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Anime In-Depth: Hunter x Hunter (Spoilers!)

Anime In-Depth: Hunter x Hunter (Spoilers!)
Game Name: Hunter x Hunter
Publisher(s): Viz Media
Developer(s): Madhouse
Release Date: 2011 - 2014

Be warned ahead of time, this review contains spoilers to plot and character details otherwise unknown without watching the entire show. I suggest bookmarking the page, watching all 148 episodes of Hunter x Hunter, then come back and read this and you’ll be spoiler free!

The show starts with a young boy named Gon Freecss that was abandoned by his father. Left to be raised by his Aunt Mito while his father leaves to become a Hunter, this shows highest paid and respected job. They hunt monsters, criminals, wealth, treasure, or anything their hearts desire. Gon was told nothing else about his father, but he didn’t despise or resent his father, he instead admired what being a Hunter must be for a father to abandon his child. Gon decided that his real goal would be to become a Hunter to find out why it was so incredible, and then he would search for his father.

HxH3Gon sets off on his adventure by taking the Hunter exam after he succeeds in passing Mito’s test, and meets Kurapika and Leorio aboard a ship departing from his home on Whale Island. Kurapika belongs to a tribe that was wiped out by the Genei Ryodan, otherwise known as the Phantom Troupe. Leorio aspires to become a Doctor after he has become a Hunter because he lost a childhood friend to an easily treated illness but could not afford to be treated as few doctors were even in that part of the world. During the first part of the Hunter exam they come across Killua Zoldyck, a young boy the same age as Gon, who belongs to a famous family of assassins. Killua has no real goal in mind but he’s intrigued that there is someone else his age taking the Hunter exam, which is said to be life threatening at best, and lethal at worst.

The Hunter Exam is where Gon also encounters someone who would be his rival, Hisoka, a Magician with a knack for murder, who proves to always be an opponent with no limit to wit, strength, or power. We also see a freakish character straight out of Hellraiser with needles throughout his head named Gittarackur who turns out to be Killua’s older brother, Illumi.  At the end of the exam there is a simple tournament between the 9 remaining participants, if anyone kills their opponent, they automatically fail and everyone else passes. Illumi scares and intimidates Killua into killing his opponent causing him to fail, and in despair, return home to the Zoldyck home.

After the Hunter Exam, Gon takes Kurapika and Leorio to rescue their new friend in the Zoldyck home. They encounter the Zoldyck servants at the Testing Gate, which weights exponentially more for each of it’s six gates opened, and once they enter, they find that family Butlers, who are all stronger than most other Hunters are. Gotoh, Killua’s head butler, ends up testing Gon with a coin trick to make sure he is worth Killua’s company, and they depart again. This arc is a bit shorter but alludes to some of the Zoldyck family for later on.

At this point, most of the plot elements are in place for the rest of the series except for the last component. Everyone needs to HxH2learn the art of Nen, this show’s adaptation of a special power, to help them along the rest of the story. The user adapts their life energy to help enhance their bodies or create objects, however something to note is that anyone that isn’t trained to see Nen cannot see anything made with Nen. To dive into it a little bit, everyone is classified as being one of multiple categories, Enhancer, Conjurer, Manipulator, Transmuter, Specialist, and Emitter. All of them are basically what they sound like with Specialist being the only wildcard in the bunch allowing them to have special capabilities with their Nen that no one else can. Nen has such a wide variety of uses in this show that I can safely pose a challenge to anyone reading this: Nen can explain the powers of characters in other shows.

Most of this is all straightforward and the parts I really enjoyed the most about the show are actually the last couple of story arcs. Mostly Greed Island and Chimera Ant arcs are the most interesting of the series in two different ways. Greed Island was basically a huge training simulation that brought Gon a step closer to finding his father, Ging Freecss, and once he completed it, led him instead to Ging’s student at the Hunter Association, Kite. During Greed Island, Gon finds out that Ging actually was one of the creators of the game, and it was designed for Hunters exclusively. There was a limited number of copies made and you had to activate your Nen to have the game bring you into it. In a sense it was one of the first ‘Full Dive’ sort of games to exist in an anime or manga, as Hunter x Hunter dates back to before Sword Art Online, but it still preceeded by the .hack// HxH1Series of shows and manga. What most players didn’t figure out was that Greed Island was actually a secret island in the real world and activating their Nen transported them to the island, so they weren’t actually playing a game, but Ging and his friends used Nen to create a series of Nen Rules on the island that allowed them to create a game. All of the adventure and fun is cut short rather quickly when Gon learns about a person called the Bomber, who has been trying to complete the game by collecting all of the cards so he can collect on a huge reward. The problem is that he murders everyone he can to extort or steal everything. While earning all of his cards in a safe way, Gon encounters Razer in a lethal Dodgeball, yes dodgeball, match. Razer is an ex-convict who was a serial murderer, and also one of Ging’s friends, Razer. Razer tells Gon that Ging isn’t on Greed Island, and doesn’t know where he could be, and Gon sets off to complete the game by defeating Genthru and making sure he’ll never hurt another person again.

