Hunter x Hunter is a long running shounen series written by Togashi Yoshihiro. You may know him as the author of Yu Yu Hakusho and the husband of Takeuchi Naoko, the writer of Sailor Moon. The still ongoing manga has gotten several anime adaptations. One from ’99- ’01, a thirty episode OVA from ’02-’04 and a Madhouse series that started airing in 2011 and ran until 2014. The Madhouse series is the one we’ll be looking at today. I did like Yu Yu Hakusho well enough, so let’s see how this one compares.
Our narrative is set in a world where an elite group of hunters has a lot of fame, prestige and performs dangerous tasks. Each year there’s an exam to determine what young blood will be allowed to join the Hunter’s organisation. We follow twelve year old Gon Freecss, son of a famous hunter, who’s preparing to take the exam and follow in his father’s footsteps. And, since this is a long shounen action series, after that arc ends we have a good half dozen more.
Let’s begin, as I usually do, with the negatives about the story. The biggest flaw is the “romance” element. No, it’s not actual romance but that’s the quickest way to succinctly describe it before going into the details. Gon and his equally young friend, Killua, attract a lot of attention from older characters. There are multiple guys who seem to get sexually aroused from battle who develop something of a fixation on the two of them and there’s a woman in her twenties who forces Gon to go on a date with her. Now, to the series’ credit these blatant paedophiles are shown as, at best, having dark personalities even if they’re technically allied with the heroic group. So, at least there’s some acknowledgement that what they’re doing is not all right. But it’s still pretty bloody creepy to have that level of sexual fixation directed at twelve year olds. Especially since no one in the series seems to ever acknowledge the issue with it. The series also does, like every other long shounen action anime I’ve seen, have its share of filler. Although it’s probably the least egregious offender I’ve seen in that regard. At least in terms of 100+ episode action anime.
Let’s move on to the praise. There are a lot of good things about this series. First off, it does subvert a lot of the traditional shounen tropes. Gon isn’t the ultimate, most powerful person of all who comes in after his friends get their anuses torn open and just cleans up. We see a lot of stronger characters and some who are easily on the same level with him. He frequently isn’t even the one who will finish a battle. He’ll make definite contributions, but he won’t be the key to everything working. Which gives the other characters a reason to be there beyond acting as fodder. The series is also good about setting up scenarios that, in any other action series, would end in a very particular way and then ending them in a different way that works better with the narrative. There’s a clear Dragonball inspiration which the series uses well by taking certain concepts and putting its own unique spin on them. Remember Goku’s Janken attack? Well, Gon has his own Janken inspired attack but his is different and stays relevant. Killua also gets a technique that’s visually similar to a super saiyajin and the main antagonist of the chimera ant arc absorbs people to grow stronger, rather like Cell but, aside from that, the two villains aren’t very alike. Our heroes find a teacher who looks at dirty magazines, like Roshi, but never harasses anyone and is just a far stronger character. I actually like her a lot. I’ve seen enough series that are blatant rip-offs (The Law of Ueki) and series that just verbatim follow cliches, that it’s impressive when you find one like this that wears its inspiration clearly but also is its own unique entity.
In terms of the strength of the arcs, they range from decent to excellent. The chimera ant arc is definitely the strongest, with a lot of development for the antagonists, a story that really builds on the prior events of the series, it has the most tragic, heart-wrenching scene I’ve seen in a while & it opens up quite a few possibilities for future events. The Greed Island arc, in contrast, is the weakest. It’s the only arc that’s just decent. It has its strong suits like Biscuit Kreuger, some very inventive action sequences, allowing us to see certain characters in a new light and Biscuit Kreuger. It also drags more than anything else in the series, features the least interesting antagonists and it’s the arc that plays a lot of shounen tropes the safe and predictable way. Which gets a bit dull.
In general, I really like the cast in this series. I don’t know why we need paedophile characters. They seem completely unnecessary. I also find Leorio a bit insufferable. The dude basically only succeeds at anything because the people around him prop him up and he’s just a total swine. Although, I can’t really fault the series for his writing since he does have verisimilitude. I’ve known people who were very much like that and I couldn’t stand them either. The antagonist writing is largely well done. All of the antagonists in this have some redeeming qualities. Even the Greed Island antagonists have this sense of camaraderie among them. Which might not be much but it’s something. There isn’t a single character in this series who’s devoid of verisimilitude.
