There’s No Place for You in Hell
For those who didn’t read the introduction to this series, the philosophy is this: Anything that is over 20 years old has gone past the statute of limitations for spoilers. Meaning: don’t read if you don’t want all the details.
English Title: Surprised to be Dead
Real Title: 死んだらオドロいた
Original Air Date: October 10, 1992
Original English Air Date: February 23, 2002
The story starts off for our protagonist in the worst possible situation. He’s dead.
But Yusuke Urameshi (14-year-old middle school student) doesn’t quite remember how he got that way. So after his spirit makes a couple futile attempts to punch out the hardworking emergency personnel just for trying to pack away his empty husk of a body (what a baby) he gets a little zen about the whole death thing and starts figuratively retracing his steps to figure out how he ended up floating in a state of general incorporeality.
The first thing he remembers is Keiko finding him on the school roof and chewing him out for showing up to school but still skipping the classes.
Manga vs. Anime: In the manga, Yusuke is a cigarette-smoking middle schooler. In the anime his is merely gum-chewing punk.
Yusuke is annoyed with the lecture, what with being a punk and all (you can tell by the way he was chewing gum and all), and he lifts Keiko’s skirt to piss her off, and, well, she get’s pissed off and slaps him across the roof. As he staggers away she shouts at him that he should just go die. (Foreshadowing what has already happened… so… re-foreshadowing?)
Keiko’s friends can’t believe she’s brave enough to even talk to Yusuke like that, let alone slap him. Apparently, the going rumor is that if he’s capable of commanding thousands of gangsters, but Keiko, of course, thinks that’s crazy and seems to believe that underneath his “bad boy” exterior he’s probably a good guy.
She’s the only one who thinks this, of course, because it turns out that some students are actually using his name to bully other kids by proxy. Just claiming they have some kind of relation to Yusuke is enough to get other kids to fork over their lunch money.
Manga vs. Anime: In the manga, these kids are also having a smoke behind the school. Does this matter? Not really, but in the anime, when Yusuke catches these kids, they offer him the money they stole. Yusuke just shouts at them and claims he doesn’t want it. In the manga, he flat out demands 500 yen from them. It seems the anime wants to start hinting that he’s “not that bad” early on, while the manga is happy to have him be a really punk/bully.
Iwamoto assumes that Yusuke is trying to bully the kids and he tries to get the other two to rat on Yusuke. Neither of them do, of course, so Iwamoto just yells as Yusuke and tells him he’s not wanted here.
That’s all find and dandy to Yusuke at this point, and he heads for the gate. He’s stopped by Takenaka, though, who seems determined to be a good teacher and see that Yusuke is educated one way or another. Takenaka grabs him by his collar just as he’s about to do something horribly punk-like and chew more gum, but Yusuke escapes almost magically and heads home.
There’s no respite at home, though, and even his mother hassles him and says that if he doesn’t want to go to school he should just quite. It ain’t like school is free.
So he takes off and runs into Kuwabara – the second-best fighter at school. This brightens Yusuke’s day since he gets to take out his frustrations on someone who sees himself as an actual rival. There is, however, no respect there from Yusuke. Hard to blame him. Apparently Kuwabara has lost 156 times in a row.
Now in a better mood, Yusuke actually stops to play around with a small child who was playing with a ball a little too close to the road. In the way of all little children, he doesn’t listen at all and ends up chasing the ball out into the busy street.
Yusuke, then performs what turns out to be the most useless act of self-sacrifice ever.
So now he’s finally worked his way through to the realization that he’s a ghost which is the cue for Botan to make her appearance. She’s basically Death, but a Death that wears a kimono and rides on an oar. (The oar may or may not be a reference to the fact that she is also described as a guide across the River Styx – well, the Sanzu River, which is similar enough that it’s just easier to call it Styx.)
She tells him a couple things that are a little hard to swallow. First, there’s no place for him in hell. Nothing in heaven either, but probably everyone just assumed hell was his natural destination. It simply comes down to the fact that absolutely NO ONE in the afterlife could have seen Yusuke sacrificing himself for someone else. Second, it turns out that his sacrifice really was useless because the child was actually fated to miraculously walk away from the accident without a single cut. In fact, Yusuke pushing the child out of the way caused more harm than was actually supposed to happen.
