Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jun 28th 2012
Hunter × Hunter
Episodes 14-26 Streaming
For the next stage the Hunter's Exam moves to Zevil Island, where each examinee draws a number from a hat. The number corresponds to another examinee's number plate. That plate, Gon and his confederates are told, is worth three points. Their own plate is worth three points. Any other plate is worth one. Six points are needed to move on to the next round, which effectively means that the examinees must hunt each other to stay in the game. Gon draws Hisoka's number. Not good. Afterwards the remaining handful face off in a tournament. Still later, Gon, Leorio, and Kurapika head to Kukuroo Mountain to meet Killua's family. A family of world-renowned assassins. What could possibly go wrong?
The weakness of Hiroshi Koujina and Production I.G.'s brisk, straightforward adaptation of Yoshihiro Togashi's Hunter x Hunter is that when Togashi falters, there's not a whole lot the show can do to compensate. So the fact that the end of the Hunter Exam pivots on a tournament, that tired old standby of shonen shows, is cause for worry. Luckily, the strength of Koujina and I.G.'s version is that no single stage of the story ever lasts long, so even when it stumbles it quickly picks itself up.
If the tournament is the show's first real stumbling block, Zevil Island is its first real peak. Pitting the examinees against each other in an island-wide hunt ups the danger quotient exponentially, while also providing a wide variety of challenges and opportunities for action. In truth, the show isn't terribly interested in the action opportunities—which becomes truly obvious in the tournament to follow—but it certainly enjoys devising challenges for its characters. Gon of course gets the big one. Getting a tag off of Hisoka is like yanking a lion's tooth. Gon dreams up an interestingly indirect plan, but the show has a grand old time mucking it up before it comes to fruition. Among the others Leorio has to deal with slimy Tompa, Killua has a three-way showdown to contest with, and Kurapika, Leorio and Gon end up trapped in a snake-infested cave with a particularly unhelpful corpse. It's also interesting to watch how the minor players deal with the test, from Gittarakur, who turns out to be a lot more than a simple freak show, to the typically underhanded Tompa.
But the real show is Hisoka. The killer clown has always been the Exam's scariest contestant, but he really comes into his own here. The man steals pretty much the whole arc. He's riveting even when he's just waiting, and a veritable force of nature when he sets out to hunt. Under his influence, Gon's stalk is one long exercise in bullet-sweating tension. When his hunt crosses paths with Kurapika and Leorio's, the confrontation is plain terrifying. Though not as terrifying as the fallout, when his imperturbable mask slips enough to reveal his bloodlust in all its roiling madness. He's a hugely charismatic, and highly unpredictable presence. Gon's plan of course comes to fruition, but Hisoka's reaction to it is not what you'd expect. It's funny in its own way, but also quite frightening in its implications. The only thing that could possibly be worse than Hisoka disliking you is Hisoka liking you.
And then the Zevil Island test ends and the tournament begins. Being a Hunter x Hunter tournament, it has some interesting tweaks. For one, it's a reverse tournament, where contestants leave when they win and only the guy who makes it to the end loses. And the rules that old man Netero dreams up add a dimension of strategy that tournaments sometimes lack. The only way to win is to get your opponent to give up—not pass out, not die; only give up—and given that everyone in the tournament has been through the tortures of hell to get there, that takes more than just martial skills. Still, it's a tournament; and frankly a tournament, with its structured fights and orderly progression, can only be so interesting. And the show knows it, which is probably why it cuts the tournament off after its first fight and deals with the remainder in an abbreviated flashback.
Good thing too. Though that fight—between Gon and chatty ninja Hanzo—has its moments, specifically when Hanzo's attack turns brutal and when Gon turns the tables on him (one of the rare scenes that bests the original), it's a pretty limp affair all told. Trick Tower proved that the series could stage a nice fight, but it hardly even tries here. With its tricked-out stills, omitted movements, vanishing backgrounds, and pedestrian visuals, the fight could have been cut and pasted from pretty much any old cut-rate action show. A full tournament's worth of such fights is an awful thought. Not that you can blame Koujina too much. Zevil Island was clearly the climax of the Hunter Exam; the tournament is mostly just an excuse to tie things up quick and easy while hustling the characters on to the next arc. It doesn't pay to bring your A-game to what's basically a plot device.
The next arc isn't on par with the Zevil Island material—how could it be with no Hisoka?—but it's a sight better than the tournament. Yes, it has its hoary shonen tropes (training episodes, complete with weighted vests—oh glee!). Yes, Gon winning over his enemies with good nature and a stout heart is getting mighty old (“Look, it's Gon's special move: the ‘Get the Crap Kicked Out of You Until the Bad Guy Repents’! Works every time!). And yes, like the tournament, everything gets resolved a little too quickly and easily. But it also has a nice, lightly dark sense of humor—the Zoldyks are more Addams Family than Manson Family—and a few nice surprises in store. That Killua's dad would be one big, scary dude was a given; that he'd be so…fatherly wasn't.
Other than slacking off during the action scenes, Koujina and I.G.'s handling of the series is fairly consistent. They give the show a clean, simple look that matches its clean, simple feel. It's a little easier when the content isn't picking up the slack to nitpick Koujina's style—the background art is so simplified in some scenes that it isn't there at all, and Gon's guileless button eyes get a bit annoying—but when it's important, he get things right. Hisoka's Zevil Island outburst is illustrated just right, breaking with the show's simplified look to deliver gloriously detailed insanity, and he uses Togashi's character designs to nicely underplay the less extreme emotions (the main reason why Gon's besting of Hanzo works better in this version of the show). Unfortunately his overuse of Yoshihisa Hirano's score has only gotten worse, drawing unwelcome attention to some of the bigger, more orchestral pieces. One of them sounds suspiciously like the Monty Python theme, and at least one other has you constantly looking over your shoulder for the Lone Ranger.
Like the thirteen before them, these are thirteen very easy episodes to watch. They pass in a highly pleasant rush of mildly atypical, lightly character-based adventure. Those mere two and a half (or so) episodes of tournamenting do cast a pall though. The show just doesn't seem to be good at that kind of thing, and as the whole next arc is one huge tournament, that's not a positive sign.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Hisoka takes center stage on Zevil Island; Killua's family is a lot of fun when things move to Kukuroo Mountain.
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