Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, May 16, 2009
      ( 5/16/2009 10:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"HE BROKE THROUGH THE WALLS THAT EXIST INSIDE OUR MINDS." The Hunter Exam continues in the second boxed set of Hunter X Hunter. When we last left lead protagonist Gon Freecss and his would-be Hunter friends, they were still in the midst of matching wits and strength with a gang of hardened criminals charged with keeping them from climbing down a tower within a prescribed deadline. At the start of the set, blowhard Leorio is pitted against a game-playing mistress of psychological manipulation, while kid assassin Killua (featured in the die-cut center of the second set's front cover) next faces off against the "Meanest Mass Murderer in the History of Zabin City." (When we're shown a flashback of his misdeeds, one of the bodies has a toe tag labeled "Jean Luc-Picard.") It's not giving away too much to indicate that our central foursome ultimately makes it down the tower, though the Exam is far from over.

In fact, Gen and company's participation in the grueling Hunter Exam comprises the whole of Set Two's fifteen episodes, though -- unlike the first set -- this 'un doesn't cut off mid-exam. Following their completion of the third test, the remaining candidates are flown via air ship to a small island surrounded by shipwrecks. All the wreckages provide a clue as to the nature of their next big test, though the first thing all our candidates need to do is find a way to pay for their prohibitively expensive stay at the "White Palace on the Ocean." During this initial part of the fourth test, we learn something about Kurapika, the third member of Gon's trio of friends: the eyes of his people, the Kurta Clan, become red with intense emotions.

It's in the next two tests that the competition between the Hunter candidates intensifies, though. In the first test, the candidates, who've all been assigned a number, are charged with stealing another's badge as they continue to hold onto their own. Our scrappy hero Gon is assigned the badge of one of the most menacing candidates, the sinister magician Hisoka. His participation in this test plunges our hero into a profound existential crisis, though we never really doubt the indefatigable Gon won't ultimately snap out of it.

Good thing he does, since the final test is one of face-to-face combat with another candidate. This proves even more punishing for the lad since his first contest is against the chatty ninja ("You sure talk a lot for a ninja," more than one character observes) Tonpah. The resulting fight sequence is plenty brutal within the parameters of "Older Teen"-rated teevee anime.

Though it provides plenty of fight sequences, the focus of this series still point remains on problem solving and psych-out mind games. Our young boy Gon proves particularly adept at thinking outside the box, though he's not the only one forced to use his little grey cells. In one particularly engaging trial, for instance, we're treated to an amusing discussion of the psychological nuances of rock/paper/scissors. At times, the second set's fifteen episodes get so focused on the characters' participation in the Hunter Exams that it has to momentarily halt proceedings and remind us of each major character's back-story. In the nether world of the long-running Hunter Exam, it's easy for our heroes and us to lose track of the outside world.

Set Two concludes the Hunter Exam, though the ongoing testing of our callow foursome will doubtless continue into the next set's story arc. As with the first Viz Media boxed set, extras are limited to promos for other Viz product and a few selected storyboards. The set does include English and Japanese versions of the story, as well as subtitles where we once again can ponder the difference between the words written onscreen and the dialog read by English-speaking actors.

Since the first set was released, Hunter X Hunter has found its way to American cable television via the recently launched Funimation Channel, though at this writing that particular channel appears to be available only in small pockets of the country. For now the prime outlet for admirers of this engaging boyish manga-turned-anime series remains the Viz Media DVD sets. Reportedly, there are two more sets of teleseries material available for eventual release (Set Three is already announced for August). If the anime series doesn't resolve any of the four main characters' personal quests by then, the truly hooked can always turn to Viz's book packaging of Yoshihiro (Yuyu Hakusho) Togashi's still ongoing manga series (currently up to Volume 25 in Viz's Shonen Jump series) to learn, for instance, what happens when Gon finally uncovers his absent Hunter father. I know I wanna know.

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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