By Aedan Juvet
There’s no doubt that an influential anime requires an excellent antagonist, and the 1992 series Yu Yu Hakusho absolutely embraced the strengths of its complex villains. From the beginning, it was clear that in order to watch Yusuke, Kuwabara, and the others blossom, they’d have to face the epitome of true villainy.
These fleshed out villains in opposition of our heroes raised the stakes and helped Yu Yu Hakusho evolve into an anime that has become timeless. So which of these villains made such a drastic impact on the series?
Game Master is one of the most misunderstood villains of Yu Yu Hakusho, mostly because his appearance is a bit more than it seems at first.
11-year-old Tsukihito Amanuma isn’t your standard antagonist, which stems from his struggles of solitude at a young age. Amanuma comes from a broken household where he uses video games to escape reality. He focused all of his efforts into gaming, which brought him to Shinobu Sensui, a man who manipulates Amanuma and makes him a part of his sinister scheme.
Sensui taps into Amanuma’s psychic energy to make video game consequences real, which could be used to stop Yusuke from advancing in his journey. Amanuma ignores the possible outcomes of his choices and is mostly happy to be noticed by Sensui after feeling neglected by everyone around him. His role as a villain enhanced the dark tones of the series, as this was a human child who had been misguided and ignorant to his own actions. But this villainy presented an ultimatum: the only way to progress would be the death of Game Master.
Thankfully, Amanuma receives a happier conclusion than what’s expected after all is said and done, as his character truly grows. Game Master had viewers questioning what was justifiable to save the world, raising the stakes of Yu Yu Hakusho.
One of the series’ biggest powerhouse villains is the quiet, yet massive younger Toguro brother. He wasn’t always evil, but his love for Genkai made him an almost unstoppable force during the Dark Tournament arc.
When their students are murdered, Toguro and Genkai seek revenge and enter the Dark Tournament with the older Toguro. The two fight their way through the tournament and win, with the Toguros choosing to become demons as their prize.
Younger Toguro’s personality is then shifted dramatically and eventually leads to the Dark Tournament battle against Team Urameshi, where he kills Genkai — resulting in one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the series.
Toguro does this in hopes that Yusuke will fight him and activate his full potential. This power does surface, but only after Toguro leads Yusuke to believe he killed Kuwabara. Yusuke channels his rage by killing Toguro.
It’s in this raw moment that Yusuke discovers the severity of his responsibilities and the need to push forward and prepare for an uphill battle.
One potentially underrated villain from Yu Yu Hakusho is the passionately twisted Itsuki, who was Sensui’s closest ally outside of his seven personalities. Itsuki, also a member of Sensui’s Seven psychics, is a demon drawn to Sensui’s sense of morality and desire to punish other demons.
Itsuki was the first demon spared by Sensui, and their budding friendship created an unexpected bond. Itsuki later discovers that he’s in love with Sensui, and because of the darkness within both of them, he amplifies Sensui’s wicked ways.
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Most of the villains in Yu Yu Hakusho are motivated by power or revenge, but Itsuki is blinded by his desire. He was devoted to Sensui, a far cry from other villainous partnerships in the series. After Sensui’s death, the demon removes himself from both worlds to remain alone with Sensui’s remains for all of eternity.
The concept of having this dangerous demon driven by passion made the loss much more real and impactful than just killing him off.
While the Toguro brothers are both villains, they are total opposites. The younger brother wanted to find someone to rival his power, but the elder Toguro was more sadistic, thriving on the suffering of others.
As one of the Dark Tournament winners, the elder Toguro also chose to become a demon, and his personality rapidly changed. He was an accomplice in the torturing of Hiei’s sister Yukina and mercilessly murdered opponents in the second Dark Tournament team to feed his lust for carnage.
After his defeat and supposed death, elder Toguro assists Sensui after consuming one of the original Sensui Seven. This twist made Toguro the longest-running villain in the series and masterfully incorporated a twist that no one saw coming.
The elder Toguro is easily the most irredeemable, cutthroat villain from Yu Yu Hakusho and showed that while creator Yoshihiro Togashi was able to give a villain more depth, he could deliver pure evil as well.
In 112 episodes, there wasn’t a character who had more complexity than Shinobu Sensui.
Sensui is one of three Spirit Detectives we see in Yu Yu Hakusho, but Sensui succumbs to madness during his time as the chosen one. While Sensui had signs of mental anguish beforehand, witnessing the slaughter of demons for entertainment pushed him over the edge. Sensui then spiraled further, questioning humanity and attempting to link the human and demon world for an apocalyptic event.
The fact that Sensui had seven personalities that were each explored successfully made him one of the most phenomenally-detailed characters in the supernatural genre. For many, there was enough about Sensui that could have carried its own series.
What makes Sensui even more essential is his contrast with Yusuke. Yusuke was always an authority-hating fighter with an attitude, but Sensui was said to be sensitive and responsible. Their different paths provide insight into the overwhelming pressures of being a Spirit Detective.
Sensui was the first real villain to bring nuanced evil to the series and helped the growth of every hero in Yu Yu Hakusho. Whether you disliked him for his darkness or pitied the deterioration of who he once was, Sensui left quite an impact.
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