Hunter × Hunter- 1999 vs 2011: Part 1- The Hunter Exam Pt. 1

Welcome to the first in a series of pieces about the Hunter x Hunter franchise; more specifically, a in-depth analysis between Nippon Animation’s original adaptation of the show, from 1999, and the more recent brilliant 2011 adaptation from Madhouse. Today’s focus will start perhaps the most comprehensive comparison of the two versions to date. (Also, this is NOT about “which is better”- that’s a different conversation and a totally subjective one at that.)

 

Hunter x Hunter. Just thinking about the show brings a rush of memories and moments to my head, not coincidentally involving a lot of Killua Zoldyck, one of my personal favorite characters, and his best friend, series protagonist Gon Freeccs. However, this article is not primarily about character building, themes, or the usual potpourri entailed in our reviews, both written and filmed, but rather, the most (or is it the first?) in-depth journey of both anime adaptations that exist for the franchise- the original 1999 adaption from Nippon Animation, and its subsequent OVA’s, or original video animations that only saw release in Japan, and Madhouse’s highly acclaimed, well loved 2011 version which retold the entire story from the ground up, and added two additional arcs as well- the Chimera Ant and Chairman Election.

 
To start with a bit of a primer: If you don’t know this series, turn around now if you wish to avoid spoilers. If you fall in this category and wish to continue, know that Hunter x Hunter is a franchise created by Yoshihiro Togashi, initially as a manga series, which has the unusual position of being adapted into two high quality anime (and that I’ve wrote a review of the most recent version). If you haven’t watched it, either version is fine but this author’s suggestion is the 2011 version, which you can find on Netflix and across the Internet, with an excellent English sub, while the dub is still coming out on Toonami as of this writing (and recent episodes can be found on their site.) If you want further information, you can also reference the graded review I’ve linked above for 2011, and if you’d like to get a better grasp on the characters, I wrote a piece about Killua.  As for everyone else, you know what happens, so we’ll dive in for real now.

 
The 1999 anime from Nippon is not quite as well known, but covers the same territory as the 2011 version, stretching from the Hunter Exam to roughly three-quarters of the Yorknew City arc in its initial 62 episode run. The OVA’s, or original video animations, which were released after its initial Japanese run at the turn of the millennium, finished Yorknew and added the entirety of Greed Island. However, these OVAs ended in 2004, and with them, so did Nippon’s involvement with Hunter x Hunter. As a result, the focus of this study will be from the Hunter Exam to Greed Island, which is covered up to episode 75 in Madhouse’s version. While this covers a great deal of territory, don’t expect (spoilers!) Knuckle, Palm, Morel, Ikalgo, Meruem, or any other characters exclusively from the Ant arc onward to appear here… but most of HxH’s major players appear by the end of Greed Island as it stands, and the material that is comparable turns out to be a very fulfilling comparison as is.

 
While there are some key differences (which we’ll be covering most, if not all of them), and a slew of smaller ones (mostly pertaining to aesthetics and animation), the two versions largely follow the same track through the arcs that will be focused on. However, one of 2011’s defining hallmarks was its tighter focus on the original manga material, and so some sneaky “filler” in ’99’s adaptation was either omitted or never came up. Aside from analyzing the episodes themselves, one way to know this is the episode count: It took Madhouse 75 episodes to cover the exact same ground as Nippon, whose entire adaptation topped out at 90 episodes with OVAs included. So the question begs itself: What changed in 15 extra episodes? As you’ll see, the answer will become quite clear.


ARC 1: THE HUNTER EXAM
(Nippon ’99, Episodes 1-30, Madhouse ’11, Episodes 1-21)

Ah, the place that started it all- the Hunter Exam. Fraught with danger, a whimsical sense of adventure, and the first glimpse into the expansive world and cast of Hunter x Hunter, it also boasts the distinction of being the most classic to form shonen arc in the entire show. Immediately, you may have noticed the episode discrepancy in the beginning of the section. There’s a answer to that, but the first comparisons to make are with our main cast. Being the start of the entire franchise, the arc gives us our four main characters- Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio- but it also introduces a slew of other notable and important recurring characters as well, from Hisoka and Illumi, to Hunter Chairman Issac Netero. So to begin, we’ll start with pictures (Hey, this is an animated show- it matters!)

GON FREECSS

        1999                            2011               

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunterpl/images/0/02/Gon_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20141129200718&path-prefix=pl   http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/b4/Gon-2011.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/200?cb=20120115022050

KILLUA ZOLDYCK

1999                                 2011

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/d/db/Killua_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20130530141716&path-prefix=es  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/7/7c/Killua-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115021804

LEORIO PARDKNIGHT

1999                  2011

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/e/e5/Leorio_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120606094316  http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/08/Leorio-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115021510

KURAPIKA

1999                            2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/b/b1/Kurapika_1999.png/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/200?cb=20120606093759  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/2/25/Kurapika-2011.png/revision/latest?cb=20120115022414

From top to bottom, you can see the main foursome have retained their distinct characteristics and identities in the transition from ’99 to ’11, though there are varying degrees of differences. Compared to some of the other cast members though, the differences are rather minor, as you’ll come to discover.

 
Starting with Gon, you’ll see his basic design hasn’t changed too drastically, but he is actually a tad shorter in the ’99 anime (picture notwithstanding), and his shorts are actually a bit longer…or is it his legs? Another thing to note about Gon and the rest of the characters in their style comparisons is these of far brighter colors and slightly thinner looking models. Ultimately, the change in art direction made everyone in Hunter x Hunter look sharper, but at least personally, I like the style of both anime adaptations, as it’s also one of the main factors that sets them apart. Gon also has spiker hair that seems a bit taller in his 2011 model against his ’99 one, and this slight change also seems to work just fine. Gon’s outfit remains mostly the same, but his boots are solid green and white in Madhouse’s version, removing the brown laces and tops, and his jacket no longer has black cuffs and collars.

 
Next up is Killua, who out of the main cast received the biggest overhaul from ’99 to 2011. Aside from the palette and general model shifts that are present in all 2011 versions of the characters, Killua has been updated in a way that makes his character a little fluffier, starting with his hair. It goes more evenly around in its distinct, messy style instead of out like in ’99’s version, and while still detailed, is less so comparatively. His eyes have also been altered too, making them more expressive, and his face thinned out a little so he’s a more believable 12 year old. Killua’s signature outfit that he wears during the Hunter Exam is fundamentally the same, but the colors have been altered to a brighter palette, and his shorts have been made gray, longer and slightly baggier, and his legs appear thinner as well. Finally, his shoes are roughly the same design, but received the same brighter coloration in line with the rest of his model. Of course, Killua wears more distinctly different outfits than anyone else over the course of Hunter x Hunter, but for his basic model comparison, we’re sticking with his signature appearance, which is from this very first arc of the show.

 
Following the two boys is Kurapika, who of the four received the least amount of tweaking model-wise. While Kurapika shares the newer brighter colors and slightly thinner body notable in Madhouse’s version, there’s not much different aside from his feet (where he has socks in 1999, and a slightly different shade of blue for the shoes), and his eyes, which also get slightly more expressive in the newer version. Kurapika may in fact be the least changed character, model wise, from 1999 to 2011, perhaps a testament to great design in the first place, or that there’s only so many ways to do the distinct outfits he wears. However, the biggest change isn’t pictured: the representation of the scarlet eyes in animation between ’99 and ’11.

