Hunter X Hunter: A Harsh yet Promising Universe

As a devoted fan of dark action anime, few series have evoked such unexpected emotions in me as Hunter x Hunter. This seemingly innocent anime and manga created by Yoshihiro Togashi, known for Yu Yu Hakusho, has a reputation for catching viewers off guard with moments of heartbreak and profound existential themes that could even rival Attack on Titan. Personally, I started watching it based on a friend’s recommendation, expecting a fun action show, but ended up sobbing through consecutive emotionally devastating story arcs.

But how did this happen? What sets this series about a boy’s grand adventure apart from other anime of its kind? And why should you watch or rewatch it immediately? I will put on my writer hat and explore what makes this series uniquely special. Whether you’re unfamiliar with Hunter x Hunter or deeply attached to it like myself, we can all gain insights into our place in the universe by delving into the deceptively cruel world crafted by Togashi.

(No need to worry; I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum. I’m not a monster.)

The Art of Surprise Hunter x Hunter stands out because it defies the typical formula of shounen anime. While “shounen” in Japanese refers to adolescent boys and their interests, shounen anime is enjoyed by a wide range of audiences. These shows usually feature young protagonists growing into heroes who confront evil and change the world, offering inspiration and catharsis. Whether it’s Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, My Hero Academia, or others, they often follow a tried-and-true plot structure: characters start weak, train to become stronger, encounter endearing side characters, defeat a villain, and then repeat the process with more training and tougher adversaries. It’s a formula that works across seasons and series.

However, as any viewer of Hunter x Hunter can attest, the series initially appears to follow the shounen formula but consistently takes unexpected turns. Certain plot points are resolved unceremoniously offscreen. Characters abandon conflicts if they no longer serve their goals. Our heroes may not even engage with or defeat the main villains! The world moves at a frantic pace, with characters colliding with each other and the plot, constantly teetering on the edge of danger. But those moments rarely linger or provide catharsis. The world continues its relentless march, making no guarantees of adhering to the formula upon which its story was built.

Typically, in shounen anime, heroes experience losses, undergo training, and then triumph over their major antagonists through power-ups or new techniques. In contrast, in Hunter x Hunter, our young heroes often find themselves compelled to flee from villains without engaging in direct combat. This is because Togashi’s world is vast and brutal. Sometimes, the best victory one can achieve against someone capable of killing with a mere gesture is survival and escape.

As a result, Hunter x Hunter is often described as “subversive” because it initially appears to follow the conventional shounen structure before subverting it. However, unlike Attack on Titan and similarly dark shows, Hunter x Hunter alternates between familiar whimsical moments and triumphant events, only to suddenly strike at the viewer’s heart again, seemingly at random. Togashi understands the formula and knows how to twist it to deliver shocking surprises. In this world, your safety is only as certain as that of the characters—meaning not at all.

The Mundanity of Death Another way in which Togashi’s story diverges from the expectations of long-time shounen fans is in its casual treatment of death within the narrative. Sometimes, a new character will be introduced and given significance, seemingly destined to play a significant role in the plot. They may express their aspirations to protect loved ones or vanquish evil. And then, abruptly, they meet their demise. Just like that. The villains in this series are terrifying and monstrous, and the story moves on without dwelling on their lives.

Although it may sound depressing, this approach actually feels more realistic. In real life, people don’t die to serve a grand narrative or perish to weaken a villain so that a hero can prevail. People die, and life continues without hesitation. Why should it be any different in a world where individuals can control electricity or conjure fireballs with a well-crafted haiku? There is a disconcerting reality lurking beneath the whimsical surface of Hunter x Hunter—that death can strike anyone, at any time. Heroes, villains, it matters not how crucial you are to the plot. Are you in the wrong place at the wrong time? Well, tough luck. The story must go on, with or without you.

The Villains Are People Too And yet! Despite Hunter x Hunter’s nonchalant portrayal of death, Togashi dedicates ample time to humanize his characters. This applies not only to the heroes and ordinary citizens but also to the villains of his twisted tale. While his antagonists may be vile and merciless killing machines, they are also individuals with whom one might want to spend time. They are the heroes of their own stories.

One of my favorite fight scenes in the series involves a towering antagonist, cheered on by friends as he pulverizes a trio of other fighters. His friends sit on the sidelines, playing cards and bantering while witnessing his battle, unafraid to tease him because they have absolute faith in his power. By the end, drenched in blood and viscera, he and his friends laugh off his injuries and contemplate their next great adventure together.

Powerful themes of family, both found and biological, permeate even the vilest monsters of the series. It creates a fascinating contrast when the heroes are mere pawns for a morally ambiguous Hunter Association. In a slightly different story, you might find yourself cheering for the charismatic band of thieves or the mutants discovering their humanity, rather than the massive organization seeking to eradicate them all. Without delving into spoiler territory, I’ll leave you with a tantalizing hint: Togashi is acutely aware of this dynamic, and there are moments when you will question whether our heroes are still worthy of that title.

Where Does That Leave Us? When consuming dark media, I often reflect on what I gain as a viewer. Did I learn something or provoke new thoughts? Or was it merely edgy and shocking without substance?

I adore Hunter x Hunter because, amidst the frequent deaths and seemingly hopeless battles, it manages to convey profound messages. Not because it offers hope for breaking the cycles of violence or transforming the world, but because of the characters within the story who live their lives to the fullest. They laugh, they dance, and they undergo remarkable transformations. Heartless assassins can become loyal friends, and murderous mutants can learn to love. Even if their lives are cut short, their stories remain undeniably beautiful. In the cruel world of Hunter x Hunter, finding meaning in a full and happy life becomes even more significant. You seek solace amid the chaos and allow the story to continue.

So, what are you waiting for? Your adventure awaits!

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Pyon, Saiyu, Ging, Morel, Biscuit, Linne

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