Hunter x Hunter has been in my life for a while. I read the manga as a child in Korea, and I kept up with it after I moved to the US. Yet, I would describe its presence in my life as sparse and skimpy. For one, I was too young to understand the complex world of Hunter x Hunter; furthermore, the frequent hiatuses interrupted any sense of continuity or significance. Therefore, even though I was aware of many of the major events in the plot, I wouldn’t say I really knew what the show was about. You might ask then, what made you watch the show? Well, there’s a very simple answer: YouTube! I follow a few popular YouTube channels that analyze and criticize anime; and all of them recommended Hunter x Hunter (2011). I had been craving a new show to watch, so I took their advice and dove into the wonderful world of Hunter x Hunter.
YouTube told me I would be impressed by these things: 1) Killua and Gon’s friendship 2) the adventure and 3) the animation and the action scenes. In this review, let’s begin with these things and see if my experience of the show lived up to the authoritative advice of my favorite YouTubers. So let’s get to the first question: What’s special about Gon and Killua’s relationship? Isn’t it common for shonen mangas to mess up rivalries and friendships? Yes it is. Look at Naruto and Bleach. However, Hunter x Hunter is fundamentally different from Naruto and Bleach. Unlike Naruto and Bleach, Hunter x Hunter is not a typical shonen manga. It does not have an invincible protagonist defeating every enemy. For instance, Gon, the main character, never really wins. He lost to Hisoka during the Hunter Exam and he lost to him again during the Heaven’s arena arc. But, for some reason Hunter x Hunter makes those losses epic and awesome. How? Well, the focus is not so much on victory but rather on character development. This makes it so that even though Gon lost we were exhilarated to see his vast improvement as a fighter.
Moreover, Hunter x Hunter’s characters do not partake in shallow relationships that feel contrived. Killua’s bond with Gon feels organic. Gon was Killua’s first friend, he has a bright and bubbly personality, and he rescued Killua from a life by which he felt trapped. We also see them go through so many trials and tribulations together –and also joy as they make jokes and goof around– that the gradual strengthening of their trust and love feels very natural. It makes sense as to why Killua cares about Gon. Not only does the relationship feel organic, it is also very personal to the viewers. The show takes a lot of time into probing into Killua’s psychology and how he feels towards Gon. We see how much he cares about Gon and how much he tries to be a better friend for Gon. Such frequent exposure to his psychology makes us care about him and his relationship with Gon. Since it invests so much time into their relationship, we become invested in their relationship as well.
On top of such solid rapport between the protagonists, we have the fascinating villains of Hunter x Hunter. These characters are so complex, funny, compelling, and unique that it’s honestly inappropriate to call them villains. Most of these are just characters who lead their own lives, with their own unique goals, who happen to cross paths with the main characters. Sure, none of these are upstanding models of good moral conduct, but they are not your typical villain who just “wants to see the world burn.” They have friendships, bonds, goals, and attachments that make their every move interesting and relatable. No wonder some of the most popular characters are villains –Hisoka, the Spiders, and Meruem.
So far it appears that my favorite YouTubers were correct: the characters’ relationships are indeed compelling and interesting. Could we say the same about its world –the place in which the adventure takes place? My answer again is yes. The world of Hunter x Hunter is complex and mysterious. For instance, Nen, the energy that allows the characters perform inhuman tasks, is very complicated. It’s not a simple system like the ki of Dragonball whose only feature is that those who have more ki are stronger. Unlike ki, Nen isn’t a system in which you simply climb up the ladder to become stronger. The system is set up in a way so that there are many different types of Nen users. Their types and abilities are determined by their personalities. These abilities are often not about overt strength, i.e., it’s not always about battle. To be fair, there are a lot of battles in Hunter x Hunter. But these battles are not about overpowering your opponent through brute strength or speed. It is more about using your unique ability to the fullest. This is quite apparent in the fight between Uvogin and Kurapika; it ain’t always about muscle. Lurking in the background of this complicated Nen system is the world of Hunter x Hunter itself. This is a world full of properties, institutions, assassins, games, bandits, and creatures that are so disparate and creative that it is nigh impossible to explain all of them in this review. I think the best way to somewhat grasp the enormity of this world is to look back at my list – “properties, institutions, assassins, games, bandits, and creatures.” Unlike a typical shonen manga that revolves around beating the Big Bad, Hunter x Hunter lets you take a peak at their political institutions, the kinds of games they play, and so on. This is further amplified by the nearly endless amount of details that turns everything in this whacky world into a coherent network.
Last but not least, the animation is superb. Coming from Madhouse, which gave us One Punch Man, Wolf Children, and Death Note, one can only imagine the quality of the animation. I was and I am still surprised by the quality of the animations for a show that spans over a hundred episodes. How is this possible? I am not so sure. But perhaps the long list of Korean animators might give us a clue as to how many people were involved in producing this masterpiece of show. I highly recommend it.
P.S. I plan on writing a Hegelian analysis of Meruem from Hunter x Hunter. This will be a long project so hold on tight. I think it’s going to be good!