Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Hunter × Hunter: Phantom Rouge
Having already crossed nen with the phantom troupe at Yorknew City, Kurapika's journey now leads him into an unexpected trap that costs him his own eyes. Now it's up to Gon and Killua to rescue their friend, hunting down a powerful collector with deep ties to the phantom troupe. As Kurapika fights to avenge his village and Killua grapples with his own demons, Gon and his friends will have to struggle to triumph over an opponent bolstered by an array of unexpected allies, all with the threat of the spiders hanging overhead. Will Kurapika's quest for vengeance finally cost him his own life, or will it be his closest friends who pay the price?
With the Hunter x Hunter manga on consistent hiatus and the future of its anime adaptation even less certain, an anime-original tie-in film like Phantom Rouge can feel almost like a kind of narrative life support. I love Gon and Killua and their friends, and so I was very happy to receive this booster shot of Hunter x Hunter action, even knowing it likely couldn't measure up to the storytelling of the series proper. So is this film purely fluff for fans, a reasonable narrative in its own right, or a genuinely impressive addition to the Hunter x Hunter universe?
I'd say it tentatively falls into the second category. Phantom Rouge tells an entirely self-contained story about Gon and the three other original Hunter x Hunter protagonists fighting against a new phantom troupe-associated villain, and though it's certainly not essential viewing, it's still a pretty reasonable time. If you're looking for a narrative to match the dramatic heights of arcs like Yorknew City or Chimera Ant, you're definitely going to be disappointed. If you just want to see the band get together for one more adventure, you'll probably have a fine time.
The first narrative puzzle Phantom Rouge is forced to solve is its own placement in the larger Hunter x Hunter narrative. As it turns out, it's not actually that easy to simply slot new stories into Hunter x Hunter's structure - though the story is arc-based, each arc builds on the previous ones in both narrative and thematic ways, meaning it'd be hard for any extra film to feel consequential without messing with the story's existing structure. Phantom Rouge does its best to overcome this sense of, well, pointlessness, but it doesn't always succeed.
Phantom Rouge's strongest material centers on Kurapika, and offers us some welcome insight into his feelings about his old clan. Kurapika's anger was well-explored in the series proper, but Phantom Rouge gives us a chance to see his sensitivity too, as well as offering some actual vignettes from back when he lived with his clan. Leaning on Kurapika's past allows his material to feel consequential without impacting the requirements of the manga's predetermined future, and by the end of this film, his need to let go of his regrets dovetails beautifully with the details of the villain's own narrative. In basically all respects, Kurapika's story here is a winner.
Unfortunately, Killua's material is a lot more suspect. Phantom Rouge has to work hard to find some emotional motivation for all four of its protagonists in this film (something even the main show struggled with, likely prompting its own unique arc structure), and for Killua, it settles on his insecurities about being able to love and trust his friends, as well as the poison of the fight-or-flight lessons imbued in him by his brother Ilumi. Unfortunately, these precise conflicts were already explored at length in the series proper - and more damningly, they're explored after Phantom Rouge's point in the narrative, meaning Killua's struggle here is essentially doomed to end on frustrating anticlimax. Phantom Rouge was given a nearly impossible task in conjuring up meaningful characters arcs for its lead characters, but its choices for Killua unfortunately don't succeed.
Expecting emotionally impactful material from an anime-original tie-in film is perhaps asking for a bit too much, though. As a pure adventure, Phantom Rouge succeeds perfectly fine. The film adds a welcome dash of horror movie framing to Hunter x Hunter's usual genre sprawl, while also offering plenty of the dramatic battles you'd hope for. There's very little of the tactical complexity that often makes Hunter x Hunter's conflicts stand out, but fortunately, that's almost unnecessary. Phantom Rouge's spectacle is conveyed beautifully enough to entertain entirely on its own merits.
It's clear from the first moments that in aesthetic terms, Phantom Rouge is a meaningful step up from the show proper. The film's most obvious and likely most controversial visual choice is its heavy emphasis on soft focus and dramatic light bloom. This choice leads to many evocative compositions and somewhat hides visual weaknesses, but it can also feel overwhelming at times, and sometimes simply makes it hard to see what's happening. The film's very sturdy animation is more unconditionally welcome, and does a great work in selling both the dramatic fight scenes and more subtly emotive moments. The character designs are carried over entirely from the television series, and most of the score will be familiar as well, though I did appreciate the new mixes and occasional additions to the soundtrack.
Phantom Rouge comes in a standard slipcase and bluray case with the film on bluray and DVD. There are no physical extras, but the on-disc extras include some unexpected treats, like a video feature from the film's Japanese premiere. Normally premiere features are pretty light, but this one actually includes some great on-stage interviews with the original cast, where we get to see Megumi Han get very emotional about her Hunter x Hunter feelings, and Mariya Ise reveals her character Killua was actually her own first love. There are also individual interviews with the voices of two of the film's new characters, which are a bit less revealing, but still an unexpected and very welcome inclusion.
Along with those Japanese cast interviews, Phantom Rouge also comes with a collection of concept art galleries, some trailers, and even more interviews with the cast of the english dub. That dub is very reasonable on the whole; this deep into the series' run, all the leads feel extremely comfortable in their roles, and the adaptive script has a natural flow to it.
On the whole, I'd give Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge a light recommendation for any existing Hunter x Hunter fans. The film isn't required viewing, or even really “great,” but it's a fine adventure with a group I was very happy to see again, and if you're missing this crew as much as I am, you'll be glad to see it. To anyone else, I recommend starting at the beginning of the TV series, and feel terribly jealous that you still have such a wonderful journey ahead of you.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Tells an engaging story that does its best to give solid material to all four leads, some nicely animated fight scenes
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