Review up to episode 77. Will edit as I watch more.
This is the remake of a cult shonen show from 1999, which still remains as a top favourite for thousands of people who followed it through the years. It was taken out of the spotlight as soon as Naruto and Bleach came around because its merits were always hinted, the artwork was very weak (manga included), and the story was left incomplete. But for many it is still a much superior show for its kind, since it is not direct in its themes and definitely not one of the same shonen stuff. Let’s start by clarifying some things regarding remakes.
1. Why make a remake instead of continuing the story from where it stopped in the OVAs?
Most of the younger viewers will not dare to watch the original, because of the abysmal difference in the animation quality. Instead of making a dozen episodes that will AGAIN end in the middle of nowhere and be about characters most won’t know or care for after all these years, they (wisely) decided to reboot it and give the mangaka time to continue and (hopefully) end the story by the time the anime catches up to it. Nothing bad here.
2. The new animation is worse because it is brighter and cheerier, and looks less serious.
This is a plain case of personal taste. Back in 1999 the colouring was still done by hand and for that the colours were darker and the outlines rougher by default. What did people expect, to be hand-drawn dark, depressive, and edgy in our age and time? It is kinda logical that it will be drawn and coloured with computers, which means the result we have today. If you prefer the retro style, then there is nothing that can be done about it. The only problem I found is how they censored a few really gory scenes but that is all. It is otherwise animated by Studio Madhouse which is the king when it comes to tv shows and definitely has a far bigger budget and experience that the previous one, Nippon Animation. I have no problem with their work and I view it in the same way I view the remake of Full Metal Alchemist. If you prefer a brighter coloured version, with a bit more cheerful people, and a lot more faithful adaptation, then you will like it more than the older version. If not, ok, you won’t, you can’t please everybody.
3. The story is worse because it removes a lot of scenes which were important in flavouring the characters of the original.
The pacing of the original story was even for its time very slow to the most part and had lots of fillers. It was completely unimpressive for the impatient audience; me included as I was bored with it halfway. So just imagine what would have happened if they had kept every single scene in it. Viewers today are getting fed up far easier than a decade ago and thus the story would actually feel worse. As for the drier feeling of the characters because the scenes are removed and the pacing goes too fast to get to feel their motivation, I must protest. It’s a 100+ episode show, it has plenty of time to flesh out its characters along the way instead of doing it right away and not leaving anything for later. This is one of the reasons even a bigshot like One Piece loses its charm as it goes on. As for all the secondary characters who feel completely forgettable this way, HEY THEY ARE ONE EPISODE CHARACTERS! I kept reading how Gon’s aunt and the captain of the ship were far more realistic and interesting in the older version. Oh that is so nice; and then the episode ends and you never see them again. So do you think it would be wise in our days to spend entire episodes in fleshing out one-time characters? I think not; only the major ones are important and only they deserve to be fleshed out along the way. Unless of course you are fans of that travesty of characterization you encounter in shows such as Naruto and Bleach.
I was not thrilled when I found out the director of the show would be Koujina Hiroshi. He has a lukewarm roster (Grenadier, Kiba, Nougami Neuro, Rainbow) and for a show so famous they could definitely have found someone with more interesting titles and experience to handle things. You can easily find many sloppy scenes and I can only blame the director for that. But it’s not like I hate it either; I just found it not as professional as it deserved.
The basic story is simple in overall, and trust me when I say it will not improve much. It never feels too epic and blood boiling. This does not make the show boring but rather unimpressive for those who expect major fights and complexity.
- The first arc (episodes 1 to 20) is about the adventure of the main heroes, as they try to pass a dangerous line of challenges in order to be given the title of Hunter, someone who can do all sorts of dangerous professions and is considered an elite agent. Each one of them wants to be a Hunter for different reasons; one is looking for his father, another to protect the world from threats, and a third just to get rich. Very basic stuff and eventually full of needless bull. You will facepalm at how pointless most of these challenges are after you realize that they do not reward skill but rather survival. That means, it’s fine as long as you can stay alive long enough (and preferably using Nen powers). Since the heroes have the typical uncanny shounen durability of withstanding everything, they mostly breeze through the challenges, while everybody else is thrown out with a few punches. Some of the situations will be rather interesting but in all, this arc serves mostly as introduction to the characters than anything else.
