My brain broke a few days ago and I hope talking about the cause – Hunter x Hunter episode 116 – will start the healing process because I have a slew of mediocre to good anime series I’m watching right now that I’d like to finish and, right now, I have utterly no desire to do so.
Much like Artemis over at Otaku Lounge, I have a pretty strong prejudice against long form shounen series after watching and dropping Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece; give me a focused 13 or 26 episode series and I’m a happy clam. There was one series that didn’t follow the pattern of the other shounen series for me – Yu Yu Hakusho – a 113 episode series based on the manga of Yoshihiro Togashi that managed to start strong and just got better and better. Fast forward to 2011 and Madhouse started a reboot of the Hunter x Hunter anime also from the manga written by Yoshihiro Togashi. You’d think I’d be more enthusiastic for Hunter x Hunter since it was coming the pen of the guy who did Yu Yu Hakusho and Level E, a great little comedy series; but, I just couldn’t get excited over a series that was going to use a little happy-go-lucky kid as it’s main character.
When Hunter x Hunter started, the main character, Gon, was as bad as I feared. At the age of 12, he just wasn’t an interesting character in the slightest. I would have dropped Hunter x Hunter and added it to list of reasons why long shounen series are a bad idea if it wasn’t for the decision to watch this series with my younger sister, a shounen genre fan, and not wanting to stop the weekly sibling bonding time.
I was dragged along though. After the first 20 episodes I figured I had the show pegged and gave it a score of 5 on MAL.
A funny thing happened. Interesting characters began to populate the show and the story started showing signs of creativity. Episode 35 rolled around and we got to the fight that the viewers had been looking forward too, Gon vs. Hisoka. Even though we knew it was coming and knew it was probably going to be a cool fight, the fight still blew past all expectations. It was truly one of the best animated, best choreographed, best paced fight I’d ever seen in anime. This was the break even point for me; the amount of goodness I received from this show now equaled the amount effort I’d put in at the beginning to get through it.
I bumped it’s score on MAL up to 6 afterwards. If the story didn’t deteriorate in quality and a cool fight happened every so often, I was okay with Hunter x Hunter now.
The series chugged along. The story began to regularly display a level of depth and complexity that I didn’t see in Bleach, Naruto, or One Piece. The supporting characters, antagonists, and out-right villains further developed depth and gradations to their character that made them a joy to watch. During the Yorknew story arc I bumped the score on MAL to a 7. Then during the Greed Island arc – a story arc that I would have hated in lesser hands – I again bumped the score of Hunter x Hunter. This time up to an 8. At this point Gon had grown on my a bit; I no longer found him annoying but still wished one of the supporting characters – Killua or Kurapika – had, instead, been the main character.
As the latest story arc began playing out, the Chimera Ant arc, I marveled at how the storytelling, plotting, and characters improved yet again. The Chimera Ant King, this arc’s big bad who leads an army that could wipe out humanity if the Hunters cannot stop him, could have been left the type of purely evil villain that’s easy to hate and this arc would still have been a super great arc. Yoshihiro Togashi was not content with good enough – the modus operandi of so many other manga/anime writers.
Instead, he has the King cross paths with a young, blind, bushy eyebrowed girl who happens to be the world champ at a board game called Gung-gi when the King decides to master and beat the reigning champs for a slew of board games as a way to kill some time. He’d been able to learn and beat the other games with ease but cannot beat this girl. This infuriating and frustrating turn of events begins to change the King; it’s slowly humanizing him and it’s this character development, with the future resolution, that was going to push this show up to a 9. Or so I thought.
Enter episode 116.
The young Gung-gi champ was accidentally injured quite severely during the opening moments of the Hunter’s attack on the Chimera Ant palace and the King had instructed one of his chief lieutenants to stop everything else and heal the girl. This same lieutenant had earlier sadistically tortured and broke someone very dear to Gon and Gon, with Killua, were tasked by the Hunters to confront and ensure, with extreme prejudice, this lieutenant remained separated from the King to help the Hunters tasked with killing the King.
Episode 116 is the episode were Killua and Gon find and confront the lieutenant.
It’s almost criminal how little a summary like this actually conveys about episode 116 even for people who have watched Hunter x Hunter up to episode 115 and think they have a good idea how episode 116 would play out. Even pouring forth a torrent of words, as I’m doing, will not do it justice. I could expound at length about every element of the episode that was done so perfectly perfect. How the young woman voicing Gon, Megumi Han, set off my fight-or-flight responses as she snarled and tore through Gon’s dialogue like she was a rabid junkyard pit-bull whose been whipped up into a frenzy over the stench of meat. Or how completely glorious the animation was as seen by this gif …
Or the crazy attention to detail by the sound effects people. For example, in the above clip every time it flashes over to the black-and-white frames the sound of thunder crashed which just reinforced how electrifying this moment we were experiencing truly was. But, like I said, I could try to use words to express how deeply this episode seared itself into my brain and I wouldn’t do it justice.
Instead, I’m going to compare it to the other 12,133 episodes, according to MAL, of anime I have seen. Doing it this way I can concretely and conclusively say that Episode 116 is the second best episode of anime I’ve ever seen. There’s been a few amazing episodes nearly on the same level of Hunter x Hunter’s episode 116 during the last several years: episode 3 of Kaiba, episode 12 of Bakemonogatari, episode 11 of Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, and episode 10 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica – however, the only episode I would rate higher is episode 26 of Gurren Lagann. That means that one has go back to September 23, 2007 to find a better single episode of anime.
That’s 7 years, 1 month, and 10 days or 371 weeks or 2,597 days since there’s been a better episode of anime. Not bad for an anime that failed it’s initial 3-episode test.
And it’s entirely possible that there’s an even better episode of Hunter x Hunter coming soon – please no spoilers – since this story arc is still just approaching it’s climax. At this point I can only guess at how Yoshihiro Togashi plans to resolve the various unfinished plot threads and this guess will pale in comparison to what actually happens, I’m sure. Needless to say, I bumped up my MAL score for Hunter x Hunter to a 9. I’ve been overlooking Gon’s character development because I still considered him the cute 12 year old boy who left Whale Island in search of his father. It took the jolt of episode 116 to remove the plank from my eyes that’s been blinding me to the dark places that Gon’s soul has been sojourning through and how it’s stained him.
I almost raised the score to 10 but that would have left me no room to show my future appreciation at the conclusion of the expertly crafted character development that the King is currently going through.
Well, after nearly 1500 words, I think I’m feeling better, like I can move on now. Of course, episode 117 of Hunter x Hunter is out soon; so, I might be back in a few days talking about Hunter x Hunter, instead of working on my Best of 2013 posts.