Leorio gets top pic, because he’s a boss despite being the comic relief character who receives the least development of the main characters. I believe, Leorio! I believe!
For the past month or so (maybe more; can’t remember exactly when I started), I’ve slowly made my way through the original Hunter x Hunter series, mainly because I wanted to watch it before the Madhouse remake begins. Now, I’ve been informed that for the most part the original series is roughly 90 percent faithful to the manga, so seeing this is not a requirement by any means if one plans to watch the remake. My main interest is seeing how it was done before so that I can note any different approaches Madhouse takes to the material. But I do believe the original series is worth watching, and it’s not just because of the solid foundation the manga provides!
I do want to get the bad out of the way first, though: I did not like Hunter x Hunter at first. In fact, it wasn’t until around episode 11 or 12 that I really started to enjoy the series. I’m loathe to break out the “It gets better!” defense, lest I invite mocking comments from Scamp, but I think that’s what happens here . . . sort of. Now, I mostly agree with Scamp’s assertion that “It gets better, I swear!” mostly means that a series gets better and more confident at what it’s already doing. Hunter x Hunter feels a bit different to me, though.
With this series, I think it doesn’t get better at what it’s doing so much as it actually starts taking on the tone for which it is most famous. The early episodes feel like standard Shounen Jump fare to me — lighthearted, fun, with a bit of the usual danger thrown in. But they also seem to reflect how limited the world of the protagonist, Gon, is to that point. He’s grown up in a world that while wild and dangerous is also familiar to him. As he begins the Hunter Exam, though, and gets deeper into the tests, he’s exposed to a world that is different and more sinister. The tone of the series darkens, and it’s a darkness that feels legitimately dangerous.
The fellow above, Hisoka, is representative of what I believe Hunter x Hunter gets right. Hisoka is the kind of character many stories don’t do well: He’s an agent of chaos, solely interested in finding powerful people so that he can kill them. Hisoka is happiest when fighting someone who can push him to the limit. If he recognizes potential in someone, he does what many of these characters do — he lets them go, with the promise that they improve their abilities and come back one day to fight him.
The idea of a character like this is cool, but the execution can be surprisingly difficult because it’s easy for this character to develop either into a total parody or to become so ridiculously powerful that nobody could possibly buy it. I know a few of you poor saps still read Naruto like I do, and the latter development is one of the (many) things wrong with that particular manga. But getting back to Hunter x Hunter, there are a couple of basic things that make Hisoka work, and that also demonstrate why Hunter x Hunter as a whole works.
First off, Hisoka feels immediately dangerous when he first appears in the story, and he becomes more dangerous as the story progresses. While in the back of your mind you know Gon will survive, he sure as shit doesn’t come out of every encounter rosy. Nearly every encounter with Hisoka is tense and frightening — the man himself emits an aura of danger that transcends what you see onscreen and how the characters react. He looks like a goofy motherfucker, but he feels like a real killer.
Second, even though Hisoka is clearly one of the most powerful characters in the series, he nor anyone else pulls random powers out of nowhere. There are hints of his power in the beginning, and his abilities have rules by which they must abide that are never violated. The same goes with every other character. Even the couple of times I thought the series engaged in some Ass Pulls, there were still clear limits set to these developments. When Gon develops his innate power later in the series, he’s a badass compared to normal folks, but compared to the people he is going to battle? He’s a small fry, and he knows it. Brute power and ability aren’t the only ways to win here — more often, a metric crapton of brain power needs to be applied, as well.
But, yeah, that’s what makes the base story of Hunter x Hunter work well: There’s a palpable sense of danger to the world, but at the same time, the story doesn’t pull any cheap tricks to either enhance that danger or allow its heroes to conquer that darkness.
But the other part of Hunter x Hunter‘s success — and why I’m interested to see how Madhouse handles the material — is that the direction of the original series is quite good. There’s thought behind how shots are framed, thought behind the spatial development and pacing of the fights, thought behind the use of color, light and shadow . . . I won’t go as far as to say Hunter x Hunter is one of the best directed series I’ve ever seen, because it’s not, but it nails many basic things that make the material that much better. It really feels like it is using the animated medium to tell the story.
There’s a fight in the final round of the Hunter Exam between Gon and another applicant, Hanzo, that is probably my favorite in the series. The way the fight is laid out, developed, paced and animated heightens the tension and danger to a fantastic degree and shows the full horror of what Gon must endure to not only survive but also thrive as a Hunter. It’s almost unbelievable that this is meant to be a kids series, because this shit is legit tough to watch.
There’s so much other stuff I could mention, but I don’t want to ruin anything for those who haven’t experienced the story and are curious about the remake. Just know that I believe it to be well worth one’s while to make it through the not so great episodes to get to the good stuff. Hopefully Madhouse makes like BONES in FMA: Brotherhood and speeds through the not so interesting stuff.