By Andie Smiley
If you’re a fan of shounen and looking for a new anime, my best recommendation would have to be Hunter x Hunter.
Officially pronounced “Hunter Hunter” despite the Twitter threads arguing for different pronunciations, Hunter x Hunter revolves around four main characters: Gon Freecss, Killua Zoldyk, Leorio Paradinight, and Kurapika, as they strive to become Hunters and enact their own personal agendas with their Licenses.
Hunter x Hunter’s first arc is a unique and immediately gripping premise: people have come from around the world to take the Hunter Exam, which will grant them a Hunter License. Hunters have no real job description, but have a special passport, privileges related to enacting and enforcing the law (or their own laws), and a substantial salary. Despite the innocuous name, it quickly becomes apparent that the Hunter Exam requires superhuman strength, stamina, speed, and intellect to be able to pass, and has no qualms about killing examinees who aren’t up to measure, not to mention allowing them to kill each other. Through it all, our main characters don’t seem to be struggling or even surprised, only adding to the mystery of the world and the inhabitants within it.
HxH’s fascinating world is filled with, for the most part, palatable violence, owed mostly to the nature of the storytelling. Killua rips out a man’s heart with his bare hands, only disappointed by how much messier he is at it than his father, and the takeaway is not, “Wow, that was horrible,” but instead, “Wow, I’d like to know more about Killua.” Hisoka, one of the recurring antagonists, is surrounded by death, almost at all times, and he, too, is more intriguing than the violence that surrounds him. Death is commonplace in Hunter x Hunter, from the very beginning, but the anime refuses to take itself too seriously, making it easy to ignore in favor of the much richer events surrounding the main characters and their past.
Part of the appeal is the undeniably pure friendship between the two most prominent main characters, Gon and Killua. Both are twelve, strolling through the Hunter Exam with ease when even most experienced adults fail or die. Both seem unfathomably strong. And yet, where modern shounen heroes seem angsty, like they were forced to grow up too quickly, Gon and Killua remain at heart twelve-year-old boys. Their first meeting is not momentous or prophetic, but rather Gon admiring Killua’s skateboard and asking to try it out sometime. Later in the Hunter Exam, after panning across each of their older companions’ increasingly frustrated expressions, the scene cuts to Killua teaching Gon how to do a kickflip. They may be incredibly powerful young boys, but Hunter x Hunter always makes time for them to be young boys, whether it’s staying out late playing in the woods together or bickering over who owes each other what food from the vending stall nearby. Is it unrealistic, given that both of them suffered through childhood trauma ranging from an absent father to outright torture from their family? Yes, absolutely. But it is, without fail, charming.
While their age provides a lot of Hunter x Hunter’s glow, it also opens HxH up to darker avenues than its more adult-focused shounens: notably, Hisoka’s pedophilia. Hisoka is, apart from this, an extremely compelling villain. His character design follows a Joker-like, creepy carnival theme, with a hint of magician. He kills with a deck of cards and transforms things into rose petals. He is powerful, but not untouchable; he’s eccentric, but not cartoonish; he’s just strange enough to be interesting but not so strange that he becomes impossible to understand. In a word, he’s cool. But, particularly later on, Hisoka’s scenes become more and more tainted by what appears to be a sexual attraction to the 12-year-old main character. The show explains this away as an attraction to power, and Gon is simply a very powerful person. But knowing it’s Gon’s power Hisoka is attracted to does not make it easier to stomach the way that Hunter x Hunter will, instead of skirting around this, lean into this perverse attraction: to put it in video game terms, it seems to consider Hisoka’s pedophilia a feature, not a bug. The one saving grace is that it is all implied, and never once does Hisoka actually make a move. But still, it cannot be ignored. In the scenes where it’s present, it sticks out as harshly as a run in an otherwise smooth stocking.
Luckily for us, these scenes are few and far between. Otherwise, Hunter x Hunter flows well from story arc to story arc, each character is allowed their moment in the sun, and Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio are compelling without being overly cliche. A spiritual predecessor to shounens like My Hero Academia, if it’s a fast-paced and unique action anime with a likeable main character you’re looking for, Hunter x Hunter is impossible to ignore.
Edited by Emelyn Ehrlich