20 of 20 chapters read
If you have read any of Tezuka's other works, then the artwork will come as no surprise. The Disney influences are as apparent as ever, with cartoony characters that are often drawn with long and exaggerated body parts. However, there are times when the mangaka goes for shocking realism, which really adds to many of the scenes. Tezuka takes more risks in this work, going for a darker, almost film-noir feel with overwhelming shadows and interesting uses of lighting. Characters are even sometimes drawn in a sketchy style, lending significantly to the manga's dark and uncertain feel.
And it is not just the art: the entire graphic novel is one of the darkest pieces that Tezuka has ever written. Like with The Book of Human Insects, Osamu Tezuka has seemed to check his humor at the door. I noticed only two instances of gags in the whole work, despite the fact that Tezuka is well known, and often criticized, for his all too frequent use of jokes, especially at inappropriate times. This is probably for the better since Ode to Kirihito deals with some heavy themes such as persecution, rape, isolation, psychological damage, slavery, and humanity to name a few.
Characters are interesting and varied, with most given enough time to grow and become fully fleshed out. They can be far more complex than they first seem, with even the most vile of characters given human emotion and a chance for redemption. Tezuka really uses the entire cast to his full advantage, blurring the lines between beast and man and making each person feel important to the story as a whole. Unfortunately, with such a strong overall cast, it does sometimes feel like there are some missed opportunities with Kirihito, who does not even feel present for a large part of the manga. We often see him jump between many stages of his life but not the actual transitions. However, this is a minor point in category that Tezuka excels in.
When Tezuka is at the top of his game, he can forge together a story that interesting, poetic, poignant, important, and imaginative. In Ode to Kirihito, Tezuka is undoubtedly at the top of his game. The story follows many different story lines, all of which take interesting turns and all contribute to what Tezuka has to say about what it really means to be human. Without spoiling too much, you can rest assured that the actual plot is on par with Tezuka's most revered works, such as Phoenix. Sometimes the situations can seem a little too extreme, but that's also part of the fun.
Tezuka's story-telling is extremely experimental, with panels that spiral in or explode out of the page. Some pages seem to mimic a film strip, emphasizing the progression of character expressions. When done well, his style really pays off, though sometimes the overemphasis on certain scenes can mess up the pacing a bit. Furthermore, the experimental style, though interesting, can take readers out of the experience and make them all too aware that they are reading a manga, which is not generally desired. The manga is also filled with Christian imagery, which unlike in Neon Genesis Evangelion, feels important without being overbearing.
With Ode to Kirihito, Tezuka beautifully weaves together a fascinating drama that is fantastic in almost every aspect. His medical background often makes it difficult to separate fact and fiction, and indeed, the manga shapes up to be one Tezuka's most realistic works, both in story and in style. Tezuka is one of the few artists who seems to be able to seamlessly blend art and entertainment, creating one of his finest tales with Ode to Kirihito. read more
175 of 176 chapters read
Drawn in a cartoony style, the art of the series is functional, but never really dazzles. The style, however, is very easy on the eyes and lends itself quickly to the over-the-top nature of the action and humor of the series. The art does mature over the course of the series, becoming quite good at certain spots, but unfortunately suffers severely near the end as the mangaka was plagued with stress. Since a large majority of the manga takes place in tournaments, there is usually a lack of interesting settings and backgrounds. The character models, though, are interesting and varied, especially with the demons.
Luckily the characters themselves are just as colorful as the designs, with interesting personalities which become fairly well fleshed out. The main character requires a bit of suspension of disbelief to swallow at first, since we are told that he is this extremely evil delinquent even though he barely looks or acts the part. Besides this point, Yusuke is quite a likeable character, having the same kind of draw as other shonen leads who are extremely blunt and tend to decide things with their fists (e.g. Monkey D. Luffy). The other protagonists are perhaps even more interesting, though they all tend to be fairly straightforward. The antagonists actually have the most backstory and we slowly realize that almost everyone believes they are fighting for a just cause, though truly despicable characters still exist for those who like that.
Yu Yu Hakusho has no overarching story connecting the story arcs, of which there are surprisingly few. Though this is not inherently a negative point, it would have made more sense if there was something more driving the main characters to accomplish their goals. Even Yusuke's desire to become stronger lasts only within the specific arcs.
The story begins with short stand-alone tales as Yusuke solves miscellaneous problems using solutions that only a delinquent would think up. These stories, though a bit predictable, offer some great tales with shonen sensibilities. After two volumes, the story quickly becomes a battle manga, and it is at this point that the story takes a nose dive in quality. The plot becomes formulaic and fights often employ nonsensical, arbitrary rules. Even more bizarre is that the protagonists easily accept these unnecessary constraints even if they are winning. Being all about the fights, one would expect to see these characters training frequently, but the manga skips all of it, so that when a character does become stronger, it seems out of nowhere and lacks the payoff that a manga of this nature would traditionally have.
Worse still is Yoshihiro Togashi's all too frequent use of deus ex machina to solve almost every conflict. Characters often comment that good luck follows those with strong powers, but it becomes very tiresome when a solution comes out of the blue with very little logical progression. In almost every situation, some conflict is set up, the protagonist is losing pretty badly, and suddenly some random event occurs to allow the protagonist to completely overpower their opponent.
The true tragedy, however, is that the story actually has a lot going for it. Revelations about the antagonists and even about the spiritual world itself are actually very interesting and defy the traditional one-dimensional nature of similar manga. However, these points often come far too late and are given too little attention to make any serious impact. For example, an important development regarding King Enma comes at the very end as hearsay during an offhanded remark.
This would have been acceptable if the mangaka spent his energy in a more appropriate spot. However, the fights, which should be the main attraction of the manga, quickly become disappointing. They almost always involve one person completely dominating the other, with very little ingenuity in the fights. When the fights should be interesting, they are quickly glossed over and ignored. For instance, the highly anticipated fight between Yusuke and Hiei begins, and then is completely disregarded in a single panel reading “And many hours later.” In fact, the entire final arc cuts off right before the most interesting fights begin, and never pick up again.
Even significant improvements to characters' abilities are ignored. Kurama, a demon fox trapped as a human, finally masters the ability to go between his human and demon form at will only to use that ability once on an enemy no one really cared about. Yomi's son's development is a large focus of the final arc, only for him to be quickly removed from the plot, never fighting against any of the protagonists. This is an unfortunate pattern that plagues almost every character's finishing moves, and even characters themselves. The series plays its cards in the wrong areas, leaving too many problems in too many places.
While Yu Yu Hakusho's style and genre would imply a younger, shonen audience, some of the themes involved in the story are inappropriate for younger children. Yusuku's mother apparently gave birth at fourteen, and it is heavily implied that she works as a prostitute. Some of the characters are driven to evil because of some really disturbing pasts, such as a life as a sex slave or watching extreme videos depicting graphic torture. In fact, alcohol is even given to young children (as in under the age of ten). While the series is never extremely dark or graphic, the themes do exist in the story.
While my review may appear to be extremely critical, I did still enjoy Yu Yu Hakusho, especially the first half of the series. Despite many setbacks, the series can still be a ton of fun. For people who are dying to read a good shonen manga, I would say “Go for it.” With the popularity and acclaim that the series has reached, it is clear that many enjoy the manga. If story is something that is really important to you, then you may want to pass for something else. read more