The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Hunter x Hunter (2011)

Title: Hunter x Hunter (2011)
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Madhouse
Format: 148 episodes
Dates: 2 Oct 2011 – 24 Sep 2014

Synopsis: 12-year-old Gon Freecss has a dream: He wants to become a Hunter — a professional who travels the world and completes dangerous tasks — and find his father, who disappeared long ago to become a Hunter himself. Gon signs up for the Hunter Exam, a dangerous trial where applicants prove their worth before becoming a pro Hunter. There, Gon meets an eclectic group of friends who lead him on many adventures.

The Highlights
Arcs: Hunter x Hunter‘s storylines each have something different and interesting to bring to the table.
Characters: The character relationships are delved into quite well. The drama unfolds naturally from their choices.
Tone: A light, bouncy tone in the beginning that grows a bit darker with each story.
Length: Hunter x Hunter takes a while to get going, but once it does, it keeps getting better.

Hunter x Hunter is a deceptive series. It starts as a kids show and concludes with arcs about genocide and political corruption. It’s an action series, but the heroes tend to come out on top when they’re not physically dominating their opponents. The cruel and vile are allowed slivers of humanity; the most likable, sympathetic characters are allowed their moments of darkness. Hunter x Hunter keeps viewers on their toes not for the sake of doing so, but because it truly understands humanity, both the good and the bad.

A true understanding of its characters and what drives them is what makes the drama in Hunter x Hunter so great. Gon, for example, starts at the prototypical shounen protagonist: He’s happy, full of energy, and raring for adventure. But even though Gon can be mature and friendly, he is also undeniably a 12-year-old boy and approaches situations as such. Sometimes this results in setting realistic goals for himself because he knows the limitations of his own strength; other times, his naive thinking leads to dire consequences. What gives these actions — and the actions of others — even greater resonance is how others view them. Gon meets a child assassin, Killua, early on in the series. They become fast friends, and through having someone around who treats him with kindness, Killua gets more in touch with his own humanity. So when Killua sees Gon’s naivety crumble under the harsh weight of this world, there’s an almost overwhelming gravity to it because of how much Killua’s growth has been affected by Gon.

That sort of drama happens frequently, because Hunter x Hunter takes the time to establish relationships and connections. Even characters who appear in the series for a relatively brief time get some sort of context for how they relate to the protagonists that makes drama involving them all the more real. Rare is the character who feels like a one-off who doesn’t matter; they affect the people around them, even if it’s in just a slight way. That’s important, especially since each arc of Hunter x Hunter is so radically different from the others. One is a straightforward tournament arc. Another is a crime thriller. Another is literally a big game. Another is basically a bite-sized war. They all differ greatly in tone and direction. What keeps the arcs from feeling like they all spring from different series is those human relationships that develop. They keep the show feeling more like a journey than a compilation of cool stories.

For those who want neat action, though, Hunter x Hunter has plenty of it. The show does take a while to find its footing, but once it does, it’s excellent. What makes Hunter x Hunter battles so interesting is that the enemies are almost always far stronger than the protagonists. That forces them to keep their goals realistic — “Land one punch!” or “Stay alive!” or whatever — and find clever ways to get things done. Because the character drama is consistently excellent, the actual battles always mean that much more, as well. It’s not simply a test to see who’s stronger (though those certainly exist); they’re fights with tangible stakes to them. The cherry on top is the creative team bringing its A-game to the fights. Big battles rarely disappoint: the animation is fluid, precise and on-point, the shots are framed in compelling ways that emphasize the story of each fight, and the choreography has an excellent sense of flow and movement that establishes a solid rhythm. Director Koujina Hiroshi and his crew have a thorough understanding of what makes every conflict tick and how they move the story forward.

The one big negative of this adaptation of Hunter x Hunter is that it takes a long time to really get going. The 1999 adaptation of Hunter x Hunter had a distinctly dark, earthy tone to it, almost like a fairy tale where a young boy enters a world of darkness. That tone made the first arc — the tournament arc where Gon earns his Hunter License — immediately compelling. In this adaptation, however, the initial tone is more like a traditional, light-hearted shounen adventure story. This raised the ire of fans afraid that the general public would dismiss the series as a kids show; later, it becomes apparent that the light tone is meant to draw people in and give more meaning to the slow burn to heavier arcs. But though I understand the reasoning behind it, it is nonetheless a gamble. Asking people to sit through 30-ish episodes done with a tone they may not like all that much on the promise of something more interesting to come is a tall order. If I didn’t already know I liked the story and characters, I might not have done it myself.

Even with that, however, Hunter x Hunter is one of the best anime of the past few years. It’s unusual for an anime to go on for this long and stay consistently good in nearly every facet — story, characters, animation. For nearly three years, each week I could count on at least one anime to transport me to an amazing world. Hunter x Hunter is a treasure that should not be forgotten.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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