Saturday, January 10, 2015

Nitpickery: Hunter X Hunter, Part 2

Hey y'all.  So it's back to Hunter X Hunter, and let's finish this thing.


Okay, so the fourth season pick up after an extremely violent fourth season.  Gon and Killua are trying to find Gon's father Ging, and attempt to do so by entering a game called Greed Island.

I have to say it -- naming the family Ging and Gon is a really bad pun.  For the record, "ging gon" is the Japanese onomatopoeia of the sound of a bell ringing.  So cheesy.

But anyway, Gon and Killua spent season 3 (when they weren't helping Kurapika) trying to earn enough money to try and buy a copy of Greed Island.  At the beginning of season 4, they figure that they can't afford it, so they decide to let someone else buy it, and then offer to play. Someone called Battera has bought up all the copies he can get his hands on.  He's hiring anyone who can use nen well to play the game and beat it, because the person who beats it can pick three cards to take into the real world, and he wants those cards.

I was all set to give this arc a hard time for being just another anime "real people in a video game world" plot, but then it turns out that it's not a video game.  Greed Island is actually a real place, and playing the game teleports someone to a new location.  This is a great twist.  I only wished it were used more effectively.  Thing is, if the place is a real place, then surely Battera can attempt to go to the island and get the item he wants for himself.  One might argue that Battera doesn't know.  But the main guy he hired, Tzezgerra, does know.  Surely he would have told Battera some time during the six years they've worked together.  Given Battera's goal is to save someone's life, going to the island in any way possible would become a priority.  Instead, the reality of Greed Island is only a setting detail, rather than a plot twist that affects what happens.

I'm complaining too much.  This is the season where the show becomes fun again, and becomes more about discovering new things and meeting new challenges than melodramatic violence.  Plus, Gon actually makes some progress in finding his father.  There's also hints that the spiders have found a way to make sure their boss can use his nen again, which is only a small distraction from the main plot.  Hisoka's appearance demonstrates the changing...err, relationship between him and Gon.  He's becoming less of a creepy sicko and more of someone who truly respects Gon.  All the same, he's present in Greed Island for his own reasons, and lies to Gon about his reasons for helping him.  It works perfectly as a story element.

The thing about Greed Island is that it's a card game.  The point of it is to collect 100 cards, at which point the game is cleared.  There are also non-collectible cards which help a person do things, like warp to locations.  If this is the real world, then how do these cards work?  They clearly aren't nen, as no character comments on using nen when using a card.  What kind of magic is this?  Is there now magic in this universe that isn't related to auras?

Whatever.  This part is at least fun, and it's also the season where Gon really reveals his personality flaw: he can be very selfish and push himself too hard when he could win or overcome an enemy by simpler means.  He seems to want his enemies to feel their loss as much as possible, to the extent of hurting himself seriously.  That's a bit creepy, could have been a good foreshadowing of things to come.

Of course Gon wins Greed Island, but is allowed to keep the cards he wants to take into the real world, for reasons I won't spoil.  He uses a teleport card to get to his father, only it doesn't work. Instead, he meets up with Kite, a man who knew his father.  This starts season 5, and the Chimera Ant Arc.

Apparently this arc is the most popular one.  Not in my eyes, though.  Maybe I'm just not cut out for anime.  Seriously, I wish the Koreans would publish more stuff.  I'm supposed to be learning their language, but one can only watch so many Kdramas.  They seriously need some more manhwa published over here.  I'm so burnt out on Japanese stuff.

Sorry, it's just that I'm watching as I go along, and this arc has removed any desire I have to continue with this show.  Part of this is personal preference.  I don't get any pleasure out of violence, and so seeing one battle after another is just plain boring to me.  Also, I only discovered this anime on Netflix, without knowing about the manga or the earlier manga.  Thus, the impressions created during the first season influenced how I see the rest of the show, and those impressions gave me a completely different idea about what this show was supposed to be than what it turned out.

So what's the deal with the Chimera Ant arc?  In summary, a species of ants is capable of consuming the flesh of other animals and then takes on its preys' characteristics for the next generation of the ants.  Huh, kind of reminds me of those Several Journeys of Reemus flash games, except they used alien slugs instead of ants.  Those were some great games.

