I Was Skeptical
It used to be when you first became an anime fan that there was an almost unspoken list of anime everyone was silently expected to check out. You’d see shows like Code Geass, Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood appear on almost everyone’s list. As time when on, this list has changed, and for many even, doesn’t even really exist anymore. Some shows have survived the test of time and are regarded as “must-see” classics, while other titles have found themselves wasting away to obscurity. Hunter x Hunter is a show that has debatably hit this titan status as you’ll see it recommended countless times to both new and veteran fans alike. Today we are going to discuss my four year journey with the 148 episode series, and what a journey it was.
As for any show with this kind of glowing reputation, I always find myself coming into them with a healthy amount of skepticism. It’s not that I want the series to be bad, and for the most part I’m fairly confident that when a series is this well-regarded that it’s at least pretty good, but you can never really know for sure until you experience things for yourself. Plenty of times shows fail to live up to their reputations after all. Sometimes they set the bar too high, are a thing you are predisposed to not really enjoy, or are clearly painted with a nostalgic hue that masks issues more modern viewers may have.
Long before I ever started Hunter x Hunter’s 2011 re-adaptation, this doubt on the quality had managed to creep in. Again, I never thought the show would be truly bad, but I just couldn’t imagine it being so universally loved. This might sound like a weird thing to say, but let explain.
Growing up I used to watch Dragon Ball Z and other iterations on TV. It wasn’t the only anime I had exposure to well before I really knew what anime was, but I liked it. However, over time it fell off for me as something I enjoyed. In realty, I’ve never been a big fan of battle shonen series that both Dragon Ball Z and Hunter x Hunter are.
However, I’m perfectly aware of how popular these kinds of shows tend to be. They just do well, and for a lot of people, are the only kinds of shows they like. Even some die-hard anime haters still watch these kinds of shows which is totally fine. Enjoy what you want to enjoy (to a point), that’s been my philosophy for over a decade now, but this was a factor for my doubt.
You see, these are the kinds of people who would always recommend the show to me. The fans who watch every next big shonen thing and hail it as some revolutionary cultural innovation that is to save the medium. It’s difficult to take that kind of endorsement seriously, and the same can be said for other genres, so this isn’t an exclusive issue, but likely one you recognize in the community as more prevalent.
Yet, even with all this, some of my friends and even my readers here would continue to recommend the series. For a very long time this was a recommendation I would see over-and-over until the series reached an almost untouchable status. I wasn’t sure I wanted to even look in its direction. Frankly, I was kind of sick of hearing about the show and how “amazing” it was.
In a lot of ways this is fairly humorous since my justification for watching several of the anime I have has been solely based on their reputation alone. It’s actually a reason I couldn’t really write Hunter x Hunter off entirely, but I knew I needed to start it when I was ready. The series had two hurdles it needed to clear:
- I needed a way to easily, and legally watch the series
- This was a show I knew I needed to watch dubbed
Enter June 2016, the year where Hunter x Hunter would see a run on the US television block Toonami, and you guessed it, with an all-new English dub. Though I started in June, the series had actually begun back in April of the same year, but I wanted a few episodes stocked up to give it the best chance possible of success. Once I start a show I don’t ever drop it, but I give myself a small grace period of a few episodes (and for a show with 148 episodes, this would maybe be the first 4-5) before I commit either way.
A humble start that evolves into so much more
Here’s the thing, I thought the show was pretty great! I ripped through the first 13 or so episodes like they were nothing. This is really saying something as the “Hunter Exam” arc of the series is considered by many fans (not me though) to be the worst of the bunch. I even finished the arc and was ready for more! But just like that, I stopped watching.
This was largely due to circumstance. I was going to University, didn’t have regular access to cable, and had other stuff going on in general. I’d mostly watch the show on visits home, and eventually it became impractical to catch back up. Eventually my family changed service providers and it became a fast pipe-dream of keeping up with the show in that fashion altogether.
The series would sit unwatched until about two years later where I decided to pick things back up again. By that time you could stream the show, with the dub, from several places with no issues (kind of, I’ll get to that). This seemed like the perfect time to finally continue the anime and see what all the fuss was about! What I had seen so far, I enjoyed, but it never truly blew me away, and I was ready.
