In the latest issue of Otaku USA (on stands now), we boldly leap into the second attempt to animate Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter x Hunter manga. It may seem like an odd choice to start from scratch—especially for those who already blazed through Nippon Animation’s 62-episode adaptation, which aired in Japan from 1999-2001—but Madhouse Studio’s take on the material is something for the Dragon Ball Z Kai set; more bang for your buck in a shorter period of time. At least that’s the idea, but also consider how much more ground there is to cover now.
For some, this kind of streamlining may seem to come at the expense of character development, but it’s all about adjusting such aspects of the series to the fresh pacing established by director Hiroshi Koujina (Rainbow – Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin) and his staff. Hunter x Hunter is 15 episodes deep now, and is a handful of chapters ahead of where the original anime was at this point. That they’ve managed to keep things moving, despite the fact that it only took 13 episodes to initiate a full-on recap show, is a testament to the strength of the characters themselves.
Gon may be the lead—and it’s his quest to follow in his father’s footsteps in which we’re most invested—but his supporting cast pulls a lot of weight right from the beginning. Favorites will no doubt vary depending on who you ask, but there’s something for everyone here, whether you prefer your protagonists tall, dark and lecherous (Leorio) or petite and extraordinarily deadly (Killua). Killua has grown more and more interesting within the first dozen-plus installments, with intrigue hitting an all-time high once a mere fraction of his skill as an assassin is put on horrifying display.
These early episodes focus primarily on the first stages of the grueling Hunter Examination, which takes our heroes and a bunch of other challengers through tests that consist of everything from endurance jogging to snatching eggs from a canyon-suspended Spider Eagle’s nest. There are obstacles beyond the confines of the test, too, from murderous entrants to returning testers with one goal in mind: ruin it for everyone else and knock out as many headstrong rookies as possible. There are also a few disappointments sprinkled here and there, such as, well, never even getting to see what a Spider Eagle looks like (come on!), but for the most part the series is brisk and engaging.
I’m a fan of Yoshihiro Togashi’s work, especially YuYu Hakusho, but bear in mind that I have yet to read more than a volume or two of the Hunter x Hunter manga. It may be tough for me to wholly compare the new series to its source material, but right off the bat I find it funny—and oh-so Shonen Jump—that it essentially wastes no time in becoming a hunter-on-hunter fighting anime. There’s even a borderline tournament setup in one of the tougher hunter exam challenges, which tosses our team of would-be hunters in a suspended platform showdown against a group of prisoners with nothing to lose but time.
As is the case with something like YYH, there’s an equal mixture of humor and legitimate danger in the proceedings. Leorio is the main source of the former, with his pervy nature getting in the way of his personal one-on-one fight and causing Gon and the rest to lose precious hours in their mission to escape the tower within a set time limit. Even when some laughs are thrown in for good measure, there’s still plenty at stake for all involved.
After the recap episode, “Letter X From X Gon,” we’re on to the fourth phase of the exam, which continues to pit the entrants against one another in their long and perilous journey to become Hunters. It may be material that thousands of fans have seen before, but as of right now Madhouse’s Hunter x Hunter anime has all the right hooks to keep viewers tuning in week after week. The production may not be out of this world, animation-wise, but it’s a strong showing nonetheless, and is a recommended addition to any shonen fan’s queue of simulcasts.
Is anyone else watching this series regularly? What are your thoughts?
Hunter x Hunter episodes can be viewed on Crunchyroll every Saturday at 11:30pm EST
©POT (Yoshihiro Togashi) 1998-2011
©VAP • NTV • Madhouse/Shueisha