I can’t go over every single character in great detail, so I’ll just mention some of the major ones. Gon and Killua are our main boys, playing a major role in everything. In some ways, Gon seems like the dumb but good-natured shounen protagonist but it becomes clear, very quickly, that he’s not stupid. He’s naïve because he’s twelve and has spent most of his life on a small island. He’s also highly observant and can be very cunning when he has a strong grasp of a situation. Killua initially seems like the character who has a dark past and that’s going to be the excuse for everything they do. However, he quickly distinguishes himself from that character type by being quite cheerful instead of dark and brooding. He also distinguishes himself through his strong friendship and loyalty towards Gon. Usually that character is established as a rival for the main hero who really wants to be stronger than them and will never admit to liking them. As the series progresses, he also starts to get a lot more of a conscience. He’s still pragmatic about killing when the situation calls for it, but he focuses a lot more on protecting others. Especially Gon and his little sister who shows up towards the end.
Another character I want to talk about is Komugi. She is the character who really solidifies the chimera ant arc as the best. Before she shows up, the antagonists are under-developed and they’ve shown basically nothing redeemable besides hints of the same type of camaraderie that were displayed in the Greed Island arc. That changes with the introduction of Komugi, a blind little lass who gets brought in to entertain the king. By playing a game, get your minds out of the gutter. She quickly starts to form a genuine bond with him that he doesn’t really understand and that his loyal guards don’t know how to react to. This bond becomes central to the character development of the antagonists in the arc and involves some of the best written scenes in the entire series. And she’s an interesting character too. She doesn’t want to bother anyone due to her physical limitations but she’s not weak. She has a lot of mental fortitude and once she’s resolved she doesn’t change her mind. It’s fascinating to watch her even when a lot of what happens in her scenes revolves around playing a game with ill-defined rules.
For starters, I have to address the character designs. Some of them are kind of typical; bright-eyed lad with crazy hair and such. But a lot of them are quite unique. The chimera ants have fascinating designs. Even the ones largely based off of one animal have an insect-like influence that makes them more than your typical furry fodder. I also appreciate that the female characters have a lot of diversity. In a lot of these shounen series you’ll get the attractive ladies in major roles and, maybe, some unattractive ones who get thrown in for a scene or two as a jape. In this one, one of the major female characters looks like she’d fit in with the muscular machismo of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. There’s another, Senritsu, who looks kind of like a Friar Tuck cosplayer. There are also ones like Komugi, who looks rather plain aside from her gigantic eyebrows. The action sequences in this are really stellar. The Nen element allows for a wide variety of different techniques and styles without going overboard to the extent where anything could happen and it would make sense. The animation is very fluid and the world just looks really good.
The acting is really damn good. Like with the characters, I can’t talk about every single actor but I’ll bring up a few who stand out. Our main heroes are voiced by Han Megumi & Ise Mariya, both of whom deliver superb performances. Tominaga Miina, the voice of Senritsu, also stands out. She sounds very melodic and she’s just a joy to listen to. Endou Aya, Yokoyama Chisa & Uchiyama Kouki also stand out for their superb work as Komugi, Biscuit Kreuger & Meruem. Paku Romi is also in this and her character is named Paku. We have Hirano Yoshihisa to thank for the awesome soundtrack. You may also know him from his work on Death Note & Strawberry Panic.
There’s a bit. I already mentioned the men who seem to be aroused off of the idea of fighting twelve year old boys. There are also times where Killua’s devotion to Gon and his response come across as being more than friendship. Honestly, they’re the same age so I have no problem with that.
That’s Hunter x Hunter. When all is said and done, I do like it more than Yu Yu Hakusho. It has stronger arcs, character writing and is just generally superior. It’s still not perfect and there are definitely things that could have been better handled but I can still heartily recommend it for action fans. My final rating is going to be an enthusiastic 8.5/10. Next week I’ll look at Girls und Panzer der film.