 
Finally, Leorio receives some slight tweaking from his 1999 version, his hair being noticeably more spiky, and his suit a little more form fitting, accentuating his height. His briefcase, which in the picture here only can be seen in Nippon’s version, was also redesigned in 2011, sporting a red a black checkered pattern on the front. Overall, Leorio’s appearance can be described as “sharpened” between the two versions.

 
Admittedly, a lot of aesthetic differences can easily be spotted just by looking at the main cast. The most noticeable is that the original ’99 anime was at the tail end of the era where shows were mostly hand-drawn, and the shading and lines are distinctly different than a modern 2-D anime with computer shading. There is more detail in some ways from the original anime, be it the individual strands of Killua’s hair to the wrinkles in clothes, and while some nuances are lost in transition, other positives are gained as well; 2011’s models have a much brighter color palette compared to the relatively muted tones of 1999, which is typical of the overall transition in the industry from hand-painted cels to computer shading.


As for the Hunter Exam arc itself, there are several differences between the two versions; 1999’s could be considered more “substantial,” featuring an entire (well-done) extra leg of the Exam, while 2011’s remains more faithful to the manga version, save a few instances. Let’s dive in.

Gon’s Backstory: The First Appearance of Kite (1999: Episode 1, 2011: Episode 76)

In the 1999 anime, the first episode starts by featuring a younger Gon in danger from a adult foxbear, a larger predatory animal. As he is about to be killed by the creature, a mysterious man appears, and using a katana takes out the foxbear, sparing Gon. It turns out to be Kite, a Double Star Hunter who came to Whale Island searching for someone… This scene is actually faithful to the first issue of the Hunter x Hunter manga, whereas it occurs as a flashback in 2011’s version in episode 76, the starting point of the Chimera Ant arc. Because chances are that we won’t be revisting Kite in this series, here’s a quick comparison of his character models:

KITE

1999                             2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/1/1e/Kite_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20140520230533&path-prefix=es  http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/9/93/Kite_mainpic.png/revision/latest?cb=20130424051614

We can continue to compare the scenes. In 2011’s, Gon is slapped by Kite afterwards, an action that is praised at a different point by Ging Freeccs, his dad. Ging’s Hunter License is left in the care of Gon (as Kite had been carrying it), but in ’99 is specifically wedged in a tree. Finally, Gon protects the orphaned foxbear cub in both versions, but only in 1999 do we get to see the efforts of his results as he raises the cub; the fully grown foxbear is incredibly fond of Gon, who obviously spent a great deal of time with it growing up (and considering he didn’t have a human friend until Killua, this makes lots of sense.)

Journey To the Hunter Exam Site (1999: Episodes 1-5, 2011: Episode 1-3)

In both versions, Gon travels with Leorio and Kurapika on the captain’s ship from Whale Island to the next city. However, in 1999, two entire episodes are spent on the island, including a filler episode where Gon meets Leorio at the port instead of on the ship (and also showcased Leorio arm-wrestling, and Gon’s connection with animals.) As with many of the supporting characters, the captain also has different colors for his clothes and model than 2011:

CAPTAIN

1999                                             2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/5f/Captain_99.png/revision/latest?cb=20120818125251  http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/0/08/Captain_2011.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120110035309

(In both versions, the trio bond on the ship after a rough night at sea.) Upon arriving in Zaban City, Leorio turns around and heads up the mountain with Gon and Kurapika after momentary hesitation. In ’99, he actually gets on the bus at first, only to realize it’s going in circles.

In both versions, the trio must pass the trivia test, though in 2011 it shows the aftermath. (Leorio also goes ballistic in both.) The mountain guide scene goes relatively the same, as does the initial confusion over the fact that the restaurant and not the church is the actual entrance to the Exam. The 2011 version also gets to the actual Exam quicker; it only uses 3 episodes for the journey as opposed to 5 for 1999.

The Hunter Exam: Part 1 (1999: Episodes 6-8, 2011: Episodes 4-6)

Ah, Tonpa the “Rookie Crusher.” (I know that’s what y’all were waiting for- he’s the real threat to everyone.) Model aside, he’s peddling spiked laxative juices in 2011, something that immediately makes Gon and company suspicious, and that Killua actually drinks with no ill effects, thanks to poison immunity. In ’99, Tonpa instead plays coy to begin, has no juice, and deceives the the trio initially. Killua also does not speak until he talks to Gon in the first phase, simply eying him in his first-on screen appearance. He also does not intially give his name to Gon, but in both versions dismounts his skateboard. The 1999 version also has an extended part to the first leg of the exam: a booby-trapped passage filled with poisonous sap. Tonpa brings an exhausted Leorio and Nicholas (remember him?) here to die: while the latter is driven insane, the former, along with Gon and Kurapika who cam back to check on him, are saved by flash grenades from Killua- actual tools of the trade.

TONPA

1999                                    2011

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/f/f6/Tonpa_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109121546  http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/5/50/Tonpa_2011.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120110063137

HISOKA MORROW

1999                          2011

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/c/c2/Hisoka_1999.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120606081412  Hisoka PR Movie

 

Hisoka also makes his first appearance. Most notably, the ’99 version has Hisoka sporting blue hair during the Exam as opposed to his usual red, which appears from the Heavens Arena arc onwards. In 2011, he gets that amazing Spanish guitar theme and the really flashy trick where he disintegrates an applicant’s arms; in ’99 he merely scares the crap out of a guy with his usual card-throwing tricks. Take a look:

Either way, you can’t say Hisoka doesn’t make quite the first impression.

Finally, there’s the first examiner of the phases: Satotz. Sporting his distinct hair and mustache-without-a mouth combo, he’s very similar in both versions, the most noticable difference being the stride he uses to lead the group of applicants to the next stage. In 2011 he has an exaggerated step with an arm swing that despite its strangeness, covers a lot of ground quickly. In 1999, it’s much more of a very fast walk.

SATOTZ

      1999                              2011

http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterx/images/5/55/Satotz_1999.png/revision/latest?cb=20120109105920  https://myanimelist.cdn-dena.com/images/characters/10/139775.jpg

In 2011, Gon and Killua have a footrace to the end of the underground tunnel, in which they tie at the end. In both versions, the man-faced ape attempting to deceive the applicants in the swamp is killed by Hisoka’s cards, followed by praise and a warning of expulsion from Satotz. Also true to both is the swamp encounter where Hisoka “plays Examiner,” and becomes acquainted with Gon, Leorio, and Kurapika; notably, this is still one of the only combat scenes in the entire series for Leorio (and he doesn’t do much here except take an anchor punch to the face.) Finally, Gon and Kurapika manage to barely make it to the second phase in both versions- the latter’s sharp sense of smell being the reason they make it.


The next installment will finish the Hunter Exam, starting with Phase 2 featuring Menchi and Buhara, and will also talk about the special “bonus phase” only present in the 1999 anime! Feel free to leave a comment.

Star Wars Rebels: A Farewell to Maul

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you couldn’t already tell, this entire piece, from the title on down is a massive spoiler. If you’re not looking for major plot details about Star Wars Rebels to be revealed to you now, best to turn away. If not, enjoy!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t know animation, a major event in Star Wars history happened on March 18th, 2017- the death of Maul, one-time apprentice to Palpatine. The story came full circle at last as Maul, searching to regain lost power and a sense of self, found the end of his destiny at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Indeed, his demise came on Tatooine, the place where it all started- and represented a complete narrative arc for the one-time Sith Lord.