- The second arc (episodes 21 to 25) is about one of the heroes being mistreated by his family and the rest going for a house visit. Being the dangerous place it is, they need to cross a line of dangerous challenges until they manage to find him. So yes, all they want is to see their friend again and so risk their lives numerous times just for that. Not exactly exciting, is it? It is less exciting when you realize that they barely fight anyone important in that place before their friend is allowed to go see them. A very short arc where they have a hard time getting through the main gate and the butlers, and then it is all over. This arc serves to flesh out one of the characters and even that not by much.
- The third arc (episodes 26 to 36) is about the heroes taking part in a fighting tournament (yeah, here we go again) as means to improve their fighting skills. Get ready for boring long training sessions as well as practical applications during duels. It sure makes the whole Hunter exam to feel like it was there for kicks. I mean, if a Hunter is supposed to be an elite agent, anyone who hopes to pass should already be someone with lots of experience. But no, turns out that it was just rewarding survival and every person who passes needs to become strong AFTER he is nominated as an elite agent. Weird huh? Feels like the story escalates in reverse, instead of getting more epic along the way? Trust me, it gets worse later. In the meantime, this is the part they introduce Nen, which is this show’s version of ki/reiatsu/chakra/power level/whatever. Unlike most versions where it is used as a single statistic through elements or volume, over here it is seen as four different aspects of the same principle (defence, attack, cancel, and willpower). This makes it feel somewhat more variant than simply say “My icicle attack is powerful but your weak flame shield blocks it” kind of Pokemon-style battles. They also introduce the six character classes to further make the whole thing feel like a videogame. This arc serves to establish superpowers based on a person’s characterization, and has a few interesting fights. Half the time though it’s just a long preachy training session.
- The fourth arc (episodes 37 to 58) is about an underground auction where Gon tries to raise money in order to find his father by… arm-wresting. Isn’t it weird how we went from fighting in a tournament to that? Anyways, it is actually more about his pal Kurapika getting all crazy and hunting a bunch of super killers who wiped out his family (this is something Kishimoto stole in Naruto with Sakuke and his Uchiha clan). It is by far the most brutal arc yet and has some extremely well done battles in it. It fleshes out Kurapika and several secondary characters considerably, and is very suspenseful.
- The fifth arc (episodes 59 to 75) is about the characters hunting cards inside a videogame that can kill them. And yes, you are free to make all the Sword Art Online and Yugioh jokes you like, because the story downgraded further from arm-wrestling to playing videogames. It is rather disappointing after the amazing previous arc, since it now feels like the whole show was sort of a prelude to promoting videogames to kids. I mean the Nen system is pretty much a basic RPG statistics screen and here is where it shows better than ever. Another disappointing element is how the surviving villains from the previous arc seem to just be in this one for kicks. The whole revenge thing is completely gone and they degraded to cartoony bad guys. Also the new villains of this arc simply lack charisma and are forgettable. Anyways, this whole arc is basically playing a bunch of deadly games and doing some really risky gambling here and there but nothing overall amazing.
- The sixth arc (currently airing) is about the characters hunting bugs. Yes, we moved from playing videogames to hunting bugs! Ok, actually these bugs are huge, powerful, and extremely deadly. And I mean that; they kill half of the secondary characters of this show. There is a lot of death and violence in this arc but again the villains lack charisma. Furthermore, it feels like the whole thing is ideas stolen from Dragonball, as the king of the bugs is a Cell imitation and his minions behave like those of King Picolo.
Do yourselves a favour and never expect much out of the plot. All the objectives are weak and there only as plot devises; and even those are presented poorly. Kurapika’s goal is forgotten, Leorio never has a purpose in the whole series, and Gon’s father is a total troll. I mean, really, he keeps giving missions to his son from afar with the promise of finding him but he keeps fooling him to keep looking. Yes, it is an excuse for Gon to continue becoming stronger but it is still one big troll.
Try to focus on the character traits, the main attraction of the series, as well as how each one uses his special skills to overcome a challenge. And by skills don’t try to imagine fire breathing, creating copies of yourself, or flying. The powers in the show are far more basic and down to earth that that, such as heightened senses, use of psychology, and detective deduction procedure. The main hero for example uses a fishing rod as his main weapon. Sounds silly but he does all sorts of sneaky attacks with it by trying to outsmart the enemy with a lure and then hook him when he doesn’t expect it. So unlike most shonens, it is not mostly about raw power and delinquents blowing up mountains with their glowing aura, but brains and strategy. The ways they find to overcome a challenge are tactical and cunning.