Still, self sacrifice is self sacrifice, and that opened up something of a loophole. While there isn’t a place for him in the afterlife, his last, shining moment makes him a candidate for a trial which could return him to life.
The other choice is to simply wander around as a ghost and never rest in peace.
Funnily enough, this was Yusuke’s first choice. After the day he had, when presented with this choice, his natural reaction is: “Screw it. Everyone’s probably happier with me gone anyway.”
Botan is a little surprised by this reaction, so she treats him to a bit of a “Wonderful Life” experience, centered mostly on Keiko and Atsuko, his mother. We also see that Kuwabara isn’t really handling his emotions very well, either.
Manga vs. Anime: This is just a tiny thing, but the picture of Yusuke that is displayed at the funeral in the anime is one of him being cool and glancing back over his shoulder. In the manga, it’s one of Yusuke making a goofy face. This is a small detail, but the manga took used it to inform a little more of Yusuke’s character. It made me think of how, in Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin could never be caught by a camera making a normal face. It was a signal that Yusuke could be a goof and wasn’t always trying to be cool.
In the end, of course, Yusuke decides he’ll accept the trial, and Botan takes him into the next world to find out what it’s going to be.
Title: Koenma Appears (Koenma of the Spirit Realm! A Trial Towards Resurrection)
Real Title: 霊界のコエンマ! 復活への試練
Original Air Date: October 17, 1992
Original English Air Date: March 2, 2002
Botan takes Yusuke to the next world where he’s to meet Lord Enma.
Strange translation alert: The subs in the DVD translate “Enma-sama” to “Yama-sama.” Not sure what the point is there, unless they felt that “Enma” was too close to “Enema” but that “Koenma” would somehow be different enough? It’s a little unfortunate, because it misses the wordplay inherent in those names.
When Yusuke arrives, he’s expecting something strange and mystical. He’s still a punk, though, because he’s trying to figure out exactly how he might be able to beat the Lord of the Afterlife in a street fight. Instead of awe-inspiring vistas, though, he’s met with the universe’s largest, busiest bureaucracy.
He finally loses it and busts out laughing when he meets Koenma, a being who appears as a small child, complete with pacifier. Still, he claims to be at least 50 times as old as Yusuke.
Koenma’s trial is simple. Take this egg, treat it like family, and let it suck up your spiritual wavelengths for a while. If you’re good, the wavelengths will either turn the nascent creature into something good, if you’re bad, it will be something that will eat him and his soul and save everyone a lot of paperwork.
So now the trial is on and his first chore is to go and stop his mom from cremating his body. Unfortunately, his mom is drunk out of her mind, and, according to Yusuke (in the manga), when she get’s to this point, she’ll be riding the alcohol-fueled stupor for at least three days.
Manga miss: Before Atsuko gets drunk in the manga, we see that Keiko is spending as much time at Yusuke’s house as she can. Atsuko knows what Keiko is feeling (severe guilt) because she remembers a time (a few years back) when Yusuke was down with a fever because Keiko pushed him into a river in the middle of winter. She feels so bad (despite Astuko pointing out that Yusuke deserved it for trying to look under her skirt) that she shows up every day to check on him. Yusuke can’t stand seeing her sad face, so he sucks it up and goes to school the next day, pretending to be just fine. It’s an important character moment – and one that shows that Yusuke and Keiko go way back.
Since mom’s drunk, Yusuke goes to find Keiko. He finds her at home, sleeping, and crying in her sleep.
Huge manga miss: In the anime, she’s crying because in her dream she’s chasing after Yusuke and can’t catch him. In the manga, she’s dreaming about the day he died, when she shouted at him to “go die.” That sad look that Atsuko recognized is the horrible guilt Keiko is feeling because she’s blaming herself for his death.
Yusuke tells her to knock off that kind of thinking and tells her that his spirit is just taking a quick break from his body. He’s not dead, and he’ll be back.
