As any fan have learned over the years, sometimes stories can last too long. After a while, they start to lose that sweet delicious flavor that made them so great in the first place and all you’re left with are a bunch of superficial pieces of a once deep and meaningful story. Every series eventually reaches its highest point and everything after that point feels like it’s just hurting the legacy the series created.
These are three anime series which might have pushed themselves too far and kept going long after they should’ve stopped.
Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho follows Yusuke Urameshi, a delinquent who seemingly has no redeeming qualities. His hobbies include skipping school, picking on other kids, and getting into fights. In any other series, he’d probably be the typical bully who the real protagonist has to overcome. The difference here, though, is Yusuke has a heart of gold hidden under all that hair gel and attitude. He saves a kid from being hit by a car and ends up dying himself. Being the protagonist, he get better of course, but he didn’t come back unchanged. His journey through the spirit world lead him into becoming a Spirit Detective, an agent who hunts down renegade demons. What followed was a thrilling string of adventures as Yusuke continued to use his will to overcome otherwise impossible battles until the overarching story reached its climax when it entered the Dark Tournament Arc.
The whole series had been spent building up to this final battle. The first portion followed Yusuke as he tried to return to life. The second had him discovering his powers and making the friends who would support him later down the road. The third had him face trials, build his strength, and bond with his teammates. Finally, the fourth had Yusuke face the ultimate enemy, a nigh invincible demon named Toguro. Yusuke and his friends were forced to enter the Dark Tournament to face off against team Toguro, the reigning undefeated champions, all while know that failure meant the certain deaths of everyone they loved. Do the impossible or die.
The end of the Dark Tournament marked the end of Yusuke’s journey and the completion of his character arc. Every lingering issue was addressed. No questions left unanswered. And then the story continued…
The following arcs weren’t just bad, they were destructive. Chapter Black was the most damaging. Character reversals. Altered continuity. Unnecessary dark elements. A villain who could be the poster boy for a Mary Sue, or Villain Sue in this case. A reconstruction of Yusuke’s character that undermined the driving forces of the series: his humanity. Chapter Black wasn’t a nice new chapter in the Yu Yu Hakusho series, it was some highschool kid’s first fanfiction. Following into the Three King’s Saga, the series only went downhill from there.
Dragon Ball Z
Dragon Ball Z sort of fell into the same trap, but unlike Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho, it managed to fair a lot better. Despite being such a lengthy series, it never really lost its identity. Sure, it changed a lot from its humble beginnings in Dragon Ball, but it still brought its fan base a legacy of memorable characters and epic battles. Unfortunately, even a series as endlessly awesome as Dragon Ball Z has suffered its share of decay. As the sagas continued to stack up, the series started to fall into a pattern and characters started become obsolete, only being kept around to look in wide eyed awe at someone’s power. Soon enough, if a character wasn’t at least part Saiyan, they were bad guy fodder. Even then, all the series could do was pump up the villain’s power level to make a new threat. So where was the high point of Dragon Ball Z? Easy, the Frieza Saga.
Just like Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho, everything leading up to the Frieza Saga seemed to be part of Goku’s heroic journey. Every new challenge was driven by the story sparked from the last. Tension was high. Goku’s growth felt more organic. The arrival of Raditz opened the door to the direction Dragon Ball Z: martial arts in space! The idea was so awesome that, even today, a boy instantly grows a Chuck Norris level beard every time someone utters the phrase.
The Saiyan Saga set the foundation, introducing the new threat. Raditz tells Goku that he has superiors who are stronger. Goku then goes through intensive training to prepare. Then Vegeta and Napa arrive. Their battle with Goku concludes the Saiyan Saga. It was explained early on that the Saiyans were servants, so one question remained: who was stronger than the Saiyans?
The Frieza Saga gives Goku that one last obstacle to reach for when the lives of his friends and the fate of the universe depend on Goku’s ability to accomplish the impossible. At the time, Frieza was declared the most powerful warrior in existence. So when Goku ascended to Legendary Super Saiyan status, it signified the last barrier to be overcome. He had control of the one power so strong, even Frieza feared facing it. Dragon Ball Z was a series about breaking through one’s limitations and defying expectations through sheer force of will. The Super Saiyan was the ultimate form of that concept.
Before the Frieza Saga, battles revolved around story. After the Frieza Saga, story seemed to be a thin veneer to string together battles.
Yu☆Gi☆Oh! Duel Monsters
Yu☆Gi☆Oh! is the most peculiar case of the three. Spanning over several different series with its fan base still on the rise the franchise has managed to keep its head above water a lot longer than most. Even you isolate the original show and judge the series by its own merits, there are similar elements to Dragon Ball Z as far as story goes. In Dragon Ball Z the fights get more epic. In Yu☆Gi☆Oh! the duels go more intense. Here’s the thing, though. The fights and the dueling may be what everyone tunes in for, but they’re just the basic superficial elements of the shows. It’s the mythology that gives them their identity. It’s when the superficial elements begin to overtake the unique mythology and lore of the show does a series begin suffering from decay. So where should the original Yu☆Gi☆Oh! have stopped? Right after season one: Duelist Kingdom.
The Duelist Kingdom arc was an excellent start for a show like Yu☆Gi☆Oh! The duels took a backstage to the story. The stakes felt real. Tensions were high and the conflict was heavy. Yugi must defeat the creator of Dual Monsters in order to free the soul of his grandfather. Yugi’s best friend Joey also has to win to get the money for his sister’s operation. These are relatable and tangible motivations. And that’s the biggest flaw of season two and beyond. The duels took center stage and, although several times more engaging than the duels played at Duelist Kingdom, the story suffered for it. Yugi’s motivation for the Battle City arc centered around some vague evil that threatens the world. That vague evil was just enough of a reason for Yugi to join the Battle City tournament. Joey enters because he wants to help defeat this vague evil. To make matters worse, the more the show explores this threat, the more of a mess the plot becomes.
Yugi is a host for the ghost of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. The main villain of the Battle City arc is a rebellious crypt keeper who was supposed to guard the Pharaoh’s tomb until he returns. It’s insinuated that the reason the Pharaoh is supposed to return, and the reason why the tomb keeper family the villain comes from swore to guard the tombs for all those centuries, is so the Pharaoh can combat that same vague evil. The vague evil in question turns out to be harbored by the villain of Battle City. So had the tomb not required protection, the “evil” never would have needed conquering. In other words, the story changed as a shallow platform to string together duels.
Unless a series has a way to effectively reinvent itself, the series will fall into routine. At best, it’ll start to emphasize the most recognizable pieces and downplay the others. At worst, you could see the destruction of everything you once loved about the show. You could characters die meaningless deaths. You could see all hope lost for potential couples. You could see the characters you love turn evil or take major moral shifts that shatter your perception of them. Although it might hurt to see a beloved series end and watch your favorite characters ride off into that golden sunset, you can always think of what could happen if they stayed and sooth yourself with the fact that it didn’t happen.