Hunter X Hunter's first two sets, hampered by a very traditional shonen structure, relied heavily on Kazuhiro Furuhashi's directorial prowess to separate them from the herd. The third was a choppy interstitial affair; solid shonen entertainment, but more concerned with laying the foundation for future events than succeeding on its own merits. This set, the last in the series' television run (three lengthy OAVs follow), is finally the real deal: fully matured shonen action-focused, intelligent, and blessedly free of narrative crutches. If the first three sets were all about Hunter's potential as a grown-up shonen title, this is the potential grown up, blossomed into something just a few shades short of great.
This is Kurapika's show. Gon and Killua get their fair share of screen time, but it's Kurapika who drives the show forward, who evolves the most, and who ultimately gives this set its darkly human heart. While anime is clogged with tales of revenge, Kurapika's stands out for its restraint and its firm handle on the effects that a nasty quest can have on a decent man. Never does the series stoop to preaching or even overtly judging, but it nevertheless communicates clearly the emotional and mental costs of hatred. The change in Kurapika once he begins his Spider-hunt is startling, and when he finally does face off with one of their number, the result is more sickening than exhilarating. The aftermath of the act, when Kurapika momentarily lets slip his implacable mask to reveal the havoc wrought beneath, is positively heartbreaking.
Kurapika's quest also brings an unusual focus to the show. For once an entire set is driven by a single plot, allowing for a slow-mounting tension that builds incrementally but inexorably to a cataclysmic climax. The show has its side-bars, but eventually everything comes back to the Spiders, the auction, and Kurapika's murderous determination. Even Gon and Killua's seemingly silly game-search eventually merges (though not entirely gracefully) into the greater Spider/mafia tale. For a show that has shown remarkable stubbornness in sticking to its short-arc structure, it's a cleanly orchestrated and thoroughly professional extended arc. And if the conclusion isn't entirely satisfying, that's only because it refuses to compromise its psychological realities for the sake of neat closure.
For an action show, Hunter X Hunter has always been curiously indirect in its action. It's always been the kind of show that knows it doesn't need to blow something up every three minutes to keep your attention, preferring mind games and strategic positioning to the good ol' fist to the face. That is less true for this set than sets past, however, as the Spiders afford far more opportunities for general mayhem and mano-a-mano unpleasantness than the Hunter Exam or even the tower tournament did. A lot of stuff blows up and at least three times the series allows itself the luxury of full-blown martial freakouts. For all the upwelling in testosterone, though, Furuhashi's heart doesn't really seem to be in the straight action. In comparison to the no-hold-barred invention of past action sequences, the Spiders' many mafia-massacres are almost rote. Violent to be sure, but also repetitive, even bored.
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