This is where the series starts to shift into a darker state though. Everything up until now had death and murder, yes, but always had some sort of lighter ending that would capture the nature of the series as being fairly upbeat or that everything would end well. When Gon and Killua are sent to Kite though, the entire story line begins to shift in the Chimera Ant arc. The Ants are a life form where their queen would produce offspring with genetic markers based on the food she was given. Eventually a queen grew to the size of a human and began eating larger animals and her soldiers would roam and kidnap humans, even children, to be eaten and turned into more soldiers. Nen was particularly a human trait until this moment. The Captains for the ants began to see Nen when other Hunters came to investigate disappearances of villagers in this tiny nation called the NGL. Even one of the Hunters that passed with Gon and everyone else, Pokkle, showed up with another Exam taker, Ponzu. They come across the ants at a time when the queen gives birth to the first of the three Royal Guards, those that would HxH4end up serving the Ant King she would later give birth to, and he would go to make another queen and spread the Ants further. Pokkle is not just killed, but the Royal Guard pokes into his brain and tortures the information out of him before he’s submitted for food for the queen, Ponzu is brutally murdered for sport by another Ant. It also serves to reintroduce Chairman Netero from earlier in the series, as well as introduce new characters that serve in the assault against the Ant King to stop them once and for all.

Most people at this point have seen enough death in other shows or series that this isn’t a big deal, but this tone shift is a massive change from the beginning of the series. Even Kite, Gon’s closest link to his father, is killed by a Royal Guard and enslaved as a puppet to help train other Ants in the use of Nen. This brings Gon to a state of anger, and depression at times, and a new mentor that he looked up to and respected greatly. Despite such a huge change in the series, the entire arc is incredible in the way that it starts out with a nearly peaceful attitude, and once the King is born he unleashes hell everywhere he goes. The King, in preparation of a ceremony to physically convert the entire country’s human population into an Ant Soldier hybrid species, challenges his mind with games so that he can truly live up to his name of King. He abducts the greatest Chess Masters, Checkers players, and any other game, just to find the ultimate tactical strategies and beat the best players in the world, between reading all the books that he can. He comes across an unusual game in the country called Gungi, and the Master is a young blind girl named Komugi. The King’s interactions with this girl are what defines the greatness of this series to me. A creature that is seeking to destroy the human race plays a game with a fragile blind girl for days, seeking only to win a single time, and finds that with all the power he has he cannot beat this girl at Gungi. Her interactions with him inadvertently would cause his demise by the end of the season as well, causing one Royal Guard to be abducted in an order to protect her, who would lose their life to Gon in a fit of rage, becoming easily the most powerful Nen user in the world. It also makes Gon the only human to kill any of the Royal Guards, as the ending of the series is brought about by an unsuspected end to the King’s life. By the end of the Arc, Gon is left mortally crippled with no hope left inside, Killua is depressed because his best friend refused to accept his help and it is costing him his life, and most of the other Hunters end the fight against the guards knowing that for all their efforts, they were all ultimately too weak to have even joined the fight.

HxH5Every other Arc of Hunter x Hunter ends with something positive happening, even if there is a bit of negative mixed in. Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio pass the Hunter Exam but Killua fails because of Illumi, Gon and friends find Killua and take him away from his home, Killua and Gon learn about Nen and complete Gon’s first goal of fighting Hisoka and standing his ground in the Heaven’s Arena, Kurapika manages to not only capture and subdue but completely remove the Phantom Troupe’s leader from the Troupe though causing an extreme depression because he didn’t take his chance to kill the leader, and finally with Greed Island Gon finds out that Ging is still around somewhere, and he even set up a trick to send Gon and Killua to Kite if they managed to complete Greed Island and leave. The only note that ends positively for the entirety of the Chimera Ant arc is that the King dies and the human race is saved, but the ending is bittersweet as the King chooses to die slowly with Komugi, playing Gungi, in his last moments as they keep each other’s company.

I started watching the 2011 version of this series back in 2013 when it was getting into Greed Island and I powered through the first 60 episodes in a few days. It was the one show I looked forward to every single Saturday afternoon when it aired on Crunchyroll like I was some little kid watching cartoons on his weekend off from school. I would keep rewatching every episode every week several times over, and since the end of the series I’ve watched all 148 episodes two more times. I enjoyed their application and clever uses of Nen in the show, as well as their creativity with some of the characters in the show. It was always good to keep in mind that the Manga for this Anime had originally released in 1998, as it always felt like it borrowed ideas from other shows, but the story of Gon Freecss would pre-date most other Anime today.

Above all else, shows like this are what makes me continue watching Anime. Every now and then you come across a series that you can’t wait to see the end of, that you can ramble on about to your friends until they give in an watch a few episodes themselves and they get hooked too, until half the people you work with are talking about it every week after the show airs. Hunter x Hunter was one of these shows for me,  and I was glad I could share it with several of my friends and co-workers.

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