Well, you might be asking why AniB would write about Darth Maul. Isn’t he a movie character? Not exactly. To start with, Maul’s death takes place in Star Wars Rebels (and if you haven’t checked it out, it’s well worth the watch); after he falls down the shaft in Naboo in The Phantom Menace, it is Star Wars: The Clone Wars where he reappears, and of all the major characters from the prequel era (and perhaps the franchise overall), none owe more to continued story progression via animation than Maul. While the most casual fans of Star Wars and even those who know little recognize Maul as the acrobatic, devil-horned, growling Sith Lord from 1999, there is a whole legion of people out there who also know Maul now through the voice acting of Sam Witwer and the  two animated shows he appeared in, as well as The Son of Dathomir comics. There is a far more developed tale now to Maul: of Dathomir and Nightbrothers, a Dark side cult; of the time Maul became ruler of Mandalore and Death Watch, only to be personally stopped by Darth Sidious, his old master, and now of the middle-aged man with no real identity, neither Sith nor with any allegiance owed or given. As we see Maul in Rebels, he might have been physically reconstructed, but he was as broken as the day Kenobi sliced him in half decades earlier.

 

https://www.scifinow.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Star-Wars-The-Clone-Wars-Dave-Filoni-Darth-Maul.jpg

When Maul reappeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, he was alive, but grotesque, driven to the point of insanity. With the help of Talzin, leader of the Nightsisters, Maul was revived and given real prosthetic legs (he had some kind of spider-like prosthetic prior to made of a mangled mess of metal.) Furthermore, for the first time Maul was given a sort of family- his apprentice, Savage Oppress (in the picture, on the left) was his brother, and Dathomir was a sort of dark home from which Maul could be supported. But one thing remained constant that clouded all this from Maul’s mind: Selfish vengeance against Kenobi. Indeed, as Maul leveraged power, eventually all the way up to the leader of Mandalore, his thirst for revenge proved to a quest doomed in failure: While he beat Obi-Wan at a duel and even killed Satine Kryze, a woman he loved, Kenobi was not broken. He continued to grow over the course of tragic events, following the path of the Jedi, eventually in time becoming the enlightened mentor of Luke Skywalker. However, Maul continued to wallow in the past and self-pity- the final insulting blow dealt when Sidious stripped him of his empire and his brother- and leaving Maul more empty than before, now defeated by both Jedi and Sith.

 

Maul reappeared in Rebels as a older man, trying to cling desperately onto past shreds of glory and delusional dreams of defeating both Jedi and Sith. To that end, he pressed his advantage in Twilight of the Apprentice when Ezra Bridger, a young Jedi Padawan (and main protagonist of the show in question) came with Ahsoka Tano and Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus came to the planet Malachor in search “of answers”; he used Bridger as a pawn to gain a powerful Sith holocron- an ancient artifact containing knowledge and secrets- and fed Dark Side ideologies to him in an attempt to start swaying him to be his apprentice. However, after several incidents that led Maul to fall further in the bad graces of the Ghost’s crew (which usually involved tricking Ezra through the Force to come to him), he was able to, with Bridger’s help, combine the Sith holocron with a Jedi one, revealing the prophecy of the Chosen One- and while both Bridger and Maul had different interpretations of what they saw, neither knew about Luke Skywalker. Maul believed it to be Kenobi, colored by his past experiences- and set out to once and for all destroy the Jedi Master.

The rest of the details do not need to recounted here, but symbolism went a long way in characterizing Maul in his dying days. On Tatooine, he is literally walking through a barren desert- symbolic of what is left for him in his life. In a revisit to Dathomir, he has a shrine to his Death Watch days, but in turn is clinging to two dead families- his Mandalore one and Nightsisters/brothers. And with Ezra he may have been thinking of Savage the whole time- the one person who Maul truly cared about, though “love” might not be the accurate term. And so when Kenobi slices him down, symbolically baiting him into the same move he used to finish Qui-Gon Ginn on Naboo, there is finally relief for him. Kenobi reveals the Chosen One exists and the decades-long rivalry is settled. Even in death though, Maul seeks the path of revenge in Kenobi’s arms (“[The Chosen One] will avenge us!”) and thus, dies.

 

While this is but a brief summation of Maul’s journey since his debut in Phantom Menace, it is a journey best experienced watching. Witwer gives a voice and personality to the Dark Sider beyond just the acrobatic kick and signature dual-bladed saberstaff that Maul is known for; the culture and people that Maul originated from, the Zabrak is explored, and overall, the continuation of his life in animated form comes off brilliantly as a tale of what the medium can do in taking a well-known character to a new level and breath fresh life into the tale of one of the prequels’ most interesting additions to Star Wars lore. For all the terrible things he’s done, I’m not sure “rest in peace” is entirely appropriate, but it goes without saying Darth Maul will be missed.


Like what you see? Check out Star Wars Rebels and The Clone Wars if you haven’t! Leave a comment!

 

What’s In a Character: Killua Zoldyck

Ex-assassin. Best friend of Gon Freeccs. One shockingly amazing character.

After a brief “hiatus x hiatus” from the “What’s in a Character” series, I now return with the second anime character to be included in said series- Killua Zoldyck from Hunter x Hunter. If you read the review on the 2011 anime, watched the show in general (or the ’99 version), or read the HxH manga, it’s readily apparent that Killua certainly deserves an analysis of his own. And…he’s also my favorite character in animation, so that doesn’t hurt his case either. At any rate, he’s arguably the best developed character in a show that’s full of them.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. Major parts of Hunter x Hunter will be discussed here, so turn away if you don’t want to see them!)

For a long time, I’ve been pondering how to do justice to the incredible character and development that is and defines Killua Zoldyck from Hunter x Hunter. I really didn’t want to do just a straight chronological journey through the show, lest it turned into simply a recap summary, and I also wanted to emphasize his fundamental traits that stayed the same and yet changed over the course of the show. So, we’ll start with the most fundamental aspect of Killua over the series that in turn defines the rest of his traits and fuels his character development- his friendship with Gon.

http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/8/83/Gon_%26_Killua_discover_a_trap_door_(Trick_Tower).PNG/revision/latest?cb=20120107073124

As I wrote about in the Hunter x Hunter review, Gon and Killua share one of the best bonds of friendship in any show…largely because it has a very organic, natural way of developing in the framework of the story. To start with, there’s a natural impetus in place for such a relationship to develop in the Hunter Exam- both boys had never known anyone else their age as a friend: Gon lived on sparsely populated Whale Island, nowhere near or around other children; and Killua’s life had been the brutal upbringing of an assassin; taught and indoctrinated in the ways of the family business; there was a desire for friendship (which was shown briefly in a flashback of Canary’s in The x Zoldyck x Family), but not really a means for doing so under the vigilant eyes of his family, particularly his brother Illumi. Add in the fact that the duo are by far the youngest applicants at the Exam, and the basic framework is there to start building something special…but that alone wouldn’t be enough.

