WARNING: MINOR MANGA SPOILERS
After watching the latest episode of HunterXHunter, I was overcome with the urge to have my very own homicidal critter as a pet, as I’m sure you all were too. In fact, I was so excited, I spent the entire weekend in the Numere Wetlands, hunting down every single adorably aggressive animal that was featured on the show. Of course, I lost quite a few limbs, half an eyeball, and I’m having to type this post out by tongue (which is why it’s just a little late, by the way), but on the plus side… you get to see the creatures I brought back, up close and personal!
First of all is the creature that everybody loves when it’s time to make dessert… the Tortoise of Strawberry Deliciousness! Just one single strawberry from his back was enough to make strawberry pie for all five hundred of my (Facebook) friends! Of course, he ate half of them when I invited them over for dinner, but hey, it’s not like I specified whose dinner it was going to be anyway.
Next up, the Sparkly Golden Dusty Mushrooms! I’m going to patent it as the ultimate instrument for the creation of world peace. Just plant a few of these in any war zone, and BAM! Instant peace! And it solves food supply problems too. Just think of all the mushroom soup you’d be able to make. Nobel Peace Prize, here I come!
Although, I will say that personally, the Winged Jigglypuff has been more useful to me. I have severe PTSD from my Numere trip, but it puts me to sleep every night without fail. Though, I’ve had the vague feeling of… something… wriggling around in my intestines for a while now…
Ah well, I’m probably imagining it. Little things aside, this trip has been so immensely rewarding for me, especially economically. I’ve placed the Tall Tale Tattler at a voice acting agency, who cast it to play all the parts in a futanari hentai, an eroguro hentai, and a yaoi tentacle hentai involving poop and marshmellows… The producers seemed so grateful to have it, they paid me all its wages up front, so now my house is flooded with money (some of it is a little damp and sticky, but whatever). Apparently nobody wanted to play those roles. I wonder why.
And uh, I have a bit of bad news and a bit of good news about the giant frog thingie. The good news is, I managed to get one. The bad news is… I somehow lost it while I was transporting it back home.Yeah. So… err… keep a can of laxative with you at all times, just in case?
And the last, but absolutely not least of the delightfully demonic denizens of Numere: the Bloody Jester! He even comes with his own pack of multipurpose playing cards! Now, given the fabulous creatures we’ve seen so far, a mere humanoid seems bland in comparison… but at least he doesn’t smell bad? (The rest tend to stink of dead human. At least this clown takes a bath once in a while.)
Ah, my murderous pets… aren’t they all just the cutest little things ever? I really can’t decide which is the most lovable. And that is why you, the readers, are going to decide for me! Vote for your favorite monster (that’s actually currently in my possession)! The winner will get a fresh supply of corpses and a piece of original fan art by yours truly <3
At this point, you might be wondering why I’m rambling on and on and on about the monsters. Maybe you’re even getting just the teensiest bit annoyed. If so, perfect. Because that’s precisely how I felt for the first ten minutes or so of this episode.
For me, Episode 5 was divided into two very distinct halves: the monster half, and the interesting monster half. The Hisoka half and Other Stuff We Don’t Give A Shit About half. The delicious half and the not-so-delicious half. I was so annoyed by this that I actually flew to Japan and asked the director directly about it (the other reason why this post is late).
Me: Mr. Director, why did the first half of Episode 5 suck?
Mr. Director: I have no idea what you’re talking about. The monsters were so fun and scary!
Me: …sorry, I lost you when you said scary, can you-
Mr. Director: The tortoise was actually EATING people. ALIVE. I think I’m going to have nightmares for weeks. Ah… the things I do for art.
Me: …what on earth-
Mr. Director: Oops sorry, gotta run, I have a meeting with my therapist.
And that’s the crux of the problem right there. The monsters are supposed to be horrifying in a twisted, sneaky way, like when you walk into a nursery and the dolls suddenly jump on you and start eating your brains. So why is Episode 5 not even remotely terrifying?
I want to say the fact that this adaptation is aimed towards younger kids (whom the director thinks are drooling morons, as I’ve established in earlier posts) has something to do with it, but even Disney villains are scarier than these monsters. Which I didn’t think was possible, given that this is Yoshihiro “There Are Aliens Wearing Human Skins Who Have An Uncontrollable Impulse To Eat People They’re Sexually Attracted To” Togashi. The problem is, monsters are presented in the context of an exciting adventure narrative (since we’re still in One Piece mode, here); they’re like the level 1 monsters you have to beat in order to get Crystal Poo or whatever so you can sell it back to vendors with a trash fetish. At least that’s how it feels to me.
