Despite the fact that it’s just now hitting U.S. cinemas, Hunter x Hunter: The Last Mission isn’t a new movie. Originally released in December of 2013—putting it just a little under a year before the conclusion of Madhouse’s 2011-2014 TV anime—the second Hunter x Hunter anime film brings back Gon and other familiar faces for another standalone adventure. It may not be as exciting as any given portion of the TV series or Yoshihiro Togashi’s manga, but it’s definitely a modest well in a veritable desert of Hunter x Hunter content.
Following a brief opener that sets up the eventual antagonist of the feature, Gon and Killua blast onto the scene in a spirited return to Heaven’s Arena. While they won’t be competing in the new Battle Olympia tournament, they’re more than content to simply cheer on their pal Zushi as he aims to take his martial arts to the top of the bracket. The fun and games barely get a chance to start before a group of masked attackers take over the arena, incapacitate Hunter Association chairman Netero, and issue an ultimatum that would both destroy the association and put the entire world in danger.
The baddies in question belong to a group known as Shadow, but I’ll leave their secrets for others to discover on their own. The central conceit here is a mysterious power known as On, which is fueled by hatred and acts as somewhat of an opposing force to the Nen powers Gon and the gang use in battle. Not only can members of Shadow cancel out Nen and keep users from fighting back, once someone is infected they’re forced to enter into a contract that almost always spells certain doom depending on the conditions. This makes for some interesting stakes during the final battle, which is one of a handful of highlights in this big screen outing.
Most everyone gets at least a little time in the spotlight, even if Leorio spends the majority of it covered in trash. It takes a while for The Last Mission to get to the meat of its action, but there are a couple standout fights worth sticking around for. The best of the bunch is definitely Gon and Killua’s elevator shaft battle against the mohawked menace known as Gaki. The conclusion is classic Hunter x Hunter, even if we’re not treated to the same edge-of-your-seat narration as we would happily receive in the TV series. This is also the animation highlight of an otherwise reserved feature that only rises above Madhouse’s small-screen efforts in a few key moments. That’s not too much of a demerit, though, considering the high standards set by Hunter x Hunter‘s 148-episode run.
Shadow could have been a more interesting antagonistic force, but the audience’s only real connection to them is a brief scene that makes up the movie’s opening minutes. While their lore implications and relation to the grander picture of the Hunter x Hunter universe are indeed substantial, their ire mostly stems from the brief snippet of time we got to see them going up against Netero in the past. It’s strange, because as far as shonen series are concerned, this is hands down one of the best at conveying the sheer danger of enemies of all shapes and sizes. It’s not that apparent here, though, despite the obvious perils that come along with the power of On and the ruthlessness of its practitioners.
Hunter x Hunter: The Last Mission may not be the most exciting Hunter x Hunter story, but it definitely works better in the frame of a 100-minute movie than it would stretched out for a dozen or more episodes on TV. As much as I would appreciate having the series’ narrator sit us down for an episode or two worth of unnecessary expounding on the concept of On, The Last Mission operates efficiently enough as a self-contained extended episode of its own. I wouldn’t recommend this as anyone’s first exposure to Togashi’s celebrated and hiatus-prone world and characters, but fans will find this brief reunion just refreshing enough for now.
Hunter x Hunter: The Last Mission Hits U.S. theaters across the U.S. and Canada today, January 30, so check local listings if you want to see it on the big screen.