‘Now, We Are Breaking Up’, which marks Song Hye Kyo’s return to the K-drama scene since her last drama Boyfriend/Encounter, has been one of my favorite dramas of the season. I think what makes this drama stand out from the rest isn’t necessarily the intriguing plot or the characters, but the small details: the expression in the main characters’ eyes which betray their emotional conflict as much as their love; the music (I absolutely love the piano soundtrack); the cinematography and angles used. But undoubtedly one of my favourite parts of the drama are the quotes at the beginning from famous figures in fashion.
These quotes illustrate the parallels between fashion and life: how fashion mimics life, but more importantly, how life mimics fashion. SONO, a ten year that main protagonist Ha Young-eun has carefully built up over the past ten years, is on the verge of collapse. The same can be said for Ha Young-eun’s romantic life; a decade of shielding herself from any romantic and emotional attachments to others is shattered in a second when Jae-guk, played by Jang Ki-yong, appears.
Anyway, here are my favourite quotes:
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness…
simply didn’t know where to go shopping.
It’s painfully obvious that money runs the world of Now, We Are Breaking Up, from the fact that money is what Young-eun has been living for – as she puts it, a comfortable luxury apartment in Seoul – for the past ten years, to the fact that money is what dictates the future of SONO, the brand that Young-eun has poured heart and soul into for the past ten years.
Craft must have clothes,
but truth loves to go naked.
(Spoilers ahead) The truth will always come out – including the fact that Young-eun’s previous boyfriend is in fact Jae-guk’s now deceased older brother.
Those who love you will stay, and those who don’t will leave,
so don’t sweat it.
Very much reflecting the attitude (at least at the surface) that Jae-guk and Young-eun will have towards other’s perception of their relationship.
I don’t remember anything.
Starting from zero is my style.
(Spoilers ahead) Stellar pieces in fashion always starting from scratch and looking at things from a new perspective. Young-eun’s signature jersey piece is case in point.
You can find inspiration in everything.
If you can’t, then you’re not looking properly.
Dress like you are going to meet your worst enemy today.
Gabrielle Coco Chanel
(Spoilers) Very much foreshadowing the conflict between Shin Yoo-jung, the manager of department store ‘The Hills’, and our main female lead.
I never really think about my age. I just wear what suits me…
in that moment.
Loulou de la Falaise
It’s sad to even talk about diversity and difference…
Musically, the chorus is a delight. At first listen it isn’t as catchy as one would hope, but after a couple of listens I’ve been hooked. The chorus is filled with IU’s distinctive light and airy vocals, which perfectly complements the chorus. With a strong disco beat, heavy percussion and a delightful trumpet sound, there’s a strong city pop vibe to the entire track. Apart from the chorus itself, one of the best parts of the song is the bridge, where we get a Good Day-style high note belt as we transition into the chorus. If I had to pick out one thing that was a bit amiss, that’d be the verses – musically, they play second fiddle to the chorus itself and become quite forgettable.
The music video itself brings us into the fantastical world of a train called ‘Fantasy Express’, where it seems that anything goes – there’s a nightclub, even a fight club of sorts (?), and the passengers start off in a a strange dance as soon as IU hops onto the train.
There’s very much a blending of fantasy and reality – some parts of the music video in fact being animated. As many have observed, the song and music video pay homage to her 20s – the train schedule feature all the albums she’s written in her 20s, the seat number on her train ticket is ’29’ and the destination is ‘BYLAC’. IU plays multiple characters – including a martial arts master and a nightclub partygoer – throughout the video itself, perhaps reflecting the various fantastical roles and experiences she’s taken on during the past decade.
At the end of the music video, IU is dropped off at another train station looking visibly startled, wondering whether this has all been some part of lucid dream or whether it really happened. There’s a sense that time has passed by all too quickly. But there’s no time for IU to ponder and reflect, as a new train – symbolising a new chapter of her life – comes rushing by. At the end of the music video IU looks resolutely at the train that’s about to come, and in fact smiles at the very last second, showing us that she’s ready to embrace whatever’s to come.
