That’s the number of times I cringed during this episode. Compared to the near-constant cringing I was doing before, this is a vast improvement. Maybe it’s just because my expectations for this show hit rock bottom after the first three episodes, but my first impression of Episode 4 was: “Wow. This is actually halfway decent.”
For me, a major part of what made this episode enjoyable was the interaction between Gon and Killua. For once, the atmosphere of HAPPY HAPPY FUN TIMES is actually working in this show’s favor. Gon and Killua have such a playful, lively relationship, and that’s brought out exquisitely in this episode. Pardon me because the rest of this paragraph is going to be incoherent fangirling, but oh my god. Their first meeting. When Killua slowly lets his skateboard float back towards Gon with that “I’m just a little bit interested in you but not particularly” expression on his face, and goes “Ne, kimi ikutsu?” (forgive the gratuitous Japanese, but the way his voice actress delivered that line was so… so Killua I had to quote it in its original form), and Gon’s goes “Oh, I’m twelve” and Killua’s like “Oh, we’re the same age. Huh.” while staring at Gon, who responds with this absolutely adorable clueless little quirky smile, and then we get OMG EPIC SKATEBOARD and Gon’s all “OMG THAT WAS SO COOL” and Killua is all “Hey dude, I’m Killua, wazzup”, and Gon sounds like an excited little puppy as he goes “I’m Gon!” and at that point I had to pause and look away from the monitor for a bit because I was too busy squee-ing and clutching my palpitating heart to concentrate.
Have I mentioned I love their first meeting in the manga? This episode captured perfectly what I adore about their relationship. The way their personalities play off each other, the easy, direct, casually intimate way they interact with each other that’s so typical of friendships between children… this is precisely the kind of nuance that was so lacking in the first three episodes. And it feels so natural because the thing that draws them together – oh hey, we’re the only twelve-year-olds in a sea of adults – is such a realistic, mundane reason for them to be interested in each other. It’s something that any of us might experience. This touch of humanity in what is basically a manga full of loonies gives their relationship a down-to-earth, authentic feel, despite how fantastic the setting is. In light of, ahem, certain events in the manga, getting to watch their pure innocent friendship done so well here – getting to experience again how it all started – it actually made me tear up just a little bit. (Wow, I’m sounding like Biscuit/Bisque/Bisuko.) Their exchange about who finished first and the little back-and-forth about buying dinner (albeit a little stupid – do they really think they’re going to be done with the exam in time to buy each other dinner?) is a good example of flexibility in terms of actual content but faithfulness in tone – it’s a change that gives old fans a new tidbit to savor, that nevertheless retains the playful ease of their relationship. Good job, scriptwriter, good job. As a fan of the Gon and Killua relationship dynamic, I highly approve.
Of course, nothing is perfect. I do have a couple nitpicks about Gon and Killua: (1) when they were introducing themselves, the proportion of their profiles looked slightly off around the eyes, and (2) the “ahahahaha” as they passed the finish line bordered on “what the fuck are these kids on and where can I get some” territory, but it wasn’t too jarring since it was over quickly. Overall though, I thought that Killua’s acting (again, referring to the combination of animation and voice acting) was pitch perfect throughout, and Gon seems to have been cured of his impulse to grin as maniacally as possible every second he’s on screen. The director seems to have remembered that there are other ways to show that a character is cheerful than to have him go all sparkly eyed and wide-mouthed like a crazy person, and that it’s okay to have the shonen lead not smile once in a while.
It’s not just Gon. There was almost no cheesy acting in this episode in general. I know, it’s a miracle. Leorio’s voice actor (talking specifically about the voice acting here) needs to hold back more, instead of yelling all his lines with the same high intensity, but that’s a tolerable flaw. The only point where I found something really atrocious was towards the end, when Leorio and Hanzo were doing their “I’m an idiot” faces.
This face is ridiculous enough on its own; paired with the goofy laugh that goes on for far too long, it’s almost physically painful to watch. I’d cut the laugh down to about a fifth of its length – if you have a cheesy frame and a cheesy sound to go with it, please don’t draw it out to make it even worse. Now, if something like this had happened in the first three episodes, I would’ve probably ignored it as merely being part of an awful whole. The fact that these few seconds stand out as being Madhouse’s obligatory cheese moment, actually signifies that the acting and timing in the rest of the episode was actually competent.