Killua’s journey is part and parcel with this friendship. He’s a level-headed, more logical and savvier-about-the-world foil to Gon’s unbridled enthusiasm and recklessness, but it’s also a symbiotic relationship. In many ways, the boys’ paths are the same and divergent simultaneously. Both share a goal to travel and get stronger. To that end, they spurn each other on to greater heights, and nowhere was this more evident than on Greed Island (as a sort of joyful, yet dangerous training ground), and far more somberly with their struggles in the Chimera Ant arc, evidenced by their struggles against Knuckle and Shoot, and later, the perfection of their hatsu, or special Nen ability. Individually though, Killua’s goal stood on finding his own path- something deviated off the track of the Zoldyck clan’s long sordid history of assassination- and while he promises to tag along in finding Gon’s dad, the elusive Ging Freeccs, the journey with his best friend really makes him evolve…and nowhere is that more evident than his courage and determination.

A major focus on Killua’s character is his spirit- which is to say, his resilience and ability to take on tasks and opponents that he could neither clearly beat or even was at a disadvantage against. While he displayed the confidence and ease in which he could dispatch an over-matched opponent in his first fight of the series (against Johannes), he was both naively arrogant and weak-willed when push came to shove in the final stage of the Exam, dismissing Pokkle but unable to stand up to Illumi. But it’s more than that- Killua reveals that all he wants is “for Gon to be my friend!” without realizing that it’s a) not something he needs to ask for and b) that Gon already considered him his best friend at that point. When Killua’s spirit melts at this point, he kills Botero in cold blood- without Gon there and an uncertain despair that overtook him, he defaulted to the only thing he’d known in his sad young life, and departed for home, certain that he had no will of his own.


 

The Zoldyck Family arc makes it quickly known why exactly Killua doesn’t like the place where he grew up- the inside of the house is more akin to a medieval castle decked out with a modern security system of the highest degree, complete with torture room; it’s isolated, being atop a mountain, and because of the numerous safeguards and obstacles that separate outsiders from the family, starting with the Testing Gate, it’s also easy to see why he had no friends until he met Gon, assassins’ training and duties aside.  But the arc also reveals more in depth Killua’s other massive insecurity- the weight of being the family heir, something he was not entirely interested in. What meeting Gon did was actually give Killua true hope for the first time that he’d be able to follow his own path, and not necessarily the way of the assassin as the family trade dictated. When word reached him that his friend had actually come to Kukuroo Mountain, his despair ebbed away, replaced by a desire and excitement to see him. Compounded with his surprising meeting with his father Silva (in the picture), he made a blood vow “to always protect his friends,” and was free to choose his path…with some family stipulations of course.

Unbeknownst to him, Illumi had planted a needle in his forehead prior to the events of the series by his Nen abilities. Due to his brother’s abilities as a Manipulator, it explained why Killua’s weak self-will during the Hunter Exam directly compounded the level of control Illumi’s influence had over him- looking more for self-preservation than anything else. When the needle is disposed of in his emotional battle against the Chimera Ant Rammot, Killua is able to rid himself of it, not just because he sensed it, but because he’d grown as a person. This growth was facilitated by the bond and shared experience of traveling with Gon, from their early travels to Heavens Arena, to assisting Kurapika in his quest against the Phantom Troupe (an endeavor Killua initially does not want anything to do with, but follows Gon’s lead), their training on Greed Island, where Biscuit Kreuger greatly strengthens them, and up through their disastrous trip into NGL with Kite, an event that severely affected Gon’s mental state and showcased a sort of concern from Killua towards a friend that would have been unprecedented when he first met Gon; at the time he was visibly surprised that Gon would help Leorio out in the first stage of the Hunter Exam by carrying his briefcase and refusing to leave him behind, not perhaps understanding the spirit of human resilience yet considering his own state…

http://vignette4.wikia.nocookie.net/hunterxhunter/images/7/7c/Killua_atrapa_a_Ikalgo.png/revision/latest?cb=20140905170418&path-prefix=es

 

Killua’s unlikely encounter with Ikalgo also demonstrated major ways in which he’d changed. As an enemy combatant, Ikalgo would have been straightaway killed if this was Hunter Exam Killua, operating under the standard practices of the family business. However, Killua’s humanity grew with his spirit. The octopus Ant was saved from certain death at the jaws of his ex-allies by the young Hunter (who could have easily killed his adversary)…and as a result of his actions, Ikalgo had a change of heart and wound up saving the subject of this article after the world’s most dangerous game of darts. Trust therefore, came with an ability to open up to potential allies, starting with Gon and continuing onwards.

When Killua unveils his ultimate hatsu technique- Godspeed, on Youpi, a Chimera Ant Royal Guard who was far stronger than himself, it is a sobering reminder of how much his spirit and skills had grown. It’s true that Killua was a prodigy- able to learn combat skills and perfect them at a far quicker rate than normal; and that his brutal upbringing gave him an advantage in other ways, but it was his journey with Gon that allowed him to find his own unique attributes…and stare down opponents that weren’t a sure-fire victory. It’s true that the removal of the needle was key, but Killua continued to grow from that point…his reasons for fighting ultimately transitioned to be very selfless by the end of the series, as he fought to protect those he cared about without question- chiefly Gon, and then Alluka.


 

While all the above served as an analysis of Killua’s character progression, he’s just a superbly crafted individual by fictional standards. I love how he has a playful, mischievous side that can come out just as easily as his ingrained killer instinct; that he has a friendship that is not only organic, but unfolds naturally as a key part of his development and of the storyline itself, and that despite being a prodigy in his enormously skilled (and twisted) family, he’s a flawed individual with much room to grow. At the end of the series, he’s a kinder, compassionate kid who’s unnaturally jacked for 14 years old (seriously, non-stop training will do that) and a commitment to the people he really cares about, all while carving his own adventure, shared with Gon (and then Alluka). Finally, he’s just really aesthetically pleasing from a character design standpoint. If anyone embodies what “being a Hunter” is about on this show, in terms of discovery and wonder, it might just be Killua Zoldyck.


“BAKA!”

Just skip to 0:35 for the best part…but the whole thing is comedy gold. Nee hee…


Like what you see? For the record, Killua’s my favorite anime character. Leave a comment!

Review: Hunter × Hunter (2011)

A dynamic anime that cannot be described simply as “shonen,” but rather, as an experience.

The Lowdown:

Show: Hunter x  Hunter (pronounced simply as “Hunter Hunter”)

Studio (Network)/ Years aired: Madhouse (Adult Swim-Toonami), 2011-2014;  USA 2016-

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review encompasses the 2011 reboot of the Hunter x Hunter series, and is considered the definitive version of the anime. This review is also unaffiliated with the 1999 series, or its subsequent OVAs, despite covering all of the same material, and then some.

(Some SPOILERS ahead. Nothing too big, but I mention some arc names and certain characters. Skip ahead to the grading section if need be.)

AniB’s thoughts: If you’ve been reading the comment sections of different articles on this blog, or popped over to the Twitter feed, you might have figured out a Hunter x Hunter review was coming at some point. And I’ll be the first to say that I was beyond excited to write about this fantastic, fantastic show. It’s certainly in the top 3 anime I’ve watched and unequivocally the best shonen for a variety of reasons, and I say this not only because I absolutely love this show and franchise, but because it merits the praise, wholeheartedly and without conditions. It starts with the absolutely fantastic characters, stretches to a story that flips skillfully to different genres and even narrative styles in a way that flows cohesively; preserves the original vision of Yoshihiro Togashi, the manga writer and creator of HxH, and does it with aplomb and essentially no filler despite 148 episodes of action-packed, narratively exciting goodness.