One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about this new album is how IU has really become comfortable with dancing. Both this music video, as well as the one for her pre-release single Celebrity, feature IU strutting her stuff, and paying homage to her debut performances where her songs would often be accompanied by a dance routine. In recent years she’s been boxed into the role of a ‘vocalist’ and a ‘songwriter’ rather than a ‘performer’, and perhaps LILAC (the album) is a way of showing us that she can really do both.
In all, a fantastic track and well-designed music video concept. If the other tracks are anything like Lilac, I’m very excited to listen to the rest of the album.
Tania Herman’s new SCMP opinion piece (‘In tokenising BTS, the Grammys were not only crude but cruel – it needs the K-pop kings more than they need awards‘) writes like an angry fan tweet, except in full sentences, uses modern buzzwords like ‘tokenising’ and ‘zeitgeist’, and of course, extends far beyond 140 characters. To be fair, Herman is very articulate in expressing the concerns of many who viewed the Grammys snub as unjust. But surely professional journalism should at least present two sides of the story, and not pull all of their arguments from r/bangtan? To be fair, Herman isn’t the sole person who is doing this (see another article by Forbes on the same theme).
But before I discuss why Herman’s article is misguided, let’s just outline some common ground.
First off, it’s clear that the Grammys sometimes makes decisions that are incorrect, wrong, or misguided. Its failure to include ‘Blinding Lights’ by the Weekend, one of the biggest hits of 2020, in the nominations shocked many. The Grammys, after all, is an institution made up of humans (albeit humans who are supposed to be specialists in their field), and humans often make mistakes.
Second, it’s also clear that Grammys has a problem with race. Black and minority ethnic (including Asian) artists are consistently underrepresented in the Grammys nomination and awards process. Whether this is a matter of subconscious or conscious bias, this needs to be properly addressed and dealt with. Meaningful reform needs to take place. Black artists should not continue to be shoehorned into the rap and R&B categories. The ‘secret committees’ which have an extremely large influence over who is shortlisted and nominated need comprehensive review.
However, these problems with the Grammys does not mean that every failure to give a black and minority ethnic (BME) person an award is automatically ‘racist’. Sometimes there are good and legitimate ground for preferring a non-BME artist over a BME artist. Their music was perhaps just genuinely better.
Third, I just want to make clear that BTS is a great artist. Its achievements have helped break many boundaries in both K-pop and the global music industry, and I’ve been a fan of many of its songs (not so much its latest music, but Spring Day remains one of my favorite K-pop releases). I’ve followed BTS from around 2015 (I’d like to say I knew them before they became popular), so it’s been great to see their journey from a relatively unknown artist to global superstars.
I also think they handled the Grammy loss sensibly and maturely, even making light of their reaction to their loss at the Grammys through a video they posted on Twitter. So props to the boys for taking it so well.
This article isn’t so much targeted at BTS itself but at why certain complaints about the Grammy’s treatment of BTS are simply baseless.
So, let’s look at Herman’s arguments (as well as some other arguments floating on Twitter) on why the Grammy’s was ‘cruel’ to deny BTS the award.
Argument #1: The Grammy’s ‘used’ BTS for views but didn’t give them anything in return. This is unfair.
The argument takes the idea that the Grammys itself is an institution of declining relevance, drawing in fewer and fewer television views each year. In order to boost its ratings, it ‘used’ BTS by heavily promoting its appearance on the show, while disregarding BTS’ artistry and talent. Closely linked with this argument is the idea that the Grammys needed BTS more than the BTS needed Grammys.
The argument portrays BTS as a powerless artist in an imbalanced power relationship who was ‘used’ by the Grammys, but this distorts the picture of what BTS really is. It neglects the fact that BTS belongs to one of the biggest media entertainment companies in Korea with an USD$7 billion market capitalisation (Big Hit Entertainment) and is signed with Columbia Records, one of the biggest recording labels in the US. BTS is of course, a group of artists, but at the same it also represents a well-oiled money-making machine with loaded commercial and financial interests. The truth is that BTS – or Big Hit – voluntarily signed up for the Grammys, knowing that appearing on the Grammys would enable it to access a wider international audience, greater connections within the music industry, gain extra reach and make headlines from the prestige of getting a Grammy nomination. It was fundamentally a market transaction – between Big Hit and the Grammys – in which both parties ‘used’ the other to obtain benefits.
