Plot: Yusuke Urameshi is a punk. He frequently skips class, doesn’t try in school, gets into street fights all the time and has run-ins with basically every type of authority figure that exists.
His home life is no better with a drunk lazy mom who seems to pay him no mind at all while loafing about the house. He does have friends, the model student Keiko and the fellow street punk Kuwabara, but they seem to have just as poor of a view on Yusuke as everyone else does.
One day, Yusuke sacrifices his life to save the life of a little boy by pushing him out of the way of a speeding car and getting hit in the process. Yusuke appears near his body as a ghost and is quickly greeted by a flying girl on a boat oar named Botan.
She is a shinigami or grim reaper, but she’s not greeting Yusuke to take him to the afterlife, she’s there to give him one more chance to live. He was not set to die that day and no one in the other world believed Yusuke would ever risk his life to save a child, one that would’ve, ironically, not have died or even been hit anyway. So Yusuke is getting a second chance to live due to the error.
Yusuke, however, is not sure he wants to return to his life since he believes everyone dislikes him and everything seems to dump more crap on him. In an effort to get him to see the true value of his life, Botan gives him some time to think about the decision.
In the meantime, Yusuke visits his wake and sees how utterly devastated most of the guests are from his mother to Keiko and even to Kuwabara and one of his teachers. He even sees the grief of the mother of the little boy he saved.
After visiting his wake and taking everything into consideration, Yusuke meets with Botan again to agree to her offer, and Botan starts setting everything up to bring him back to life.
Breakdown: This has been my favorite pilot episode to an anime for a long long time. It is just so wonderfully written, so heartbreaking and so gripping that you can’t help but care for each character, even Yusuke, deeply from the get-go.
It’s also a shining example of how English dubs can really be just fantastic. There’s so much passion and emotion put into their line-reads here that it is just one of my favorite dub jobs ever.
The only negative I really have about it is the fact that two of Yusuke’s teachers really seem like they’re over the top. I mean, one has a character design that just screams ‘weasel,’ the other looks like a serial killer and they’re both such complete assholes that they’re at Yusuke’s wake being thankful that he’s dead and even making jokes about how he probably died on accident while trying to steal the boy’s lunch money.
While Kuwabara makes the most impacting scene here, you really have to appreciate the subtleties of Yusuke’s mom’s short scene. She’s just sitting on the floor not saying a word or even showing any real emotion for much of the scenes, almost like she really didn’t care, and then suddenly she just says Yusuke’s name and bursts into sobs.
Even the short scene with the little boy and his mother was very well done. It reflected the kid’s inability to really process the death of Yusuke and the gravity that the entire situation had on the mother. She’s both incredibly happy that her boy is alive yet devastated that another kid had to die to save him.
I will say that, while this is just an amazing opening episode, they don’t delve at all into the actual plot of the entire series yet, that being Yusuke eventually becoming a spirit detective and this show becoming essentially a tournament fighter.
The main characters were all very well-established from the start, the atmosphere was great and this really does seem like a pretty original story.
The art basks in that lovely ’90sness that makes me smile, and while the animation isn’t amazing it’s still pretty damn nice for its time, the music is wonderful and the OP and ED for this season stay very near and dear to my heart.
This was a great way to start off this awesome show, and I definitely look forward to going over this series again.
Next episode, Yusuke is brought to the spirit world to meet Koenma, ruler of the spirit world, in order to get him started on the task that he will need to complete in order to be brought back to life.