VIZ media has released the first two DVD sets of the 2011 reboot of anime Hunter X Hunter.
Based on the “Shonen Jump” manga series created by Yoshihiro Togiashi, it follows the adventures of Gon Freecss, a young boy who wants follow in his father’s footsteps to become a “Hunter”, someone that, you guessed it, hunts monsters. The two DVD sets compile the first 26 episodes, featuring both the “Hunter Exam” and “Zodkyck Family” story arcs. Reminiscent of other popular anime based on Shonen Jump Manga, like Dragon Ball and One Piece, it chronicles Gon’s journey and the battles, enemies and friends he encounters along the way. Is it good?
Hunter X Hunter Vol. 1 & 2 (Viz Media)
The videos introduce us to the world of Hunter X Hunter with the fast paced “Hunter Exam” arc. Gon, a boy raised by his aunt, who grew up believing both of his parents were dead, finds out his father is in fact alive and abandoned him to become a hunter. Reading that last sentence, you might believe it to be a revelatory moment that spurs anger and bitter feelings in young Gon. You’d be mistaken. Instead he wants to become a Hunter too, rationalizing, “… It must be a pretty great job if he’s willing to leave his son behind”. Yes, the character actually says those words. If that immediately turns you off, you may be better off picking a different series.
There’s a bit of a formula to Shonen Jump multi-arc series like Naruto, where a young ninja that is underestimated by his peers, sets his sights on a grand ambition (in this case Hokage-leader of the village) and fights overwhelming odds against more and more powerful antagonists, while discovering becoming a respected figure. Dragon Ball did this with Goku, Bleach with Ichigo and so on. All of the protagonists share an upbeat personality, unfailing loyalty and bravery. What sets each series apart are the settings, characters and fighting. If you liked the others mentioned, you have an idea of whether Hunter X Hunter is up your alley or not.
The “Hunter Exam” arc introduces us to the people that will become Gon’s companions throughout the series: Killua Zoldyck, a seemingly care free boy with a dark side; Kuripika, a lone survivor of his clan’s massacre, who is looking for revenge; and finally Leorio Paradinight, a young adult that proclaims he wants to be a hunter for the large amounts of money they earn, though that may not be the real reason. Gon and Kuripika seemed to me to be the most recognizable archetypes, while Killua’s violent nature, while still being friendly and loyal to the group, was the most refreshing and unexpected. Leorio didn’t seem to fit a particular mold either and much of the comedic elements happen with this character, while most of the fighting is left for the other three.
Speaking of fighting, the battles throughout are well executed and exciting, which was a little surprising since Gon’s weapon of choice is a fishing pole. However, there is less fighting than I expected, since many of the trials in the Hunter’s Exam relied less on beating uniquely powered opponents and more on the characters analyzing and solving the challenges they were given, which never had straight forward terms of victory. It was very well paced, with little downtime, as I only counted one “filler” episode that took the form of Gon writing his aunt and recounting the previous episodes to that point. The lack of huge showdowns wasn’t much of a turn off, as this type of anime likes to slowly build and tease what each character is capable of, sometimes not revealing their true powers until much later. Overall the Hunter’s Exam arc was fun, as each episode kept you guessing what the point of the current phase was really is about. The fourth phase, where the participants have to hunt down and take ID tags off one another, was a standout.
At the conclusion of the Hunter’s Exam, 21 episodes in, there is a short 4 episode “Zoldyck Family” arc, that focuses on Killua’s backstory and rounds out the second Volume of the DVD’s. The series did a good job of transitioning the two story lines, as elements and characters from the second arc are set up in the latter stages of the Hunter’s Exam, so it feels more like a continuation than a new beginning. It’s problem a lot of anime have, like One Piece, where they spend so much time in one place developing a particular storyline, that by the time it finishes it feels like there’s a reboot when it picks up the main narrative again. The second arc wasn’t as long, so I didn’t expect it to have the same impact as the Hunter’s Exam arc, but I still found it interesting. Since Killua was a standout character to me, whose motivations I didn’t completely trust given his dualistic nature and violent tendencies, he was a smart pick to delve into with the next arc.
Anyone acquainted with this type of anime know what they are getting themselves into. Hunter X Hunter Vol. 1 & 2 bucks a few of the tropes associated with Shonen Jump style anime, with a few fresh characters and conflicts not always being resolved by fighting. There’s some censorship to the gore that was present in the manga, but a few violent scenes do turn up, so take that for what you will. Overall, it was a fun and interesting anime with a memorable antagonist. Since these are the beginning episodes, and I didn’t watch the series when it aired on Cartoon Network, it will take a while to see the big picture and overarching plot line. If it continues it’s quick pacing and smooth transitioning, story-wise, I would be curious enough to continue.
(Side note: The manga is ongoing, however the anime has stopped at episode 148. There may be more episodes in the future when the producers get enough material from the manga to make another season, but it’s not a sure bet.)
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