Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hunter X Hunter

A while back I started watching this anime I saw on Netflix. I think I was just coming off of Bob's Burgers, and I needed something new to watch with my meals. I didn't know if I was going to keep watching after the first few episodes, but here I am, having just watched all five seasons on Netflix, eager to talk about what I've just watched.

At first the show feels very much like early Dragon Ball: there's an earnest kid, rather strong, with animal-like instincts, traveling around with a stick-shaped weapon. He lives in a place with fairly little apparent technology, with the primary passage off of the island taking the form of a sailing ship. However, it rapidly becomes clear that this realm has technology in abundance, including blimps, cars, cell phones, and the Internet.

The main character, Gon, is not nearly as oblivious as Goku, though. Though apparently earnest, innocent, and eager to face new challenges like Goku, Gon is also comfortable with technology and far more empathetic and aware of people's differences and motivations.

The show has a similar power creep element to Dragon Ball, in which the characters, already far stronger than an average human from the start, continue to get stronger in order to defeat more and more powerful enemies. However, the protagonists almost never simply "power up" and win; they tend to go through great hardship to attain some new level of power and, when that's not enough, they either succeed through clever planning and ingenuity... or they fail. Sometimes to disastrous results.

Which is another major difference between this show and Dragon Ball: people die in this show. They die often, they die horribly, and they die en mass. It doesn't happen quickly; the show seems relatively innocent for the first season or so, with only hints at the show's darkness, read in between the lines. However, as time goes on it becomes clear that people with incredible power don't always use it for good.

One of the main characters early on, Kurapika, is on a mission of revenge against a group of thieves that slaughtered his tribe to collect and sell their eyes, which are apparently quite valuable. However, when that group is properly introduced later you can't help but start to like and admire them, or at least enjoy their screen time. And although it's clear that these are definitely murderers who place very little value on human lives, when Kurapika faces them it almost feels like it's Kurapika who's going too far in his revenge.

The characters of Hunter X Hunter are morally gray, every single one of them: the villains of one season may become allies in the next, without having reformed in the interim. Even Gon, the innocent, eager main protagonist, though he loathes to take the loves of others, has no problem associating with murderers so long as they haven't wronged him or his friends in any way. And even then, he's likely to find some common ground with them at some point, with acts of mercy and forgiveness that rival Goku's forgiveness of Vegeta and Frieza at the end of their fights.

The more I watch it, the more the show seems less like a standard shonen anime and more like a deconstruction of that genre. It plays with your expectations, expanding its own lore bit by bit while having fun with the find an enemy/suffer setback/train/defeat enemy/repeat formula. I actually recommend it.

One final observation: I think that Gon and his best friend Killua may be an analogy for the US and Japan. Killua is a skilled assassin with a dark past that he's a bit ashamed of. He's perceptive and thoughtful, much smarter and more patient than Gon in many ways, yet he has trouble making friends. Though he's powerful, he's cautious, unlikely to fight a battle he's not sure he can win.

Gon, meanwhile, is clearly good-natured and helpful, though he can be oblivious sometimes. He has trouble really following conversations about math, science, and history, and the information tends to go in one ear and out the other. He also has explosive wrath, which only seems to come in the face of some great injustice, though he willingly consorts with murderers and thieves otherwise. Though Gon is very powerful, his greatest strength (and, perhaps, greatest weakness) is continuing to fight even when he's clearly outmatched. Sometimes Gon outlasts his opponent and wins though cunning or luck. Sometimes the enemy refuses to finish Gon, toying with him and egging him on to become stronger. Other times, he only survives because someone literally knocks him out and carries him away from the battlefield.

The analogy isn't perfect, but I feel it's the spirit of the relationship. Also, though I know most people assume that anime characters are Asian considering their source, Hunter X Hunter makes it clear that Killua has slanted eyes, while Gon's are not.

It's a small thing, but it's the detail that first got me thinking of the two in terms of Asian or not-Asian. In any case, whether it's an intentional analogy or not, that's the way I see the relationship at the moment.

1 comment:

  1. I came to mostly the same conclusions, but I didn't think of the last part you mentioned. This was quite interesting, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.