Note: at the time of writing, I have watched through episode 76.
I was about to start off this post by saying I didn’t know why I began watching Hunter x Hunter, but I remembered before I started down that erroneous path. I began watching this popular shounen when someone on Crunchyroll began a topic debate on whether Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood or Hunter x Hunter was better. Now, I had heard good things (not great, but good) about Hunter x Hunter before, but when someone asked this question and people began saying that HxH was the better of the two, I was intrigued. Why?
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, in my book, is one of the best anime I have ever watched. It’s one of three shows which I have esteemed enough to spend my hard-earned money to own. For me, buying an anime is a sign that I have claimed ownership of the show, that I validate it and respect it. While there are a few anime which I personally like more than FMA: Brotherhood, I have not yet seen another show that deals with the diversity of themes, portrays the range of emotions, has the intensity of suspense and action, all in one, like it. To challenge FMA: Brotherhood is to challenge the best anime has to offer. I had my suspicions about a simple shounen (one I had seen classified with Bleach and Naruto) being able to take on the crown jewel of anime, but people seemed to think that the claim was justified. And so, I began to watch.
Short answer: I was right, the guy who raised the question in the first place was a fool and the people who said HxH was better were even more so. I understand the basis of the comparison; Gon and Killua have a camaraderie that almost nears the level of Ed and Al, but it’s not quite there. And in other aspects of comparison, HxH falls short. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed every moment of HxH so far (well, almost every moment), but it is nowhere in the league of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. So now that this question has been settled, what did I think of Hunter x Hunter?
My first thought was that I was happy to be watching a long shounen again. It is always a fun ride to latch onto a colorful, personable group of characters and ride along with them through adventure after adventure. To its immense credit, Hunter x Hunter very successfully avoids the tedious feeling of disconnected arcs. Each arc has either successfully and seamlessly lead into the next one, or has possessed aspects and hints and movement towards another arc. One of the best examples of this is during the Phantom Troupe arc, during which Gon and Killua begin to hunt the Phantom Troupe, just as Kurapika is, but with the intention of winning a bounty so they can buy a copy of Greed Island, which in turn is a step towards Gon finding his father. The writers really seem to have a good firm handle on the concept that story is just as important as plot, and that the plot points within an arc cannot, by themselves, entertain.
My second thought was that Hunter x Hunter is littered with archetypes. That’s ARCHETYPES, not stereotypes or cliches. A writer friend once told me that the more archetypes that are packed into a book (or in this case, a show), the better the book tends to resonate with the readers. Why? Because with sharply defined genres, such as fantasy writing or the shounen series, the audience is entering that piece with a series of expectations that it expects to be met. Archetypes resonate with the audience on a fundamental level, which is why they are so powerful and why having more of them makes a work stronger. The more archetypes, the better the resonance with the audience. The important distinction to make is that archetypes are skeletons, upon which the writer’s creativity can be grafted. I want to mention just a couple of the archetypes I picked out, and briefly examine the creative flourish given to each.
Archetype #1: Unlimited Potential
It doesn’t take much watching of Hunter x Hunter to learn that Gon and Killua have “UNLIMITED POTENTIAL.” Teachers and more powerful characters repeatedly harp on the point that the two boys are exceptionally powerful for their ages and that they have no ceiling for potential growth. This is a very common archetype, and a very useful one for a writer. To keep the show exciting, the writer can create increasingly powerful characters for Gon and Killua to encounter, which causes them to grow in their own power, and then the cycle repeats. However, if the two were just regular talents, well, they’d be long dead. How has this been dressed up in HxH? In Gon’s case, the archetype has been somewhat hidden by his quest to meet his father. His father is shown to be one of the most powerful individuals in the entire world, so Gon’s power, although growing greater against the enemies he faces, is taking minute steps towards equality (and meeting) with Ging. With Killua, the archetype has been disguised by his unusually high starting level of power. His training as an assassin serves as a basis for his strength, and so his rapid progression is often attributed, in part, to his background. This makes his growth seem more realistic. It also helps that Killua has never been pitted against a major boss, and so we haven’t really seen his true strength.
Archetype #2: The Revenge Plot
Kurapika’s revenge story, which is dealt with during the Phantom Troupe arc is another archetype that caught my attention. Although the purpose behind it was pretty normal (his tribe is slain, he wants to avenge them), the way his tale unfolds in the story has several interesting twists. The biggest one is that his revenge isn’t completed at the end of the arc. The troupe and its leader are still alive, still functioning, but Kurapika takes what seems to be a sort of time out from fighting them. I haven’t yet decided if his fury has abated, or if he is just biding his time; I assume that will be answered later. The second surprise, for me, was when Kurapika actually killed Uvogin. In many stories like this, the hero does not kill their enemies, but works for a kind of reconciliation or change. Kurapika’s slaying of Uvogin was tough to watch, especially when juxtaposed with his dialogue on how the pain he was inflicting was causing him anguish. But that pales in comparison to the final wrinkle, which is Pakunoda. I was incredibly impressed by how sympathetic Pakunoda was by the time of her death. If Uvogin’s death was tough, Pakunoda’s was heart-wrenching. I expected her to be released somehow, but she was not. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t expect it of Kurapika. But that’s how it played out. There was some definite tension between Kurapika’s rage and his internal boundaries. It was well-done, and atypical of the archetypal revenge plot.
If you want to see where I have Hunter x Hunter stacked up against other anime I’ve watched: check out my Ongoing Anime Rankings here.
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