Hunter x Hunter succeeds better than any other shonen out there chiefly because of its characters and story. Gon is a shonen protagonist in the traditional sense, and this is evident especially during the first arc of the show (the Hunter Exam) where the possibilities of the world begin to be revealed and a great deal of foundational character building takes place. It is after this point that the show begins to shift rapidly, from the high-stakes training ground that is Heavens Arena, to Yorknew City, and later into the insanity that is the Chimera Ant arc, and what all these disparate locales share in common is a sort of real-worldliness that doesn’t exist usually in shonen. What I mean by saying this is that while Gon and other Hunters in the show gain a special power called nen, it has specializations and drawbacks; and ultimately, the characters are still human- highly skilled, but never able to outright overpower an obstacle- and in the rare cases they do, there are terrible, real consequences that follow. In terms of narrative direction, the arcs are not at all shonen. Yorknew City, for one, has an action-thriller feel, with hints of noir thrown in. Not what you’d expect from this type of show normally…

However, the real hook, the part of HxH that gets you into the show and keeps you enthralled right through to the end and beyond, is the characters. There are four main characters in the show- the aforementioned Gon, Killua Zoldyck, Kurapika, and Leorio. While I’ll go into more detail individually in the grading section on these characters, it is Gon and Killua’s unshakable, organic, natural, and absolutely well developed friendship that takes the cake in the show as a backbone to everything else. It gives a more relevant framing to Gon’s ultimate goal, is key in developing Killua’s own character arc (which might I add, is uniquely fantastic), and is severely tested by various challenges through the show which in turn shows the growth of said characters. Mind you, an entire novel could be written on the characters of Hunter x Hunter alone (from Hisoka and his eccentrically unique, but strangely delightful character, to the arc involving the Chimera Ant King, Meruem.)

In a decade defined so far by weak performances from anime studios across the board, and a disturbing influx of fanservice being substituted in for actual quality, Hunter x Hunter was a standout show from its debut in 2011 through the end of its initial Japanese run in 2014. The dub, at the time of this writing, is in the middle of its English run on Toonami, and is worth checking out (Keith Silverstein as Hisoka in particular is outstanding.) However, if you do watch this show, or have watched it, you’ll probably (or already have) binged the entire thing; in that case, there is quality sub work available. Finally, some new to the series ask about the ’99 anime of the same name. While that can be a separate review on this site, it is advisable to watch the 2011 first due to the more extensive nature of the story (it goes a lot further than the original adaptation of HxH did) and the dearth of filler. Hunter x Hunter ’99 is fine on its own merits, but doesn’t necessarily graze the heights this reboot does; it’s got an older animation style (which is good, but different), and only gets about 3/4th of the way through the Yorknew City arc; after which point a series of Japanese-only OVAs finish said arc and add Greed Island. (It’s about the equivalent of 75 episodes in this version.) Regardless of your preference, Hunter x Hunter is a show nobody should miss out on; it’s an experience, and not just another show.


Animation Quality: Modern 2-D animation, with computer shading and a diverse color palette. The detail of Hunter x Hunter is amazing; the animation itself contains the tonal shifts and mood of the show at any given moment, and the character models are both memorable and pleasing (for the most part). Accentuating the action and tension throughout, the style really does lend itself to bringing the show alive, even more so than its predecessor from ’99, and quite impressively for any animated show at all. 5/5 points.

 
Characterization: Undoubtedly the strongest point of Hunter x Hunter, the show revolves around four main characters, with other characters coming prominently into the story in different arcs.

The main protagonist of the series is Gon Freecss, a simple, but talented 12 year old boy who sets out on a journey to become a Hunter (which in this universe is a highly sought after and difficult to obtain title) in hopes of finding his father, the mysterious Ging Freecss, a top-class Hunter in his own right. Along the way Gon meets and befriends many individuals, growing  in both experience and strength, as well as a person. In particular, he becomes best friends with Killua Zoldyck, another boy of the same age who takes the Hunter Exam with him.

Killua is the second youngest in a feared family of assassins, and technically the heir of the family business; through the show he serves as the deuteragonist, trying to find his own path, struggling to become his own individual, and and to follow what his heart tells him against his twisted family’s ambitions. He also works to find a resolution to the two sides at war within him- the kindhearted boy with unyielding loyalty to those he truly cares about, and the merciless assassin who can kill without so much as a second thought… The boys share one of the best developed friendships in animation, which forms a major plot and character development point in the show…

Gon and Killua also befriend Kurapika and Leorio during the first arc of the show. Kurapika is the last of a tribe known as the Kurta, who seeks vengeance and justice against the Phantom Troupe, a powerful gang of outlaws with prodigious abilities, who wiped out his people. In particular, Kurapika seeks to recover the special eyes of his people, which turn a brilliant shade of red when excited or enraged, and are highly valued on the black market… His dark quest ultimately shades his decisions through Hunter x Hunter; however as aside from his goals, Kurapika cares deeply about his friends, is smart and usually cautious, and willing to usually lend a hand to them.

Leorio is a young man who wishes to become a skilled doctor, but initially cannot pay the high fees for medical school. Never one to shy away from his opinions, Leorio is in many ways the kindest heart of the four main characters, always sticking his neck out for what he cares about as a loyal and committed friends despite his brashness at times.

The supporting cast of the show is also very strong, which often changes from arc to arc, leading to a diverse cast of characters encountered by the foursome (though Gon and Killua in particular.) Of that rotating cast, it’s led by characters such as Hisoka, the psychopathic “magician” who lives for the thrill of battle and strong opponents; Illumi Zoldyck, one of Killua’s older brothers who is a rather cruel person in many ways, and a fearsome assassin; and Chairman Netero, the mysterious head of the Hunter Association whose leadership style is very unique… There are plenty of other names worth mentioning here, but it’s best to experience the show and discover them for yourself…not unlike a Hunter themselves. 5/5 points.

 
Story quality: Overarching story structure broken down into connected arcs, of which there are 7 in this show. Each one seems to embody a different aspect of storytelling, and are dynamic in expanding the world of Hunter x Hunter, bringing it to life in interesting ways. The way in which each character’s goals and development are brought into the overarching structure is well done, and it gives you the sense of a world full of people hunting (no pun intended) for their own goals… which ultimately draws back to the show’s motif. 4.75/5 points.

 
Themes:  Supposedly simple themes of friendship and family exist prominently in Hunter x Hunter, with a great deal devoted to character relationships and dynamics. The show also deals with far more complicated issues as well. Questions arise over one’s life goals and path, the meaning of existence, and the complicated entanglements of what being a Hunter actually means to each individual. Personalities clash, goals cross, and the show develops all these questions in fulfilling ways. All of these dynamics are worth considering, and as a bonus, it plays well with some usual anime tropes, never overusing them… 4.5/5 points.

 
Don’t insult the viewer: Hunter x Hunter is a unusual shonen anime in many respects, but it’s also largely the reason it’s an excellent show. Shifting tone and even genre to an extent from arc to arc, HxH’s writing, adapted from the manga, is wonderfully engaging and keeps you on your toes in anticipation. Add in a music score which fits nicely and has some fairly cool leitmotifs, and you’ve got yourself a very fun experience. 5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A exceptional shonen anime with great depth, storytelling and compelling characters, this iteration of Hunter x Hunter improves strongly on the ’99 version, with a further expanded story adapted from the manga, successfully creating a compelling experience despite its longer length (148 episodes.) Also praiseworthy is the strong friendship of Gon and Killua, which is simply outstanding. Definitely recommend this show, especially if you’re looking for a longer watch.


