One thing has always struck me, looking at the top-rated anime on MAL. Sitting pretty alongside fan favourites Steins Gate and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood lie two long-running shonen standouts – Gintama and Hunter x Hunter.
In an age where streaming is already the consumption method of choice for the average anime fan, you might argue proper physical releases of shows like these (particularly ones with so many episodes) no longer matter. But personally, I’ve always longed for the added push something like this or Hunter x Hunter’s current run on Toonami would lend these shows – to help catapult them up into the wider consciousness occupied by shows like Death Note or Attack on Titan.
Let’s start with Gintama. For a long while, much like my relationship with One Piece, I was put off Gintama. Too long, too many references I didn’t get, too ‘high brow’ in comparison to other shonen shows. All excuses I conjured up before finally taking the plunge. But in the end, the show hooked me – and all because I didn’t start at the beginning.
Googling ‘best episodes of Gintama’, I drew up a list of recommended viewing and over the course of a lazy Christmas / New Year period, I worked my way through what I’d noted down. The infamous ‘toilet’ episode. The hot pot episode. The episode where Kagura can’t sleep. All had me in stitches – laughing to a degree in which I hadn’t laughed at an anime in a long time.
For me at least, this is the way to consume Gintama. A bite-size chunk at a time. While I can see merit in its longer, more ‘serious’ arcs, for me the show lives and dies by is episodic content – which for the most part is stellar; right up there with the likes of Space Dandy and Cowboy Bebop. There’s something about having to fit an entire story into the space of a 23 minute episode that does wonders for tight, witty writing.
I’ll always remember reading somewhere that described Gintama as ‘a Japanese Simpson’s – and it’s so very true. With a similar brand of zany, parody and referential-fuelled humour – the show feels thrillingly unique among its peers, operating with an intelligence that few others can match.
And so, to Hunter x Hunter (2011) – the show which I’d wager is a definite contender for my favourite anime series of all time.
What’s so special about the show? I think, as many others would testify – it’s the change the show undergoes across its duration. Like an elongated spin on the same dramatic tone shift Madoka Magica pulls, what begins as by-the-numbers, light-hearted boys-own shonen fare soon morphs into something infinitely darker.
My favourite arc has always been a toss up between the noir-ish mafia-centric Yorknew City segment and the epic Chimera Ant tale – and for good reason; in both these arcs the show reaches new heights of tension and awe-inspiring fear, scratching that ‘one more episode’ itch in a way I probably haven’t experienced since Code Geass (the show that first got me into anime in the first place)
I’ve pondered the philosophy and appeal behind these two arcs a great deal in the year since I finished the show – boiling it down to the singular essence of the human condition: survival, at any cost. The Chimera Ant arc in particular poses so many wonderful character moments that put forward the utter fragility of life against incredible odds, pitting the main characters against enemies so very many times more powerful than themselves, only to then empathise with those ‘enemies’ to such a remarkable degree that you find yourself rooting for them instead of the ‘heroes’. If ever there was a shonen series that was a true rollercoaster of emotions, Hunter X Hunter is it.
Every time I see someone discuss these two shows, I get excited, thinking about the first time I truly ‘got’ their appeal – coming at a time when I had started to become quite jaded toward longform shonen series. They revitalised my hope in the genre, and in Hunter x Hunter’s case, the medium of anime as a whole. Sometimes, from the smallest and most unassuming of beginnings, true surprises still await – much like the show’s philosophy, life’s true joy coming from the journey, as opposed to the end goal…