I confess, if you floated the proposition two months ago that Hunter X Hunter was going to be one of the better series airing as we entered February, I would have been highly skeptical. But you’d have been right, and I’d have been wrong.
I’d also have been skeptical that it would develop into one of the top half-dozen or so series at LiA in terms of post traffic – and even higher in terms of comments. I think this is a case where very few blogs are covering this series, for a myriad of reasons I don’t need to enumerate here. In any case, I’m glad I decided to cover it and even more than I decided to stick with it, because I should know beyond a doubt by now that shounen manga – especially weekly shounen manga, and especially especially weekly Shounen Jump manga – almost always get off to a slow start. But this one has really hit its stride now.
Among the many things I find appealing about Togashi Yoshihiro’s writing here is that so much of it – especially for a shounen – is internal, taking place in the mind. The real battles in this series are mental, not physical (though it doesn’t skimp on those either) and the intricacy of the plotting is exceeded only by the surprisingly subtle character development. Some of the scenarios are full-on shounen outlandish, but they work in the context of the story. I confess I’m not a huge fan of Yu Yu Hakusho and I don’t see the same level of sophistication in that work, but this one is impressively nuanced and very smart.
H x H is always at its most interesting when it’s dissecting its characters, leaving their emotions exposed and raw for the audience to see. I continue to be fascinated by the way each of the four protagonists fits into the dynamics of the little group they’ve formed, and how to this point they’ve each been true to their nature and their role so that their actions seem predictable in hindsight. A large percentage of the lasting import of this episode comes in the cementing of Gon’s character (I use that word in both senses). He’s not normal, this kid. While Ponzu (Kudou Haruka) is willing to forfeit and wait for rescue and Kurapika puzzles over possible solutions, Gon sees an answer that’s only possible due to his extreme physical ability and courage. And without debate or discussion, he acts – using himself as a sacrifice in order to get the antivenin he assumed (hoped) Bourbon had on his person.
That act is quintessentially Gon, in every respect. Of course it was logical to assume Bourbon might have the antivenin, but it was no sure thing. Gon placed Leorio’s welfare ahead of his own and took the risk, and then relied on his extraordinary physical abilities to recover from the venom while Leorio was still out cold – and his wits to devise a plan to actually get the four of them out of the cave in time to advance to the next phase of the exam (and in taking Ponzu’s tag, to ensure Leorio’s. passage while keeping his promise to her). Of course a 12 year-old boy isn’t going to be able to hold his breath for almost ten minutes, never mind carrying three young adults on his shoulders in one trip – but the rules of shounen clearly apply here, and Gon is anything but normal. The chip of his shoulder from his encounter with Hisoka didn’t hurt his motivation either.
Kurapika made a very strong impression this week as well. He’s the empathetic one, the listener and observer, the pure soul stained by darkness. It’s Kurapika that sees in Gon’s eyes that something significant has happened to him, and it’s in Kurapika that Gon is finally able to confide the story of what transpired with Hisoka (he was looking for his two friends, as it happens). The moments when Gon’s superhuman façade cracks and the little boy inside breaks free – sometimes in childish playfulness, but also in emotional vulnerability – are always interesting, and I don’t think there’s anyone else in the group that Gon would have allowed to see him that way. Kurapika summed up his own character in perhaps the most memorable line of the episode – “I’m I’m given ample reason I’ll fight anyone. If not, I would prefer not to fight anyone.” There’s more to that simple statement than it appears at first glance, and I don’t think anyone else in the cast would have said it.
As for are other two, Leorio has openly acknowledged what was mentioned here last week – he wouldn’t have passed (or survived, truth be told) without the help of Gon and Kurapika. Kurapika acknowledges that Gon has been the single biggest reason they’ve all succeeded, but for Leorio it’s a more galling reality, not just because of his age but because he’s been completely useless for most of the last two phases. His urge for redemption is surely going to drive him hard. And Killua remains the enigma of the group, symbolically and physically apart from the others as this phase was conducted. To call him a wild card is an understatement, and I think he’s the one member of the group that none of the others would fully trust with their life – not even Gon, though I doubt he’d admit it.
Of course Hisoka has spotted this, as exposed by the very interesting segment where Netero interviews the nine finalists in preparation for the still unrevealed final phase. it’s revealing to see their answers to the “Who do you have your eye on?” (talk about open to interpretation) and “Who would you least like to fight?” Hisoka lists Killua, and that’s the fight I confess I’d like to see – although he does say that Gon is the one he’d least like to fight right now (make of that what you will). Pretty much everyone mentions Hisoka as the answer to one of those two questions, and the protagonists are no exception, though they obviously say they’d rather not fight each other. As for the others, we have the young and still largely unknown Pokkle (Tokumoto Yukitoshi), the mysterious pincushion Gittrackur (who mentions only Killua), the capable ninja Hanzo Mori (Kishio Daisuke) and the hitherto almost unseen Bodoro, an older man who admires Hisoka’s “presence” and declares that he’d be unable to bring himself to fight Gon and Killua, as they’re only children. He’s by far the biggest enigma of the remaining candidates, though something tells me that’s about to change.