Like what you see? Did you know irrespective of criticism, HxH’s my favorite anime? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Spike Speigel

This space cowboy’s the definition of “cool.”

Once again, another unique character comes to the fore of analysis today: Spike Speigel! After trips to the Fire Nation (Zuko) and the Mystery Shack (Stan Pines), it’s time to venture into our solar system, Cowboy Bebop-style, to meet (or re-acquaint with) one of the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunters (sorry Boba Fett) and an all-around terrific character. Spike curiously enough is the first main protagonist to be written about in the “What’s in a Character” series, and he’s worthy of the title indeed; he’s a far more interesting lead than most leading men in anime between his backstory, dynamism as a character, and general coolness; he’s the type of guy who would know that, but if you asked him, he might look indifferent. So here’s yours truly, ready to explore the man that is Spike!

Just who is Spike Spiegel? There’s a straightforward answer that he’s a runaway member of a powerful crime syndicate; a feared bounty hunter and ace pilot; a lost lover floating aimlessly among the stars, a lazy bum who only does things when they benefit him, and for a select few, he’s a friend. Whatever the descriptor, Spike is his own man, and he’s worth looking into. Of course, any discussion of Cowboy Bebop and its characters starts with the idea that our main crew is searching for meaning in their own individual lives and ways. Through the show, those aims are made clearer by way of clean plot progression, development of character arcs, and the sequence of events that happens. In Spike’s case, his character is driven by three groups, or rather, phases of time in particular- his past, represented by the Red Dragon Syndicate and archrival Vicious; his present- which starts off as simply Jet Black but grows to include the newest members of the Bebop (namely Faye and Ed, and to a lesser extent, Ein), and his future, where Spike’s hope is held in the dream that one day he might see Julia, his love, again. (Side note- does it seem like a lot of tragic lovers are named “Julia” or “Juliet”? I blame Shakespeare.) In the backdrop of these three groupings, death sits in the foreground like the Grim Reaper it is so often characterized as, not just because of the constant and steady danger Spike and the rest of the crew find themselves in (thanks largely to their profession of choice), but also as this sort of haunting inevitability that hovers through the show- and specifically in Spike-centric bits. In the very first episode, or session, Asteroid Blues, he chases down the red- eye dealer, Ansimov, only to watch his associate, Katerina shoot him dead- and be brutally killed in turn by ISSP forces. She simply wanted a better life, despite the illicit means she attempted to do so- the first of many also searching for meaning in said lives not unlike Spike, and so death is present from the start. We see the “boy with the harmonica”in the 6th episode (Sympathy for The Devil)– Wen, who because of a freak turn of events involving the Astral Gate incident did not age, but instead turned to a life fraught with violence and loneliness. This time, it is Spike who delivers the finishing blow with a special bullet- hence “sympathy for the devil.” And what of Mad Pierrot, the fearsome assassin who underwent horrific experimentation in exchange for his formidable powers? With a warped mind, and no particular skills outside of killing, it is terrifying agony watching a man whose life was stolen from him attempt to kill Spike in episode 20 (Pierrot Le Fou) only to be driven truly insane by the meowing of a cat, and in a further cruel twist of irony, crushed by the giant paw of a mechanical dog. All of these encounters represented people Spike specifically watched or took part in their demise; all had their lives stripped away to some form of hopelessness, as perhaps a precursor to his fated final showdown. These were also part of his present, as was mentioned above. But what then of Vicious?

 

While I grouped Vicious as a part of Spike’s past (which he is), he is uniquely part of his present and future at the same time; a liminal (or timeless) figure who would exist until Spike found resolution to the question of his life’s meaning one way or another. The other individuals I mentioned died doing whatever they found some sort of meaning in, or what they believed was the best path forward in that situation, and while one-off characters, they were necessary to understand Spike and his relationship regards to Vicious. Vicious knew what Spike wanted. He continued to rise in the syndicate, obtaining high-ranking status and then personally initiating a bloody, silent coup that saw him take control. He’s not a dynamic character, but rather, serves as a character foil to Spike; a sort of dark side to him that is more ruthless, lacks a moral code, and would do anything in order to reach the peak of power. He was the one who tricked Spike into thinking Julia had betrayed him; and to that end, enabled the cynical worldview of the former, aided by nearly killing him in their first early encounter (Ballad of Fallen Angels). It is made clear that in order to truly move forward, Spike must encounter and defeat Vicious, which he does…and brilliantly, his future is no longer clouded, but left to the viewers to decide what happens next. (I actually detail my interpretation and thoughts of the final battle in the Cowboy Bebop review I posted; check it out if you wish to read about it.)

What then of Julia- and why does she represent the future for Spike? She is the only person who could ever give meaning back to his life supposedly– but the show hints at us that it’s not entirely true, as Spike does in fact find some meaning in the Bebop crew themselves, from Jet, his best friend, to Faye Valentine who he often bickers with (and arguably cares deeply about in return), and even to Ed, who is a bit of an enigma to everyone. Regardless, when the truth becomes clear and Julia’s brief reunion with Spike is shattered by a bullet, his only course of action is to fight and settle the score with Vicious- again, because the man in fact is the cause of all the events in Spike’s path- but not the entire explanation for his mental state, which while partially and strongly influenced by the past, also was shaped by his present aboard the Bebop and created a potential way forward with his ultimate showdown against said antagonist.

 

Spike is interesting because of of how his path unfolds and his unique way of dealing with the problems in his way; and he’s a man of experiences whose melancholy comes from a live lived with danger and deceit around every corner, but also some strong relationships to temper that. I’m sure there’s even more to be said about this character (such as how Steve Blum’s VA career took off after his brilliant work in the English dub, or that Spike is handy with a pistol), but it took a bit of introspection to look at his entire journey and draw some conclusions from it: He’s a man who doesn’t mind danger but fears dying without fullfillment of what life means to him; being a “bounty hunter” in a sense describes that Spike is in fact “hunting” for answers, and he’s got more support than he realizes from people. And well…he’s plain cool. Anyone who rocks a suit, a smoke and a pistol like he does along with amazing piloting skills can’t be too bad a guy. Space cowboy really sums it up.


Like what you see? Is Spike your favorite character?  Anybody you’d love to see me talk about? Chime in!

Also, would you call it bell peppers and “beef?”

I guess it depends on who you ask.

What’s In a Character: Stan Pines

He’s obviously not what he seems.

Once again, a character piece appears! This time, we’ll be looking at the summer guardian of Dipper and Mabel Pines, con-man extraordinaire and boss of the Mystery Shack, Stan Pines. When watching Gravity Falls, this character in particular stuck out as unique for a number of reasons: He was an older character in a show marketed to a younger audience that received extraordinary character development; evolved beyond the typical two-bit huckster that most other shows might have kept him as, and he was funny as hell. In a show that is really well crafted in every sense of the word, Stan managed to be a big part of that success- the other main character that kept the show rolling along with the Pines twins themselves- and a perfect balancer that proved to be tremendously important. (Oh, and this piece has massive spoilers. If you haven’t taken a trip into the woods yet, I’d suggest either reading my review, or better yet, watching this show. Like now.)

