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Author’s note: As mentioned in the series of reviews, this is a review of the English dub version of this arc, in case there is any misinterpretation of the comments.
“Lead them well, son.”Raizen.
Unfulfilled potential is one of the most annoying things in storytelling. Having a great idea and not delivering it to the fullest of its capacity is something that can irk even the most loyal fans, which is something that happened to Yoshihiro Togashi in the final arc of Yu Yu Hakusho, Three Kings.
As I mentioned in my previous review of Chapter Black, Togashi was going through some personal and health issues around the time he was finishing that arc and it showed: what was an experimental, thought-provoking and ambitious arc ended up in what could be viewed as half-assed, if I may say so. It’s understandable, but that is the reality of the matter and it also influenced the Three Kings arc.
This arc is not awful by any means, but it does feel underwhelming when you consider that this is the final saga of one of the best stories that manga and anime have to offer. The Three Kings arc is a testimony of what wasted potential is and I’m going to talk about many different elements that led to this in terms of storytelling.
The Plot Of Three Kings
After Yusuke defeats Sensui with the help of his ancestral demon father, he goes back to the human world and spends his days in a state of frustration. Spirit World has discharged him from his duties as Spirit Detective due to his demon blood and Koenma lets him know that they are both fugitives. But eventually, Yusuke gets an invitation from the people that serve his demon father, Raizen, to let him know that he is dying due to not eating humans for centuries and want Yusuke to come back to help when the time comes for his passing.
Meanwhile, we discover that the Demon World is ruled by three kings, one being Raizen, another being a man called Yomi, and another mysterious individual called Mukuro. Both Yomi and Mukuro call Kurama and Hiei respectively so they can side with them and help when the ensuing war takes place after Raizen dies because the balance of the three kings would be lost and one of them wants to take over.
This is how the plot of the Three Kings arc takes place.
Lack Of Development
This image right here is a shot of a flashback that tells us about Raizen’s past and how Yusuke ended up having demon blood. It’s a nice flashback, but we only get it right before Raizen dies. It’s as much exposure as we’ll get for his character throughout the entire arc and this is a fundamental problem with the Three Kings saga as a whole.
The arc has a ton of new characters and ideas, but pretty much nobody is fully developed. I would say that the only one that gets enough screen time to develop in a logical manner is Yomi, who happens to be the final antagonist, but goes from a cold, calculative ruler to a father that has basically rediscovered his passion for fighting and living through his battle with Yusuke. But even then, his time with his son, Shura, seems forced at best, and is quite telling that the final boss of the series gets to be the only one with any real development.
The main focus of this arc is Yusuke going to Demon World to connect with his demon ancestors and find peace of mind after Raizen “stole” his victory away from him against Sensui. But we don’t see a lot of that going on when it comes to Yusuke: he spends a whole year training with Raizen and his men, but we hardly ever see him interacting with them. This is his demon father and we only get three quality interactions throughout the arc: when they meet, when Raizen dies and when Yusuke visits his grave before leaving Demon World. That’s it. It’s not enough.
The same goes for Hiei and Kurama. We get to explore a lot more of their background and what makes them tick, but everything feels rushed and unearned. I love Hiei’s chemistry with Mukuro and their final battle in the Demon Tournament is fantastic and very poignant, but we haven’t seen enough of them together to truly feel that connection blossom the way it should.
At least when it comes to Kurama, his issues with his past as Yoko Kurama have been a running issue with his character development since the beginning of the show, so in a way, it works a bit better than with Yusuke and Hiei. His chemistry with Yomi is quite good and their relationship feels organic, especially when it comes to showing how much Kurama has changed since he moved to the human world.
While this is the main focus of the arc, it doesn’t happen enough and it doesn’t develop in a satisfying manner. Elements such as Raizen and his relationship with Yusuke, Raizen’s buddies, the tension between Kurama and Yomi, Yomi creating a son out of nowhere for convenient reasons and all of the sudden acting like a proper father figure, Kurama training the survivors of the Dark Tournament only for that to be completely useless later on… there are a lot of ideas that were not explored enough to make this final arc satisfying and a worthy sendoff to such a great anime and manga.
It’s pretty telling that the anime studio actually had to create a final battle between Yomi and Yusuke because the manga didn’t have one. Yusuke just pasts out and we find out that he lost. Once again, I fully understand Togashi’s struggles at the time, but its such a shame that a remarkable story like this one had to get such a rushed ending.
