I’ve never been a fan of long running shonen series. Even as my fellow nerdy, socially maladjusted middle schoolers were all drooling over Dragonball Z, it didn’t do a thing for me. I’ve sampled a few other series since then, but none of them ever impressed. The genre that is so many people’s entry point into anime and manga always left me cold. It wasn’t that I hated them; I just couldn’t seem to care.
I tried Hunter X Hunter on a whim. I was curious to try something new, the right people were saying great things about it, and I had the some time on my hands. If I’m being honest, I planned to give it maybe 12 episodes, at most. Instead, I ended up watching nearly 150 episodes as quickly as I could consume them. I was addicted. And the show only kept getting better, growing from a fun adventure story with a likable cast to a surprisingly mature, sometimes quite bleak exploration of complex moral and existential issues faced by increasingly nuanced characters, while still never losing track of its action roots. Stories like this that go “dark” often mistake slathering on violence and death as all a story needs to be “mature,” without ever growing in any of the ways that demonstrate actual maturity. Hunter X Hunter‘s “Yorknew City” and “Chimera Ant” arcs bucked that trend spectacularly, balancing out harrowing levels of violence and despair with a surprising amount of insight into an ever-growing cast and empathetic portrayals of even the most monstrous of its characters.
I started watching Hunter X Hunter in June or July of this year. By the time the last arc started, I was all caught up and watched it as it came out. When the final episode aired, it was probably the show this year I was least ready to let go. Not bad for a show that I never expected to care about.
But seriously, we better get a continuation series.
If there’s one show that makes me wish I had started writing this blog sooner, it’s Hunter X Hunter. The show genuinely surprised me many times over its 148 episodes, and was always enjoyable and entertaining on top of that. For a show that’s meant to be “just” an action show for young teens, it constantly demonstrated a startling amount of depth and maturity in its characters, its themes, and the tone of many of its story arcs. I’ll almost certainly watch parts of the show again when I find the time, and when that happens I’ll probably write about them (I’ve already got at least two potential essays I’ve been blocking out in my head for months). But until that happens, I’ll let this review stand as my definitive statement on the show.
“You should enjoy the little detours. To the fullest. Because that’s where you’ll find the things more important than what you want.”
This episode had a big task in front of it. The final episode of a nearly 150 episode-long journey that started out as a fun adventure and grew to encompass stories about urban terrorism, apocalyptic survival horror, tragic road-to-hell revenge arcs, and even more in between, it had to put an end point on a sprawling, massive narrative that included many characters, settings, subplots, and tones. It succeeds in that task as well as any one episode could be expected to succeed, and the above quote, spoken by Ging in his first ever real conversation with his son Gon and then repeated as the episode’s final line, perfectly sums up the show’s ethos and the central message that ties all its disparate elements together.
Ging’s celebratory speech about the joy of discovery and the way the unexpected brings meaning and happiness to people’s live is one side of Hunter X Hunter‘s central theme, the other side of which is last episode’s somber, intense discussion of cycles of violence, stubbornness, hatred, and reincarnation. The belief that happiness and success come from people’s connections with others and their ability to learn to see from new perspectives, and that evil and failure come from alienation and the inability to let go of destructive desires, has been constant in every one of the stories that make up the whole of the show. This idea has manifested itself in ways big and small, from the framing of even minor conflicts as puzzles that require finding new ways of looking at things to be solved to the show’s occasional use of overt Buddhist imagery to symbolize characters finding redemption through moments of personal enlightenment. Gon originally set out on his journey so that he could meet his father, but by the time he finally finds Ging all the other encounters, challenges, and adventures he had along the way have made him a better, stronger person than simply finding his father ever could have.
It’s appropriate then that the meeting between father and son doesn’t play out like the climactic end of Gon’s journey, but like a reward that Gon has earned through all his other, more meaningful accomplishments. What Ging tells Gon about how life should be lived isn’t a parent teaching his son something he hasn’t already learned, but instead an adult reassuring a child that, yes, what you’ve learned through growing up is true, and you’re on the right path. Instead of dwelling on this long in the making meeting as a destination, the episode treats it like the introduction of another new detour in Gon’s life that he never could have expected. That the audience isn’t shown whether or not he takes that detour doesn’t matter; we know that he will.
In keeping with this tone, the episode unfolds fairly leisurely. There’s no question whether or not Gon will reach the top of the World Tree to meet his father, and all the big climactic emotional moments already came in earlier episodes. From the opening silent, swooping shot across the ocean toward the island Gon first set out from in episode one, to the emotive orchestral arrangements of the show’s theme songs that play as Gon climbs the World tree and tells his father about his adventures, to the ending montage of the show’s many characters and locations, the episode firmly establishes that its only mission is to be the final coda at the end of a long story.
As an ending to the plot, Hunter X Hunter‘s finale isn’t perfect. That’s not too surprising given the show’s cast of dozens and dozens of characters and multi-arc story structure, but the lack of resolution to some of the story elements is noticeable. The most glaring example is Kurapica’s complete absence, aside from some short, wordless appearances in the concluding montage. Kurapica last truly appeared nearly half the show ago, but he was once a main character, and of all the costars his unresolved story threads are the most important. Leorio and Killua may appear in this episode as little as Kurapica does, but they at least got proper sendoffs before the show’s conclusion.
Even with this unfinished business, though, this episode still serves as a strong, satisfying final note. Like Gon and Ging’s meeting restates and reenforces the show’s themes, the montage that ends the episode includes most of the show’s characters and locations in order to revisit the journey they were all a part of, reaffirm how much it’s changed them, and be a reminder of how unexpected and surprising much of that journey was.
If Hunter X Hunter has to end here, this is as strong and meaningful an ending as possible. While it leaves room for more theoretical episodes to be made, it doesn’t let leaving that opening prevent it from also serving as a final celebration of the show, it’s characters, and the story so far. It’ll be a shame if the rest of Gon and his friend’s adventures are never animated, but even if the journey continues only in spirit, this episode was as good a place as any for the audience and the characters to part ways.