Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 12th 2009
Hunter x Hunter
DVD - Set 1
Gon was raised by his aunt believing that his parents had both been killed, but a fateful encounter with a man named Kite reveals to him that his father is not, in fact, dead; he just left Gon behind with his aunt for unknown reasons. Since his father is supposedly one of the best of all Hunters (essentially a licensed troubleshooter), Gon aspires to be one, too, and so leaves home at age 12 to take the Hunter's Exam. Along the way he meets up with Leorio, a young man who aspires to be a Hunter to earn lots of money so he can afford to become a doctor; Kurapika, a blond-haired youth who seeks to become a Blacklist Hunter (read: bounty hunter) to avenge his clan's massacre; and Killua, the progeny of a famous family of assassins who sees becoming a Hunter as a way to make his own path. The three work together to reach the Hunter's Exam's location and pass its early stages despite interference from killers, prisoners, thrill-seekers, magical beasts, and other revenge-seekers.
The anime adaptation of Yoshihiro Tagaki's highly popular manga series has been high on licensing wish lists in the American fan community ever since its original 1999-2001 airing in Japan, but when the licensing boom of the early-to-mid 2000s passed by without its named being called, most who cared believed it would never see an official American release. It is a Shonen Jump title, however, and Viz Media is publishing its manga version, so them eventually getting around to licensing and releasing the anime version came as little surprise. Given trends over the course of 2008, the 62-episode series' release being scheduled as a series of boxed sets is even less surprising.
Enough time has passed, though, that the value of Hunter x Hunter has fallen primarily to the nostalgia level. Its first quarter does very little to distinguish the series from any of a score of other Shonen Jump-based anime series out there. A boy aspires to become his world's version of a troubleshooter, just like his dad? Along the way he meets a lot of colorful characters, some of whom become friends? And a big, complicated, multi-stage exam must be passed just to earn a license as one of these troubleshooters? Really, would it be possible to come up with a story structure any more generic than this? Sure, these episodes do throw in some clever and amusing gimmicks that might have been fresh at the time the series originally aired, but in late 2008/early 2009 they just come across as retreads. Naruto has, in one form or another, already covered a lot of this same ground, while Dragonball Z covered most of the rest nearly a decade earlier. Granted, Naruto's creator probably took some inspiration from Hunter x Hunter, but Masashi Kishimoto innovated a lot more in character and structural development than Takagi did, making Hunter seem like the poor cousin by comparison.
Nominal central character Gon is an obvious Son Goku derivative: clever in a simple-minded way, tenacious, enthusiastic, and fun-loving, the kind of character who makes friends very easily, never acts with ulterior motives, and usually has a smile on his face. He is amazingly perceptive (in that sense he is a diametric opposite to Naruto) and of course is supremely naturally talented, but the only thing that truly distinguishes him from a pack of other shonen action leading boys is the fishing pole he perpetually brandishes and occasionally even uses as a weapon. Even his character design looks like something created using a “How To Draw Generic Boy Action Heroes” book. Kurapika is both the obligatory cool-headed character and the obligatory encyclopedia-knowledge character, while Leorio is the obligatory loud, hot-headed character and Killua (yeah, that's an inventive name for a kid assassin) is the obligatory character with a dark background/dangerous edge. Of these, Leorio arguably has the most real personality, but none of them get much development beyond working some backstory details into a hallucination scene. In fact, many of the recurring supporting characters show more potential than the main cast, which is generally not a good sign for a series.
The artistry not only shows its age but, in fact, looks older than it actually is, hearkening back to a day when digital coloring and CG enhancements were not ubiquitous and allowances for a rougher look were greater. Its character designs differentiate male characters well enough but offer nothing that is strikingly different or impressive. Female character designs vary far less, with the Gourmet Hunter Menchi bearing a distinct resemblance to Gon's aunt. Those hoping for sharp action scenes will be disappointed, as the animation takes all of the expected budget-required shortcuts in making it seem like action is going on without really animating much; one significant character even lacks a mouth to help minimize on needed animation. Nothing about the background art will make much of an impression, either.
The soundtrack, which plays up the silly parts especially well but generally does a solid job of complementing the action, may be the strongest production point. Each episode opens with “Ohayo,” an appropriately-named and upbeat introductory song, and closes with the more melodic and reflective “Kaze no Uta.” (Oddly, while the opener visuals features the primary cast, the closer features a character that does not appear again after the first episode.)
The Ocean Group got the call for the English dub, which was done at Blue Water Studios in Calgary. The English script they used stays satisfyingly close to the original, as do most of the performances. This is not major-name voice talent – in fact, the only credited actor who has more than a handful of other titles to his/her credit is Jonathon Love as Leorio – but they get the job done competently enough. For whatever reason, though, none of the performances beyond the six primary ones are credited, and that includes roles with substantial recurring parts.
Extras are found only on the last of three disks and include a collection of storyboards and Viz previews. The three disks come in a quad-fold case.
Despite their flaws, the first fifteen episodes are certainly not without entertainment value. Gon also inherits Goku's inherent likability, some of the “part of the challenge is figuring out what the challenge is” bits are rather clever, and setting up a situation where a tournament proctor is actually called out for being in the wrong is a nice twist. It does also have some fun moments. Anime fans weaned on more recent, flashy, and sophisticated shonen shows like Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach are unlikely to muster much enthusiasm for this one, however. Hunter x Hunter was originally targeted at early-teen and pre-teen boys, and few beyond those and fans who remember it fondly from early in the decade are likely to appreciate it.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Likeable main character, sometimes clever.
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