Tying in with my thoughts from the Gravity Falls review, it is almost impossible to guess how interesting Dipper and Mabel’s “Grunkle” Stan would be from the first episode, or how key he would be in the events that unfolded in the show. Aside from the title cards, which notably names Stan along with the twins as main characters, he is quickly shown off as a greedy proprietor of a tourist trap- the Mystery Shack; irresponsible at best with children (his own niece and nephew are put to work as essentially unpaid employees), and a cheapskate to boot- charging exorbitant fees for homemade works of “mystery” such as the “Jackalope” and “Sascrotch,” a fact that is played up all too often between gullible customers and the fact that the town of Gravity Falls, in fact, has real mysteries and phenomena.  Instead, the show goes for the slow drip of information when it comes to Stan, starting with that same first episode (Tourist Trapped), throwing in the intriguing, but mysteriously out of place moment where he quickly punches a code on a inauspicious vending machine, revealing a secret passage…

The irony of Stan’s stage name, “Mr. Mystery,” is that it doubles as a description for who he actually is. Underneath his smiling visage to tourists lay a man with a weighty past, a present that was actually spent selflessly in pursuit of a very specific goal, and most surprisingly, a family man with a heart of gold…unless you mess with them. (Then you’re getting a brass knuckle to the face.) Without trying to summarize too much, here’s the reasons why Stan Pines deserves a character piece to call his own.

He’s old fashioned

Huh? This is a real reason, AniB? Yes, but it’s probably not in the way you think. Stan is his own man. He wear his underclothes around the house without a care in the world, loves his old TV and comfy armchair, and drives a car straight out of the 1960’s like he’s a racecar driver. He also clearly doesn’t care what other people think of him, as long as he gets some attention (and maybe makes a buck.) But really, this section is just a primer.

The real reason… insane character development

The season 2 episode Not What He Seems is universally acclaimed by fans and even critics as one of the show’s best episodes (in a sea of good ones), not the least of which had to do with Stan’s role. (In fact, it has everything to do with him.) As it turns out, he’d been undertaking a dangerous, risky project in the hopes of bringing his brother- Stanford “Ford” Pines, the author of the journals- back home. The Mystery Shack is revealed to be a front in order for Stan to gather the money and the time he needed for equipment to fix the massive underground inter-dimensional portal in the basement of the building; a secret that is revealed initially in Season 1’s finale (Gideon Rises) but comes to a head in this episode, where in the face of a doomsday scenario (a 30 year old portal rending space and time itself), the Pines twins and trusted handyman Soos Ramirez make the discovery. Prior to the last 5 minutes of the episode, Stan had been slowly bonding with the twins over the summer- a prime example of Gravity Falls’ careful development. Starting with a mostly disasterous fishing trip in episode 2 of the show (Legend of the Gobblewonker), he had among other things, gotten over a fear of heights (and ladders) with Mabel (Fight Fighters), helped Dipper prove to Wendy that her then-boyfriend Robbie used a mind-control CD (Boyz Crazy), did his best to protect and help the twins defeat Gideon and save the Mystery Shack (Gideon Rises), participated in a mini-golf outing-turned war (The Golf War) as the getaway car of sorts, and in the episode at hand, shot fireworks off the roof with his niece and nephew mere minutes before government agents apprehended him. While this compilation is not every example, Stan had indeed gone from the absentminded shyster from when the twins first arrived in Gravity Falls, to a loving uncle who they knew as a person…but not in terms of history.

Mabel, do you really think I’m a bad guy?

If you want to really talk about Stan, two words sum it up: Complicated relationships. His past was tumultuous; growing up in the fictional town of Glass Shard Beach, New Jersey, he had a twin brother in Ford, but little else: He wasn’t a genius like his brother, had a reputation as a slacker, and his only ambition seemed to be to sail the world with said brother. After an incident that cost Ford his dream college, Stan (fairly or unfairly) was blamed for everything and thrown out of his childhood home. (While all this can be seen in A Tale of Two Stans, it’s important for context here.) Suddenly, an element you almost never see in a show on a channel generally reserved for a younger audience came into play: An older character with estrangement issues. A rift had grown between he and his brother, and it was physically symbolized by the eventual, short lived reunion that resulted in Ford’s  disappearance into the portal. In that sense, the journals Stan sought to gather, and the portal itself collectively represented Ford- and the deep, deep gap that had developed between the original Pines twins, literally stretching space and time (30 long years). When Ford came back through the portal and gave Stan a square one on the jaw, it was deserved- they had a lot of issues and it was obvious upon thinking about their relationship for this piece and in general, it was absolutely necessary that something dramatic would be the only way to resolve such a gap. It also was a tension that was not lost on the older viewers of Gravity Falls; and that resolution both for the brothers, and Stan’s way of making up for secrets was in the finale: Weirdmageddon.

You’re a real wiseguy, but you made one fatal mistake- Ya messed with my family!

Weirdmageddon is as it sounds- the mad apocalypse of Bill Cipher, the deviously evil mind demon, and while a great deal of events happen here, it is Stan’s role in the final act of this arc (and the show) that proves to be both satisfying and an answer to all the questions created to this point. Up to the point in which Stan volunteers to have his memories erased in order to facilitate the defeat of Bill, Ford and the twins had been playing hero(or attempting to). Since the figurative rift of his relationship with Ford had widened since A Tale of Two Stans,  it was only fitting when the literal rift of space-time was opened in Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future that Stan’s resolution would come. In this case, selfless sacrifice to defeat an indescribable evil was the choice- and it brought out the best of the character in spite of his flaws- his sense of humor, ability to “punch things,” his love for family, and of course, the fact that all Stan ever wanted to do was redeem himself in the eyes of the world- or at least the people he cared about. Some fans gripe about the idea that Stan regained his memories too quickly (or they didn’t want it to happen at all), but reflecting on it, it would have been a poor levity of the balance that Gravity Falls struck as a show between funny and lighthearted; serious and dark. The choice to do so also allowed a complete arc between Stan and Ford- the latter recognized his hubris to an extent and finally appreciated the things his brother had been trying to do, and the former proved to Dipper and Mabel who he was, definitively once and for all, and connected again with Ford. Ultimately, without memory restoration, Stan’s first goal in life wouldn’t have become a reality- a chance to sail the world with Ford on the Stan O’War II. Whether it was punching zombies, making “Stan-cakes,” or seeing the twins off at the end of the show, “Grunkle” and “brother” are really the best descriptors for Stan- a real man with faults and strengths and a fun character all too often absent for his character type in animation.


Like what you see? Comment about it! Oh, and one more thing:

Her aim is getting better! (Get it? If you don’t…well, you will…eventually.)

What’s In a Character: Zuko

The former crown prince of the Fire Nation is a very unique character.

Hello dear readers! Today’s piece about Zuko is the first in a series about certain characters I’ve thought were worth writing more at length about. Reviews are a fantastic format to write further at length about shows, but they do not do as much justice to complex, well developed characters; in many cases, shows feature extensive casts and unless you want to read reviews longer than the Great Wall of China, I can only really highlight the major members of a show.

