Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Despite Suspense Abuse, Hunter x Hunter Develops Well

If you're giving a speech or telling a story, and you want to highlight how sad something is, what do you do? The easiest thing is to emphasize something happy right before the sad. If you want to highlight life? Put it next to death. A flower growing among ashes is more powerful than the same flower growing in a healthy field.

What do you do if you want to highlight suspense? That one's a little trickier. By definition, suspense takes some time. It's not happy-danger-dead in two seconds. It's happy, sense of danger, then unknown result. Still, it takes a master's touch to maintain suspense for a very long amount of time. If you're not careful, the audience will become accustomed to it. Sequences of mounting danger become monotonous without some other mood to contrast with it.

Long running shounen anime are particularly vulnerable to this type of suspense abuse. Unfortunately, Hunter x Hunter is no exception, and it started to feel tedious early in the season. Episode 116 was a little better. It successfully got me concerned about Gon's wellbeing - not his physical wellbeing, but mental and emotional. He's not the same joyful, forgiving kid we met at the beginning of the series. He still can't be older than thirteen, but he's encountered evil. His friends have been hurt. One of them in particular, Kite, has been torn apart mentally and physically.

Gon is consumed by thoughts of revenge and hate. On reflection, this hardening of his heart has quietly built for at least several dozens of episodes. It's refreshingly realistic, but it's also heartbreaking. I no longer want him to battle and defeat Pitou. He's gone beyond the kind of righteous anger that I can agree with. He's not just angry for Kite's sake anymore; if he were doing this unselfishly, as his old innocent self, he would think about the girl's life and Killua's feelings. When (if) he battles Pitou or anyone else, I want it to be for justice and defense. In his current state, fighting her would only harden the blackness creeping into his heart.

I'm also intrigued by Pitou's willingness to sacrifice herself for Komugi. Yes, she's just doing it for the King. Still, it's like she and Gon switched places for the episode. She's humbled herself for the sake of another. Helpless, she kneels, upturned hands outstretched. Her face is often shown in light, with Gon's face shown in shadow. I don't think she's redeemed herself by healing that girl, but Gon is not in the right state of mind.

For those reasons, episode 116 got my attention, as I showed Tumblr. But, after episode 117, I said Hunter x Hunter is in a holding pattern, likely because suspense was stretched thinly over too many battlefronts. On further thought, it's kind of like what brought the downfall of Rome: it became too great for its own good, and didn't have the resources to deal with it. Of course, the Roman Empire didn't have the ridiculously loyal fan base that Hunter x Hunter and its cousin shows have.

This week's episode was better, and I have tentative hope that it will continue to climb up after this. There are multiple elements that stuck out to me, so I'll start with the smallest one: I've been wondering for a while where Palm went, and this episode reminded me of her danger. I'm glad the focus hasn't shifted back to her. For her situation, at least, there is a suspense simmering (although I admit I don't care that much about her). In her case, I think no news is good news, even if she said to assume she was dead. Oh, and the Ikalgo situation was rather interesting, though no more than it has been for several episodes. And I shouldn't forget what Pouf's doing behind that smoke in his cocoon; that's developed in a surprising manner, too.

For the first time in weeks, I was actually concerned about Knuckle. I'd thought that he was smarter than Youpi, but it turns out I overestimated Knuckle and underestimated his opponent. I watched and thought, Oh snap, even with the Shounen anime survival statistics, he might not get out of this one.

My face must have shown my tension. I could feel my expression change, and I decided I didn't care if the others in the library saw. When the screen switched to a rose losing its petals, clearly symbolic of something, I felt Knuckle's chances of survival drop.

I'd forgotten that Killua wasn't with Gon anymore.

Then, of course, came the usual, "Yay! Killua! And Knuckle is saved. And cool Killua!"

But when Killua said, "Sorry, but what is about to happen is just me blowing off some steam," I got concerned again, this time for him. It's not his coldhearted willingness to kill, or even his method of blowing off steam - that's something that he learned from childhood, and it's an old concern for me and other audience members. Still, the fact is, Killua has had to hold in his emotions, be cold and calculating, and support the team and his revenge-crazed best friend. He cares about Kite, too. And, remember, he's still a kid, a kid who had no real friends until Gon (not counting that servant girl). Now, he has several friends, and most of them have their lives on the line. Gon had helped him have moments of normalcy, helped him escape his mother's hold and the brainwashing of his brother... now, Gon is too absorbed with Pitou to give any support.

The ending frame in this week's episode. Killua looks like an
angel of vengeance, coming from heaven. I wonder if I'm reading
into it. Either way, this has the potential to completely break the
holding pattern.

Yes, selfishly, I'm excited for Killua's battle with Youpi. It looks like he's going to show us a new level of his lightning. It should be more electrifying than ever, excuse the pun. If Gon and Pitou ever fight, that will excite me, too. And I think both the original mangaka and the crew behind the anime want me to be excited. But it would be a shame to focus so much on the physical conflict that I miss the psychological. That part was carefully thought through, too, and we ought to be duly concerned.

In the process of writing this, I realize that, despite the tedious suspense abuse and overbearing narration, something wonderful is building. Gon and Killua's character development have me as in love with Hunter x Hunter as ever. It's not a blind love, but it's still there, pulsing on.

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