So the argument that the Grammys ‘owed’ BTS a win by capitalising on their appearance really doesn’t go that far. Moreover, should we really be giving music awards based on who is contributing most to Grammy television viewership?
Argument #2: BTS broke all sorts of records and was a bigger hit than Rain on Me.
Many fans continue to point out the fact that it had the highest number of streams on Spotify in a single day, broke records for the most viewed Youtube video in the first 24 hours, topped Billboard 100 charts for 3 weeks in a row, etc. All these are, of course, amazing achievements. But the Grammys isn’t a popularity contest where the winner is chosen according to who has the most fans. After all, ‘I Can’t Breathe’ by H.E.R. won Song of the Year over much more popular acts, such as ‘Don’t Start Now’ by Dua Lipa and ‘Cardigan’ by Taylor Swift, because the award itself is for songwriting. ‘I Can’t Breathe’ was the best song, at least according to the Recording Academy.
In fact, many fans seem to neglect that the award was for ‘Best Pop Duo/Group Performance’, not for ‘Best Group’. On the Grammys website itself, it says that the award is given to “artistic excellence in a duo, group, or collaborative vocal or instrumental pop performance“. So the pop performance (i.e. the song) should be evaluated on its own merits without regard for how successful or deserving the group may be.
Now some might say that ‘Dynamite’ was a better song than ‘Rain on Me’. With its catchy melody and upbeat vocals, ‘Dynamite’ definite crowd-pleaser. But one could make a reasonable argument for the opposite. Dynamite’s lyrics were simplistic, its melodies were repetitive, and it represented a musically unadventurous English debut (at least compared to BTS’ earlier Korean works). One might say that ‘Rain on Me’ was the superior song. And the Recording Academy decided that this was the case. Who’s to say who’s right or who’s wrong? I mean, we might say that the Grammys made the wrong judgment call but can we really say they were cruel or even wrong to do this? I don’t think so.
Argument #3: The Grammys ‘tokenised’ BTS.
According to Herman, the BTS snub was “doubly crass” because ” their appearance was promoted as a celebration of the group’s impact and a show of diversity at an event that has historically been criticised for lacking it.”
The nomination of BTS for the Grammys broke glass ceilings in many aspects, and was a step towards diversifying the Grammys awardees pool. And it gives cause for everyone to celebrate this diversity, including the Grammys itself. So naturally, the Grammys publicised this incredible achievement. But does this, in and of itself, really constitute tokenism? Can we really say that the Grammys purposefully used BTS to give the false appearance of diversity?
But does this really impose any sort of moral obligation on the Grammys to hand BTS the win? Should diversity in itself be used as a criteria for judging whether ‘Dynamite’ demonstrates the most artistic excellence? At the very least, this discussion pertains to a very morally and politically contentious area concerning affirmative action, in which there is no absolute right or wrong.
Despite our differences in opinion, Harman is right to point out that “the band’s impact on the zeitgeist is undeniable, with or without the award”. The incredible achievements of BTS on the global music scene is undeniable, and is even more moving when one considers their humble origins as an unknown group back in 2013. But there’s a difference between making sure BTS’ “talent, artistry and worth as individuals” is respected, and complaining that the Grammys was ‘cruel’ not to give BTS the award.
As a long-time K-pop fan, what’s upsetting is how K-pop online circles (on Twitter and otherwise) can give rise to echo chambers propagating highly emotion-loaded arguments, often with a disregard for objective reason. These arguments then find their way into mass media and journalism. Harman’s piece is just one instance of that. It’s something I find sad about how K-pop has evolved over time.
Perhaps one of the most famous anime in history, Death Note presents the audience with a simple but intriguing premise: Shinigami, or the Grim Reaper, drops ‘Death Note’ into the world of humans. Anyone whose name is written onto this ‘Death Note’ will die, as long as the writer has a mental image of what the person looks like. The writer can choose the cause of death, as long as he writes it down within 40 seconds of writing the person’s name. If the cause of death is not written down within 40 seconds, the person will die of a heart attack.