Manga vs. Anime: In the manga, Keiko runs straight over to Atsuko’s house. In the anime, she apparently thinks it through and realizes Yusuke isn’t set to hit the furnace for a while, so might as well get a good night’s rest. In the anime, Atsuko has had a dream that Yusuke was fighting demons, and he actually became their leader. This, of course, is to subtle foreshadowing as a 2×4 to the face is to a skilled rhinoplasty.
By the time Keiko gets to the house, she’s already doubting her own dream, and so when Atsuko asks if she dreamed about Yusuke, too, Keiko says she didn’t.
Order change: In the manga, this is where Atsuko opened up Yusuke’s coffin to give him one last punching for old time’s sake and notices that there’s color back in his cheeks. This moment will come later on, when she’s about to take the coffin to the crematorium.
Yusuke needs a more definite way to confirm his extended life situation, so they go and take over Kuwabara’s body because it turns out he’s tuned in to the spirit world in some way.
Yusuke can only use the body for about half an hour, so he has to hurry. This is a trial all on it’s own because apparently every last student in the city wants to take a shot at Kuwabara. Looks like he’s been picking fights all over town without Yusuke around to keep him focused.
When he finally spots her, he knows he needs to approach her in a way that will tell her – without a doubt – that he is who he says he is. He realizes there’s one sure way, and it earns him another massive slap in the face, but it does work.
Now she’s a believer, and she runs to Atsuko’s house, who has also determined that he’s still alive.
Title: Kuwabara: A Promise Between Men (Kuwabara in a Corner! A Man’s Oath)
Real Title: 追いつめられた桑原! 男の誓い
Original Air Date: October 24, 1992
Original English Air Date: March 9, 2002
Manga miss: Three whole chapters. We’ll get to them later.
Keiko begins this episode being threatened by three boys. Kuwabara and his friends step in and help her out… or possibly just step in to get into a fight. They’re probably happy either way.
Anime vs. Manga: This is a scene that doesn’t appear in the manga, which just jumps straight to the teacher, Akashi, chewing them out for getting in so many fights. However, there is something about this scene that is similar to the one in the manga in which Kuwabara’s crew step in to help out Keiko’s friends, only to get beaten up by the big-headed Daisuke. On a related note, this did give Yusuke a chance to start looking at Kuwabara in a different way, which was sort of assumed in the manga.
Yusuke is actually impressed with Kuwabara’s fighting skills, now that he sees the guy fighting someone besides else. Botan simply enjoys watching the fight, cheering him on.
Kuwabara and crew wind up in front of a buck-toothed teacher named Akashi, and he’s threatening to take away Okubo’s (the short, roundish friend) permission to have a part-time job. He tells them that the only way he can keep his job is if all four of them go an entire week without getting into a fight.
Kuwabara’s friends immediate complain, saying that a full week is totally unfair. Make it two hours, they say. That will be plenty of challenge. Kuwabara shrugs them off and tells them he’ll do it.
Botan is impressed, but Yusuke is sure that Kuwabara won’t last. One way or another, though, Kuwabara sticks to his promises. At first he tries to run away instead of fight, but since tough guys don’t run, he turns around and tells the other kids that they can do what they want because he’s not going to lift a hand against them.
Now Botan is really impressed.
Fight after fight comes his way as word spreads that he has made himself a human punching bag.
Worried that they might actually make it through the week, Akashi adds one more condition. They all have to get 50 points or more on their next science test. The other three aren’t too worried because they weren’t that far away from 50 on their last test, but Kuwabara barely managed 7 points.
Everyone is worried, but Kuwabara is totally like: whatever. If I put my mind to it, I can do it.
So for the next week, Kuwabara takes beating after beating while keeping his nose buried as deeply as possible in his textbooks.
Something to think about: Despite the horribleness of Akashi, if you take the long view you could point to this experience as a turning point in Kuwabara’s life – his real life. Yes, he’ll gain amazing spiritual powers and be involved in some crazy experiences, but as he actually grows up, he becomes a good student with a chance to go to a good high school. So it sucked for him right now, but it did have some lasting repercussions for the better. Yusuke is starting to respect him even more, and even enters his dreams to help him study.
As Kuwabara is walking to school, still reading his texts, a bunch of kids decide to have a little fun with him. Yusuke said that he took too much time putting all that stuff in Kuwabara’s head, so he’s not going to let them knock it out of there.
