Series Review: Hunter x Hunter

I’m not entirely sure how you review 148 episodes in 1000 words or less, but here goes nothing…

Spoiler-free review below the jump. Actually, think of it more like a sales pitch. And yes, I know it’s a long series. Doesn’t matter. Totally worth the binge-watch.

I held off on writing this much in the same way I held off on watching HxH for so long – and for many of the same reasons. It’s a daunting project, no question about it. Daunting to watch and daunting to review. Where do you even begin, really?

I guess with this: Hunter x Hunter is a damn fine series. I’m not sure it’s a masterpiece – I don’t like to throw out that label until a show has had a few years to age – but it’s certainly one of the best anime adaptations of a shounen manga ever made, and is probably THE best anime adaptation of an unfinished manga series. I could quibble over this plot point or that narrative decision, but taken as a whole HxH is a remarkably cohesive unit, with each “arc” building on the one that came before it and tying into the one that follows. Its characters grow, its world expands, and its story lines are forever developing in ways both surprising and natural, subverting expectations but rarely seeming out of place.

Madhouse kills it on the adaptation, too – the score is stellar, the animation is always good and often great (there’s almost no drop in quality over the course of the entire series, and for a 100+ episode series that’s really something to write home about), and my understanding from manga readers is that it’s a faithful adaptation, capturing the tone and intent of the original and at times even improving upon it.

Still hesitant? Don’t worry. I was, too. I didn’t even get into HxH until this past January (then I galloped through the entire series in order to catch up in time for the finale). Because it was long, because there didn’t seem to be any female characters, because the MC was really young and the show had a “kiddie” look to it. Mostly, though, because I was disillusioned about long-running, “arc-based” action/adventure series, which always seemed to get mired in poor pacing and endless filler.

So allow me to ease your fears by assuring you that everything I just said is incredibly, laughably wrong. Well, I mean, okay. It is long. But it’s not mired in poor pacing and endless filler. In fact, there is zero filler. Every episode has a purpose. So does every plot point and pretty much every character. This sucker is long because it’s a long story, and it needs all those episodes to build its world(s) and flesh out its many, many characters and their interactions with one another.

As for my “no female characters” fears, I admit that the first couple arcs are sadly lacking in notable women, and I wouldn’t have complained if there are had been a little more of a sex/gender balance along the way. That said, the few major female characters who do appear in the later arcs are as distinct, well-developed, and memorable as the male characters (if not more so). Togashi (the original mangaka, of Yu Yu Hakusho fame) even includes some gender-neutral individuals, and it’s heavily implied that one of the characters late in the series is trans. It takes a while, but HxH gradually comes to be filled with a lot of diverse people, and it’s part of what makes the later arcs (in my opinion) much better than the early material (which is pretty darn good itself).

And finally, if you think this is a “kiddie” show like I did… oh man, excuse me while I throw back my head and laugh uproariously at my past self. That girl was so silly. She should have known by now that you never judge a book by its cover, and you definitely never judge an anime by its character designs.

Hunter x Hunter may exude that sense of excitement and adventure found in a lot of shows for younger audiences, but its story lines are complex, its morals forever shaded in gray, and its world is deceptively dark – and only gets more so as the series progresses. HxH exists in a world where it’s okay for children to apply for an exam that could easily kill them, where a troupe of thieves murder an entire tribe for their rare, valuable eyes, and a young man risks his life to become a Hunter because it’s the only way he can earn the money needed to keep his friends from dying in the streets. And THAT’S only in the first arc, which is a lighthearted romp compared to much of what follows.

That said, I don’t want to give the impression that HxH is all gloom and doom. It isn’t – at its core I think it’s an optimistic series with a lot of humor and heart. Loyalty is prized, love is a complex but often redeeming force, no one is pure evil (or pure good, for that matter), and Buddhist undertones run rampant through the series, particularly in some of the later arcs. It really is a complicated, layered tale woven by a man who clearly knows what he’s doing and loves doing it (a shame he’s forever battling health problems), and even when the story stumbles there’s so much thought and ambition behind each new character development, each new plot twist, that it’s hard not to admire Togashi for having the guts to try to pull it off – and, more often than not, to succeed in pulling it off, too.

 

Oh – and if you’re worried that the series won’t have a proper ending because the manga is still running, don’t be. Madhouse stuck the landing. I mean just absolutely killed it. HxH wraps up on a note that hints at further developments but is, truly, a satisfying finale. (Perhaps even a little too satisfying, as I honestly have no desire to pick up the manga where the anime left off.) All in all it feels like a complete story, a work both epic and intimate, dealing with globe-shaking events but never losing sight of the complex individuals who cause those events to occur.

TL;DR (since I did just hit that 1000-word mark): Find it. Watch it. Get sucked into it. Whether you’re someone who loves long-running adventure series or someone who (like me) tends to shy away from them, I urge you to give Hunter x Hunter a try. It really is something special.

Series Grade: A

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