The ‘Death Note’ is picked up by Light, a high school prodigy. He originally dismisses the ‘Death Note’ is just an elaborately designed prank, but cannot help but be drawn to the book. He tests it out by writing down the name of a serial murderer in Japan who has taken hostage of some kids, and sees his death unfold on live television. Amazed by the power of ‘Death Note’, he begins writing down the names of thousands of criminals around the world, who all die as a result. When asked by Shinigami why he has used ‘Death Note’ this way, he says he wants to create a new world order rid of evil – a world where he plays the role of god, as judge, jury and executioner of who should live and who deserves to die.
Soon, people begin to notice that these deaths are linked, word spreads about ‘Kila’, and the incident is brought to the attention of the International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO). They hire L, a detective whose identity is unknown to the world but has the reputation of having solved every mystery he has worked on, to crack the case.
Many have praised the series for the complex and ingenious mind games played between L and Light as they seek to find out each other’s identity. We get a sense for this even as early as the second episode when L sets up a live TV broadcast where he appears to address Kila, stating his intentions to bring him to justice. Light immediately writes down his name – Lind L Taylor – into Death Note, after which L appears to die. But all this is a trap designed to prove the existence of Kila and determine the extent of his powers: Lind L Taylor is in fact a criminal on death row due to be executed.
I think what is most interesting are the parallels between L and Light. Both, needless to say, are intellectual geniuses. Both to some degree have god complexes. This is clearly shown in the case of Light seeking to create a new world order over which he rules. But there are some hints that L shares this same quality, as he chooses one of the most public and theatrical ways to ascertain Light’s existence and identity – a public television broadcast – and revels in his first win over Light. And both are self-assured that what they are doing is right. At the end of Episode 2, both L and Light have an internal monologue where both boldly state, “I am justice!” L believes what Light is doing is heinous, whereas Light believes he is only creating a better world for all. But as Shinigami says to Light at one point, by doing what they believe is right – and stopping at nothing to achieve it – will they not turn into evil itself?
Update (March 2021): As the show progressed, the anime became more and more disturbing, containing increased sexualisation of women (and underage girls in particular). When I wrote this review, I was hoping that this would not be the case, but it simply got worse. These elements made it extremely difficult and uncomfortable for me to continue to watch the show, and I abandoned it at around Episode 4/5. Although I haven’t watched the relevant episodes, I’ve read on comment threads that later episodes contain sexual harassment of underage characters and pedophilic behavior. Viewer discretion is strongly advised and in retrospect I would recommend that one not pick up the show to begin with.This page condemns any sort of violence, sexual harassment or predatory behavior towards women (and underage girls in particular) in the strongest terms. Equally, it condemnsMushoku Tensei’s insensitive portrayal of such scenes.
Despite the fact that this season of anime is packed full of shows with tremendous followings – Attack on Titan (The Final Season), Re Zero (Season 2), and The Promised Neverland (Season 2) – Mushoku Tensei somehow managed to be the second most popular anime on Reddit this winter. So the anime naturally struck my attention. Judging by the title, I thought it would be a lighthearted comedic drama with some action and adventure mixed in between. But the anime far exceeded my expectations with its moving plotline, well-designed characters and well-drawn animation.
The story begins with a car crash that takes the life of a thirty-year-old jobless recluse. He finds himself reincarnated as a newborn baby called Rudeus (or Rudy for short) – but still carrying the memories of his previous life – in a fantastical world with magic and swordsmen.
The first few minutes is animated from Rudy’s perspective. When he opens his eyes, he starts wondering who the man and woman hovering above him are, eventually finding out that it’s his parents. As he adjusts to this new world, he wonders whether he’s been transported back in time to some European country, but figures out it’s an alternative universe when he sees his mother practicing healing magic after he falls down and hits his head.