Manga vs Anime: In the manga, Yusuke just appears in front of the kids and gives them a creepy feeling and they decide to leave it for a day. In the anime, Yusuke takes over some random school girl’s body and chases the kids down. After taking them all down (and then picking one up just to repeatedly kick him in the crotch a few times) Kuwabara is able to make it to the test. I’m not sure why, but this scene struck me as far funnier this time around than it ever did before.
Kuwabara is sure he managed the 50 points, but Akashi can’t have that, so he erases the final answer.
Anime vs Manga: The anime adds a conspiracy between Akashi and Iwamoto that doesn’t exist in the manga. Here it’s Iwamoto that gives Akashi the idea to erase Kuwa-chan’s answer.
Kuwabara spots the change and he chases Akashi down. He’s ready to punch the teacher out but Yusuke shouts at him and somehow, at the last moment, stops Kuwabara.
Takenaka sees it all and informs Akashi that he saw what he did to Kuwabara’s test. He’s informed that he can either change the answer back or Takenaka will deliver the punching that Akashi just avoided.
Kuwabara is sure he’s ruined everything, but then Okubo chases him down, thanking him for working so hard to pass because now he gets to keep his job and support his family. Kuwabara realizes that if he had gone through with it and punched Akashi, it wouldn’t have mattered if he passed. They still would have lost everything.
Yusuke is surprised that Kuwabara was able to hear him, and Botan says he probably didn’t, that it was just his feelings that were somehow able to translate to him. That freaks Yusuke out, of course, because, you know, feelings. Dudes. Doesn’t happen.
Kuwabara seems to sense something again, turns to the spot where Yusuke and Botan are floating, and offers a simple thanks.
Yusuke smiles. If you think about it, this was probably one of the first times anyone thanked him for anything.
It’s strangely refreshing to start this anime over from the very beginning. While the animation and art is certainly dated, it’s not so much that it’s unwatchable. Comparing stories between the manga and anime can definitely make you wonder about some of the art and story choices, though.
Take, for example, the light green and sky blue uniforms of the two main characters. In the English version I understand that they try to explain that away when we first meet Keiko and Yusuke. They don’t bother in the real version. I’ve seen others online try to explain it as something that might happen if he were a transfer student, or maybe that he’s doing it specifically to get on the teachers’ nerves, but there’s nothing in the story to support those explanations. It’s just a weird art choice that later became their iconic looks.
This kind of thing may have contributed to a lot of rumors that the creator, Yoshihiro Togashi, didn’t like all the changes that the director, Noriyuki Abe, was making. The theory was that this kind of thing was what contributed to such an abrupt conclusion to the manga. But Togashi later said that it was simply because of health issues.
The anime skipped over a lot of chapters, which is why we were able to get through the whole first volume in a mere three episodes. Some of them were unfortunate misses, because they were good character building chapters. Some were just as well left on the cutting floor, though, because that chapter with the tanuki and the old man just didn’t fit anywhere… it didn’t even look like it was drawn by the same dude.
But, if we think about it a little more, there’s probably a more obvious reason to cut out so many chapters that were set in the afterlife.
Imagine reading this story from the beginning, a chapter a week, with no idea where it’s going. As far as you know, this is just another middle-school manga with a paranormal twist. But now you have to remember that this is a middle-school manga that was published in a world where Dragonball is king, and anything that doesn’t have certain resemblance to that story (from a publisher’s perspective) couldn’t possibly sell enough copies of the manga or related merchandise to justify its existence.
So it’s easy to suspect that the sudden change from paranormal student to tournament fighter was to soft-reboot the series and catch some of that interest. Togashi, however, claims that he intended this shift in the story for the beginning. So, for the manga writer, everything in this section could have been like a major misdirect and a little world building to establish why a middle school kid could have super powers.
An anime director, on the other hand, would be far more interested in getting straight to the tournament. He knows it’s going there anyway, so let’s get to the Dragonball-style fights as soon as possible. Easier to animate, and easier to sell.
But this is just a thought.
And that’s it for volume one. As we get closer to the fight-heavy episodes, these articles should get much shorter, so stick with me until then.