Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, August 22, 2009
      ( 8/22/2009 01:52:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"I'VE GOTTA PUSH AS HARD AS I CAN!" Though three of our four primary heroes passed their Hunter finals at the end of the second Hunter X Hunter (Viz/Shonen Jump) anime DVD box set, the tests and trials continue. The first six of set three's sixteen episodes follow our trio of newly licensed Hunters -- impetuous village boy Gon, vengeance seeking Kirapika, and over-reactive "grown-up" Leorio -- as they struggle to reconnect with the fourth member of their group, Killua, scion to a family of assassins. Getting into the Zoldyck Estate, where Killua is being held and punished by his harsh family, proves a daunting task as the estate is a fortress designed to keep out bounty hunters and similar avaricious visitors.

Thus, our heroes are once more made to undergo a series of puzzles and endurance tests before they can even see Killua, who we're first shown hanging from a wall as he's whipped by his brother. Central protagonist Gon is put to another grueling physical test, this time by an unyielding girl guard who knocks him back every time he tries to pass her. All three need to figure out how to pass a monstrous hungry guard dog and beat the estate's sinister butler in a life-or-death game of coin toss. The lads may have become Hunters, but their world remains one giant proving ground.

In fact, though Gon and friends have received their licenses, it turns out the Hunter Exam isn't fully finished either. There's a Secret Hunter Exam, the nature of which is kept secret through most of this set (though the moderately attentive will figure out what it entails long before it's revealed). Each of us is tested in small ways throughout our entire lives, Hunter creator Yoshihiro Togashi seems to be saying: not an unusual theme for stories of this ilk.

After our gang hooks up with Killua (you never doubted that they would, did you?), they separate -- Gon and Killua heading to Heaven's Arena to build a stake in a series of one-on-one fights against a series of colorful opponents; Kirapika seeking out a mysterious agency for a job; and Leorio using his license to sign up for medical school and begin his training to become a doctor -- with the focus primarily staying fixed on Gon and Killua. The two friends learn about "Nen," the ability to control at will the life energy contained with your body's aura. The concept seems an awful lot like the use of "Chi" in the Naruto series, though here it's filled with a series of complicated stages and categories that frankly lost this viewer midway into every lecture delivered on the topic. The main thing you pull from all this is that each Nen master has a specialty attuned to their personality, though even here the distinctions get a bit murky.

Of more immediate dramatic interest is the return of the effeminately affected, psychotic clown Hisoka, who defeated and humiliated Gon in an exam competition back in the second set. Hisoka also has a mysterious connection to the Phantom Troupe, the gang responsible for the death of Kirapika's family, though his attitude toward that band of brigands seems pretty off-handed. What this all means will most likely be revealed when Gon and his buds arrive at a mysterious auction held in Yorknew City, though that particular moment is saved for a future set.

Instead, we're introduced to two new characters: Zushi, a martial arts student who makes even Gon look old, and Master Wing, the teacher who instructs Gon and Killua in the principles of Nen. If the world is a never-ending series of tests, Hunter X Hunter says, there also is a supply of teachers in it who can give us the tools to pass these tests. The trick is to keep an eye out for 'em.

While the third set of Hunter X Hunter loses some story thrust at the start with the seeming completion of the Hunter Exam, by now most viewers have become invested enough in its appealing leads to follow 'em through the series' more meandering moments. Gon remains his engagingly openhearted and resolute self; the little scraper decidedly takes a lickin' more than once in this series, only to get back up and re-enter the fray. Killua, who initially was portrayed as a somewhat amoral cold fish, is provided several moments of boyish insecurity during this part of the story, which opens him up significantly to the audience. The only one shortchanged this time out (even Kirapika gets an episode-long solo flashback) is Leorio, who's stuck cracking the books, away from the action.

The third set concludes on an unexpected note as Gon and Killua return to Whale Island and the sad-eyed aunt who raised Gon. The episode, wherein Killua is provided a glimpse of a family life markedly different from the sociopathic Zoldycks, has a surprisingly sweet tone that even the intrusion of a band of thuggish poachers can't spoil. Every episode of the Hunter X Hunter teleseries has concluded with a closing credits sequence showing Aunt Mita steadfastly waiting at home for the boy she raised as her son as a melancholy ballad is sung in the background. Nice to see the woman wasn't waiting in vain.


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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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