In any case, the queen of these ants has found a new home in a country that does not allow technology, at the threat of death.  So the ants (a weird description given as they're a massive collection of various humanoid animals) feast on the people of this country.  A couple of the hunters we met in the first season appear, then are quickly killed, barely able to get a message back to the hunters in time.  Kite, Gon, and Killua get the message, and send others back to contact hunter headquarters.  HQ reacts by...sending three people.  Gon and Killua, unable to save Kite from an attack, run away and go get more training while the three people in question kill some ants.

The queen has given birth to the king of the ant, and dies in the process.  The king abandons the rest of the ants, other than his three guardians, and sets himself up as king in another country, a dictatorship.  Gon and Killua, having trained a whole bunch, are now suddenly ready to fight the ants, now that the ants are scattering in all directions and murdering people, rather than simply being in one place.

Now, there are more episodes to this arc, but given that Netflix doesn't have season six and beyond, and I don't want to see any more, there you go.

Overall, this arc is a fruit salad of very good things, and very bad things.

Good: This finally is a hunting arc.  As in, there's a bad thing over there, and someone has to hunt it down.  It's also the first arc that delivers on the "dangerous beasts" part of the premise that's been there since the first episode but never addressed until now.

Bad: To much violence, not enough story.  The violence in the Yorknew arc was excessive, but there it always had a plot point.  Here, characters, both ant and non-ant, are slaughtered left and right, even when it's not important to the plot.  Oftentimes fights feel like fillers, particularly when Gon, Killua, and Kite attack the ants who have set up in a drug production facility.  The violence in this arc is brutal and happens to a lot of characters we know next to nothing about, making it all more of a numbing experience than an exciting one.

Don't even get me started on the episode they showed with the Phantom Troupe fighting some of the ants in their hometown.  That was just an excuse to put more fighting on the screen, rather than have something interesting go on in the plot.

Good: the flute guy in the Phantom Troupe had an interesting, if implausible, backstory.  It was also nice to see Killua's sister and her paper related powers.

Good: The artists in this show clearly like designing things.  Sometimes I think they create characters just so they have something to design.  They put a lot of effort into creating unique looking ant creatures by mixing elements from all different sorts of animal races.  They clearly had fun.

Bad: While we're talking about design, this is clearly the season where the boobs are everywhere. There were a couple of...uh, well endowed women in the past seasons, but it gets just plain nuts here. Especially since soft, fleshy masses don't really work on a beast that's supposed to be a monster that's hard to defeat -- it's a perfect target for spears, bullets, or knives.  Some human women can't be bothered to wear proper shirts either, and one previously modest character of course has to remove her clothes to escape a trap.  To be fair, there's also plenty ant-men in thongs.

Can we please just have a story without sexualizing everything?  Please?

Bad: There are too many dang characters in this arc.  Actually, something the entire show has been weak at is developing its characters.  Sure, it always introduces great characters with amazing abilities, but then they either die off or just plain get ignored.  This arc is even worse for that.  There's an excess of chimera ants.  To some degree, this is expected.  They're ants, after all.  But the main way a normal writer would deal with this is to emphasize the primary characters, and keep other ants on the back burner, either for later use or not distracting the viewer.  People seem to like the non-traditional bent of the writing in this series (fair enough), but the point is that the ants are emphasized haphazardly, so that there's too many interesting ones for all of them to have their potential fully realized.

Like the purple koala guy, for example (I call him "Dead-y Bear").  He's a guy who has a violent prejudice against humans, but other than a strong introduction scene, he's barely mentioned at all. Scorpion Boobs and her minions seem to exist just to give the Phantom Troupe something to fight, and Snake Centaur gives Gon and friends a chance to fight.  That's all they're good for.

Kite is also severely underdeveloped.  Apparently this wasn't a problem with the manga, but in the anime he's barely introduced at the beginning of the season, only to be killed maybe halfway through. There's barely any emotional connection to him before he's captured by the enemy and used as their puppet.

There's also the first-season reappearing hunters who die far too quickly.  Then we're introduced to four new hunters (Knov, Morel, Shoot, and Knuckle), two of whom are there to train Gon, and the other two are going to help the director of the Hunter Association fight the ants.  None of these guys get much in the way of development, unless you include fighting styles.

Good: Palm Siberia is a fun side character, a woman who has obvious emotional issues concerning love.  She's first shown as a depressed, violent woman with a dark aura, but then, when she pressures Gon into taking her on a date, she cleans up into a pretty young woman.  Despite some of her creepy witch elements, she's a fun character, and is a great example of someone who has ruined her own life through loneliness and self-pity.

