Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rewind: Hunter x Hunter (2011)

I tried telling myself to pick another, shorter anime for tonight. But Hunter x Hunter weighs too much on my mind, and would distract me from any other anime. Despite its length and complexity, I think I can sum it up pretty well. This post's goal is not to analyze the details. Rather, I want to summarize why I love this show so much and, perhaps, convince some of you to invest the time in it.

Warning: Spoilers ahead... including some of the people who are alive and kicking in the last episode. If you've managed to avoid such spoilers from social media, you may want to find another review, or at least stop reading this one after the first few paragraphs.

I watched the first Hunter x Hunter anime in late 2009, I believe, on a friend's recommendation. This was during my unhealthy binging years, so I breezed through the 62 TV episodes and 30 or so OVAs very quickly. I doubt it took me much more than two weeks. I enjoyed it. However, at that stage of my fandom, I didn't have an eye for the details. I hadn't discovered Anime-Planet or read any anime reviews or blogposts. I was just along for the ride.

Thus, when Hunter x Hunter episodes began appearing on Crunchyroll two years later, I couldn't tell that it was a reboot. At first, I thought, "Cool! They're finally getting that old show on Crunchyroll!" Up until Fall 2011, I didn't pay much attention to any currently airing anime except Naruto Shippuden. I didn't check out season previews, and I definitely didn't commit to following anything new... until that fall. So I think I can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing the reboot for what it was.

I quickly became a fan. By my mid-season post in Winter 2012, I was already trying to convert other fans. Oh, and a note on that post—the screenshot I used from Hunter x Hunter's 19th episode? They re-used that frame during the flashbacks in the very last episode. It's one of many precious memories I now share with the characters.

Gon introduces himself to the ship captain taking them to the
 Hunter Exams in episode 1. New friends Kurapika and Leorio
stand at his sides.
Obviously, I feel personally connected with Gon and Killua, the central protagonists. But my admiration goes beyond emotional attachment. The character development, visuals, plot, and subject matter all deserve proper attention.

The main character is, of course, Gon. He's one of those precious 12-year-old anime boys. Except more so. He's cute, innocent... and he has talent. Between his animal-like senses and the inspiration of his absentee Hunter father, he's skilled enough to take on most adults, even at the beginning of the show. He's reluctant to kill, and he's stubborn about it. Like many shounen heroes, he's an optimist and thus a heart-healer.

Gon sees some rough situations. He befriends Killua, whose abusive family raised him as an assassin. He fights murderers and faces death. At first, none of this seems to darken his heart. Then, halfway through the show, tragedy strikes. He loses someone he admires, and he thinks it's his fault. By the last few dozen episodes, his can't help others change anymore. His own heart is too wounded. Even Killua, his best friend, can't do anything about it.

In episode 125, Gon waits impatiently for his enemy, a murderous
chimera ant, to finish healing an innocent blind girl. Note the
shadow on his face—an external symbol of his inner state.
I don't have time to talk about every important character, but let it be known: the other characters are developed well, too. Killua, especially, stands out to me. And then there's Kurapika, whose walk of vengeance received a lot of screen time. Unfortunately, the anime ended without a satisfying ending for Kurapika. I trust the mangaka, Togashi Yoshihiro, is developing the rest of his story.

The visuals in Hunter x Hunter are fantastic, espeically compared to other long-running shounen anime. It's not just that they're pleasant and smooth to look at; they set the mood. And Gon and Killua's expressions... heart-wrenching. Wonderfully, painfully heart-wrenching.

The pacing in Hunter x Hunter was great, when compared to similar anime. There were three recap episodes, which provided the only fillers. Only three fillers in three years, guys. Thank about that a moment. Pacing got a little rough at the beginning of the year, around episode 115. It felt like Hunter x Hunter was in a holding pattern, waiting for all the pieces to come together before starting the real action. Suspense was high, but it retained the same elevation for several episodes. And yet, it would be hard for the pacing to be any different without them leaving plot holes. By episode 118, things were looking up, as I wrote:

"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."

Those few weeks of less-than-stellar pacing are pretty much my only complaints in how the story is told. Granted, the story is still not complete. The anime, while it ended at a good stopping point, still has loose ends. The manga is ongoing, and part of me worries that the Togashi bit off more than he can chew. From what I've seen, I doubt that it's only the physical elements of drawing/writing that tire him out. Hunter x Hunter is deep, the kind of story no normal person can weave without a lot of time to brainstorm and let ideas simmer. Sure, I didn't realize it during the first few dozen episodes (I actually wrote that it wasn't deep and didn't hold surprises). But, since then, I've noticed themes of naturalism, Buddhism, moral ambiguity, and the need for redemption. I've noted some of the surface-level Buddhist influences, but I think I'm picking up more influences, including some that explain why Ging is not considered deplorable for abandoning his son. Unfortunately, I doubt I'll have time to explore these in more depth, especially since I don't know enough about Buddhism to say very much with any confidence.

Finally, I'd like to spend a moment on the last episode, because it's packed with meaning. First, notice the location. Gon and Ging meet at the top of the World Tree, in a nest that looks a lot like a crow's nest in a ship. They're not actually in a ship, but as they look out over the world, and the ocean in particular, it recreates the idea of a journey that's just begun, much like Gon's journey began in the first episode.

Second, Gon and Ging finally have a private father-son talk. Ging passes on some of his philosophy on life when his son asks what he wants: "That which I can't see in front of me now."

Ging and Gon are Hunters. They're often finders, but the successful end of the hunt doesn't light them up nearly as much as how they get there. At the very end, Ging gives his advice to Gon and, it's implied, to the audience: "You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest. Because that's where you'll find the things more important than what you want." It's about the journey, the chase, and the friends you make along the way, he says.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with Ging—after all, our worldviews would be quite different even if we lived in the same world. But it's something I'd like to chew on, and evaluate more deeply in this context if I have a chance. For now, I'm just enjoying that Gon and Ging have been reunited, and that Gon is acting carefree again. He's not unaffected by the past few years, but he gets to be a kid in his dad's presence. And after what I've watched over the last 148 episodes, this is a wonderful sight indeed.

At the end of the last episode, Gon and his dad talk into the night,
and I smile, happy to see them happy again.


  1. I've just finished watching and oh dear, it looks like I'm going to have an extreme anime hangover. The story of how I came to watch HXH is actually pretty stupid. I was just scrolling through Netflix and I saw the thumbnail. And something in my brain just made me click it (I like to think it was one of Illumi's needles). Without reading the description or anything I just watched. Then I continued to watch 148 episodes. It's just soooooo good. I'm going to move on to the manga now but let's hope they pick up the anime again (even though they won't) ^-^

    1. Yeah, it's hard to move on from this one. Writing this post was cathartic, though. It's now been almost two weeks since HxH ended, and I can now go more than a day without thinking about it. I've almost recovered. :) I'm surprised (and delighted) that Hunter x Hunter is already on Netflix! Enjoy the manga! I don't plant to read it until Togashi-sensei finishes it and/or I give up on more anime installations. The manga is notorious for its hiatuses, and I'd rather let it accumulate (especially since I'm picky about how I acquire manga to read, when I read it at all).


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