The story of Hunter x Hunter focuses on a young boy named Gon Freecs, who discovers that his father, whom he was initially told was dead, is actually alive and well. His father, Ging, is a world-renowned Hunter, which is a a licensed profession for those who specialise in pursuits such as locating rare or unidentified animal species, treasure hunting, surveying unexplored enclaves, or hunting down lawless individuals. Despite Ging having left his son with his relatives in order to pursue his own dreams, young Gon departs on a journey determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, pass the rigorous Hunter Examination, and eventually find his elusive father. Along the way, Gon meets various other kinds of Hunters and has many adventures on the way.
I watched one episode of Hunter x Hunter and was totally hooked. Not only is it the work of Yoshihiro Togashi, the creator of Yu Yu Hakusho, but it is also one of the most superior shounen animes I have seen (on a par with, in my opinion, Naruto Shippuden). It manages to be enormously entertaining through its animation, characterisation and plot, without resorting to any typical cliches. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why this anime sometimes falls under the radar (it certainly fell under mine for a disturbing amount of time), but it is one of the best long-running shows I have seen. Since its indefinite hiatus towards the end of last year, I have been trying to write this blog in a way that does this title justice.
To begin with, the story of Hunter x Hunter is vibrant and imaginative, though not at all difficult for anyone to follow. From the start the objective of this series is made clear: the eventual reunion of Gon with his famous Hunter father. However, the path that Gon takes to achieve this end is full of twists and surprises that keep the tale fresh. The viewer is always whisked to-and-fro between varying offbeat situations – from the dangerous wilderness to a battle-stage tower with over two hundred floors of increasingly difficult fighting tournaments. Through these atypical situations, we come to understand the motivations of our lead and become endeared to his simple, and rather innocent, cause. A superb level of plot attention is also dedicated to other prominent cast members, including Gon’s main companions in the story: Killua, Leorio (one of my favourite characters ever), and Kurapika. Though the centerpiece here is Gon, none of the supporting roles go undeveloped.
A rather unexpected facet of this title is how lightly the plot focuses on fighting. To be certain, fighting does take place and, especially later on in the series, it becomes quite prominent, but it never manages to wrestle the spotlight away from the more important portions of the narrative. Despite this, the action leaves very little to be desired. The fight-action sets here are more complex than the typical ki-blasting, as fast-as-light-movement farce that has become the industry standard for fighting anime (I’m looking at you, Bleach). Instead we are treated to a truly creative power-leveling system and a diversity of combat styles that make each fight more than simply imaginitive, but instead truly engaging. It is as if the battle scenes have actually added to the tension and excitement of the plotline rather than flattened it – a rare occurrence indeed.
Musically, Hunter x Hunter impresses me. Ever since I watched the first ending credits and heard Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas‘ ‘Just Awake’, I’ve been a huge fan. They’ve done other opening credits for animes, such as Brynhildr in the Darkness and their style is so recognisable. From a good start, the music has only continued to improve throughout the series. Additionally, the animation is fairly good throughout. Though I must say it isn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, it does succeed in being visually appealing. There is also a definite change for the better in terms of the animation the further you progresses through the show. The set and backgrounds are very memorable, and so have a strong appeal and are reasonably effective at immersing us in this strange and phenomenal world.
But one of the greatest parts of this anime lies within its superb characters. The majority of the cast, I’m happy to say, is not generic or formulaic, which is a trap that some animes can find themselves falling into pretty easily. Gon, the main protagonist, is a charismatic young boy whose optimism and innocence is always invigorating without being imposing. He also defies the traditional ‘Shonen Jump Hero Archetype’ by not always being the strongest, but just looking to always better himself. Gon’s optimism is offset well by the darker, more brooding persona of Killua, a young boy that Gon befriends early in the show and who stays with him until near enough the end (at least until the end of the anime hiatus). Together they make for one the most interesting pair of best friends in all the anime I have seen.
Leorio and Kurapika also make for complex and interesting characters. Leorio is a man who, haunted by his past, is motivated to the performance of benevolent acts to the benefit of humanity whilst being the loudest (and most amusing, in my opinion) of the group. Kurapika, conversely, is quieter and motivated by revenge, though vengeance is mostly an ideal that is out of character for him. Consequently, Kurapika always seems to be a man at odds with himself. Surprisingly, the antagonists of the show are equally compelling such as Hisoka, Illumi and Meruem. Throughout all of the arcs, the interplay of these characters as they grow and develop is at the core of what makes Hunter x Hunter so watchable.
It’s no secret that Hunter x Hunter is one of my all-time favourite shounens. It’s difficult to be objective and critical about an anime that grabbed me at such an early stage and held on tightly until the end. It’s also difficult to explain what I really love about this anime without giving away spoilers. It has an infectious energy and unique charm that draws viewers to it. It is close to being a masterpiece of shounen animation. If you’re a fan of Naruto Shippuden, Bleach, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist and the like, and for some reason Hunter x Hunter has gone unnoticed, you need to watch this – and watch it now.