Bad:  Nen has suddenly become inconsistent.  For the rest of the series where it was present, nen is something anyone can apparently do, as it's based on auras, which everyone has.  Now, all of a sudden there's some sort of difference between "rare humans" and "regular humans", as though not everyone is able to learn nen.  This isn't too big a deal, particularly as the distinction is made primarily by the ants, who wouldn't know better.

Good: It's pretty dang funny that the country the king ant takes over is clearly an analogue of North Korea.  Sure, it's called "East Gorteau", but as soon as Killua starts rattling off historical details about the place, you know what it is.  Not to mention that its dictator is a fat slob, like three other dictators I could name.  Cheeky stuff is funny.

Bad: Gon and Killua are training while the world is in danger.  I was fine with them not being the focus of the York New arc, as the protagonist there was Kurapika, one of the four main heroes of the show.  However, she's no longer around.  Gon and Killua are the people we're supposed to care about, but they're just doing a bunch of boring training nonsense while the viewer is wondering how the chimera ants are going to be stopped.  Nothing about Gon's parts is worth him not being a part of the action.

Bad: The Hunter Association freaking sucks at defending the world against chimera ants.  I'm willing to cut some slack for the first group of hunters (the one with the season one returnees) because they didn't know what was going on.  Kite can be somewhat excused for only bringing Gon and Killua, because he didn't know how bad it was.  But the friggin' director of the association should know better than to just take two guys along with him.  They have a good plan to whittle down the ants' numbers, but no plans to destroy the queen's nest, to destroy the queen, or to quarantine the country before the ants get a chance to escape.  They have no plans for dealing with the king, either.  And they have no reinforcements.  Instead, the three of them treat fighting the ants like some casual fighting tournament.  It's a huge disconnect for the ants to act like it's a war, but the humans don't seem to take the situation seriously at all.

What makes it so ironic is the fact that the drug dealers who lived in the ant-infested land beforehand put a lot more heart and passion into fighting the ants.  They were so brave.  Granted, they all died, but they fought with everything they had, and killed a fair number with all their guns.  Why couldn't the Hunters take this fight more seriously?  And why do Knuckle and Shot have to waste their time training Gon and Killua?  Can't they just help kill the ants?  Training noobs should clearly take a back seat to eliminating a murderous race of creatures that take pleasure out of killing everyone.

And I absolutely refuse to believe that guns are as useless against the ants as is portrayed here.  No way.

Good: The music gets better in this arc.  Before, the music was just alright.  Nothing to write home about.  Given the larger scale of violence of this arc, music needed to take a greater role.

Bad: The pacing is awful.  When the story focuses on the ants, time seems to rush by rapidly.  When with the humans, it feels as though time is going by at a snail's pace.  This means that not only do the ants progress uncontrollably over an extended amount of time, but it makes the hunters look like even bigger dolts for not getting something done before the ants made it to that point.  Come on, what about a perimeter?  Nen detecting activities?  Satellites focused on the island?  Nen bombs?  Real bombs?  Nukes from space?  Actual strategies?

Bad: Gon's sessions of training, where he would have to fight to get the right to go back and fight the ants, are really boring.  Nothing that happens during that time really matters, with the exception of his "date" with Palm.  The rest of it's just emo kid moments and rehashes of what we've seen before.

That brings me to my main problem with basically all of the arcs so far.  Despite the fact that each arc tends to be completely different in feel, Gon's arc is the exact same for each one.  That is, a new challenge comes up, Gon has to train more, and then the threat is overcome.  Killua goes home, Gon has to train to make it to Killua's house, Killua gets to join him.  The two of them need money, they train in nen, then they impress Hisoka.  They need money for a game, they learn auctioning and forgery tricks, they use this to escape the Phantom Troupe.  They manage to enter the Greed Island game, they train some more, they overcome the bomber.  The only way the Chimera Ant arc differs from this formula is that the training does not lead (not yet, anyway) to them getting what they want.

In other words, I am so sick of training.  The side characters in the show even state directly that all Gon needs is experience.  Given that Killua does have experience because of his assassin family, his need for training seems exaggerated too.  Granted, they are children, and everyone needs practice, but it's on screen too much.  The story focuses so much on what they lack that it never gives them a chance to do anything but train.  Not that I want them to be invincible or anything, but they just need to do something besides practice all the time.  Maybe see a movie, hang out with other characters, and defeat lesser baddies so that other people can go fight the chimera ants.  Anything that doesn't involve them doing the same thing every season.

