The Hunter x Hunter 2011 remake has been recommended to me many times as I do enjoy quite a number of shonen anime. Actually, many call this one of the best anime series that ever existed. So let’s see how I feel about it.
Within the fantasy setting of Hunter x Hunter, which is a mix of modern times and some slight traces of magical, medieval, Japanese fantasy, there is the Hunter Association. A group of people with extraordinary abilities and immense strength, each individual excels at a certain task, for example there are “Blacklist Hunters” (basically bounty hunters), “Gourmet Hunters” (Hunters that delve into life threatening territory to get ingredients etc.) and many more. The hunter exam is known to be both deadly and extremely difficult, as even reaching the exam is a challenge of its own.
Our main character, Gon Freecss, is stuck on his home island, trying to catch the “Master of the Swamp” to get permission from his aunt Mito to try the hunter exam. Gon is only 12 years old though and only very few people, including his father Ging, managed to complete the exam at this age. Of course, Gon manages to get the fish, heads out to take the hunter exam and soon meets Kurapika, the last survivor of his tribe and Leorio, who desires money to accomplish his goals.
The entire first arc is about the hunter exam itself, more specifically how Gon and the others handle it. The fourth character in the group and soon to be one of the two primary protagonists, Killua, also joins pretty quickly. During the exam, there are a lot of characters that, under normal circumstances, make the impression that they may have a role later on but that isn’t the case. This is the strength of Hunter x Hunter: Characters are unique even if they appear for only one episode and even if the same character appears 50 episodes later, you immediately recognize him or her. No matter who is on the screen, those who have any kind of dialogue that can be taken seriously are easy to remember.
However, as strong as that may sound and as good as how the series portrays the sense of adventure, danger and exploration of the unknown, as bad are two recap episodes in one arc and unneeded stretching. The opening was tiresome after two episodes, I couldn’t care less about the ending theme, the music placement within the episodes is sometimes outright weird and it looks bad when characters talk from a distance. Not mediocre, not maybe-good, it’s bad in form of two dots and a line for a face, that kind of bad. Usually it looks fine though.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the first arc of Hunter x Hunter thanks to the strong protagonists and the antagonist Hisoka, who expresses personality even when he does nothing. If you need consistently good artistic and musical design (the songs themselves are good, just misplaced at times), then you may be turned off.
The second arc picks up right after the first arc ends, with the same bad opening as before that I started to hate long before reaching this point. I think a good comparison would be hearing a song on the radio which is okay if you listen to it once or twice but anything beyond that automatically results in you being annoyed. Multiply that feeling with five.
Anyway, Gon and crew make their way to the Zoldyck estate as Killua returned there to his family after the exam. They have to pass several tests before finally reaching him and once they’re united again, the group splits. Kurapika makes his way to YorkNew city to find the “Scarlet Eyes”, the eyeballs of his kind that were taken from their corpses. Leorio returns to his home to become a doctor, Gon and Killua make their way to the “Heaven’s Arena” while learning of a secret hunter exam and the hidden power connected to it.
This arc is boring. Not in a sense that the plot is bad, just that it should be at least six episodes shorter. What is the problem with this series and either stretching out the plot so much to the level of being annoying or rushing through the moments that could have been stretched out without feeling unnatural? There are more battles this time around and the two things that could save this arc are Hisoka and the secret of “Nen”. This doesn’t mean that the arc can redeem itself for having this much filler. I would recommend it, if you intend to watch the series, to skip this arc but that’s not possible as you would miss vital information otherwise. Just bite your way through.
The third arc (Phantom Troupe) is phenomenal, even though IT STILL HAS THE SAME AWFUL OPENING. No seriously stop right here, who in their right minds thought that having the same already bland opening was a good idea for 40+ episodes? Whoever was responsible for that: I hope you learned because I can’t see anyone having even a little bit of sympathy for that song. Why do I emphasize so much on it right here? I’ll explain later.
Just before the appointed time for the group to reunite, the Phantom Troupe appears in YorkNew city to raid the mafia auction house. Kurapika, who managed to get a foot inside the criminal underground, becomes a subordinate to a mafia boss in order to find the Scarlet Eyes. This arc is all about Kurapika, the Phantom Troupe and later about the reunited group. Fighting an enemy that can’t be defeated by sheer power forces Kurapika and his allies to think of new ways to adapt to his arch enemies. It ends on a pretty satisfying note (still an open ending) and some of the voice acting is a bit too cliche. The backgrounds are much better this time around, excluding when characters speak from a distance which is still too simply drawn. The soundtrack got a massive orchestral boost, the plot keeps you on your toes, the few battles are intense, the overall voice acting is great, the ending theme is good too and the sudden change of the tone is beneficial to the series. Imagine if the cast of the first Dragonball series suddenly engages in a battle with the characters from Hellsing. It’s brutal, it’s bloody and our happy-go-lucky cast has to adapt to the dark situation very quickly to prevent their almost certain death.
To go back though: One would expect with such a change in tone and a general change of protagonists (Kurapika takes the lead with Gon, Killua and Leorio joining later) that the opening would change too, but not only is it bad now, it’s also extremely unfitting in every aspect of the definition, giving me another reason to hate it.
With all that’s been said, the third arc has one of the best plots and pacing I’ve ever watched in shonen anime and if you intent on getting into the series, look forward to it. You have to fight through the second arc to reach it but it will be worth it.
