Hunter x Hunter – Awesome x Kickass

Leorio gets top pic, because he’s a boss despite being the comic relief character who receives the least development of the main characters. I believe, Leorio! I believe!

For the past month or so (maybe more; can’t remember exactly when I started), I’ve slowly made my way through the original Hunter x Hunter series, mainly because I wanted to watch it before the Madhouse remake begins. Now, I’ve been informed that for the most part the original series is roughly 90 percent faithful to the manga, so seeing this is not a requirement by any means if one plans to watch the remake. My main interest is seeing how it was done before so that I can note any different approaches Madhouse takes to the material. But I do believe the original series is worth watching, and it’s not just because of the solid foundation the manga provides!

I do want to get the bad out of the way first, though: I did not like Hunter x Hunter at first. In fact, it wasn’t until around episode 11 or 12 that I really started to enjoy the series. I’m loathe to break out the “It gets better!” defense, lest I invite mocking comments from Scamp, but I think that’s what happens here . . . sort of. Now, I mostly agree with Scamp’s assertion that “It gets better, I swear!” mostly means that a series gets better and more confident at what it’s already doing. Hunter x Hunter feels a bit different to me, though.

With this series, I think it doesn’t get better at what it’s doing so much as it actually starts taking on the tone for which it is most famous. The early episodes feel like standard Shounen Jump fare to me — lighthearted, fun, with a bit of the usual danger thrown in. But they also seem to reflect how limited the world of the protagonist, Gon, is to that point. He’s grown up in a world that while wild and dangerous is also familiar to him. As he begins the Hunter Exam, though, and gets deeper into the tests, he’s exposed to a world that is different and more sinister. The tone of the series darkens, and it’s a darkness that feels legitimately dangerous.

The fellow above, Hisoka, is representative of what I believe Hunter x Hunter gets right. Hisoka is the kind of character many stories don’t do well: He’s an agent of chaos, solely interested in finding powerful people so that he can kill them. Hisoka is happiest when fighting someone who can push him to the limit. If he recognizes potential in someone, he does what many of these characters do — he lets them go, with the promise that they improve their abilities and come back one day to fight him.

The idea of a character like this is cool, but the execution can be surprisingly difficult because it’s easy for this character to develop either into a total parody or to become so ridiculously powerful that nobody could possibly buy it. I know a few of you poor saps still read Naruto like I do, and the latter development is one of the (many) things wrong with that particular manga. But getting back to Hunter x Hunter, there are a couple of basic things that make Hisoka work, and that also demonstrate why Hunter x Hunter as a whole works.

First off, Hisoka feels immediately dangerous when he first appears in the story, and he becomes more dangerous as the story progresses. While in the back of your mind you know Gon will survive, he sure as shit doesn’t come out of every encounter rosy. Nearly every encounter with Hisoka is tense and frightening — the man himself emits an aura of danger that transcends what you see onscreen and how the characters react. He looks like a goofy motherfucker, but he feels like a real killer.

Second, even though Hisoka is clearly one of the most powerful characters in the series, he nor anyone else pulls random powers out of nowhere. There are hints of his power in the beginning, and his abilities have rules by which they must abide that are never violated. The same goes with every other character. Even the couple of times I thought the series engaged in some Ass Pulls, there were still clear limits set to these developments. When Gon develops his innate power later in the series, he’s a badass compared to normal folks, but compared to the people he is going to battle? He’s a small fry, and he knows it. Brute power and ability aren’t the only ways to win here — more often, a metric crapton of brain power needs to be applied, as well.

But, yeah, that’s what makes the base story of Hunter x Hunter work well: There’s a palpable sense of danger to the world, but at the same time, the story doesn’t pull any cheap tricks to either enhance that danger or allow its heroes to conquer that darkness.

But the other part of Hunter x Hunter‘s success — and why I’m interested to see how Madhouse handles the material — is that the direction of the original series is quite good. There’s thought behind how shots are framed, thought behind the spatial development and pacing of the fights, thought behind the use of color, light and shadow . . . I won’t go as far as to say Hunter x Hunter is one of the best directed series I’ve ever seen, because it’s not, but it nails many basic things that make the material that much better. It really feels like it is using the animated medium to tell the story.

There’s a fight in the final round of the Hunter Exam between Gon and another applicant, Hanzo, that is probably my favorite in the series. The way the fight is laid out, developed, paced and animated heightens the tension and danger to a fantastic degree and shows the full horror of what Gon must endure to not only survive but also thrive as a Hunter. It’s almost unbelievable that this is meant to be a kids series, because this shit is legit tough to watch.

There’s so much other stuff I could mention, but I don’t want to ruin anything for those who haven’t experienced the story and are curious about the remake. Just know that I believe it to be well worth one’s while to make it through the not so great episodes to get to the good stuff. Hopefully Madhouse makes like BONES in FMA: Brotherhood and speeds through the not so interesting stuff.

20 Responses to “Hunter x Hunter – Awesome x Kickass”

  1. Ack. You nailed everything that makes Hisoka tick as a villain. Heck, you pretty much summarized why Hunter x Hunter works. It’s got all the basics right and it pushes it a bit every now and then.

    Gon vs. Hanzo was probably one of the best fights in the whole series, the way Hanzo administers his method of torture on Gon hammers in the reality of what being a Hunter means. And as you said, Hunter x Hunter 1999 gets a lot of things right when it comes to direction.

    It’d be interesting Madhouse’s take on this series, especially when they have pretty big shoes to fill…

    • Ugh, man, when Hanzo ruthlessly makes to break Gon’s arm … I was squirming so much lol. Such meticulous torture really gets to me …

      • And it was done in such a way where you don’t really see much of anything. I love that about the first series, and I think that’s why they got away with so much in this show.

