One thing that stuck out to me really early on was that the focus is spread out more than you might expect. It’s become typical for shounen to say “Here’s the main character, we’ll just watch them 80%+ of the time”, but Hunter X Hunter doesn’t really do that. The supposed main character, Gon, spends quite a lot of time out of focus—for a big chunk of the fourth arc, he’s more of a secondary character while his friend Kurapika takes center stage to show off his flashy new abilities and take down some dangerous folks. Gon’s usually present whenever big things are happening, but he’s not the only one driving the action forward. Other characters matter! How neat!
Speaking of Gon…he loses a lot. The kid has heaps of shounen willpower, but it doesn’t do him any consistent good. He’s certainly had successes, some pretty big ones, and of course he’s a naturally gifted quick learner, but when the biggest and baddest opponents show up he ends up losing more often than not. I think there was only one arc where he defeated the villain’s boss? We’re told he has a lot of potential, but his growth and struggles are kept a tiny bit more realistic, and because of that he can’t just suddenly beat every arc villain after a night of training. I like this idea, but…it does make me wonder a bit why Gon is here at times. I don’t know, maybe I’m just not that invested in his character on a personal level.
There are definitely some engaging characters here, though. When I first saw Gon’s best friend Killua I guessed he’d become The Shounen Rival, but he actually turned out to be an extremely loyal and caring deuteragonist who at times feels more like the actual main character. Kurapika, who I mentioned earlier, carries a few tropes that remind me of a certain edgy ninja who turned into a massive disappointment, but Kurapika’s proved consistently interesting whenever he (inconsistently) appears. Heck, the most powerful villain thus far had fascinating characterization, but I can’t say a whole lot about that without spoilers…basically, the series has a great cast and actually gives us the chance to get to know just about all of them.
A lot of my feelings are pretty vague right now, but one other thing I’m more sure about is that the series is…well, saying it’s a slow starter would give the wrong impression. Having known about the special powers developed in the series beforehand, I was eagerly awaiting those to show up and was waiting for a while. The early arcs still have great tension and accomplishments and action, it just takes a while for mystic abilities to show up, and when they do it’s step by step over the course of a few arcs. First they learn the basics, then they slowly perfect the basics, then they learn some more details, then they really start to fine-tune those, then they pick specific abilities, and those slowly sharpen as time goes on…because of this, it was a while before I got to a point where I decided “Yes, this is very good”, but I’m a sucker for flashy fights so take my opinions with a grain of salt.
Hunter X Hunter is interesting, definitely. There are a few things that bother me a bit, and some of the changes in its formula come with some necessary downsides, but it evokes some genuine shounen vibes while still setting itself apart from the rest. Maybe I’ll come up with some more defined opinions after letting it sink in for a while.