Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Hunter × Hunter -The Last Mission-
Years ago, the Hunter Association harbored a dark counterpart, an organization of Shadows that completed the missions too dubious to stain the hands of the association itself. Though it has been years since this organization was disbanded, the ashes of resentment still linger, and now a new group of foes are determined to bring the Hunters' past crimes to light. In the towering peaks of Heaven's Arena, Gon and his friends will cross blows with these enemies, in a battle that threatens all of the Hunter's Association. But who are these mysterious enemies, and what is their strange power that seems to eclipse even Nen?
I can't say I envy the writers of tie-in films for continuing manga adaptations. Their task generally implies threading a needle through a hole that may not even exist, balancing the audience's desire for meaningful, consequential drama with the fact that nothing in their film can fundamentally alter the manga's narrative variables. “At the end of the day, all of these characters must be reset to where they started” is a difficult constraint to work around, doubly so when it comes to Hunter x Hunter. One of Hunter x Hunter's signature qualities could be considered “actions have real consequences” - major characters are maimed or killed, victories are never easy, and all central characters are written such that you can feel the weight of their past choices in their future steps.
On top of this, you have to grapple with the fact that while it's easy enough to write with someone else's characters, it can be much harder to capture the spirit of their work. Yoshihiro Togashi's Hunter x Hunter isn't so renowned simply because it's one more energetic shonen property - Togashi's mixture of tactical intrigue, character drama, and grand thematic ambition place him as a genuine storytelling genius, and Hunter x Hunter is his masterwork. Simply throwing Hunter x Hunter's stars against a few new foes can't by itself replicate the richness and complexity of Togashi's narratives, and fluidly animating some big punches is not the same thing as matching Togashi's strategically bewildering battles.
All of this is to say that even among tie-in films, The Last Mission has set itself a monumentally difficult challenge. That the film doesn't succeed in satisfactorily answering these questions isn't surprising; to genuinely make a “great anime-original Hunter x Hunter tie-in” might just be an impossible task. But fans generally understand that fact before going into a film like this, and our collective expectations for tie-ins tend to hover more around “provide some new memories with old friends.” The Last Mission isn't a great or even really good film, but it's still very nice to see these friends again.
The Last Mission's premise is that some time in the Hunter Association's past, they had a covert wing known as the “Shadows,” who carried out unsavory hunter missions in secret. The leader of this organization, a man named Jed, discovered an alternative form of energy to Nen known as “On.” The Shadows were eventually destroyed, but many years later, a new group of foes show up and declare their intent to destroy the hunters, revealing their mastery of On and capturing chairman Netero in one fell swoop. Now these new enemies have taken all of Heaven's Arena hostage, and our heroes will have to fight to save both Netero and the hunters altogether.
The plot of this film is likely one you've heard before, possibly even in another anime-original tie-in. “The heroes' organization has a dark past that forces them to reconsider their commitment to their goals” is a time-tested way of presenting a threat that seems imposing but ultimately changes nothing, and The Last Mission doesn't really do anything novel with the concept. The line-to-line dialogue of this film is just generally broader and less nuanced than the anime proper, and perhaps more damningly, all of the questions this film considers were already considered more thoughtfully by the show itself. If you've seen much of Hunter x Hunter, “the Hunter Association is a morally ambiguous and genuinely frightening organization” shouldn't be much of a shock - if you've seen Yorknew City, Kurapika's mini-arc here will feel like an unnecessary retread.
Beyond the familiarity and simplicity of this film's overarching plot beats, the film also has great difficulty illustrating a satisfyingly “Hunter x Hunter-style” battle. Togashi's fights generally aren't exciting purely for their visual spectacle or emotional consequence - they're little puzzle boxes, featuring clear tactical variables and JoJo-style back and forth. The closest this film comes to echoing that appeal is Killua briefly using his electric powers to clever effect, but outside of that, these fights hinge more on the “heart and guts” energy you expect from run-of-the-mill shonens. Perhaps the best way to sum up the issues with this film's writing as regards to its action is that it chooses to invent a new form of Nen, “On,” whose power is that… it can simultaneously use all of the Nen specialties, the tactical bedrock of limitations that the entire show is built on.
Fortunately, those fights are also pretty beautiful! As I said before, it's probably healthiest to approach tie-in films with an attitude of “it'll be great to see these old friends again,” and The Last Mission does a fine job of showing them at their best. The Last Mission's fights are visually ambitious and fluidly animated, embracing the physicality of the Heaven's Arena tower wherever possible. This film gives a welcome sense of the sheer scale of power exhibited by characters like Killua and Gon, as their punches and electric rallies send enemies and even themselves spinning through pillars and across hallways and all the way down elevator shafts. Though I might have preferred a closer focus on physical choreography over this film's swooping, camera-centered animation feats, the battles are still a wonderful spectacle on the whole.
Though the animation is very consistent throughout, I was even more taken by this film's grand and beautiful layouts. Though you'd think Heaven's Arena's tangle of corridors and waiting rooms wouldn't lend itself to environmental beauty, The Last Mission is consistently punctuated with striking compositions that greatly emphasize the allure of this world, and even the consequences of this mission. Like the previous Hunter x Hunter film, there's a fresh emphasis on post-production polish that naturally highlights Hunter x Hunter's clean, appealing designs, while Netero's significance to this plot really lets the team unleash in terms of visual illustration of titanic powers.
The film is also solid in terms of its sound design, matching evocative series staples with a handful of energetic new insert songs. Unfortunately, the film's dub does have some issues. While I had quibbles with some actors' takes on their characters (it might just be impossible to match the sultry intensity of Daisuke Namikawa's Hisoka), the bigger issue was the recording quality. Both Gon and Killua's vocal parts often sounded like they were recorded too close to the mic, resulting in abrasive vocal scratching through the second half of the film. These parts were hopefully re-recorded prior to release, but it was a consistent issue with my own screener copy.
On the whole, The Last Mission is more or less what you should expect from a mid-tier tie-in film. Its narrative is far from essential, and its storytelling doesn't come close to the level of the show proper, but it's still fun to watch beloved characters clash in gloriously animated spectacles. If you set your expectations to “seeing the gang beat up some new jerks for old time's sake,” you should have a very pleasant time.
Overall (dub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Offers a welcome victory lap for fan favorite characters, some very well-animated fight scenes
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