Hunter x Hunter exists as something of a rarity. Despite being of the Shōnen genre and boasting a lofty 148 episode quota, it bears no filler material (content that deviates from the manga’s story and fails to provide meaningful narrative and/or character progression) beyond a mere two recap episodes. This achievement is all the more applause-worthy when Hunter x Hunter is compared to other heavy hitters of its genre, such as Naruto and Bleach, as both of these outlandishly popular series are splitting at the seams with not only filler episodes, but entire arcs devoid of a sense of purpose. These mundane time wasters exist solely as a means of extending the already staggeringly bloated episode quantity of both Naruto and Bleach (and many other Shōnen series), exploiting the valuable time and attention of their dedicated audiences, and gobbling up enough bonus revenue to make Fullmetal Alchemist’s Greed seem like Oliver Twist.
Hunter x Hunter‘s avoidance of this practice is commendable, but alas, this praise becomes heavily devalued when — despite sticking firmly to its primary plot — Hunter x Hunter groggily crawls to its finish line at a snail’s pace, with many moments being stretched out for a mind-numbingly long period time, much like this sentence just being stretched out for ages, and ages, and ages, growing progressively more boring and mundane as they drag on, and on, and on, and this sentence, as stated earlier, is an accurate representation of that, as it should have ended long ago, but it just seems to go on for forever, and… okay you get the idea.
Gon, Hunter x Hunter‘s scruffy-haired and frequently upbeat protagonist, aspires to be a hunter (somebody who is pretty damn good at survival and adventure) in order to become closer to — and eventually locate — his extremely hard-to-find father (a wildly famous hunter known as Ging). Throughout Gon’s journey towards this goal his endeavours include (but are not limited to) forming a close friendship with ex-assassin Killua (of whom he shares the same age), practicing a form of mysterious magic known as Nen, tackling an ‘if you die in the game you die in real life’ video game known as Greed Island, and rectifying a fiasco that involves giant ants that eat people. There’s a substantial amount of variety to be digested throughout Hunter x Hunter’s story, and much of it flaunts creative unpredictability, with each and every arc feeling dramatically distinct from one another.
The long road of Hunter x Hunter sees many instances of genuine surprise, offering a generous helping of memorable moments. However, whilst its narrative direction is ambitious, it’s sadly inconsistent. Certain characters are simply not expanded upon in the slightest (for example, Killua’s sibling, Kalluto, despite him playing a major role during two episodes), and entire plot points are left unfinished by the time that Hunter x Hunter eventually concludes, leaving the series void of a fulfilling finale. A future followup series would of course rectify this infuriating issue, but given the frequent hiatuses of the manga’s writer, Yoshihiro Togashi, this likely won’t be hitting the retinas of anime fans for a staggeringly long time.
On a positive note, bold tonal shifts provide for engaging freshness throughout Hunter x Hunter‘s grandiose runtime, and in most cases they feel excitingly unpredictable as opposed to uncomfortably jarring. However, one of the show’s biggest pitfalls is its truly terrible sense of pacing (which offends the most heavily during the palace invasion of its Chimera Ant arc). In certain moments, characters will prepare to confront one another in what is anticipated to be an explosively wild battle, but Hunter x Hunter thinks nothing of keeping its viewers waiting in frustrated suspense before such an event occurs.
In one specific instance, Gon finally meets with an especially dastardly nemesis in episode 115, and prepares to exact his violent revenge for a vile act they’ve committed earlier in the story. This takes the form of a ferocious fight (yay), and occurs in episode 131 (wait, what?). So, for fifteen episodes — each one lasting a duration of twenty three minutes and thirty seven seconds, accumulating into a grand total of approximately six hours — viewers endure a sense of depressingly infuriating suspense, anticipating a fierce and fulfilling battle that should satisfy their itch for bombastic action (I mean, this is a Shōnen anime after all, right?). So, what’s the payoff for their long wait? An unbelievably underwhelming confrontation, lasting less than five minutes, that’s resolved with little more than a few lazy punches and kicks. Yes, a minuscule period of time consisting of what can barely be considered combat is granted as a reward for enduring a six hour crescendo of painstakingly dull buildup. Moments such as this demonstrate just how poorly Hunter x Hunter executes the pacing of its narrative, and highlight what an utterly disappointing ride it can be in its lowest moments.
Hunter x Hunter does boast an intriguing cast of versatile characters, but the best of them are aggressively pushed aside. Gon and Killua’s developing friendship, whilst mostly enjoyable to witness, becomes repetitive in time. In these moments of character-related tedium, the accompaniment of others (such as Kurapika, Leorio, and Hisoka) would have provided an urgently required sense of variation to Hunter x Hunter‘s narrative. Kurapika and Leorio, despite playing a major role in the beginnings of Gon’s journey, make extremely few appearances throughout the remainder of the series (with the exception of the Kurapika-helmed Yorknew City arc, which happens to be the strongest story that the show presents). Hisoka, the most interesting character on offer, is also frustratingly underutilised. Although given significantly more screen time than the aforementioned Kurapika and Leorio, he is still inexplicably absent throughout the Chimera Ant arc (a story that many other series would conclude in 30 episodes, but Hunter x Hunter painfully elongates into a whopping 60 episodes).
Kite is a long-haired and immediately captivating character that kicks off the Chimera Ant arc effectively. He wields a unique weapon that transforms into one of nine variations at random, including a scythe, a carbine, and a mace. Following the reveal of these three types, many viewers would be understandably eager to witness the other six potential forms of ass-kickery Kite boasts in his arsenal. Regrettably however, Hunter x Hunter has other intentions, as Kite slips away into the shadows for the remainder of the series, only briefly following his introduction, and is never seen in battle again (despite the fact that he wasn’t even seen in a substantial battle to begin with). Canary is yet another character that creates a sense of instant intrigue, and is overwhelmingly likable following her introduction, but unsurprisingly her appearances are infrequent as well.
Whilst Hunter x Hunter confidently sidesteps content that would lead the adventure of Gon astray, it fails to settle into a consistent rhythmic pattern regarding the execution of its multitude of ambitious story beats. Showing heavy neglect to its strongest characters, and promising the viewer far more than it ever delivers, Hunter x Hunter just isn’t the miraculous masterpiece that many claim it to be. Despite accomplishing many respectable feats, including being mostly entertaining on a simple level, Hunter x Hunter still fails to unshackle itself free from its disappointing status of 148 episodes of massively missed potential’.