The biggest fault of the show is that it rarely builds upon previous seasons.  Granted, I've only seen up to season five, but given that the pattern has been going this long, it probably won't change much in the future.  But here's what I mean.  There's new seasons that bring new villains, new side characters, new powers, new world details, and once that season is over, the characters/powers/details never show up again.  The only exceptions are Hisoka, and a few scenes of the Phantom Troupe.  The only first season hunters (and attemptees) that show up again are just redshirts for the chimera ants.

What about the mob bosses from season 3?  It was especially interesting how they took on a law-enforcement role at that time, but they never come into play after their season.  What about Nostrade's other bodyguards?  His daughter Neon?  Who replaces the Shadow Beasts that worked for the mobs? The creators of the show put so much work into the Shadow Beasts, and yet they get killed so quickly by the Phantom Troupe that we learn next to nothing about them.

Then there's Zushi and Wing from season 2, plus all the opponents Gon and Killua fought. None of them are relevant or show up again.  There's tons of characters from the Greed Island arc that don't show up again.  Don't you think the Bomber would have been a good opponent for the chimera ants? Not to mention the whole aspect of the magic cards on Greed Island.  Those cards could have potentially saved hundreds of lives against the chimera ants, plus becoming great items for sale on the black market.  It makes no sense that these cards would never become relevant again.

The biggest problem in this area is Leorio, who is a great character with lots of passion and potential. I did look ahead, and he is a strong element in the next arc, but it's ludicrous that one of the four main characters has to wait until season 7 for us to get to hang out with him.  Plus, he's great as a side character, meaning his absence in earlier seasons is just plain absurd.  It's tiresome for all these new people to be introduced when a more than adequate one is off screen.

In other words, Hunter X Hunter is an explosion of ideas, all threaded together by a story that tries its darndest to keep all these conflicting, underappreciated elements together.  There's so much of value here, but very little of it gets the development it needs.  At the same time, I can't blame anyone for liking the show.  It does have great ideas, exciting plot, and is pretty good at keeping the viewer's interest during times when the plot gets absurd or absurdly lengthy.  The writer of Hunter X Hunter just doesn't always seem to know what to do with his characters once he has them out.

There's a guy on reddit, Koticgood, who says quite efficiently how I feel about the Chimera Ant arc:

"Up until the ant arc, the show magically created an immense and fantastical world, one of infinitely possibilities for Gon. Instead of venture out into that world, to explore any of the massive amount of possibilities hinted at throughout the series, instead, these stupid ants are contrived. Any ability to let your imagination run wild with the possibilities in Hunter x Hunter are crushed, smashed by this arc. Instead of Gon (and Kilua) exploring the wonderful world that was set up, they are instead shipped off to an island where a "new species" of basically super-powered-aliens are now the strongest beings to exist. Instead of Gon and Kilua meeting all the amazing people and going to amazing places, they're thrust into leapfrogging everyone and everything, unbelievably becoming two of the strongest people in the Hunter x Hunter universe."

This.  So much this.  Except I would add that the expectations created by the first season (and heck, the first season's intro) never got met.  I kept waiting the whole time for these hunters to actually do some real hunting.  Alright, Gon has his license, so he's going to go hunting now, right?  Oh, wait, he has to go pick up Killua first.  Okay.  Can they go hunting now?  Oh, nope, they have to train in nen for several episodes.  Fine.  Nen.  Got it.  Wait, they have to go help Kurapika.  Is it time for the hunting yet?  No, they have to enter a game that isn't really a game so they can maybe get a hint to where Gon's father is.  Can we hunt now?  No, because the only dangerous enemy there is to fight are the chimera ants, and Gon and Killua aren't good enough to fight them yet.

Am I the only one who just wanted to watch a fun adventure story with characters exploring a vast, fun world?  The intros promised us this, but instead we get a schizophrenic adventure that's primarily dark and sinister.

I can't really recommend this series because it's so emotionally manipulative without having the fun to make up for it, but given how this show has a huge fanbase, you might like it.  However, while this show has a great beginning, it gets more and more emotionally wearisome over time.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go do something fun now.

No comments:

Post a Comment