The Importance of Nen
Upon my return to Hunter x Hunter in 2018, the show started to transition into the real meat and potatoes of what the series was about. While we still had Gon’s goal of finding his father, it was pretty obvious that he and Killua would need to power up first. This is the start of the “Heavens Arena” arc where the next 12 episodes do just that. What’s important here is the pair learning about Nen, and ensuring the audience understands it as it is fundamental to following the story from here on out.
In short, Nen is a latent ability that can allow its wielder to perform superhuman feats as well as gain unique powers. Basically think of this as a martial art that also grants you superpowers with self-imposed limitations. The more disciplined and restrictive your chosen powers are, the stronger you become. This is a smart move since being more powerful means you have inherent weaknesses built in, which allows the story to avoid power creep. It keeps things more-or-less grounded and believable for the world this series is set in.
This allows our characters to power up while opening up future fights to be a lot more interesting. The downside is this is the first place where the show felt extraordinarily slow for me. Since Nen is so crucial to the rest of the story, they really spend a lot of time here repeating and emphasizing various aspects of how it works. This pays off down the road in some pretty big ways, which is true of every moment that feels like this, but it requires whoever’s watching it to either know that’s coming or be willing to wait.
Still the arc is fun and the chosen location for this place is one the show easily could have found itself spending a lot more time at. In that way, it was nice to see how to the point this was, avoiding a pitfall a lot of other shonen shows would have fallen victim to. Know when to move forward and keep your characters on goal, it’s something that Hunter x Hunter handles really well.
Immediately after this the show seemingly gets a bit distracted in the “Phantom Troupe” arc as it picks up and introduces several plot points simultaneously. This splits the attention across all the principal cast while setting yet more things up for later arcs. However, it still feels organic in its presentation. I have no complaints with the execution of this arc.
Hiatus x Hiatus
I only bring this up because of its role in my journey. This is the arc I had to stop at, and for another two years, was where my journey would unfortunately come to an untimely end. You see, depending on what streaming platform you use, the show runs out of dubbed episodes at seemingly arbitrary points. For me, that was in the middle of this arc… yeah, not great.
Now I don’t have time to check every place that streams this show dubbed now, there are seriously so many. However, I can tell you that watching the dub on Hulu is a mistake, don’t do it. Several other sites allow you to go up through episode 75, which completes the “Greed Island” arc, what I’ll talk about next. If you are going to start streaming this, ensure your service of choice goes this far or seek out another one. Funimation for sure goes this far, but I know a few others do as well.
Even putting that aside this is a BIG problem for Hunter x Hunter as there is not a single place, not even VIZ Media’s own website (the licence holder), where you can watch the completed dub legally. Unless you caught this series during it’s run from April 2016 to June 2019 on Toonami, and of course you missed 0 episodes, you regrettably missed the ship. As a result, the show is really hard to actually recommend to anyone who wants to watch the (really good) dub.
This is a point that might change down the road, but for my journey, and for anyone else considering undertaking their own with Hunter x Hunter, this is something you need to be aware of. I knew that this would happen for me eventually, but I never thought it’d run out of dub mid-arc like that, and I also figured that after literal years waiting, that the show would have had more available dubbed episodes by time I returned to it like I did.
As a result of this, it was actually fairly difficult to pick the anime back up. It wasn’t like I couldn’t remember what had happened, but the arc specific details were muddy. That’s why I’d have to say this is about the only black mark against the series, and it’s not even the show’s fault. This issue lies solely with how it’s licensed.
Purchasing the Series
Previously I stated I put the show on hold, yet again, for two full years. During that time the show slowly began to come out on disk. Finally, it was all out and complete. During that time, I also saved carefully so that I might be able to afford the series, and eventually I did purchase it.
This is another tangent I need to go on as it’s yet another hurdle for the series. The show is just really expensive. Even purchasing all volumes on sale, I still spent close to $300 for all 7 volumes of the disk series. While this was something I worked towards over time, we are talking Aniplex level of prices. That said, each disk set is (with exception of the earliest sets), very economical. They contain a LOT of episodes on each set and most of them see their arcs through to the end.
If you want to get into the series, then buying one or two volumes at a time is actually fairly affordable if you pace your watch out. Doing so allows you to purchase a set when you run out and complete the series fairly seamlessly, but this is something most people would have to plan for like I did.
However, the wait was well worth it.
Like Visiting an Old Friend
When I did return it was great! I really did feel like I was visiting with an old friend, even if it did feel a bit like returning to a two-year-old conversation that got cut off mid-sentence. Once I got my bearings back, it was smooth sailing through to the end of the series with only two points where the proverbial waters got a bit rough for just a moment.
