Hunter x hunter - hunter exam and zoldyck family arc
Prefer to listen on Youtube? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Prl0frrKc8s
Out of all the uber-popular shonen battle manga, one title stands above them all. Not in terms of popularity, although isn't certainly isn't lacking in that, as it's been running since 1998 and has gotten two long running TV anime, many OVAs and two feature length films. I am of course talking about Hunter x Hunter, which is illustrated and written by Yoshihiro Togashi, and is published in Shonen Jump. But what exactly is it about this series that has captivated so many people? That's what I wanted to find out. From the outside looking in, it seemed like a fairly normal battle series, but its fans will praise it to high heavens and make large claims of just how good it is. So I went to work, and started watching the 2011 TV series, as it's the most popular adaptation. Hunter x Hunter, like many other manga, can be neatly split into story arcs, and the one I will be covering here is the Hunter Exam and the Zoldyck Family arc.
One of my favourite things about Dragon Ball, Naruto and Bleach is the way they handle character introductions, specifically the main cast that we'll be following for the entire run of the series. The Emperor Pilaf arc from Dragon Ball is amazing precisely because of how it handles this aspect, with Goku and Bulma traveling across a long distance, and then meeting the characters that will join the main cast throughout their travels. Conflict arises, they then fight, Goku has to figure out how to beat them, and they join the group. Hunter x Hunter is sadly, rather lackluster when it comes to this. Gon, the main character, meets up with Leorio and Kurapika in the first episode, and then meets Killua in episode 4. But the problem doesn't lie in the pacing, rather it lies elsewhere, with just how the characters are introduced. Leorio and Kurapika meet up with Gon while on a ship which is supposed to take them to the exam site. And Kurapika meets up with Gon while they're doing the first challenge. They see each other, realize that they're the same age, and decide to just do the exam together. It's a rather drab and un-interesting way to do it.
So while the first impression may be rather weak, I was still hopeful for the next few episodes, and the arc was rather enjoyable to watch. I liked the villains that were set up, such as Hisoka, who in his fight with Gon during one of the exam challenges, was genuinely frightening. I loved seeing Gon have to think and be strategic in order to take Hisoka's number plate from him, as he was too weak physically to beat him. Gon's weapon of choice, the fishing rod, was also cool, and was used in many interesting ways during these few episodes, which really made it feel like there was reason for him to have such an un-orthodox weapon other than just standing out. My favourite aspect of the series during this part was definitely the way it used facial expressions though. It may seem like a small thing, but it really does wonders for characterization. One event will occur, and the main characters will all have different facial expressions which tell us what they think of what just happened, and this not only showcases the differences between the characters, but also adds a lot of depth to them. Kurapika is often contemplative in his expressions, Leorio is often shocked and not too bright, and Gon thinks very hard about certain things. It's been a while since I watched it as of the time of writing, so I don't have more examples, but it's a very interesting detail that adds a lot to the show.
One thing I dislike about the show is the way it handles Leorio. At first, he seems fairly intriguing, but as you go on, he just seems to have less and less of a reason to be there at all. Leorio's backstory has as much depth as that one indian character from the first Tenkai-ichi tournament in Dragon Ball. No seriously, a main character in HxH has the same amount of depth as a throwaway side character in Dragon Ball. I don't doubt that his character gets explored more later on, but in these early episodes, he's rather lacking. He wants to pass the Hunter exam because as a young child, one of his friends passed away from a disease that was treatable but that he didn't have enough money to treat. By passing the Hunter exam, he can get a license which he can sell for absurd amounts of money, and therefore he'll never have to worry about his finances The Indian character in Dragon Ball who appears six times in the entire series, wants to win the twenty first Tenkaichi Budokai so that he can get the cash prize, and use it to save his home village which is currently experiencing serious drought and famine. I think Leorio is rather lackluster in these two arcs. Kurapika is a little more interesting of character, though we only get subtle hints that establish things which will happen in the future. Things such as Kurapika being wary of the Phantom Troupe and some spider logo all seem to build up for later plot developments, but that's about it.
Gon and Killua are fairly alright, and I do like how gradual their friendship is, and what that says about Killua as a character. He's was raised in a family of assassins and expected to follow in the same line of work himself, but as he is a twelve year old boy he really just wants a friend, and his interactions with Gon really show that. The dynamic between the two is very interesting, as previously mentioned Killua is an assassin, and Gon is very pure hearted. Not to the point of naivete, he doesn't just assume everyone has good intentions, as is shown during his various bouts with Hisoka, he is very much able to sense danger and intent to kill.
There are lots of small bits of contrast between the two, such as Gon not having any family and becoming a hunter so he can begin searching for his dad, and Killua not really having a good relationship with his family, and sort of taking the hunter exam so he can escape them. Before of course, his family begins searching for him.
But that's all plot/writing related, so how does the production hold up? I was really surprised when I watched this, because, weirdly enough, I always see people praise the animation of Hunter x Hunter 2011. Maybe they're talking about later in the series, because in terms of animation, it leaves a lot to be desired. There is heavy use of cost cutting techniques, speed lines in particular, and I don't mean to say that such things are inherently bad, I don't really care much for fluid animation and sakuga myself, but I guess I just expected more. The colours often feel a bit flat, the backgrounds look alright, and from where I left off I wasn't really impressed by any specific tracks from the OST, it's all just alright.
In conclusion, I feel rather lukewarm about Hunter x Hunter after watching the first 25 episodes. I still intend to finish the 2011 adaptation, and to then start the manga afterwards, but from where I left off, I can't say I'm that impressed. Apparently Yorknew and Chimera Ant arc are extremely good, so I'm looking forward to eventually getting there, but for now, it's gonna sit in the on-hold list for a while.