Dylan Pearl / 17’ Emertainment Monthly Comics Editor
Yoshihiro Togashi’s Hunter x Hunter is one of the quintessential Shonen Manga. It has, in the least fantastical way possible, shaped the way fans think about the medium. And for good reason; it encompasses everything that is great about the genre. The incredible characters, the bad ass powers, the awesome fights, the fantastical worlds, and perhaps most importantly, the romance of adventure.
But, Hunter x Hunter is also notoriously frustrating. Known causally as “HiatusXHiatus”, the series has taken multiple multi-year breaks, in which no new content has been released. The reasons for this are, in large part, irrelevant. The breaks do not impact the story and more to the point, the demands placed on Manga authors are beyond unreasonable — Eiichiro Oda, author of One Piece, sleeps only three hours a night — and it is to be expected that people need time off to recover.
What matters is that Hunter x Hunter came back again recently, after over a year of silence. And, although fans are delighted, something seems a bit off. The story, at least in the opinion of this writer, seems to have lost its way, and more tragically, fallen victim to that most terrible plague; sticking around too long.
Hunter x Hunter follows the story of Gon Freeccs (pronounced Freeks), a young boy who aspires to become a Hunter — essentially a professional adventurer — in order to find his father, Ging, who abandoned him when he was a child. The story, from there, is fantastic. Gon has many adventures, from passing the rigorous Hunter exam, to fighting an army of super powered mutant ants, to defeating a gang of murderous thieves. He makes friends, enemies, and scours the world looking for his father —always seemingly one step behind the elusive Ging.
In late 2012, it seemed the story was nearing completion. Gon finally found his father (albeit in a random, unearned manner, stumbling into him by accident at a Hunter meeting), and was instructed by Ging to meet him on top of the World Tree, the tallest point in the world. Gon climbs the tree, and sure enough, Ging sits at the top. The two discuss life, share stories of their adventures, and contemplate the vast, unknown world waiting to be explored. Ging tells Gon he’s proud of the man he’s become, the theme music plays, we pan out over the World Tree to see the vast horizon, and the scene fades to black. The end.
Except it wasn’t. The series went on a nearly two year hiatus after that, but eventually did return. Only, something was different. The story no longer followed Gon. Instead, the focus has shifted to a variety of characters, including Ging, the Hunter Association council, and a group of princes fighting a Machiavellian death battle for the throne of their country. All this set on the backdrop of an expedition to the “Dark Continent”— a landmass beyond the ocean from which no one has returned. This in itself isn’t problematic; that sounds like the set up for a great Hunter story. The problem is that it feels forced and random. The last issue of 2012, while not perfect, has a sense of finality. The story feels complete. Gon has accomplished the thing he has set out to do from the very outset of the series. He’s literally on top of the world. Everything that follows, while interesting, feels ancillary. Each new plot point is seemingly pulled out of thin air with no set up or prior development. It seems, at least to this writer, that Togashi intended for the series to end in 2012. But, perhaps due to pressures from Shonen executives, he decided to continue writing. Only now, the story has nowhere to go. In fact, Gon has only appear in a few pages of one chapter since 2012. The story now feels like a jumble of ideas that Togashi had, but could never fully implement. For example, the last couple issues have featured a fight between Hisoka, the murderous magician, and Chrollo Lucilfer, the leader of a powerful gang of thieves. And, while this is decidedly awesome, it came out of nowhere and has virtually nothing to do with the story that was being presented — that is, the expedition to the Dark Continent.
It would be nice to believe that Togashi has a master plan, a way to tie everything together, but it seems far more likely that he simply wrote himself into a corner and is now scrambling to hold a story together. That being said, Hunter x Hunter is still worth checking out, if for no other reason than the first part—everything up to 2012 is incredible. And maybe, the story will come together masterfully, and this article will look foolish. We can only hope that’s the case. Hunter x Hunter is simply too incredible to be left with anything other than an impeccable legacy.