Hunter x Hunter: First Impressions

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.

From left to right: Kurapika, Gon, Killua, Leorio

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.

Hisoka, the primary antagonist of Season One (and possibly the rest of the show?

Anyway, enough said. Go watch the show!

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