In the manga, in contrast, you are overwhelmed with the feeling that this world is full of traps (not the sexy kind), that your next step might well be your last, that things are never as they seem. People who get tricked die. That’s just the way the world is. In three succinct pages, the manga creates an atmosphere of danger, suspense, and tension that the anime just doesn’t seem to get.
I will give credit to the anime for attempting to create tension and build a genuinely horrifying atmosphere. The long, slow opening, with all the focus on the Numere Swamp, the repeated calls of the crow in the washed out sky… I think they were trying to create a sense of foreboding. You get a gold star for trying, HunterXHunter (2011), but that doesn’t change the fact that you were exceptionally boring. You sacrificed pacing for atmosphere, and ended up with neither. I feel like this anime can learn from another work that’s an adaptation this season: Persona 4. That managed to cram a few hours of gameplay into its first episode with tight, snappy pacing. Whereas in this episode, the opening slogs on like somebody just shot out its kneecaps. Like it has mush for legs. How many scenes of feet squishing through mud do we need!? Precisely one, thank you very much. Viewers are not morons. We get the point, now let’s fucking move on.
Like I said earlier, the manga creates a much stronger sense of “oh shit the whole world’s out to get me AAAHH” in about one-tenth of the time. Apart from the fact that the anime lives in a fantasy/adventure world (for kids!) and not a gritty dark/horror/fantasy/SF world, here are a few other reasons why I think this is the case:
It’s not jarring or inappropriate or downright hilarious, like some of the other tracks we’ve heard, but it sounds closer to a heroic march through a battlefield than a deadly journey through unknown lands that will (in some cases, literally) eat you alive. It’s not suspenseful, not eerie at all. In short, even though it’s not horrible, the music wasn’t used as well as it could have been.
Just putting mist on everything does not make it scary, goddamnit! HunterXHunter the manga doesn’t even have fucking backgrounds and it looks more horrifying than this. If you want the swamp to look creepy, put some more effort into making it actually look creepy. All I see is a bunch of wet, boring trees. The manga’s monsters looked cartoonish in a creepy way, but this adaptation takes that same design and makes it cartoony in a bland, generic way. It’s like making a creepy doll, putting on blood and losing an eyeball and all that cosmetic crap, but forgetting to have her hair grow longer while you’re not looking.
Yes, the designs and the monsters’ functions were lifted faithfully from the manga. What changed was the delivery. In an anime format, the monster’s characteristics are conveyed through pure action, whereas the manga has (what some people would call the crutch of) narration. The thing is though, having narration (as long as it doesn’t sound like a news anchor, like this adaptation’s narrator does) is a good way to convey things quickly without having to portray them explicitly. Words are your friend. Use them. The hypnosis butterflies in this episode were utterly bland. So they make people fall asleep. Big deal. According to the manga’s narration however, they invade your helpless, unconscious body and lay their larvae in your moist, trembling inner parts. And of course you can’t show that in a G-rated show like this. The manga doesn’t actually show it either, but that’s why narration rocks in this case. It squicks you out without the mangaka having to actually draw anything.
There were some good things that they did with the monster designs, though. The scriptwriter made a good call in changing the way the mushrooms kill people. In the original manga, the mushrooms do a straightforward explosion. The decomposing bodies that are left behind serve as fertilizer for the mushrooms. A rather realistic, down-to-earth consequence. Makes sense in evolutionary terms too. But since bodies take a long time to decompose, and sitting there waiting for them to do so would make for a rather boring hundred episodes or so, they changed it to a more realistic kind of mushroom explosion – the kind that releases spores. Of course, spores don’t sprout instantly when they land. I thought this was the one change they made that could have been even more horrifying than the original. I mean, what’s scarier? Getting your body blown to bits or having fungi sprout out of your every orifice? But in the end they went the G-rated route of just having the mushrooms grow on top of your skin. It looked tacky and boring, just like every other monster that was featured in this episode. The burst of golden spores looked lovely and sparkly though. Like fairy dust. Well, it’s more like EVIL PARASITE dust, but still.
(4) Comedy Tonight!
HunterXHunter (2011) continues its fine tradition of creating high comedy without meaning to. A few of the scenes with the strawberry tortoise are hilariously over-the-top. It’s like a little girl roaring at you and making monster faces. She honestly thinks she’s the most terrifying being on earth while in fact she’s just the cutest thing ever – or in HunterXHunter (2011)’s case, the most embarrassingly bad thing ever.
