This is the remake of a cult shonen show from 1999, which still remains a top favourite for thousands of people who followed it throughout 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.
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 complicated plots.
- 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. And seriously, how hard is it to tell these people not to participate if they don’t have Nen powers?
- The second arc (episodes 21 to 25) is about Killua, one of the heroes, being mistreated by his family and the rest going for a house visit. 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. There is a line of super powerful opponents waiting for them, 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. Short and kind meaningless.
- 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 with the duels serving as nothing but practice for what they learned. 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 on. 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. In fact, it is one of the best arcs you can find in any shonen in general. Thumbs up!
- 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 is 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 Bomber villains of this arc lack charisma and are fairly forgettable. In fact, this whole arc is forgettable; it doesn’t offer anything once it’s over. It’s literally playing a bunch of deadly games with a children’s card game, and doing some really risky gambling here and there which leads to nothing of particular interest.
- The sixth arc (episodes 76 to 135) 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, and is also full of mind games and psychological warfare. It feels like the whole thing is ideas taken from Dragonball, (the king of the bugs is a Cell imitation and his minions behave like those of King Picolo) mixed with lots of Kaiji-level mind games. It is great as far as suspense goes but still has several hiccups, such as the pacing slowing down to almost Bleach levels, as well as several secondary battles being there to just stall time. There are also some really terribly handled asspulls towards the end of it to offer a convenient resolution that really damage the overall (aka, the Rose Bomb and Gon’s power up). As a whole though, the characters steal the show for being in a constant conflict with their emotions and goals. Another great arc but not as solid as the one with Kurapika from before.
- The seventh and last arc (episodes 136 to 148 ) is about elections. Yes, we moved from hunting bugs to voting; how exciting. Basically the Hunter Association is looking for a new leader and they ask all their members to vote for one. To the most part the plot is about the candidates ass-kissing each other and forming alliances so they can increase their vote, which is sort of fun, but completely retarded once you realize it was all pointless. Seriously, dozens of episodes were spent for nothing. This arc also introduces the strongest Hunters and instead of feeling thrilled to see these characters in action, you are just eye-rolling with their designs. THESE ARE NOT PEOPLE; THEY ARE POKEMON! Along with the pointless election intrigue and the Pokemon designs, we also have Killua trying to heal Gon from his injuries from the previous arc. And the way he wants to do that is by wishing to the Genie of the lamp. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant his sister/brother/something which was asspulled into the story. EYE-ROLLING! And of course there are lots of rules that need to be upheld for the wishes to become possible, but once again it’s all pointless since the ass-pulled sibling can grant an infinite amount of wishes because she/he/it loves onii-chan. EYE-ROLLING! Oh, and that gay clown goes around killing dozens of Hunters with the rest not giving a damn because they are busy trying to decide which Pokemon to vote for. EYE-ROLLING! And they are actually voting a lot a guy who has no idea of what to do with the association and just wants to help Gon. EYE-ROLLING! And Killua’s family are the worst handled characters in the whole show, since they are just standing there doing nothing when they are the strongest people in the world. EYE-ROLLING! And Kurapika on his quest of revenge against those cool assassins is completely forgotten by now. EYE-ROLLING! And Gon’s father finally stops trolling and appears, making this the highlight of the arc but after all this bullshit I just didn’t care much. Seriously, this arc is Naruto Ninja War level bad.
And then the show ends because Togashi is bored with his manga with his back pain excuse getting old years ago. Supposed he is making some dark continent arc now which is about exploring a place full of strong monsters. But really, what is there left to show now? Gon found his father so WHY IS THERE ANOTHER ARC? I am really not interested in seeing the Pokemon Hunters fighting more bugs; I just want to see a final fight where the Phantom Troupe, the Zoldyck, Kurapika, and the gay clown do a Battle Royale with Gon watching while eating popcorn next to his dad.
Do yourselves a favour and never expect much out of the plot. All the objectives are weak; they are poorly presented plot devices. Leorio never has a purpose in the whole series, Kurapika and the Spiders gang get forgotten, while 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 so he will keep looking. Yes, it is an excuse for Gon to continue becoming stronger but it is still one big troll and a lazy excuse to keep the plot going.
Instead of the story, focus on the main attraction of the series, the character traits; 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 were to the most part 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, half of this show is not 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 this changes completely in the last arcs where everything becomes a clusterfuck of broken powers and asspulls, where mountains do blow up and characters are defined by their Pokemon appearance.
But until this awful degradation takes place, this show is good because it’s 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 arc where you literally have a female agent who dies without even making use of her powers. That stuff are one of a kind. The fifth arc has a very powerful woman but she is there as a short term mentor and not as a comrade.
It is true though that its merits are hard to spot, since it is subtle with the presentation. In the first two arcs the violence is quite childish 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. The pace also makes the duration of a dramatic event to last too little in the early arcs and too long in the later. It’s weird to get into it.
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. It degrades into mediocrity towards the end but the journey is to the most part great.
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 violent than the previous ones. It also treats many of its objectives like a joke and has Pokemon designs, so it never manages to be taken seriously either.