Like the revelation that Leorio’s a teenager, for example. This is where the over-the-top-ness of this show works in its favor. The comedic timing of the “Eh?”, “Uso!” and the freeze frame was spot on. Best-paced moment in the entire episode, as well as the funniest. I’ve reread the manga countless times, and this is the first time I’ve laughed at this scene since I first read the manga. It feels so good to finally be laughing at this episode because of genuinely funny or delightful moments (compared to laughing because the only alternative is to cry at how godawful it is).
Having said all that, there were still moments in this anime that were atrocious. Out of the 4 scenes that I actually physically cringed at, 3 of them was because of the horrible use of music. The worst was Leorio’s back-to-life spurt. It’s the worst because at the beginning of the show, there was a long stretch with background music that actually felt appropriate, and I was thinking, hey, this isn’t so bad after all. And then of course, just as I was thinking that, they played that cheese bomb of a song as Leorio comes back from the dead. What is this, Tom & Jerry? That’s not supposed to be a comedic moment! It needs to have some seriousness and badass epicness to it, instead of pure “now it’s time for the fairies in tutus to come and save the day, YAY”. No, seriously, somebody said that it sounds like ballet music, and I completely agree. Even something as bombastic as RAW RAW FIGHT THE POWAH would fit better than that monstrosity. See, I love orchestral music, but not when it’s shoehorned into scenes that are absolutely wrong for it! Ugh. And there were a couple other scenes too, like when they were about to exit the tunnel, and when Satotz was staring at Gon and Killua and thinking “what the fuck are these kids”, where the music was so ridiculous it made me want to stab my eardrums with chopsticks.
And so when we reached the part where Kurapica was going to talk about his past, and I heard the beginning of an orchestral track, I instinctively braced myself for the worst. Next thought: “Oh hi there Harry Potter.” And the next thought: “…this music actually fits the emotions of the scene! OH. MY GAWD.” I think I paused for a moment there because I had to go wipe my brain off from where it splattered on the wall…
Yes. It’s true. I liked the scene between Kurapica and Leorio. The acting from both parties felt dramatic without being overly cheesy. Great voice acting from Kurapica’s seiyuu in particular. As expected of the voice actress behind characters like Celty Sturluson (Durarara!!) and Maria (Arakawa Under the Bridge). I also loved the inclusion of the brief flashback to Leorio’s friend. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time we’ve ever seen Leorio as a child in all the different versions of HunterXHunter. He almost looked like Gon to me. Almost. It was beautifully animated in sepia and the fact that it was so brief worked in its favor as well, creating a sense of vulnerability for Leorio without dragging it out to the extent where it would seem melodramatic. Of course, the constant yelling from Leorio made the scene less awesome than it could have been with more nuanced acting, but overall, it was well-acted, with music that actually created the appropriate atmosphere (save that jazz number at the beginning of their chat, which would be lovely in any other setting but this).
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Episode 4 was actually kinda epic, compared to the previous three. Too bad the horrible use of music in certain cringeworthy moments ruins it somewhat. I wish someone would go in and cut out all the great bits so I can watch them again and again without having to sit through the puke-inducing parts.
Final verdict: this episode seems to suggest that the director is indeed capable of handling serious scenes, characterization, and relationships sans cheese, but the persistent misuse of perfectly good songs does not bode well for future episodes. That said, I’m excited to see Episode 5, and hopefully they’ll keep up the good work instead of letting this show devolve into a cheesecake factory a la Episodes 1-3.
P.S. I would’ve included an obligatory comment about how Hisoka let the other monkey guy get away, but at this point, as long as it’s not all PRETTY FLOWER ARMS WHEEEE, I really don’t give too much of a shit.
P.P.S. Last night, after I watched this episode and went to bed, I had a very disturbing dream about Hisoka *coughcough* doing something extremelyunpleasantandgraphic *cough* to some poor, unlucky dude. Damn it, glowing crotch! Stop mindraping me while I sleep!