Rudy, despite being a young child, shows a natural aptitude for magic as he quickly figures out how to create bursts of water from his palms. In fact, his new magic tutor, Roxy, is surprised to find out he can cast spells without incantations, a feat she herself cannot replicate despite her training.
What’s interesting is not so much Rudy’s talent but rather his previous life, which gets slowly revealed to us throughout the show. It’s revealed that he was a recluse in his previous life, a product of the trauma he experienced in high school as a victim of bullying and violence. Despite being reborn, much of the trauma has stuck with him, and his past experiences are seamlessly interwoven with his present character.
We get it in hints at first – when Roxy wants to teach him magic outside in the garden of his house, Rudy is visibly nervous, and is scared to venture outside. When told of the prospect of attending a prestigious magic school in a far away land, he is nervous rather than excited about the idea, saying that he can learn everything he needs to at home. The most profound moment occurs when Roxy takes him out for his ‘final exam’ in magic – which has to occur far away from his house for safety reasons – and Rudy must venture out of the walls surrounding his home for the first time in his life. He descends into a state of panic as he recalls being tied to the school gate as a teenager, naked, as his classmates laugh and take pictures of him.
There’s also a sense in which Rudy, despite having previously been a thirty-year-old, is a child – and in that sense, his new life as a child fits him perfectly. As a recluse, he never really had time to develop his social skills or to interact with others, and so making friends – and talking with other people – is something he has to learn, much like a child would. And so there’s no sense of incongruity in the way he sometimes does act like a child (which would otherwise exist if some other thirty-year-old was randomly transported into a child’s body), which is a clever act of character design on the scriptwriters’ part.
What’s interesting – and I think one of the big themes in this show – is the value of second chances. We see Rudy flourish once placed in this new environment with a support system that cares and supports him – a loving mother and father than cherish him, as well as a magic tutor that is generous with her time and experience. And we’re reminded of how, with the right people, we might just have the courage to overcome past traumas.
This is not to say that the anime doesn’t have weaknesses. The show is held back by the tropes common to isekai (adventure) animes of its kind. A running gag in the show is how Rudy takes advantage of his young age and childlike ‘innocence’ to, essentially, perv on various women throughout the show, a highly distasteful comedic trope that depends on the overt sexualisation of (sometimes young) women. The art also becomes intensely sexualised at times, to the point where it can become uncomfortable. There is also a sense in which the plot is progressing too quickly – it’s quickly revealed that Rudy has an incredible innate talent for magic, but I wish the story took time in exploring his magical (as well as personal) journey. The show would benefit from more breathing space.
But despite these weaknesses, Mushoku Tensei remains a compelling show, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
Alternative Title: Sunbae, Don’t Put that Lipstick On. Spoilers ahead!
I was quite excited for this drama, because both my parents had recommended it (and my dad is very sparing with his compliments for Korean dramas – most of my recommendations were outright rejected as ‘boring’ by him). But this turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, and I’m not sure whether it’s because the style or genre of the drama is simply something I’m not into.
The plot is rather simple. The main characters are Hyun-seung (played by SF9’s Rowoon) and Song-ah (played by Won Jin-ah), who both work in the marketing team for a popular comestic brand. Hyun-seung has a crush on Song-ah, but the feelings aren’t (yet) reciprocated – since Hyun-seung is her trainee, she sees him much more as a mentee and younger brother than any potential love interest. Of course, Hyun-seung doesn’t give up there, and tries in various ways to spark a romantic interest between the two. Rowoon acting and chemistry is great in this respect – it’s clear that Hyun-seung’s attention is constantly focused on Song-ah while she pretty much remains oblivious to this fact.
The first forty minutes of the drama were fine, and it’s later revealed that Song-ah is dating her boss and manager of the team, Jae-shin (played by Lee Hyun-wook) in a secret office romance that has been going on for two years. But Jae-shin is in fact planning to be engaged with another woman, and of course Song-ah is oblivious to all of this. Coincidentally, Hyun-seung happens to be in the right places at the right time and discovers all of this.