  2. I guess I’ll wait till the madhouse remake airs and see how favourably the original ‘hunter x hunter’ fanboys compare the two series (haha, that’ll be unbiased) before decided which version to watch.

    Also, it looks like Square Enix completely ripped off Hisoka, when designing Axel from the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ series

    • I’m definitely hoping Madhouse will take a different approach to the same material, so I won’t be bitching much at any differences unless they’re really bad. The underlying story is strong enough that I can’t see Madhouse fucking it up, anyway.

  3. By the way, a warning should anyone watch the original series — DO NOT watch the English dub! It’s terrible!

  4. Marow Says:

    I have to watch the original anime since I love the manga…

    Hisoka is scary shit though, every time I saw a panel with him, I felt like he could jump out and kill me at any moment (okay, slight exagerration). You never knew what was going to happen. Sure, you knew Gon would most likely survive, but still, every encounter is scary. Would he rip an arm off? Would he kill any of Gon’s friends? What would he do? WHAT WHAT WHAT?

    Another thing that I love about HxH is the actual exam. Heck, it’s a great start that’s both fun and inviting, but also great for fleshing out the series.

    • Yeah, I might have to start reading the manga myself at this rate, haha.

      The exam arc is really good, yeah. A lot of series tend to stumble after that sort of arc, and the immediate arc afterward is a bit weak for me, but once the Yorknew City arc begins, everything gets awesome again.

      • Marow Says:

        I actually enjoyed that “mini arc” about the tower and stuff before the Yorknew one. Maybe it was a bit better in the manga.

        I have only read up to the end of Yorknew arc, so I’m not that familiar with the manga. Currently following the recent chapters though and wow it looks like it took a turn for the worse. The new arc might be good though.

        • Sorry for jumping in but– I don’t know, I loved the Chimera Ant arc. Everyone else seems to dislike it though.

  5. I don’t care what happens with the animation or direction, but if they screw with Hisoka’s voice, I’ll be pissed.

    The shift in tone is exemplified by the first and second openings. You wouldn’t believe they’re from the same show. Shit gets real.

    • Hisoka’s voice definitely adds to the creepy factor. Hopefully Daisuke Namikawa can do a good job with it. I know it’ll be different, since his creepy voice is definitely not the same as the original Hisoka, but hopefully it’ll still fit.

      You know, the Hunter x Hunter rips I watched are apparently from the American DVDs, and from what I was told, the second OP wasn’t used in those. I thought the show had one OP the whole way through until I was told differently on Twitter, haha.

  6. I haven’t seen the series, but I’ve read the Manga. I don’t really like Shounen these days, but this series felt oddly distinctive — there is this odd balance between light-hearted material and flashes of unsettling and dark moments. There’s an edge there that I don’t often sense in material for this demographic. (It also seems more experimental in its narrative technique than I usually see.) The mental games during the exams also caught me off guard — there is an interest in trickery and misdirection that I like. Oh, and the fact that it uses a system where the powers are linked to the personality of the characters is also quite interesting.

    • Yeah, this and Level E definitely convinced me that Togashi is an author who puts a lot of thought into his works. I’m kind of interested in watching Yu Yu Hakusho now because of this …

  7. It feels almost like a shame that I never got to watch this. I’ll be picking up the new series as soon as I can, and it would have been nice to compare. I’ve read the manga up to the latest chapter and think this is one of the, if not the best shounen manga that has ever been made. You nailed some of the shows early key points and I too am really looking forward to that initial arc and all the tension that comes with it. Matter of fact, I think I’m gonna brush up on my nen right now.

  8. [...] definitely wanted to blog the Hunter x Hunter remake from the start, especially since I ended up enjoying the original series so much, but I didn’t want to make definite plans before watching the first episode — however, [...]

  9. Oh, wow. I just watched the first episode of the original and it was like a breath of fresh air. So much less obnoxious compared to the remake. It felt more authentic, down-to-earth, and the acting was actually good. Oh my god. I think I almost cried a few times because you could really feel Mito’s and Gon’s love for each other. The soundtrack was sensitive and well-placed (unlike the bombastic, overblown music of the remake), and the acting was much, much better. Gon escapes being a horrible caricature of himself, and Mito’s not a cardboard cutout of the generic loving motherly figure. It actually manage to evoke genuine emotions in me. Good storytelling, if nothing else.

    That said, I think I’m rating it so highly just because I would rate anything as higher compared to the atrocious remake. The pacing is indeed slow, and the animation quality is… funnily enough, I liked the art here better compared to the remake even though it’s so old. It just has more… warmth to it, I guess. My ideal animated adaptation would be a middle ground between these two, probably.

    I’ve seen two anime that are adaptations so far this season (HunterXHunter and Persona 4), and both of them go for the “trim the fat and condense everything into only what is necessary” route. Perhaps it reflects the reduced attention span of our generation, that people feel that it’s necessary to skip straight to the action in order to get maintain our attention. I don’t necessarily dislike the nice tight pacing that the remade Episode 1 has – the thing is, without the slow atmosphere and the extra time to develop the characters, the voice acting and direction becomes much more crucial in terms of giving the characters depth – at least enough so that they don’t become caricatures. And that’s where the remake fails. The overblown music and over-the-top acting only serves to exaggerate the shallowness of this trimmed-down, sped-up plot.

    Sigh.

    In the end, nothing really comes close to the manga, eh? I’ll be watching both anime adaptations this season, just to compare how they handle the original material. The remake’s tight pacing might help it in the end, but the horrible acting/direction and out-of-place music makes me skeptical that it’s going to work.

  10. [...] Adventure!I definitely wanted to blog the Hunter x Hunter remake from the start, especially since I ended up enjoying the original series so much, but I didn’t want to make definite plans before watching the first episode — however, [...]

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