I have heard and read a lot of Yu Yu Hakusho fans stating that Kuwabara not being part of this arc made a lot of sense because the power scaling became much too great and he wasn’t going to be strong enough to have any impact in the story moving forward. And to that, I say that is a lot of crap.
If Togashi wanted, Kuwabara could have been an active player in this arc. Heck, his dimensional sword, which was one of the main plot threads of the previous Chapter Black arc, is strong enough to beat most demons. The writer can always find a way to make his characters relevant and this is something that Togashi would excel at in Hunter X Hunter a few years later.
That one of your main characters suddenly disappears from the final arc is a very telling sign that things were not going to work out, especially when you consider that Kuwabara was now the only fully human character from the group after Yusuke’s heritage was revealed. This is a very important element that could have played an interesting dynamic. Perhaps Kuwabara decides to go with Yusuke to help him out. Perhaps Spirit World asks him to keep an eye on Yusuke. I don’t know. But you can’t just cast aside such an important character in the final arc.
The Demon World Tournament
I love tournament arcs. They are fun, they have a simple yet enjoyable structure and they work extremely well with anime. Having said all that, the reality is that the Demon World Tournament wasn’t good, even if it had some good moments like the fight between Mukuro and Hiei or the one between Yusuke and Yomi because of the emotional elements that both of these battles had.
The problem with this tournament is that is extremely rushed and you know by process of elimination that one of Yomi, Mukuro or one of Raizen’s friends that have been deemed almost as powerful as them. Plus, by the time we get to the tournament portion of this arc, we don’t have enough episodes to fully explain and justify a different outcome. That takes away a lot of the excitement and the tension.
On the other hand, there is enough time to develop the characters and make most fights interesting. This tournament feels like a very notorious contrast to the Dark Tournament in a very negative manner. And I would say that another tournament arc in this series feels repetitive and a bit watered down.
The perception was that we were going to see a full-blown war between three demon kingdoms, but we get very little of that tension, of the Demon World politics, of the differences between the three kings, and so on. There is very little world-building in this arc and it shows during the tournament.
I wasn’t against one of Raizen’s friends winning the tournament, but the reality is that you don’t build a connection with those characters and while I can understand the arc ending that way, it feels a bit hollow and shallow, which is adjectives I should never use to describe a story penned by Togashi.
Not enough of… well, everything
Yu Yu Hakusho is a story that thrived because of its amazing characters, exciting stories, subtle twists that broke shonen tropes at the time, great battles, and notorious character development.
We don’t get enough of any of those things in the Three Kings arc.
This part might be more of a general criticism rather than pointing out something specific, but it irks me how this arc doesn’t fully explore any different area of the series. It just seems to stretch to the finishing line without making any section feel worthy of what we have seen in previous arcs.
Chapter Black didn’t have a lot of amazing fights. I can accept that. But it was mostly focused on strategy, philosophy, and morality, which is one of the things that always made Yu Yu Hakusho so enthralling as a series: the capacity to make you think and offer deep, powerful character moments. And we don’t see that here.
I mean, I liked how Yusuke earned Yomi’s respect. I loved the relationship between Mukuro and Hiei. I loved Yusuke saying goodbye to Raizen in his grave. I loved the final episode. But I think it was more about the moment than the actual build-up to said moment and that is where Three Kings falls apart as a story: there is not enough material to make the conclusions feel logical and satisfying.
It’s very sad because here you have the potential for an epic story and one that could be a powerful ending to a powerful franchise, but, sadly, the timing was not on Togashi’s side and things didn’t go as we would have liked.
The Three Kings is, at the end of the day, a disjointed mess. I hate to say it because Yu Yu Hakusho has become one of my favorite anime and Togashi one of my favorite authors, but that is the reality: it’s a story that lacks a lot of consistency, doesn’t have a clear direction and has a lot of ideas that are wasted because the people in charge are more worried about sprinting to the finishing line.
I think the saddest part is that Togashi willingly ended the series this way because of his problems, which I understand, but I find it disappointing because I believe that he finds Yu Yu Hakusho a reminder of all the bad things he was going through during those years. This story and these characters don’t deserve to be viewed that way and while I really like what I have read and seen of Hunter X Hunter, there is something extremely charming and compelling about Yu Yu Hakusho.
Disappointing final arc or not, Yu Yu Hakusho is one of the finest anime in history, a great example of high-quality storytelling and has a group of characters with whom you truly develop a powerful connection. If you have read our review series of this anime, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and it prompted you to watch it again or actually give it a shot. It’s definitely worth your time.
It was an incredible journey and one that deserves to be remembered.