At this point, the scriptwriting really starts to go downhill. We have a confrontation scene of sorts where Hyun-seung sees Jae-shin cancel his dinner plans with Song-ah, lying that there’s been some sudden business meeting he needs to attend. After Jae-shin leaves, Hyun-seung then goes up to Song-ah and tells her that he knows about their office romance, wishing to warn Song-ah about Jae-shin’s betrayal.
But here we get some very awkward lines (I’m not sure if this is just a problem with the English translations I’m getting, but I’ve cross-checked it with the Chinese translations and they’re equally awkward). Hyun-seung tries to get Song-ah to make him for him this evening, and in doing so, says stuff like, “You have to make time for me even if you don’t want to.”. Another awkward comment from him goes: “I just saw you get rejected by your boyfriend [Jae-shin]. But it’s probably nothing compared to the rejection you’ll face later.” Is it just me or did anyone find these lines incredibly awkward and cringeworthy? They’re probably designed to make audiences swoon, but they had the opposite effect for me.
Even worse, at the end of the episode, he brushes Song-ah’s lips, and says, “Don’t wear that lipstick, sunbae”. It’s a reference to the fact that she wears a certain kind of lipstick whenever she has her secret office rendezvous with Jae-shin, and is probably supposed to be the defining line of the drama (given that it is, after all, the title of the show). But his actions – brushing Song-ah’s lips – are at the very least unprofessional and pushy, and in fact arguably constitute sexual assault.
Some people have suggested that his actions are just reflective of his youthful immaturity, and that in later episodes, he feels the repercussions of his actions: Song-ah is furious at him. But there’s immaturity and then there’s just blatant disrespect of personal and moral boundaries. I don’t see how I can rally behind this main character for the rest of the series unless he shows real emotional maturity and growth.
I think, in part, the series of awkward lines and actions at the end reflect the fact that this drama is developed from a webtoon of the same name. I may be wrong on this, but from what I’ve read, exaggerated plotlines, ‘heart-swooning’ lines and possessive male protagonists are hallmarks of this genre, and it’s likely the case that these things simply don’t translate into live action drama very well. But it may be the case that other audiences will react differently, and that this style of webtoon-based drama just isn’t for me.
In any case, I may continue to watch this drama if there’s nothing else, but I’ve dropped it from my ‘must watch immediately’ list.
This show really has a way of making villains seem sympathetic as we get to know them. I just finished Season 3 of Hunter x Hunter (yes, I’m steamrolling through the episodes and stayed up into the hours of early morning to finish them) and found Pakunoda’s character to be one of the highlights of the season. Initially in the season we’re introduced to Pakunoda as one of the members of the Phantom Troupe, but she doesn’t particularly stand out. But she becomes one of the most fascinating members by the end of the season.
Like someone has already observed on Reddit, what makes Pakunoda’s character interesting is the internal conflict she faces. She receives a fortune prediction that tells her she will either have to choose pride or betrayal – but which is pride and which is betrayal? She is forced to make between abandoning Chlorro, her closest friend and the leader of the Phantom Troupe, and ensuring the survival of the Spiders by killing Kurapika, but both can be considered choices of pride and betrayal. Leaving Chlorro to die is betraying him, but isn’t saving him also a form of betrayal to the principles he set down and upheld for the Spiders? Similarly, you would think that saving Chlorro would mean abandoning her pride – she remains helpless at the hands of Kurapika’s demands and must follow her every dictate if she is to save him – but so is abandoning him, as she must swallow her personal feelings and go with what the survival of the Phantom Troupe dictates.
I think what is interesting is how the Phantom Troupe – products of the waste dumpling land known as Meteor City – have formed a sort of family on their own. We are introduced to the Phantom Troupe as a bunch of cold-blooded killers and psychopaths, but a significant portion of them treat each other not merely as allies but as genuine friends. There’s a strong parallel between Kurapika and Pakunoda in the way they fiercely protect their friends above all, and one wonders whether they would have been friends in a different world and different place.
Also interesting is Pakunoda’s abilities – she’s able to scan through a person’s memories, and uncover the subconscious of those she uses her skills on. It reflects her own personal connection to memory – much of what drives her to make the choices she does are the memories she’s shared with Chlorro.