Of course for the same reason it is far from cool. Since the average shonen fan would expect amazing action, all this talking, plotting, and back stabbing will surely feel dull and will make many to be bored fast if they only want action. Those who manage to focus on the tactical part though will find it to be a far more elaborate and mature specimen than your silly average action show.
- It is not about dumb teenagers with superpowers kicking the crap out of each other.
- It is never trying to impress you with pseudo-romance, fan service, or poser special attacks.
- It seems to have the usual theme of trust and teamwork all shounens share and up to a point they indeed overcome most challenges based on that. At the same time though, each character is far more selfish that those in similar shows and thus it is quite easy to get mad with something and leave the team to go seek some crazy thing on his own. Thus you get far more unstable heroes, who don’t always blindly follow the group leader.
- At the same time the villains are not generic evil dudes who hate everything and plot amongst each other. You see they care and are willing to risk their lives to help their comrades.
- It is also one of the very few rare cases where there isn’t a single girl following the dudes around just for the heck of it. It’s only the males doing all the work as always, so who needs those useless token chicks that exist only for kiddie romances and fan service? To hell with them, this is a man’s world. Imagine how cool it is in the second arc where they plan to save a strong boy who has killed dozens of people without feeling a thing instead of some frail damsel in distress who always nags and cries. Or in the fourth where you literally have a female agent who dies without even making use of her powers. That stuff are one of a kind.
It is true though that its merits are hard to spot, since it is subtle with the presentation. The violence is quite childish in the first two arcs and the mental breakdowns of the characters are done in a very light manner when they would easily be far cooler if they were looking crazier. The characters also follow the typical shonen silliness of yelling each others’ names all the time, even in situations where they don’t need to, as if they don’t want the audience to forget how they are called. They also do that annoying thing of explaining their strategies to the enemy, as if the audience is too dumb to get it. It is very commonplace as an exposition method in shonen but it still feels dumb to see it happening. Internal monologues or a narrator would feel much more natural than this mess. The faster pace also makes the duration of a dramatic event to last too little for you to find the time to get into the proper mood, and thus its gravity goes unnoticed by most. This is again something I can only blame the director for, as others could have done much more vivid work with what they had.
Another indirect problem which prevents the show from becoming a smash hit is that it doesn’t have a gazillion immortal characters and most mysteries are answered rather fast. Unlike the so called Big Three of shonen, there is very little to talk about what may happen in the future or how the characters may develop later on, or even to have a huge variety of archetypes to choose your favourite from. That sort of crap are what made the Big Three so damn famous, even if in all honesty they are just shallow excuses for hyping caricatures that eventually don’t develop or have any important role in the show in general. HxH doesn’t go for that bait; it has a rather small cast and several of the characters die soon after they are introduced. It is what again makes it feel superior as it is not trying to cater everybody’s tastes and never promises things it will never deliver a decade later.
It is a very good shonen and I recommend it. It is by all means not a serious or complicating story, as it is just some youths trying to win in tournaments and play videogames. Each character is basically a bold stereotype (the idealist, the materialist, the kind one, etc) yet the way they interact is both smart and doesn’t drag the most basic actions for 10 episodes.
Furthermore it is interesting to see how many of its ideas were later on copied by Naruto, so in a way it partially deserves the credit THAT silly ninja show got, which otherwise has nothing to do with ninjas and went under when it was all about Gaysuke. And anyways, all modern shonen are now all shit, One Piece included (animation is a joke and pacing is a snail). It is a great way for younger anime fans to see how more mature a decade old shonen was and how shitty all recent ones are (I am looking at you trollish Bleach, babish Fairy Tail, borish Ao no Exorcist, pissish Beelzebub, aimleish Toriko, coocooish Hitman Reborn, haremish Index, as well as all the rest of you). It is also a proper remake and not a lulz DBKai dried up re-airing with lesser context and incomplete story.
Despite my positive words about it, I must clarify that it is not a masterpiece. It is supposed to be for kids and has lots of childish violence even when it involves mass deaths of people, both benevolent and innocent (it’s not just generic evil henchmen that die). Hundreds of people are constantly dying in cartoony yet still horrible ways; it looks weird. Thus most situations feel too silly no matter how dangerous they appear to be and that takes out a lot out of the suspense the anime COULD have if it was more graphical in its violence. But it’s not like it is holding back a lot either, since each arc get progressively more mature and violent than the previous ones.