Hunter x Hunter (2011) is a series that completely blindsided me because of just how good it is. Despite its often lighthearted first few arcs (which, for a non-shonen anime fan like me, were surprisingly watchable), there was nothing that could prepare me for what I believe to be the shonen anime’s magnum opus – the Chimera Ant arc, that started in episode 75. 60 or so episodes in, and it’s time to say goodbye to this masterpiece. I felt like I had to do something for this series – it really isn’t everyday that you get to witness greatness like this. So here we are – this post is my love letter to Madhouse Studios and Yoshihiro Togashi for the amazing ride they’ve let me on, and is also to persuade all you folks not watching this series to step on it ASAP, because you’re doing yourself a major disservice!
Once again, there will be no spoilers (to the best of my ability, since its hard to talk about certain things without its context), and note that I’m not talking about the original 1999 anime adaptation, because that one does not cover the Chimera Ant arc (Psst! It’s the greatest arc in the series, and the arc I will be talking about in greatest detail in this post!).
The Story in Brief
The basic story to Hunter x Hunter is one that follows a young boy named Gon Freeccs, who decides to take the Hunter Exam to become a Hunter to search for his Father, who is also a Hunter. From there, he begins to befriend others that want to become Hunters as well, and the story generally chronicles Gon’s and his friends’ adventures. It’s a vague summary of the series really, since most of the arcs in the series actually have their own focused story, while Gon’s search for his father is just something to string the arcs together. The arcs themselves vary in quality, but all contain a cast of well-rounded and smartly written characters that are morally complex, and sometimes have personal ambitions just as morally ambiguous too.
The series is also being handled by Studio Madhouse, which means silky smooth animation throughout its entire run-time, amazing fight choreography, a great soundtrack, bold and daring artistic direction and creativity (most notably during the Yorkshin arc and Chimera Ant arc), and most importantly, it has some of the greatest voice acting I have ever heard in my ten years or so of watching anime, period. Han Megumi in particular is an incredibly talented voice actress that perfectly portrays our main protagonist, Gon, and has some truly phenomenal performances that you just have to experience for yourself.
However, Hunter x Hunter is still not a series without flaws.
The actual quality of the series depends on how good the arc itself is, and unfortunately not all the arcs are as amazing as the rest. This is because the world-building is often inconsistent, sometimes even edging on illogical since certain aspects of the powers and abilities used by the characters are often not very well explained, despite being thematically coherent and consistent with the story Hunter x Hunter is trying to tell. It also heavily depends on personal preference as to which arcs you prefer, since every arc is extremely different from the rest – from the general tone, to even the protagonist(s) they focus on. For example, the Heaven’s Arena is essentially a tournament arc heavily focused on world-building and much less on character development, while the Yorkshin arc that follows right after is the exact opposite, being a very personal tale of revenge with a crime drama-esque tone and setting.
Q: So why is Hunter x Hunter still worth watching at all?
A: The Chimera Ant arc of course!
The Chimera Ant arc uses a very unique method of storytelling that slows the flow of time through the use of heavy narration, as well as portraying multiple perspectives of the same situation to allow the audience to have a thorough understanding of the battle from all sides. It has a story that consists of many major underlying tightly-knit themes that come together to create a masterpiece – often becoming a fantastic subversion of the tropes so commonly seen in shonen anime and manga, while also telling its own extremely intelligent, and emotionally devastating tale that often forces us to really think about the consequences of every character’s actions as well as their moral ambiguity.
Are our heroes’ actions always justified? What happens when the seemingly glorious fight to protect humanity against the monstrosities that are the Chimera Ants becomes nothing but a string of cruel attempts to stay alive at the expense of so much more? The Chimera Ant arc, at its core, forces us into quiet reflection when we see humans resorting to a disgusting, never-ending cycle of violence to be the dominating species, which isn’t very different from, or quite possibly even worse than the methods the Chimera Ants use.
This question of whether the ‘good’ is always what we believe it to be comes into play as the arc’s later episodes portray a near grotesque subversion of the ‘power-up’ trope often celebrated in the genre, becoming a twisted coming of age story of sorts as we witness a character completely shedding his innocence, becoming engulfed in an unstable mix of emotions – that of pure rage, self-loathe and denial – it was hard for me (as well as many others watching the series) to tear my eyes away from what was nothing but a pure tragedy.
Another running theme of the Chimera Ant arc is that of existentialism – or at least the core question of the purpose for living. Some of the characters in the arc have a set goal they know they have to achieve, but begin to realize that beyond that goal they are but a hollow shell, and seek to find their identity and what they live for. The series manages to delve into such themes through its impeccable ability to create antagonists that become so human by the end of the story that it becomes painful to see either side lose their battle to survive. Hunter x Hunter always has amazing antagonists that give off a real sense of danger and has something that sets them apart from anything I’ve ever seen, and in the Chimera Ant arc’s case it is just how much the antagonists grow and mature and how this change later affects our heroes and their motivations to continue fighting, as the antagonists begin to understand concepts of pride, honor, empathy and even love.
At its core though, the Chimera Ant arc isn’t just about the worst of humanity, but also its very best as well. It served as a reminder for me that just as humanity is able to commit the most unthinkable acts of cruelty, it is just as capable of kindness and unconditional love. Yes, the Chimera Ant arc is also a deeply affecting love story, one about acceptance, understanding, and finally that of finding true peace and enlightenment by being able to love someone wholeheartedly – a message that really stuck with me throughout my journey with the arc, as I witnessed its gut-wrenching, but beautifully emotional finale executed with such finesse.
I hope I managed to convey my thoughts regarding Hunter x Hunter (2011) and the Chimera Ant arc without giving away too much (or anything at all), and hopefully I manage to successfully convince a few more people to give this series a shot. Also, if you have already watched the series (whether you’re up to date or not), I’d love to know what you think/thought of it, your favourite characters, favourite arc, whatever! I am in need of friends to share my pain with because I really don’t want to say goodbye to such an amazing arc.
*The Chimera Ant arc is the most violent arc in the series, and is also the darkest in tone, so don’t be too surprised when you start the series and find that the beginning isn’t as /GRIMDARK/ as this post seems to suggest (don’t be fooled by its colourful and childish appearance is all I can say, really)
**In fact, the Chimera Ant arc was deemed inappropriate for children during the Chimera Ant arc, and was taken off the Sunday morning timeslot in Japan sometime around episode 80 and began airing as a late-night series afterwards