Interrupted expectation is at the heart of comedy (or so my theater professor tells me). Abruptness, staccato energy, quick unexpected changes – all of these contribute to making something seem funny. (In contrast, serious, dramatic scenes tend to be more smooth and interconnected.) With that in mind, let us recall the scene where the tortoise’s head rushes downward… and abruptly stops with a squishy noise as its jaws clamp down over a hapless exam participant. What happens in the audience’s mind is that we expect the rushing to continue downward, but because of the sudden freeze frame, it interrupts our expectations and creates a staccato quality that is funny rather than dramatic or horrifying. Can we at least edge a little bit away from Barney the Purple Dinosaur and back towards the Jurassic Park end of the spectrum?
The only moment during the monster fights that excited me just a little was when Kurapica stabbed the tortoise in the eye. And even that’s probably just because I like eyegore. Well, there was another moment that I enjoyed: the examiner’s voice coming from the Ruse Raven… and then they fucked it up by making the “shadow” obviously a trap. I mean, can you even imagine Satotz wriggling around like that? Don’t. Telegraph. Your. Traps. Seriously. It’s like when you’re fighting, you don’t tell your opponent where you’re going to attack next; when you’re telling a joke, you don’t giggle right before delivering the punchline. Basic storytelling technique, goddamnit.
(5) Heroic Adventure Narrative & Pacing
Regardless of whether or not this choice was good or bad, the execution was extremely meh. I’m talking about the decision to have the main characters experience the animals instead of having random participants be the unlucky victims, which was what happened in the manga. This point ties back into pacing, and into the fact that this is more of a heroic adventure narrative with the heroes battling the monsters and winning via strength, intelligence, and luck, instead of a horror/suspense narrative where the main characters have to navigate a dangerous world with hidden threats.
Theoretically, having the main characters face the monsters should create even more tension and suspense because these are characters we actually care about. Random mooks get killed off; who gives a crap, right? However, to me at least, this was not the case. Why? Because the monsters were not presenting as a serious threat. I don’t think anybody ever thought that our main characters wouldn’t survive their encounters with their respective monsters. I just read the latest HunterXHunter chapter, and in it, we see a character suffer an instantaneously fatal wound. It’s comparable to seeing Gon and Killua get swallowed by the frog. But while the former made me shit my pants, I just went “meh, they’ll probably get out in a few”, for the later. Why? Because the “monster” in the former isn’t a throwaway creation like the frog is. A lot of energy was spent in building up to how dangerous that particular “monster” was, while the frog doesn’t have that at all. It’s just some random trap, and we know that our main characters aren’t going to get killed off or seriously hurt by something that doesn’t have the telltale build up to it. So the main advantage of having our main characters face the monsters – we’re more invested in their survival and therefore the monster encounters will have more tension and suspense – is moot.
The only good thing I liked about this main character focus though, was the moment where the frog spews Gon and Killua out, and we find out that it’s Tonpa’s laxative drink that’s saved them. I thought it was clever and served to keep Tonpa in focus instead of ignoring him completely until he becomes plot-relevant again. And it’s always fun to see somebody’s evil schemes ending up having the complete opposite of how they intending it to work.
Nevertheless, the benefits of having a more hero-centric narrative are far outweighed by that one fatal drawback: the pacing. By pitting the main characters against the monsters, it becomes necessary to give the “monster” section the weight and focus befitting of a complete ministory within an episode. There needs to be a beginning, middle, and end. Inciting incident (monster encounter) -> conflict (fighting the monster) -> climax -> resolution (the heroes win). Meaning the monsters need to be able to hold their ground as worthy antagonists (which they were not designed to be in the original manga). And more importantly, this means that the pacing is stretched out like a flabby tummy, and this is made worse by the fact that they dragged out every single encounter with every single monster. Do we need multiple shots of people running past the victims? Really? If you want to have slow pacing like that, you need to have a suspenseful, horrifying atmosphere to go with it, and if you can’t do that, you need to pick up the pace in order to divert our attention away from how horrible your atmosphere-building skills are.
I’m probably reacting this way just because I’ve been spoiled by the manga. The pacing there is burnt to a crisp. We have three pages of monsters massacring men. One page of everybody acting all lost and panicky. And then we go straight into this.
The buildup to this moment is impeccable. The sequence starts off with the shadows of the men being revealed to be a trap. Then we get a single explosive panel introducing the first monster. Two pages of monsters tricking and killing people. One page of the participants descending into utter chaos. And then we have this page, what I consider the climax, the exclamation point of the chapter – Hisoka’s cards slicing cleanly through the noise and confusion, driving the screams of pain to the max – followed by utter stillness. A blank panel filled with nothing but Hisoka’s fox eyes. A held breath. And then in the last page, he walks out of the fog, shuffling his cards…
That’s what I consider good rhythm and pacing.
