consideration for a long-term movie deal that adapts the entirety of the series. That means that Yu Yu Hakusho could realistically see four or five feature films covering the series’ all-time best stories — “The Dark Tournament” arc and “Demon World Tournament” arc. Imagine the thrill of seeing villains like the Toguro brothers and Sensui on the big screen!
Unfortunately, anime live-action movies don’t fare as well as their anime series counterparts. The potential for success is there, but it’s so rare that it would be like catching lightning in a bottle. Many potential franchises based on anime have died out. For instance, Speed Racer in 2008 was expected to be a box-office draw, but ended up a huge financial failure, so the planned sequel got shelved. Fans might still be campaigning for an Alita: Battle Angel sequel, but that’s also unlikely given the movie’s less-than-stellar domestic box office. Anime deserves more than what Hollywood’s managed for adaptations in terms of both movie quality and marketing strength.
The world of Yu Yu Hakusho isn’t technologically advanced or futuristic in any way, meaning that it could see an easy cost-effective transition from anime to live-action. Despite its age, it hasn’t become too culturally dated either. With the exception of the demons, it would generally be less difficult to Yu Yu Hakusho into a new live-action movie than it could be with other anime.
Yu Yu Hakusho is still beloved and cherished by anime fans from all over the world. There would be a lot of risks with producing a live-action movie adaptation — but the potential payoff would be huge.
The story of Yusuke Urameshi and his friends is one that could be a huge draw at the box office — but it's not without its risks.