Review: Hunter X Hunter

First my sketch: I darkened this one to show up a bit better. I’m sad about this sketch. It was really hard to do. I have a whole new respect for animators now. But it had a sad fate. After I was done with the outlines, I tried to color it with oil pastels. Oil pastels are not for little detail work. It looks pretty horrid now. So I will fondly remember this sketch before it went beyond help.

gonkillua

Gon meets Killua. During this scene, they were in the middle of an 80 kilometer run. Hunter X Hunter feels free to ignore things like physics or normal human traits because it’s anime and that’s what anime is for.

Hunter and Hunter was a lot of fun to watch as an anime. The story mostly follows Gon, a 12 year old boy who decides to become a licensed Hunter like his father before him. By the end of the series it never really defines Hunter beyond “a person who hunts things and gets paid for it”. It does specify there are many different kinds of Hunters, and many seem more like researchers and explorers, or help get criminals or deal with natural disasters or some stuff like that? Due to the perks of the Hunter licence, many seek to take the Hunter Exam each year. There are several story archs, but the first is one of the longest and it follows Gon as he takes the Hunter Exam. He befriends Kurapika, Leorio, and Killua. Kurapika is on a quest to seek vengeance for the slaughter of his people of the Creepy Red Eyes. Leorio wants to be a doctor so he can save lives, but he can’t afford medical school without a Hunter licence. Killua is an assassin from a whole family of really good assassins, but he wants to leave that life behind and the Hunter test sounded interesting to him. I can’t go into the main plots of the other archs without spoiling stuff that happens in the first arch. But the show gets better and better, and comes up with very surprising and fascinating characters in each arch.

During each story arch we meet many interesting side characters, with varying degrees of fighting abilities. We learn many of their stories and desires. This is the biggest strength of the show. The show purposely avoids naming many ‘rules’ of the world these characters live in, and that allows it to introduce some very interesting story lines, conflicts, disasters, and most interesting: magic abilities. The magic system of Nen, introduced in the second story arch, winds up being the core unification behind the super abilities of the characters, and helps make things very complicated and unpredictable. The way the characters are developed is often surprising. You wind up being disappointed with the actions of your favorites as they make bad choices. You wind up being surprised at how the long term character development changes them, for better or worse. Even some characters you don’t like initially you wind up loving.

One of my favorite things about anime is its willingness to leave behind the good guy/bad guy extremes, and Hunter X Hunter fits this well. A great way to make a believable character is to give it flaws and strengths, to see them struggle and triumph, to even change sides in a conflict. I had many favorite characters by the end of the anime, and this led to what I saw as one of the biggest flaws of the show.

The most frustrating thing about Hunter X Hunter is the dangling story lines. It resolves the central plot and the plot of each arch in a very satisfying fashion. However, in introducing the many characters and their own desires, it doesn’t do much to resolve most of them. There’s a tantalizingly exciting conflict it hints at in the first arch, and it builds more on it the second and third arch, and even brings it up again in the final arch. However, it never actually happens. Both characters involved were alive at the end of the series. I am unsure if the manga author was leaving this open for a sequel series or what, but it was incredibly frustrating to anticipating an epic showdown, then have it never happen. At the end of the series you don’t get any closure on many characters you loved and heard their stories.

Another issue I had was the pacing. Sometimes the show clips along at a lively pace and keeps you on the roller coaster of many people handling complicated conflict in the hands of great writers. Other times, especially in the first arch, the action drags out, often inserting much unnecessary inner dialogue as characters ponder their actions. That’s normal in anime, we expect that, but when it’s dragging out an already slow fight scene, it makes me wish for everybody to just shut up and punch somebody already. There are also weird times when there’s just too many recaps. I understand the previous episode recap in the beginning, and we always just skip it because it happens conveniently before the theme song. But Hunter X Hunter, especially in the first two archs, often recaps right after something just happened, or after a commercial break. I have never seen so many freaking recaps in any anime. It even recaps things it spent too long explaining to you in the first place. It seems like partway through the third arch, they realized this was overkill and instead spent more time on the actual action.

My final criticism is the lack of female main characters. While females aren’t necessarily treated sexist in the anime and there are several interesting women characters in the later archs, I always see it as a failure of writers to include more interesting variety in genders to appeal to a wider audience. Most of the main protagonists and antagonists are male. We see maybe 2-3 females among the hundreds of participants in the Hunter Exam, and only one ever gets to speak. Finally, in the last two archs, we get more women in main and supporting roles.

I don’t think this series would go in my top favorites for the reasons I listed, but it was nonetheless a very enjoyable watch due to the fascinating plots and characters. Overall my favorite character was Killua, who was very closed in the beginning of the series but portrayed the greatest emotional range by the end. He and Gon have a very believable friendship that is the core of the show, and leaves people with warm fuzzies at tamest and a slew of fanfic OTP feels at the strongest.

So, I’d recommend this with a few warnings. Overall I’d rate it a solid 6.8 out of 10.

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