The opening volumes, where they try and put Yusuke’s personality on track, was what started to pull me in. He reminds me a lot of Onizuka, another character I loved, in that he’s so wonderfully flawed. You don’t see Goku having some sudden epiphany and becoming a better person because he’s already sitting in the Lawful Good alignment to start with; there’s not a whole lot of room there for progression. By contrast, the delinquent is a great character to make the protagonist because he can’t be perfect and he has to grow at some point. Starting the series off dead and in need of redemption really gives that development a kick in the pants too. Of course, Yusuke never makes it marginally close to being paragon of justice. He is generally good, has a sense of justice, and cares about his friends mind you, but ultimately he just wants a good brawl, and saving the world in the process is gravy.
This leads into the other characters. Kuwabara is another delinquent who is determined to become more powerful that Yusuke some day. Since he’s not the main character, you can guess how well this is going to work out. He grows in a much different direction though, motivated by a few events in the story (one seemingly minor) and his blinding determination to never give up. Kurama is a formerly powerful demon that has been stuck inside of a human’s body. Forced to see life through humanity’s eyes, he reforms his ways and becomes a protector of the race. Finally, Hiei is an enigma for the majority of the series, you don’t even find out much of his motivations until the final arc. Even he develops a minor form of justice and a grudging respect for Yusuke. Overall, I loved these characters and their interactions throughout the story. Their personality clashes allow for a decent bit of levity to lighten up the fighting backdrop.
If you’re looking for a story, well, it’s a good thing there’s strong characters, because this is a Shonen series. You should check your story at the door. But, a plot still exists, and there are definite motivations to the characters’ actions. A few of the villains can even be painted as a bit unfortunate in their path to evil (or are they really evil?). The ending theme and eventual moral to this whole story is the same as that which Nippon Ichi has taken and ran with for the past few years. Light is not good and dark is not bad. Judging people based on stereotypes and what you’ve always been taught to believe is never the way to go; each being deserves to be looked at based on their own merits and shortcomings. Given that’s the conclusion, it’s natural that Yusuke ends up being a mostly neutral aligned character. Beyond that, like every shonen, there’s going to be those ludicrous points (such as the entire final arc), but just sit back and let it pay off on sheer enjoyment factor, because it will.
Manga pretty well rests on the art style, and this series doesn’t disappoint. I don’t know how many times I looked at a fight scene… then went back again… and again. They’re drawn well, lots of action and explosions and all that greatness. As a warning though, the further you get in the series, the more gore you’re going to see. Backgrounds are well drawn when they’re the focal point of the panel, and take a natural backseat in quality and appearance when they’d end up detracting from the main attraction. The same process applies to the character designs, and they’re generally in that decent to good range that you get in this genre. I do have to say that I liked a lot of the enemy characters, for appearing for such a short time there’s some original design put into them. In particular, I really liked Younger Toguro’s design.
Bottom line, this is a shonen series; you know roughly what to expect in this territory. If you like the genre then I’m going to wonder why you haven’t read this yet. If you’re not much of a fan, this series might not convert you, but it’ll still be a pretty good ride throughout.
Final Score: 8/10 SPIRIT SHOTGUNS!