And because the anime chose to incorporate the main characters into the monster sequences, what should have served as pure buildup to the main dish took on a life of its own and consequently dragged the pacing down to the deepest pits of hell, and took the show with it too. Instead of boom-boom-boom-POW, we have blah-de-blah-de-blahdebeeblah.
So much for the first section of Episode 5. It wasn’t horrible, it was just… meh.
But the rest of the episode is all about Hisoka, I seem to hear you say. That must be enough to redeem this episode in my eyes, right? Well… yes and no. There are things that I enjoyed about it, and things that I didn’t enjoy so much. First of all, a sort of nitpicky cosmetic complaint. Hisoka’s expressions are way creepier in the manga. Compare:
And its corresponding panel in the manga:
His eyes and pupils are narrower, the slit-like feel enhanced by the shading in towards the inner corners. In contrast, the anime version cleans up the shadows in such a way that the eyes look bigger and puffier. In the manga, he looks absolutely deranged. In the anime, he just looks smug and slightly evil.
But eh, this isn’t a major complaint. Art style changes like this will invariably happen in the transition from a black-and-white to a color animation medium.
My only major complaint about the “Hisoka section” of this episode (apart from the pacing, which plagues it too) is the fact that Hisoka did not initiate the massacre – instead, he killed only when provoked. Whether or not this is a good change depends on your tastes and how you like your antagonists, but it is my opinion that it serves to make Hisoka seem less creepy, less dangerous, and more of a rational being.
I’m actually not as bothered by this as some other fans. When the other guys confronted him, Hisoka still went off on his spiel about playing the examiner. So I’m okay with that. I’m not thrilled, because I love the bloodthirsty Hisoka whose urge to kill is so great he can’t restrain himself, but I don’t actively despise this change.
What I’m really worried about though, is something I don’t think many fans have noticed. The change from Hisoka being actively homicidal to passively homicidal doesn’t merely affect Hisoka’s characterization. It also affects Killua.
Remember how Killua tells Gon to move faster in order to get away from Hisoka? The anime implies this is because he “smells” a fight brewing. In the manga, however, this leads to an interesting little exchange (partly pictured above) about how Killua can smell Hisoka’s desire to kill… because they’re the same kind of person.
I have a bad feeling about the fact that they cut this part out. I even suspect that the change to having people ambush Hisoka might have been more for Killua’s benefit than Hisoka. Because in your stereotypical shonen series, there needs to be a clear-cut line between good and evil. It’s one thing to have your designated villain be evil; it’s quite another to have a main character and your protagonist’s best friend, at that, to be someone who kills people just because he’s irritated.
Calling it right now. They’re going to cut Killua’s random murders. Either they’re cutting it, or they’re going to tone it down so that he merely glares at them or injures them. Can’t have a “good guy” be evil, can we?
And that’s going to suck, because this general aura of amorality surrounding even the main characters is part of what I love about HunterXHunter. Good or bad are ambiguous concepts in this universe, which is something that I think not a lot of shonen series have.
But back to Hisoka. This episode did get more enjoyable when it started to focus on him. The most glaring issue here is the lack of blood, and I was sad that they left out the gorgeous fight choreography from the manga, but again, I didn’t actually hate it. I appreciated the fact that they censored with style. The single thin circle of red, the simultaneous collapse of the attacks, and the drops of ambiguously dark liquid as he flicks his card – all of that worked well. I would have liked to see actual wounds on the attackers, but I guess that’s asking for too much. But hey, they gave us blood and a squishy sound as Hisoka pulls his card out of No. 87′s skull, so you can’t really complain too much.
(Poor No. 87, he changed from a decent, intelligent man in the manga to a moronic wimp, all because of stupid plot changes. R.I.P., No. 87. We shall remember your sacrifice forever.)
The good thing about keeping his massacre of his attackers simple was, I thought, to make the choreography with the fight with Gon stand out more. And Madokami knows they needed everything they had to get that fight to stand out, because they inserted their own fight choreography into it, consisting mostly of boring swings and that stupid sand flick. How the fuck did Gon make a fucking fishing line change directions so abruptly in mid air without using nen or some physical trick?! It was so bad I almost laughed out loud. It was an atrociously choreographed fight for the most part, so if they had included the flashy moves during the massacre from the manga, they would have effectively upstaged the most important part of the episode, the Hisoka/Gon encounter. So I thought that they did a good job by keeping the massacre short and to the point. Though I must say that the massacre in the manga made Hisoka look ridiculously badass and created a wonderfully dangerous, tense atmosphere – the knowledge that there’s an insane clown who gets off on killing in our midst certainly gives even the most routine of events an edge. And just look at all those beautifully precise movements and wounds… all that luscious blood…
There were lots of little details and moments I loved in the manga massacre which were sadly dropped from this adaptation, but I can live with that. Because they retained, even played up the one major aspect of Hisoka’s personality that makes him such a lovable character: the fact that he’s a huge fucking pervert.
