It’s definitely unfair to compare the Hanzo/Gon fight in the Hunter x Hunter remake with its counterpart in the original series — not only is it possibly the best fight in the original show (it is definitely my favorite), but it is also one of the better shonen anime fights I’ve seen. It’s not top-tier Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood level by any means, but the directing, art style and slow burn development make it an excellent, brutal fight. Some of that remains in the remake, but not as much.
There are some things I can forgive easily. This version of the fight is definitely not as brutal as the original, but again, this is more like a kids series than the original series, so to expect it to be exactly as brutal is a fool’s errand. It’s not as if there is zero brutality to this fight, anyway. The show cheats a bit by quick cutting away from much of the harsher violence, but then again, Psycho did the same thing to imply violence the movie was not allowed to show. It’s a legitimate technique to make up for the limitations of the time slot. The imagination can certainly make up for what the series cannot show; in my mind’s eye, this is a god damn brutal fight, and I really feel for Gon the whole way through.
The original is a rare case where I think directly showing it works just a bit better than leaving it to the imagination, and here’s why: Because the original makes it just as brutal as the imagination. It also doesn’t give you the option of shying away from Gon’s pain. This is the world in which Gon must survive to become a Hunter and find his father — a world where he can be systematically destroyed. Up to this point, Hanzo is definitely a goofball, but when he gets down to business, he doesn’t stop to think about mercy . . . much. In his mind, attacking Gon the way he does is being merciful. He is inflicting the maximum amount of pain with minimal long-term damage to Gon so that he’ll give up right away. When that doesn’t work, you have to watch Hanzo break Gon’s arm. I could not have winced harder when I saw that.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this is that both the original and remake are even-handed in their depiction of Hanzo’s attempt to break Gon. He’s not an out and out Good Guy, but despite Leorio and Kurapika becoming upset enough to kill, Hanzo is not painted as a villain either. There’s no judgment of his beatdown of Gon; it’s simply survival. Whoever has the will to become a Hunter is victorious. There’s anger because Gon is a sympathetic character, but everyone is trying to do the same thing, including Gon himself.
But I’m getting away from myself just a bit! The level of brutality is not that big a deal, even though the way it’s presented is something interesting to think about. What’s more disappointing is the directing and pacing of the fight. I’m not an authority on this sort of thing, so I can’t speculate on how much budget the original series had versus the update, and how whatever each series had was used. However, the original fight has a freeflowing, intense feel to it that the remake lacks. The pacing also plays into that: Everything simply feels abbreviated.
Admittedly, I cannot be certain I would feel this way if I hadn’t seen the original, but I think the kernels of my complaint would be there. There’s an abruptness to the beginning that doesn’t feel quite right. It’s of course there to show that Hanzo is an overwhelming opponent who holds a doubtless advantage over Gon, who has no chance from the start. That does a disservice to Gon, though. We know that although he’s a child and has much to learn, he is not weak. He may be outmatched, but even against Hisoka, Gon is able to do something. Hanzo is strong, but he’s not Hisoka. At least Gon is able to assert himself more later in the fight, but by then, the fight is basically done.
That said, the meat of the fight is still good — I just wish it had been doled out more thoughtfully.