The fourth arc, the Greed Island arc, still has the same despicable opening. I… I’m not even going to bother. It starts out innocently enough: After the events of the Phantom Troupe assault, Gon and Killua manage to find a way to get a copy of Greed Island, a game created by Ging. A millionaire selects a number of people strong enough to survive within the game, with Gon and Killua managing to qualify for it. The game itself is played by using Nen and cards, both soon realize that they’ll have to adapt quickly as “The Bomber”, a mass murdering terrorist who wants to collect all one hundred restricted cards to complete the game, is on the move.
Let’s make it short: It’s weird at first and needs time to settle in, but it turns out to be a pretty good arc on its own once things get going. The general tone and music placement are nothing to complain about anymore, the third addition to the main cast is charming and the final battle is really well done. The animation from a distance was also fixed. The only negatives I can really think of are that the ending theme is mediocre and that the arc doesn’t try to hide the fact that the only reason it is there to begin with is to give Gon and Killua a major power boost. In case you’re not interested, I think it’s safe to say that you can skip the entire arc and be fine with a short summary, being good doesn’t make it a must-watch. It’s up to you to decide.
The fifth arc is the “Chimera Ant” arc, Gon and Killua use an item from Greed Island to find Ging, but instead they find his former apprentice Kite. He explains that… wait a second, still the same opening song? Keep in mind: The opening started to be unfitting as the second arc ended and now we still have it for the fifth arc in the row, even though it’s beyond annoying and unfitting since two arcs? Ugh…
He explains that he is researching the voracious “Chimera Ants” and tries to evaluate the danger that this species represents, as their queen can make ant soldiers based off the genetic material that she feeds upon. Fearing what would happen if the queen would get her hands on human DNA, Kite, Gon and Killua set out to find and destroy the Chimera Ants with unforeseen consequences when the three royal guards and the “King” are born.
This arc is by far the most gruesome and brutal so far, playing with the viewers fear of being massacred, dissected and eaten alive by monstrous insects with some pretty tense visuals. Naturally, at some point, Gon and Killua have another training session but it ends with a nice twist this time around but that’s the only plot twist, until the very end, that you won’t see coming. Literally every plot “twist” is seen coming before the new characters are even introduced, they are that obvious. The ending theme is mediocre, nothing noteworthy. What is noteworthy is the animation quality of the battles which is at times just breathtaking.
There is one thing that breaks this arc though: You thought Dragonball Z was bad with its stretching? Well, we have reached the Namek-saga moment of stretching here. It’s a shame as there is a truly magnificent battle in episode 125 and episode 126 in addition to purely awesome and also terrifying moments that are rarely ever seen in anime, but I don’t see it being worth it if you have to sit through so much painful stretching, I eventually started to play a game while looking at the screen from time to time and still nothing important was happening for the entire rest of the episode. A bad consequence of stretching is also the overabundance of music reusing, as this arc introduces few new songs and likes to throw all the songs from the Phantom Troupe arc at you in regular intervals. In short: This arc goes on for 59 episodes, but has material for 15-30 episodes at best. I don’t think the satisfying conclusion to the plot and one really good battle are worth it to sit through so much stretching. It’s not that it’s bad from a writing or quality point of view, but keep in mind that every episode takes 20-25 minutes and do the math on how much time you spend watching characters in endless, sometimes repeating monologues.
The (currently) final and sixth arc is the “13th Chairman Election” arc that still, you guessed it, has the same opening song. Ironically, it now fits again as this arc is much less gory. It’s a nice change of pace and I wouldn’t mind the opening song, if it wouldn’t have been used 139 times already and made me want to burn it with passion while dancing around the bonfire, throwing grenades into it. This arc has another unmemorable ending theme and actual battles are rare. There is a little bit of stretching but not nearly as bad as the Chimera Ant arc. The ending of this arc is quite charming until the obvious “Hey, continue to read the manga” cliffhanger that, after 148 (!) episodes and while playing the opening theme for the 149th time, is just a huge middle finger to the face while laughing at you for basically wasting your time instead of just reading the manga from the very beginning. I actually felt a little bit offended by the cliffhanger ending this time.
This arc does features some really good plot twists that I couldn’t see coming, a heartwarming ending and a final return to the original tone. I liked it but I felt heavily unsatisfied after realizing what the series accomplished in 148 episodes, only to end on a “read the manga” cliffhanger.
In my opinion, Hunter x Hunter is in theory a potentially good shonen series that truly excels with its plot, world, lore and beautiful battles. The first arc was good enough to get you into it, the second arc was a chore, the third arc was phenomenal, the fourth arc can be summarized in a few sentences, the fifth arc tried to make up for its flaws with fantastic fights, fear, gore, hype, a lot of tension and a really nice solution to the problem at hand. Finally, the sixth arc was charming enough to pass as an ending, if you want to be generous.
With that said, I still can’t recommend the 2011 anime of Hunter x Hunter to everyone. Having the same opening theme throughout the entire series that already got annoying after five episodes at most and the obvious episode stretching is unforgivable when it could have been so much more. So unless there will be a shortened version of Hunter x Hunter at some point in anime form with more than one opening song, I won’t be able to add this to the list of anime that you must watch. Once you’re deep in, you’re probably going to keep watching just as I did, but I had several moments when I was right before quitting because the stretching really tested my patience.
Overall, I enjoyed it for the most part. Hunter x Hunter has the potential to be one of the absolute best shonen anime out there and could take its place on the throne as the very best, but this adaption doesn’t quite make it justice.
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