Yu Yu Hakusho's Dark Tournament is a wellspring of fantastic fights. Team Yusuke shines, utilizing new or hidden skills to overcome impressive and terrifying opponents in thrilling contests. Every member gets moments to show their mettle as their character gets fleshed out in the heat of combat.
In particular, the main cast is fleshed out immaculately during the "Dark Tournament" arc through specific character pairings and emotionally heated battles. This storytelling provides unique windows into the more reserved Hiei and Kurama, allowing both to take center stage at different parts of the tournament. Kurama's moral complexity and depth of character quickly become more evident as his rich story and motivation are allowed to drive the narrative. His darker side drives his success as he continuously runs into unique challenges, requiring him to embrace his no-nonsense approach to harmful adversity.
Roto's threats guarantee his demise.
After Kuwabara's lackluster showing, it falls on Kurama to start Team Yusuke off positively. The opposition immediately adopts deceptive tactics to secure victory over the mysteriously powerful Kurama. In threatening Kurama's innocent and adoptive human mother, Shiori Hatanaka, Roto inspires a creative and vicious retort. Roto signed his death warrant when he blinded himself to Kurama’s ferocity by assuming that his threats to Kurama’s human mother guaranteed his victory.
Their bout displays the extremes within Kurama, as he won't let any harm fall upon Shiori due to his respect and appreciation for her kindness, spotlighting his mindfulness. At the same time, the swift dispatching of Roto shows his colder, darker nature. The efficiency in Kurama's methods implies a seasoned and refined approach to combat that doesn't hesitate or hold back from killing an enemy. Watching plants tear Roto apart only to bloom into gorgeous flowers provides the perfect visual metaphor for Kurama's character.
Gama's Subpar Painting Skills Are Erased by Kurama's Floral Arts
While his bout with Roto makes it evident that Kurama level-headedly handles emotional and mental pressure, the match with Gama is similar to his management of physical limitations. First, Gama intelligently attempts to paralyze the intimidating Kurama. Then, after successfully paralyzing Kurama with magical demonic paint, he gains confidence in his victory as Kurama has lost control over his arms, legs and more.
Once again, underestimating Kurama's skills and embracing overconfidence backfires gloriously. Gama sees success on the horizon, only to be quickly snuffed out by Kurama's unsettling plant manipulation, which his limitless creativity dramatically enhances. By attaching his core tool, the Rose Whip, to his hair, Kurama can use the slightest bit of muscle control he has left to shred another challenger. Echoing the stunning contrast of Roto's death, Kurama's Rose Whip elegantly dances about, releasing gorgeous petals while tearing Gama apart in a cold-blooded manner. Continuously coupling Kurama's darker side with his elegance paints a picture of his history as a gentleman thief.
Toya fails to take advantage of the situation
Carrying himself serenely and delicately aids Kurama in fooling cocky enemies into assuming they will defeat him. Coming off the debilitating battle with Gama, Toya prepared for a guaranteed victory since his opponent was already worn out and couldn't withstand Toya's powerful ice magic. Kurama's appearance is quickly proven deceptive as he withstands another aggressive onslaught, only to persevere and succeed with his devilish innovation.
What seems like a primarily one-sided duel in Toya's favor is quickly upended as Kurama's creative and disgusting failsafe activates, cementing his victory. Toya leaves Kurama with deep gashes in his body while attacking with an ice sword, inspiring Kurama to plant a seed inside his own body, allowing him an extra boost or safety net to push him to success. When the plant grows and renders Toya unable to fight, Kurama wins another match, even though he is also unconscious at the end. Kurama's selflessness and desire to help his team win magnify his lack of self-preservation and willingness to go to the extreme for his beliefs.
Ura Urashima Opens the Demonic Floodgates
Ura Urashima contrasts Kurama's previous opponents with his unassuming, goofy design. The demonic or intense appearances of Roto, Gama and Toya feel more potent compared to the quirky fisherman look of Ura. Nonetheless, this awkward and meek individual pushes Kurama further than the previous competitors through the creative use of items and ingenuity. As a result, this bout turns into an incredible display of hidden potential.
In another case of attempting to get ahead backfiring, Ura's powerful items unlock Kurama's dormant demon side, allowing Yoko Kurama to run free. Ura would have had his hands full with a slightly human Kurama, so a complete demon Kurama is guaranteed victory. Intense and dark demonic energy flows from Kurama, augmenting his infamy and pushing Ura back in fear. While he still leans on plants for weaponry, the plants channeled by Yoko Kurama are monstrous and repulsive -- an acknowledgment of his darker side taking hold.
Karasu and Kurama Tirelessly Pursue Victory
Fittingly for shonen anime, the final pairing in the tournament is the protagonist team and Toguro, the antagonist's team. While Yusuke's and Kuwabara's fated showdowns with the Toguro brothers carried much narrative weight, Kurama and Hiei were paired with strong opponents to glorify their strength. Karasu provided a real threat capable of close and long-ranged combat and potent explosives capable of demolishing both people and plants.
Kurama finds the balance between his demon and human sides as he dips deep into his well of talents to survive Karasu's violent assault. In a wild turn of events, Kurama cements his pseudo-victory when he falls back on his humanity after failing to win with the power of Yoko Kurama. Weathering violent explosions to lull Karasu into a false sense of security creates the opening for Kurama to summon a repulsive and hungry plant that kills Karasu. Kurama loses the match due to the rigid and skewed rules of the tournament but comes out victorious by eliminating a terrifying barrier from his friends' path to success.
Kurama may have been a small piece of Team Yusuke's path to success, but his role during the Dark Tournament is shocking, impressive and rich with potential. Using gorgeous but frightening plants and subtle attacks to overcome dynamic challenges sets Kurama's matches apart from the bombast or fisticuffs that define his teammates' matches. Togashi's knack for storytelling during fights shines brighter through Kurama than most of his other brilliant characters.