A grown-up series

Its star may be little more than a tot, but Hunter X Hunter is a decidedly grown-up series—at least by shonen standards. That remains true in this third set, even as it delves further into stereotypical shonen outrageousness.

It's a particular letdown to see the series indulge in the genre's fondness for spirit energies and physics-defying strength. Where the Hunter Exam emphasized the frightening power gap between children and adults, the tournament tower episodes have tykes tossing bruisers across arenas and holding their own against seasoned brawlers. We are given an elaborate system of ki-like spirit powers, training episodes, and plenty of the usual affirmations of the protagonists' monstrous fighting potential. Mundane stuff, and that's before factoring in the giant tournament tower with its ranked floors and fighters.

But even its flights of shonen fancy are dealt with with the series' customary maturity. The tournaments may be inevitable—the show is, after all, the product of the same mind that dreamt up Yu Yu Hakusho—but they avoid the melodrama and apocalyptic pretensions of series like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, basing themselves subtly but firmly in the very personal ambitions of their participants. Rather than reduce fighting to competing energy blasts, the series' complex Nen system actually adds another layer of strategy to the fights. And every power-up, mega-punch, tired speech and less than welcome revelation is presented in a measured, intelligent fashion that makes them not only palatable but respectful of viewers.

Indeed, rather than the shonen pitfalls, this set's most serious flaw is simply its location within the series. Though pleasingly modulated, with never a hurried step and never a wasted one, and filled with the little pleasures that its steady pacing allows plenty of leeway to enjoy, it is nevertheless obvious that this stretch of episodes is merely a bridge between two larger and more important arcs. The small arcs that comprise this set are intended to tie up loose ends and equip their protagonists with the skills to continue their journey—not to provide compelling serial entertainment. Not that those little pleasures should be dismissed out of hand: little though they are, they are potent. Gon's reunion with Killua is suitably joyous, Killua's family is a dark—and scary—kick, and of course, there's plenty of freaky Hisoka goodness to go around. But unlike the Hunter Exam, there's little tension here, no real sense of risk or danger. Enjoyable though these episodes are, they aren't particularly exciting.

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