As the glowing crotch in the ending suggests, Hisoka has a huge boner for strong fighters or for people with potential to become strong fighters. (Remember when the shiny penis of doom happens in the manga? Right before he fights Gon in the Tournament Arc. Yeah.)
And he seems to have a particular fondness for Gon.
Look at that leer on his face. I cannot imagine what HunterXHunter would be like without its resident pedoclown. I loved the Hisoka/Leorio confrontation, how creepy Hisoka is when he’s reaching out for what seems to be Leorio’s eyeball, and then the strong sense of movement when Gon’s fishing rod crashes into the side of Hisoka’s face. Excellent timing, excellent animation. I could almost feel the blow on my face, that’s how powerful that moment was for me. (The same goes for when Hisoka punches Leorio into the sky a few minutes later.) I adored how Gon has this anxious, tense look on his face – a far better expression than the almost surprised, blank look he has in the manga – and the fact that we heard his heavy breathing before we actually saw him. And I can’t get over how lascivious Hisoka’s leer looks here. It’s like he’s trying to gently rape Gon with his eyes. (Not literally. I hope.)
And then we get the Hisoka/Gon fight. Surprisingly, although it was pretty much a horrible mess in terms of action, there was one element of this fight that was creepier than in the manga – the fact that wherever Gon runs to, Hisoka is already there behind him in this casual, almost flirty pose. But the effectiveness of that is unfortunately eclipsed by the bizarre decision to make Hisoka poof into smoke whenever somebody tries to attack him. I mean, I get that it’s a stylized representation of how fast he moves so that you only connect with the air left behind, but it looks really out of place in an otherwise creepy fight.
Honestly though, I was too distracted by the sexual tension between Hisoka and Gon to care much about that. I mean, I almost felt like I was watching Hisoka jack off to kiddy porn or something. There’s this entire sequence where Gon is swinging his fishing pole (a long, phallic object) towards Hisoka, who keeps saying “Mmm, that feels good”, “That’s nice”, “I’m getting excited now…” with an expression of twisted pleasure on his face. Seriously, what the fuck is up with Daisuke Namikawa? The way he delivered those lines, it feels more like they’re in a shotacon whorehouse or in a back alley behind some pub or something.
And then we get to the highlight of the entire fucking show so far: the Gon-choking scene.
This scene is dragged out way longer than the couple panels it gets in the manga, and for once I’m not complaining about the pacing because Daisuke Namikawa fills the screen time he gets with one of the most disturbingly pedophiliac voice acting I’ve ever heard from him. I mean, just look at this face:
But for me, the most disturbing, yet somehow sweet moment comes when Gon goes limp, and Hisoka’s face almost crumples, like he’s been shocked back into his senses. It’s like instead of a Hisoka who can’t control his urge to kill, we get a Hisoka who can’t resist the urge to torture Gon, but still somehow cares enough about him to… dare I say it? Almost feel bad for nearly killing him. Even if it’s just because he doesn’t want to ruin his unripe fruit, I feel like it gives a glimpse of Hisoka’s more “human” side, insofar as he actually has one. Even though I love psychopathic, crazy, homicidal, perverted Hisoka, I’m not averse to seeing a Hisoka with a bit more depth to him, eh?
And the best part of it, after his first real brush with erotic asphyxiation death, Gon turns around and says that, hey, having to fight for my life was actually pretty exciting! Aaaand we finally know why Hisoka’s is just so eager to get into his pants fascinated with this boy with the cute little butt: deep down, Gon’s just like Hisoka – somebody who gets incredibly turned-0n excited by life-threatening fights. Let’s hope that Gon retains his innocence for a little while longer though, for the audience’s sake. God forbid we have more than one Hisoka on the same show, eh?
The best part of this episode was undoubtedly the Gon/Hisoka encounter and how it seemed eerily like sex. The rest of it sucked.
(By the way, Aya Hirano fans should be pumped. She’s making her debut on the show next episode as Menchi, the food hunter! Okay, so it’s only going to be for one episode, maybe two at the most, but still. I’m excited.)