Zuko in many ways is the most interesting character in one of the best Western shows in animated history, and almost certainly a top 5 deutragonist. As I noted in my Avatar: The Last Airbender review (read it if you haven’t!) he serves as a foil to Aang throughout his journey in the show; his path is inextricably intertwined with the Avatar’s, which manifests itself in unpredictable ways. As Zuko travels along his eventual path to becoming one of Aang’s most trusted allies and eventually taking up the mantle of Fire Lord himself, there is some extraordinary character development and intriguing decisions made in a journey that is truly all Zuko’s alone. Voiced by the excellent Dante Basco, the only right thing to do is ‘honor’ the head of the Fire Nation at length! (One final note: This review is about Zuko during Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s not going to make reference to his much older self in The Legend of Korra, which essentially amounted to a cameo.)

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When Avatar: The Last Airbender began its run back in 2005, Zuko’s first appearance suggested he might be the typical villain you’d expect from a Nicktoon based on the network’s past performance and the unrealized brilliance that ATLA was yet to become. He was hunting the Avatar; Aang appeared conveniently from an iceberg, and perhaps the first thought one could have about Zuko was that he was a young Captain Ahab; doomed to sail the seas in pursuit of his white whale. Fortunately, that conclusion was both premature and rather short-lived. Once it quickly became clear in the first half dozen episodes of the show that it was a world-building, story driven narrative- a sharp departure from the Nickelodeon formula up to that time, and far more in line with anime counterparts from the East, Zuko’s character immediately became far more interesting. Traveling with his Uncle Iroh, the only person in the world (aside from his mother) who could truly claim that he loved him, the season 1 Zuko’s obsession with finding the Avatar formed a rivalry with the arrogant Admiral Zhao, a man who foolishly believed he could capture the moon spirit and destroy it, all in the name of personal hubris. The true purpose of Zhao’s role in the story though was to show what would happen to Zuko if he continued down that path of blindness; dragged into the Spirit World of that universe, Zhao was forever trapped, driven to insanity by his ambition (which is revealed fully in a cameo in the second season of The Legend of Korra.) It took Zuko taking off with Aang’s body into a frozen wilderness, nearly dying in the process, and personally seeing Zhao literally dragged into what can be construed as the depths of hell to start realizing that his task- his “mission,” which was to regain his “honor” by capturing the Avatar, was a convenient way for his father- the tyrannical Fire Lord Ozai- to dispose of him whilst simultaneously advancing his plans for world domination.

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The beginning of the second season saw these fear confirmed, as his sadistic sister and crown princess of the Fire Nation- Azula- appeared. Fleeing with Iroh upon being labeled “prisoners,” it would be Zuko’s journey through the Earth Kingdom that would start to truly teach him what “honor” meant. Living off the land did not suit the young man used to royalty and (relatively) comfortable living, and ultimately he would be confronted by his own past. Zuko Alone is one of the best standalone episodes in the series, specifically showcasing the struggles Zuko had between his identity as Fire Nation prince and fugitive young man trying to forge his way forward. Another element that resolves itself for him in this season is the ‘Blue Spirit’ alias originally introduced in the first season. Essentially serving as a vigilante double, it was another expression of the young prince not necessarily being honest with himself, or the totality of his person. (After setting the Avatar’s flying bison Appa free from a Dai Li prison, he symbolically sets this Robin-hood esque personality free as well by dumping the mask in Lake Laogai.) This was reflected also by his rage-fueled firebending, which seemed much weaker than that of his uncle, Iroh- the former great Fire Nation general; or Azula, whose prodigious skills were hallmarked by rare blue-colored flames and a mastery of lightning generation. As Iroh would explain to his young nephew about the balance of the elements, so too Zuko would have to find such balance within…but it would not be quite yet. After finding a quasi-peaceful existence in Ba Sing Se, the capital of the Earth Kingdom, the gut-wrenching Season 2 finale saw Zuko make a decision to team up with Azula out of indecision in his heart that fueled the almost extinguished- but not quite- thirst of capturing the Avatar that had been full bore in Boy In the Iceberg. Not to be understated here was the capture of his beloved Uncle Iroh, who he had reunited with and had helped run a tea buisness with in the city. This betrayal, along with that of Katara, whom he’d finally connected with, loomed heavily on the young prince’s mind.

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Going back to the initial introductory thoughts of this piece and my Avatar: The Last Airbender review, Zuko’s path had continued to mirror Aang’s up to this point. While the young Avatar had suffered a critical injury in the battle of Ba Sing Se’s catacombs, Zuko had achieved redemption…or had he? Starting with Azula’s lie that he, Zuko, had “killed the Avatar,” doubt crept in from the word “go” on what his decisions had led him to. Season 1’s finale had him nearly die trying to do what was lied about in the wake of Season 2’s finale; and it was precisely the empty feeling of his “honor” upon being received back into the fold at home that Zuko’s journey would finally start turning on a true path of internal discovery. After rediscovering his family roots to his maternal grandfather- Avatar Roku, and feeling deep shame and guilt for Iroh’s capture, Zuko finally started to move on his own. Making his decision on the Day of Black Sun, the midseason finale, Zuko defied his father- the tyrannical Fire Lord Ozai, voiced by the always amazing Mark Hamill, and very symbolically flew off in a Fire Nation balloon, ready to forge a new path for himself- and unwittingly enough,his nation. After being received with less than enthusiastic responses from Team Avatar about his conversion (particularly Katara), he then proceeds for the next number of episodes to bond with his newfound allies in this newly formed life he chose to follow. His previously weak firebending would be replaced by an experience shared with Aang himself; the Dancing Dragon style, which was passed on from “the original firebenders, the dragons.” Zuko’s renewed bending signaled a shift in his motivations and determination; and on the other side, Aang would now be his pupil in firebending, as the young Avatar’s fear of the element had dissipated.

Zuko would also take part in the daring rescue at the Boiling Rock prison facility, where he found a valuable friend in Sokka while rescuing his father Hakoda, and love interest, Suki- a fierce warrior in her own right. It would be at the Boiling Rock where the shift in personalities between brother and sister would become evident- as Zuko continued to be more at peace, forging the path of destiny, Princess Azula, who had been the picture of unnaturally composed in her 2nd season tour de force finally began to snap mentally, ordering the arrest of her two best friends and most trusted “henchpeople” up to that point- Mai and Ty Lee. As the heroes escaped, her descent into madness began; a story point that would resolve itself in the climatic final battle between the two. But first I must mention that our man of the hour makes up with Katara in The Southern Raiders,  a rather selfless act by the prince to help settle a personal vendetta of Katara’s own. That leads us to the part you’ve probably all been waiting for: The final Agni Kai.

Just watch the video above. No amount of exposition or description can really adequately describe the buildup to this moment. Understand this though: far from just being one of the best battles in the entire series, everything is set up to contrast Zuko’s journey against Azula’s destructive rampage. Warm orange flames meet cold blue ones. Zuko’s not alone like he was in season 2- this time, he sticks with Katara. Most importantly, his calm, confident demeanor stands out sharply against the obvious psychosis of the unhinged Azula here. Ultimately, Katara wins the fight and saves him after his selfless decision to protect her, but compare this version of the prince to the one from the start of the show. That’s character development. (Oh, and his foil? Aang mastered all the elements, beat the Fire Lord and saved the world. Not a bad redemption for a coward and an outcast.)


Like this analysis? Have an opinion? Chime in. Oh, and one more thing:

You knew it was coming. HONOR! HONOR! HONOR!


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