Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hunter x Hunter and Moral Sides

[Spoilers through episode 127. I wrote most of this before I watched the latest ep, which I may write about in the next couple days]

Hunter x Hunter has blown me away with its recent episodes. The character development is masterfully done. Gon, the kind, merciful twelve-year-old kid from episode 1, has all but vanished. The light in his eyes is gone, replaced by, well... this:

On a more technical note, the animation has impressed me lately,
especially with how they portray Gon. I have a lot of screenshots
of him, since they've combined facial expressions, shadowing, and
angles in effective, heart-wrenching ways.
The screenshot above is from episode 116, in which we begin to see the ruthlessness, the anger, and the thirst for revenge that consume Gon. In this episode and more recent ones, I've searched his eyes for some sign that he's just pretending to be coldhearted. But his eyes are hard, his face shadowed by darkness. 

He's willing to hold Komugi, a sweet injured blind girl, hostage. And he seems pretty willing to actually follow through and hurt her. Again, I want to believe this is some cover tactic. But Gon's not that experienced with deception. I don't think he can act that well.

Right now, Gon is acting a whole lot like a bad guy. Look, I know he's been through a lot. I know he's upset about Kite. But that's no excuse. Actually, he could probably use a nice little talk about the drawbacks of revenge and hate from Naruto right now. Unfortunately, Naruto lives in a completely separate world (although I think his show could spare him right now, given his recently limited screen time).

Meanwhile, we've got Pitou, a Chimera Ant and known killer, protecting Komugi with her life... she is a bad guy, right? Maybe I need to go back and watch some of what she did to Kite, to help me regain perspective. Supposedly, she only cares about Komugi because the King cares for the girl. But right now, I'm starting to wonder about that.

The last dozen or more episodes begin to blur the moral lines between protagonists and antagonists. It's normal for anime bad guys to soften and become good guys. But Hunter x Hunter goes further than usual, forcing the audience to reconsider how they measure good and bad. It certainly can't be by race or stage of evolution (yes, Hunter x Hunter includes Darwinian evolution as an accepted part of the world, but that's for another post). A few chimera ants converted to the good side many episodes ago: Colt, Meleoron, Ikalgo. The King and Pitou are both becoming more sympathetic. More importantly, at the end of 126, the narrator suggests that Netero questions the real difference between Chimera Ants and Humans.

Netero - that's another example. Yes, we all love the ancient martial artist. But let's face it: he's ruthless. He won't consider sparing the King's life, and it's not just because the King is too dangerous. Rather, he has a job to complete, whether or not he completely agrees with it. He nearly kills the King without telling him his name, which he's longed to know. And, in the end, he uses a bomb implanted in him to kill the King and himself in one big explosion. Sure, he's awesome and heroic and all, but... perhaps such an action shows he is not as different from the Chimera Ants as we'd like to think.

Look at the royal guard: Yes, their moral compasses are warped. So far, they are completely devoted to what they perceive as the King's needs. There is no higher moral standard in their lives. Yet Youpi showed some respect and mercy with Knuckle. Pitou, as I already said, is almost emotionally invested in Komugi. And all three - Youpi, Pitou, and Pouf - are dedicated to their King emotionally and dutifully. Youpi and Pouf's response to the King's death is almost heartbreaking, especially knowing what we do about the King's softening heart. I dread their vengeance, for they look ready to fully embrace their demonic selves. Pitou's response still hangs in the balance.

Youpi, the big one, holds his king's remains, as Pouf's frantic
clones rush toward him. One of many heart-tugging, beautifully
animated scenes in episode 127.

Some of this is just good character development. But I think Hunter x Hunter is calling us to consider the distinctions between good and evil more deeply. How do you characterize good? By intentions? Being on the side you support? Emotions? Palatability? Is there a higher moral standard? Or is it all relative, based on the choices of individuals, groups, or cultures? Do the ends ever justify the means?

I don't know exactly what answers Hunter x Hunter will arrive at. It would appear, at least, that it's frowned upon to forget mercy entirely and resort to murder quickly.

Many of us, both in America and cultures across the world, live in a philosophically postmodern world. Moral boundaries are ambiguous, based on what's "right" for each individual or society. As a Christian, I try to stay alert to the postmodern messages around me. I believe that there is a higher moral standard, set by God. Sure, the morals are occasionally applied differently for different people and cultures. Because of that, I do agree that there are "grey areas," with room for interpretation. But I also believe that, the more a person studies the Bible and seeks godly understanding, the less grey situations will be. God is a God of justice, but also of mercy and love. Most people instinctively value each of those qualities. And, despite the corruption from our sin nature (the ultimate genetic disease), most people display at least some degree of justice, mercy, and love. So it makes sense that bad guys would be capable of showing some love, even if it's twisted love, as Pouf shows for the King (and becomes even more apparent in episode 128).

While villains are naturally able to show some good traits (in reality, this is because all humans are created in the image of God), ultimately, there are two sides: God's side and everyone else. Those who put their faith in Jesus as their savior and follow God will live eternally. They're on the winning team. Everyone else, like Satan, is living on borrowed time. There is a difference between the two.

We who follow God should strive, with His help, to obey Him. This includes cultivating some of the same traits He has, very similar to the ones a younger, more innocent Gon displayed: a strong sense of justice, value for life, love, and mercy. Like the [emotionally healthy] shounen hero, we should try to win over those who pit themselves against us and our Lord. So, yes, all you non-Christians who read this blog, be aware: I'm trying to win you over. I'm not as diligent as I ought to be, and, all too often, I write a too much for my own glory, rather than for God's. But I really want you to come on over to God's side of the line. Come to the bright side. We have cookies... sometimes. Actually, there can be a lot of hardship associated with this side. But, like most shounen protagonists, we also have the ultimate victory, so I recommend it.

I take interest in fights between good and evil, whether the conflict is internal or external, and Hunter x Hunter has both. I don't expect this anime's representation of moral conflict to be completely accurate (that would require acknowledgement of the Lord God). But I do hope that the "good guys," including Gon and Killua, will distinguish themselves by acting in mercy and love. I hope to see Gon redeemed from the hate that consumes his heart, and fully restored to the more recognizable "good guy" character. And I really hope that many of the current "bad guys" will join him. 


  1. Gon was never a sweet little boy.

    Gon was always a wild boy, close to nature, close to animals, potentially red in tooth and claw.

    Gon in the early episodes was like a wolf pup or a bear cub. He was so cute! But he was dangerous.

    Later on, we got more and more hints that Gon had never been a sweet little angel. Gon fought some of the Spiders and showed that Gon was essentially a human completely in touch with animality.

    Killua, by contrast, is very civilized and cultured. Killua has emotions and honor-codes and ninja-chivalry.

    Then we found out that Gon was able to manipulate women, just as a wolf pup might beg for food.

    Now we see what Gon is like when the human dignity of one of his teachers has been compromised or destroyed. Gon's willingness to endanger civilians is perfectly understandable.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I hadn't thought about it quite like that before, and I realize that I should have. Gon is certainly wild, but, while he's rarely "sweet," I do think he knows mercy - he just see is in simplistic terms, like he sees most things. I would argue that manipulating Palm does not necessarily indicate broader woman-manipulating skills, because... it's Palm. Although, he can pull off cute and charmingly honest so well, most other women would want to indulge him - just like we'd indulge a cute wolf pup.

      I'll keep his animalistic qualities in mind from now on. Like you said, he'd always been close with animals and nature. But he's still a boy. It will be interesting to watch his character continue to unfold.

  2. Turning an anime review into a religious propaganda and manipulation... I'm impressed and disgusted at the same time.


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