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Hunter x Hunter 116 – You Won’t Believe How Far Back You Need to Go to Find a Better Single Episode of Anime

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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 …

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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. :)


Filed under: anime, anime rants/views, episode review

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei)

The anime Kaiba was the closest point I every got to turning The null set into an episodic blog, every episode left me positively brimming with stuff to think about and talk about. It ended up being my top show of 2008 and since that spring 2008 season, I’ve been silently (and anxiously) waiting for the next work from Masaaki Yuasa.

The wait is over and it’s all the sweeter with Madhouse reprising their role as the animators for Masaaki Yuasa.

Rating for episodes 1 to 2 – 11.5/12  Near Perfect

Anticipation Level: 4/5  Medium to High

The Story

Our nameless male protagonist (“Watashi” is a form of saying “I” but since I feel weird writing Nameless every time, I’m going with Watashi) started college with the desire to have a wonderful time meeting people and falling in love with a raven-haired maiden. To this end he picked a club that he thinks will most increase his chances of this rose-colored future but that choice just leads him into meeting Ozu, a sinister demon-looking fellow, and all hope in discovering that wonderful college life is lost. Watashi is now in his third year of college and can’t shake the feeling that if had only picked another club to join, his life would have turned out so much better. Ozu disagrees with him by saying that basically it’s the character flaws of Watashi that have caused him to be alone. Watashi disagrees but it’s a moot point since someone/thing gives him the opportunity to rewind these college years and try out another college club. Will he find that rose-color college life with the raven-haired maidens? Or will he discover that he actually doesn’t know what would make him the most happy?

The Fine Print


I’ve been trying for the last two days to find some other way to start this section without first discussing the furious pace at which Watashi narrates the story. No other topic seemed to quite work; not even the interesting geography lesson at the start of episode 1. I was all set to quip that I’d never be able to visit Point State Park in Pittsburgh with a straight face ever again and then go on to talk about the animation but nothing I wrote down looked right or lasted more then a couple minutes before I erased it.

I wanted to pass on talking about the narration speed because I honestly didn’t think it was that difficult and after reading several other reviews that complained about this speed, I didn’t want to further discourage people from possibly watching Tatami Galaxy. It’s a great looking anime that I’m sure will entertain but Watashi’s machine gun style narration style kept coming to mind first when I think about Tatami Galaxy. Finally, I asked myself, why is that so?

That was the correct question to ask because I realized that for all the potentially odd elements to Tatami Galaxy, it was the narration speed that I thought was the most strange thing about the show. Not the animation style, not the rebooting story, not the declaration of one of the characters that he is a god, not the inhuman appearance of Ozu with his impish nature, and not the fortune-teller that Watashi meets who’s fortunes seem just a little too on-target. And I think it’s done on purpose as a subtle means to convince us that Watashi is not a normal person (would a normal person narrate at such a speed) and he is not as blameless as he’d like to make us believe about why he only has one friend and little chance of ever having a girlfriend. He almost acts like he’s trying to pull one over on the viewers because we’re functioning as the conscience in his brain.

Moving on; I was impressed to see how many of my buttons this anime was able to press, it was like Masaaki Yuasa was reading my mind. For starters, maybe it was watching It’s a Wonderful Life so often at Christmas time while I was a youngster, but I’ve always liked when a story involves a time loop and/or a reboot with different conditions aspect to them. A recent example would be the infamous Endless Eight, which I enjoyed entirely more then I know I should have, or Higurashi no Naku Koro ni or Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Deciphering what’s different, what’s exactly the same, and what’s remains important gives these stories an added dimension of entertainment and thought. In the case of Tatami Galaxy, I’ve noticed something that’s similar in both stories but not exactly the same (Watashi has promised Akashi something and hasn’t fulfilled that promise) which I think will turn out to be a very important fact and can’t wait to see if this is born out in later loops.

The next button he hit was with the unique animation style and quality of Tatami Galaxy. I was expecting it but that didn’t make my enjoyment of the any less. It’s style is similar to that of Kaiba but evolved a bit; the character designs are a bit more realistic, a little more rigid and I noted the inclusion of the occasional photo-realistic element. (I’d be tempted to say it was Shinbou-like but it didn’t feel the same and it’s probably just ignorance on my part since Shinbou is the only animator I know that likes to include real objects into his animation with regular frequency.) If I had to compare it to something else because hardily anyone watched Kaiba, I’d have to say the animation style to Tatami Galaxy reminded me of the style that Birdy: The Mighty Decode used in the second season during many of it’s fights. More specially, a lower detail to the character designs which allows for an increased fluidity and speed to characters and their movements. It made for amazing fights in Birdy and awe-inspiring scenes in Kaiba so I’m excited to see how it’s used here.

Another button hit was my liking of a good romance/love story. First Love Limited, Clannad, Toradora, Sasameki Koto, Bakemonogatari, and Spice and Wolf being anime examples and let’s throw in The Princess Bride and Pride and Prejudice as non-anime examples of a good romance/love story. Which is what my gut is telling me Tatami Galaxy really is if you strip the show down to it’s most basic elements. Stranger things have happened, just look at Kaiba; underneath the awesome high tech SF world and thought-provoking plot, it turned out to be really just a love story. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, I just wanted to point out a misconception many people have about what type of stories are found in SF.)

I can’t finish without praising both the opening and closing songs and to say that I’ve particularly liked the closing animation sequence that accompanied the song. The music has been more muted then what I remember in Kaiba but still good. I’ve also enjoyed the voice work, especially Maaya Sakamoto as Akashi who’s also doing Nino’s voice in Arakawa Under the Bridge.

In conclusion, I know not every show is for everybody but I hope every anime fan gives Tatami Galaxy a try. And as long as I’m asking for stuff from the readers out there let me put in a good word for Kaiba, Makaaki Yuasa’s last anime, and ask those that like Tatami Galaxy but haven’t seen Kaiba to give it a chance. You can check out Kitsune’s site for more screenshots and a second opinion.

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As an aside with my entry into the aniblog tournament, I’ve gotten some very good constructive criticism about my blog and I thought I’d give something different a try after reading Josh’s comments about how I use pictures. I originally had a much narrower layout and using full width pictures didn’t seem as visually disruptive as they did with this theme but I thought it was just me and left it alone. Now that I know that there’s at least one other person that thinks the same way, I’ll use this opportunity to try this type of picture using.  Any feedback would be appreciated.

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Filed under: anime, first impressions



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