Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 14th 2009
Hunter x Hunter
DVD - Set 3
Now card-carrying Hunters, Gon, Kurapica and Leorio head off to retrieve Killua, who caved to his brother's pressure and quit the Hunter's Exam to return to the poisonous bosom of his assassin family. Getting to him is no mean feat, though, what with the two-ton gates, man-eating beasts and indestructible butlers standing between them and their wayward friend. While the Hunter trio struggles through the obstacles dividing them, Killua suffers the unhealthy attentions of his family—most of whom express their displeasure via torture. Afterward Killua and Gon, flat broke and painfully aware of their deficiencies, head to Heaven's Arena, a two-hundred-story tower that hosts a year-round tournament, looking to both train and pocket some prize money. There they meet a young boy with interesting eyebrows and even more interesting abilities. What is the power “Nen” that he wields, and can it help Gon settle his score with psychopathic jester Hisoka? The answers, respectively: spirit energy and yes.
Its star may be little more than a tot, but Hunter X Hunter is a decidedly grown-up series—at least by shonen standards. That remains true in this third set, even as it delves further into stereotypical shonen outrageousness.
It's a particular letdown to see the series indulge in the genre's fondness for spirit energies and physics-defying strength. Where the Hunter Exam emphasized the frightening power gap between children and adults, the tournament tower episodes have tykes tossing bruisers across arenas and holding their own against seasoned brawlers. We are given an elaborate system of ki-like spirit powers, training episodes, and plenty of the usual affirmations of the protagonists' monstrous fighting potential. Mundane stuff, and that's before factoring in the giant tournament tower with its ranked floors and fighters.
But even its flights of shonen fancy are dealt with with the series' customary maturity. The tournaments may be inevitable—the show is, after all, the product of the same mind that dreamt up Yū Yū Hakusho—but they avoid the melodrama and apocalyptic pretensions of series like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, basing themselves subtly but firmly in the very personal ambitions of their participants. Rather than reduce fighting to competing energy blasts, the series' complex Nen system actually adds another layer of strategy to the fights. And every power-up, mega-punch, tired speech and less than welcome revelation is presented in a measured, intelligent fashion that makes them not only palatable but respectful of viewers.
Indeed, rather than the shonen pitfalls, this set's most serious flaw is simply its location within the series. Though pleasingly modulated, with never a hurried step and never a wasted one, and filled with the little pleasures that its steady pacing allows plenty of leeway to enjoy, it is nevertheless obvious that this stretch of episodes is merely a bridge between two larger and more important arcs. The small arcs that comprise this set are intended to tie up loose ends and equip their protagonists with the skills to continue their journey—not to provide compelling serial entertainment. Not that those little pleasures should be dismissed out of hand: little though they are, they are potent. Gon's reunion with Killua is suitably joyous, Killua's family is a dark—and scary—kick, and of course, there's plenty of freaky Hisoka goodness to go around. But unlike the Hunter Exam, there's little tension here, no real sense of risk or danger. Enjoyable though these episodes are, they aren't particularly exciting.
What the series lacks in impact, though, it makes up for in pure viewing pleasure. With its easy pace and gorgeous hand-drawn look, the series is exceedingly easy on the eyes. The backgrounds in particular are superb (while the characters are more pedestrian, and occasionally poorly rendered), but where the series truly comes into its own is during the fighting. The casual confidence of Kazuhiro Furuhashi's beautifully animated, stupendously inventive combat scenes is simultaneously stunning and logical (his experience directing Rurouni Kenshin was not wasted). Furuhashi mixes full animation and stills with skill and energy, flavoring the mix with judicious quick-cuts and bursts of slow motion. Sure it's a disappointment to see the honest brutality of the Hunter Exam fights supplanted by super-powered kids whaling on beefy paper tigers, but it's an exhilaratingly executed disappointment. The Gon vs. Hisoka match is absolutely not to be missed—and not just because it's one of the two instances where the series regains its edge or because Hisoka is an incorrigible scene-stealer. It's simply one of the most perfectly executed fights in the Shonen Jump line.
There's a simplicity to Toshihiko Sahashi's score that dovetails nicely with the series' unhurried rhythms and uncomplicated plot. The music is based around a handful of recognizable themes, adjusted to fit various situations. Its gentler moments are its best, particularly when underlining the peace of Gon's home on Whale Island. It's rather less effective at pumping up the adrenaline, but is never less than serviceable—even at its most orchestrally obvious.
With the superb job Viz has been doing bringing English life to series like Bleach and Naruto, Hunter X Hunter's dull dub is a bitter disappointment. In the first two volumes, one was inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt—after all it takes time to work out the kinks and burrow into the characters—but by this point there's no excuse for the lack of investment one can feel in both the cast and the crew. Incidental noises—all of the grunts, cries and screams so necessary during fights—are particularly unconvincing, and you can actually hear the actors' breath hit the mikes on occasion. The dearth of Kurapica—the dub's one solid performance—is sorely felt, but even when on screen he has to fight the flat, bored tone of the overall dub. Sticklers for accuracy will be glad to know that the translation rarely strays far from the subtitle script, but sticklers for quality, dub fan or no, are better off sticking to the original.
Too substantial to be called filler but too slight to be indispensable viewing, Hunter X Hunter's third outing is as thoroughly enjoyable and mature (for a shonen series) as ever, though it carries with it the unmistakable scent of a series waiting for better things to come. With any luck, they're coming fast.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Hisoka fight; continued maturity in pacing and presentation.
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