At first I quickly devoured episodes, burning my way through the remaining episodes of the arc I left on and the next one, “Greed Island”. This arc is a disguised training arc that brings with it some really cool ideas but also another point in the series that does linger a bit. Thankfully, it always seemed to somehow sense when I felt things were dragging on and immediately remedied the issue not even one episode later. I have to give praise to the pacing up until now because it really is on point.
All of this changes once the “Chimera Ant Arc” begins. Easily the longest arc in the show, clocking in with 61 episodes, more than double any previous arc! This portion contains some of the best the series has to offer while containing its worst lows at the same time. I had heard fairly universally that this arc was going to be terrible, and having now watched it, I don’t think it’s a big issue like many make it out to be.
To explain, some had described this arc like Dragon Ball’s “Cell Saga” arc. One that’s infamously long, and also a bit tedious. Fighting a strong enemy who continues to power up, necessitating everything else to keep pace. For a show like this, it really could have spelt disaster. Thankfully, this is mostly avoided.
What causes this arc to feel like a chore is when the show slows to an almost glacial pace. There’s a lot happening, but Hunter x Hunter doesn’t want you to lose the plot. It spends a ton of time making sure you know where everyone is, what they are doing, and how much time in-universe has passed. The cast at this point is fairly large and the stakes are very high. Therefore, I can understand this move and personally wasn’t bothered.
Even when the episodes speed up again, they are plagued by a large amount of narration for a short stretch. This is going to bother some people as it can feel like the show is interrupting itself at times to explain something that the audience may not know, but isn’t actually always critical to things moving forward. Still, it’s really not half as bad as people claim it to be because once all this foundation is laid, the story goes hard.
You can see I even started tweeting out at this point, I was starting to get really impressed:
Then again, down the road I also made this tweet:
This resulted in me making, what I consider to be, peak Hunter x Hunter commentary:
The above is in reference to what part I was talking about
When the dust settled on the “Chimera Ant Arc” though, I was thoroughly impressed. The villains, which start off as fairly one-note, became nuanced characters that weren’t evil simply for the sake of it. The show explored serious themes that paralleled our real world. Events such as the impact of nuclear weapons, inequality within society, and so much more. All while still packing in interesting fights, that weren’t just all about the physical interaction but worked as a metaphor for the clashing of ideas.
Bringing it all Home
Finally the show moves into its last arc. At just 12 episodes, the “Election” arc has our characters dealing with the consequences of the previous one. In some ways, this arc introduces some problematic elements if not handled well, but it does manage to avoid things devolving into a mess because of them. This mostly has to do with the introduction of a literal wish “machine”, which you can imagine could come with a whole host of issues.
I was needlessly worried as this arc went on because I didn’t think things could be wrapped up neatly. There was just too much that needed to be done and addressed with not enough time to do it all. This doesn’t even mention the fact that the manga is still ongoing and the anime doesn’t cover it all. Yet, these doubts were unfounded. I could not have even begun to imagine how wrong I’d be by time the series reached its end. If you have any doubts of your own, let me assure you that Hunter x Hunter will deliver on every promise it makes to you.
Every question the show poses to you along the way is addressed by this final arc. Of course a few things are left slightly obscured, but almost none of it isn’t explicitly addressed in some form before the credits role on the final episode. This is a HUGE feat and I’m so glad the anime pulls it off. The end promises you so much more without taking away from anything you just watched. In short, it was extremely satisfying.
Reflections & Conclusions
In short, if you were skeptical about the series yourself, I can relate. Though the story is comprised of simple troupes and elements you are familiar with, things like “the power of friendship” and “the real treasure is the friends we made along the way”, they are executed on in a way that’s genuine. There is so much going on in this show that it would be easy to spend several more articles worth discussing it.
That’s why I hope this article conveys just how good the journey of Hunter x Hunter was. Even if you find the show to be just an alright experience, there’s no denying that it stands in a league of its own within its specific subgenre. It’s a complete package that tells a full story with fun characters, excellent themes, and doesn’t waste your time. What’s not to love?
I hope you enjoyed my longer discussion of Hunter x Hunter and my 4 year journey with the series. It was a long ride, but boy was it worth it. If you enjoyed this writing, please consider becoming a patron or making a one-time donation via the buttons below. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again soon!