Of course, what is most moving is the final scene, where Pakunoda asks Gon and Killua why they continue to act as hostages despite the fact that they could easily run away or kill her in her weakened state. The whole scene is deliberately crafted in a way that we’ve reliving them through Pakunoda’s perspective – or through Pakunoda’s memories which have been transferred to the rest of the Troupe – and we’re able to see one of her last moments. It’s almost a breaking of the fourth wall as we, too, are struck by Pakunoda’s memory bullets. I cried a little.
Don’t get fooled by its childish appearances – the anime is a rich and moving tale that will delight all audiences.
A couple years ago I was looking for anime to watch, and so went on MyAnimeList (an online anime review site and discussion forum) for good recommendations. I went through their ‘Top Anime’ list and saw ‘Hunter x Hunter’. Clicking onto the page itself, I saw nothing but glowing reviews for the anime. My attention piqued, I immediately searched for ‘Hunter x Hunter’ and started watching. I was immediately taken aback by the grainy animation quality (yes, I know I’m basic in that way – I basically can’t watch anything made before the 21st century…) and found the plot confusing. So after going through half the episode, I decided to quit.
Upon a friend’s recommendation, I decided to revisit Hunter x Hunter. The animation quality and the plotline were both much more compelling than I had expected. Turns out, I was watching ‘the wrong’ Hunter x Hunter – the one I was watching was the version from 1997.
Anyway, Hunter x Hunter has been an absolute gem. It features Gon, a ten-year-old adventurer who decides to become a ‘Hunter’ in order to follow in the footsteps of his father. ‘Hunters’ are a group of highly powerful individuals who have passed the rigorous ‘Hunter Exam’. Upon passing this exam, they pursue paths as diverse as they are skilled – from ‘Gourmet Hunters’ who gather the rarest ingredients from the most perilous environments to ‘Blacklist Hunters’ who track down and kill the world’s most dangerous criminals. But regardless of their profession, passing the ‘Hunter Exam’ is known to be a passport to success and fame, drawing millions of applicants each year, although only a few manage to survive the exam’s trials and tribulations.
Very soon into the plot we are introduced to our band of main characters who all seek to. Contrasting Gon’s boundless optimism and determination is Killua, an indifferent ten-year-old who grew up with a family of assassins. Then is Kurapika, who joins the Hunter exam to gain the power he needs to avenge his family clan; last is Leorio, someone who outwardly declares his aim is to make as much money as possible by becoming a Hunter, but whose actions and heart says otherwise.
Their adventures through the ‘Hunter Exam’ occupy most of the first season. Some might suggest that twenty episodes is too long to spend on a single exam – in fact, the buildup to the Hunter Exam itself takes two or three episodes – but these are twenty episodes well spent (and in fact, for me, the highlight of the show – I’m on season three right now and the episodes, while good, just don’t quite compare to the first).
What I love about the show is how quickly we are drawn into the world of Hunter x Hunter, and the incredible variety of the show’s ensemble of characters. Each character has a distinct personality, and their skillsets are often carefully interwoven with their characters. Even characters we only see for brief moments leave a strong impression, which is a testament to the imagination and creativity of the scriptwriting team.
And we of course are made to fall in love with Gon. On paper his character traits – simple-mindedness, optimism, grit and willingness to trust others – seem almost like a generic male protagonist of any action/adventure anime (the prime example that comes into my mind is Naruto), but somehow the character portrayal doesn’t at all seem forced, but comes off as authentic and charming.
Another charming aspect of Hunter x Hunter is that things aren’t always what they seem – an exam that involves cooking, for example, turns out to be a more difficult stage of the exam than travelling through a mist-filled forest with wild monsters waiting to prey on the candidates. And we’re always left guessing as to what intentions various characters have – the show’s primary antagonist, Hisoka, a power-bent joker figure of sorts, for example, leaves us guessing at every stage how he will behave. And the Hunter Exam is presented in a way that often leaves us thinking ‘well, how would I get out of that?’ There’s an intellectual playfulness to the show that often leaves the audience as blind as the candidates of the Hunter Exam themselves.