I already have one entry about Hunter X Hunter: The Last Mission – a little less than a year ago I checked in after seeing it in the theater on its opening weekend. And the Blu-ray has been out for quite some time. But truthfully, I was a little reluctant to write this post. Most obviously, that’s because I knew it was dead-certain to be the last H x H anime entry I write for quite a long time. But that’s not the only reason.
Sadly, the response to these Hunter X Hunter movies is predictable, and it’s not really fun to be a part of all that negativity about something you quite like. I enjoyed Phantom Rouge and I like The Last Mission a bit more, but of course no H x H that’s not written by Togashi Yoshihiro is going to hold up against material that is (especially dealing with the different in length between a move and one of the manga arcs). By now I’ve watched a good chunk of the 1999 anime, and my experience is that you can really tell every time it veers away from the source material – both in terms of plot and character – and it does more often than it should (or needed to). There’s a noticeable drop in quality every time, but I have to give credit to Madhouse for the 2011 version – there are far fewer significant divergences, but the ones that exist feel far more organic and in fact, often even improve on the manga IMHO.
That brings us to The Last Mission which, like Phantom Rouge, stacks up quite well when it’s not help up to the unfair standard of Togashi’s own pen. Ironically Madhouse brought in Kishima Nobuaki, one of the writers from the 1999 series, and I think it gives TLM a slightly more “canon” feel than PR. I also find, interestingly, like I enjoyed this film much more than I did a year ago not so much because of the subtitles (turns out I got about 90% of the major points right to begin with) but because I’ve now seen the “Chimera Ant” arc.
Make no mistake, that matters – there’s a lot in this movie that resonates much more deeply knowing what’s to come. I’d even go so far as to say that Kishima-sensei wrote it as a kind of precursor to “Chimera Ant”, with Gon’s role especially foreshadowing what’s to come. And unlike with Phantom Rouge there’s no question about where The Last Mission falls in the series timeline – thematically and materially it’s clearly smack-dab between “Greed Island” and “Chimera Ant”. Just before “Chimera”, in fact, as there’s a reference to Gon and Killua’s meeting with Kaito. Viewed through that lens I think TLM makes a very interesting addition to the Hunter X Hunter chronology, and it does nothing to undermine the series canon in the process.
In terms of theme and premise, I would call this film a bit of a hybrid. There’s a good chunk of H x H mythology, but it’s blended in with the story of “On“, which is quite reminiscent of the Star Wars dichotomy of the light and dark side of the Force. The premise strongly echoes Fullmetal Alchemist’s Ishval storyline, but more than anything I would almost say this is H x H’s “Jinchu Arc” (Rurouni Kenshin). Given the amount of time Togashi-sensei normally devotes to an arc I think this story could have been genuinely outstanding – as is it’s pretty darn good, even given the 100-minute time constraint.
As I mentioned in my earlier article, there’s some pretty good fanservice in The Last Mission, especially if you’re a fan of “Heaven’s Arena”. I’ll again dispense with summarizing the plot much since almost all of you will know it by now, but it’s a lot of fun to see Zushi, Wing and Bisky – and Zushi is now a Floor Master (and seriously cut). The initial driver of events is the “Battle Olympiad” at Heaven’s Arena, where all Floor Masters will battle for supremacy, but the meat of the story is the plot by Netero’s old friend and nemesis Jed (Nakamura Shidou) for revenge against Netero and his Hunter’s Association, which takes advantage of that gathering.
I quite like the idea that Nen has a dark shadow (On), which derives it’s power from human anger and resentment – it seems very logical to me. And so does the origin story, which finds Netero and Jed – at the time close friends – splitting the role of the nascent Hunter Association in two. Based on a coin flip (after a duel fought to a draw) Netero takes charge of the “light” – the “official” side of affairs. And Jed is given the dark, the unacknowledged and secret job of doing the dirty work that needs doing. His new order is perfectly named, Kage (Shadow), and he does presumably what the two powerful colleagues had agreed upon in advance. But the time comes when its existence is no longer convenient, and Netero takes on the dirty job for once – wiping Kage and all traces of its existence from the map. And naturally enough, this fills Jed with a powerful hatred and desire for revenge – so powerful in fact that it survives even after his original body is destroyed.
This actually casts Netero in a pretty dark light – there are concentration camps and purges of civilians happening here – but that fits with what we later learn of him. It’s also wonderful to hear the great Nagai Ichirou again – for all that Banjou Ginga did a fine job filling in without imitating, Nagai-san will always be Netero to me. What we see of Gon here also fits with what we’ll see from him in “Chimera Ant”. In fact The Last Mission could very easily be taken as a straight-up foreshadowing of what’s to come in that dark and terrible epic – what happens when Gon’s purity and single-mindedness takes him to the dark places of the soul, but Killua’s love is still able to pull him back (as it cannot later). Watching Gon’s arc (he’s resolutely against killing his enemies here) in TLM after having seen “Chimera Ant” is far more powerful and poignant, which gives the movie a very strong added dimension – and I don’t believe that was unintentional on Madhouse and Kishima’s part.
Among the other highlights of The Last Mission is an appearance by none other than Pariston Hill, though not a speaking one (it’s implied he may somehow be involved in the current conspiracy). Kurapika, Leorio (who actually uses Nen – a bit) and Hisoka are all involved, too. And as with Gon, there are echoes of Kurapika’s dark journey in Jed’s quest for revenge, and it’s he (and Netero) who feels most connected to the film’s events after Gon. We also get the first on-screen look at Netero’s Hyakushiki Guanyin Bodhisattva, which will of course be so crucial later on. Seeing it matched up against Jed’s own Hyakki Juon Rasetsu (“Grudge of 100 Demons”), which resembles a giant onii wearing a Noh mask, makes for some excellent sweeping visuals.
The Last Mission doesn’t get much love from H x H fans, predictably, but I think it’s being sold short – it’s both more elegantly intertwined with the larger storyline and elegantly constructed on its own terms than it gets credit for. As with Nen and On there’s a nice symmetry between Netero and Jed’s abilities, and for new mythology this all fits quite logically with the existing. The ending, where Gon and yes, even Killua’s innocence turns the tide rather than the old hatreds of Netero and Jed’s generation, is rather poetic (if tragic in light of future events). The pacing is good, the animation and art solid (though not dramatically better than the TV series, which is after all among the best in recent years in those – and other – terms) and knowing what’s coming in “Chimera Ant” gives the story some genuine weight. I quite liked Phantom Rouge, especially Kurapika’s backstory (which as it was written by Togashi is now effectively canon) but I think on balance, The Last Mission is both the better and better-integrated film. It may not be on a par with a Togashi story arc, but it more than holds its own as a part of the larger Hunter X Hunter universe.
ED: “Hyouriittai (表裏一体)” (Full Version) by Yuzu