Hunter x Hunter and the art of aesthetic intellectualism

Hunter x Hunter is back in Weekly Shonen Jump and I’m loving it. Whereas previous staggered returns of the manga from its endless long hiatuses have become the stuff of infamy, and arguably plunged the reader back into material that requires a Wiki-level knowledge of the series to parse, this time round I’ve found the current arc to be relatively breezy, with one of the singular best chapters I’ve seen in WSJ attracting plenty of Twitter attention thanks to its mindblowing Junji Ito-esque monster designs.

But what I want to talk about today is something I’ve come to develop an uneasy love for in Hunter x Hunter. Its (excessive) love of words. Manga, of course, is a visual medium, and you’ll find many excellent discourses and YouTube videos on artists that master panel flow and the ‘shape’ of reading a page – a golden ratio like arc of how to direct the reader’s eye across the page and its composite panels/action.

Hunter x Hunter often seems to feel like the very opposite – the infamous ‘wall of text’ (Google ‘hunter x hunter wall of text’ for an idea of what I mean here) – a veritable deluge of heavy handed info dumping that’d have most readers rolling their eyes in dismay. But I’ve come to wonder if there’s a certain irony, or design in how Togashi uses pages like this, namely – what if his walls of text are his equivalent of modern art? Maybe his wacked out info dump pages are the literary equivalent of a Damien Hirst print or shark tank – a statement that is not so much meant to be parsed as words, but an object or container, of which words are a component?

One of the things I love most about Hunter x Hunter right now is that Togashi’s position in WSJ is unassailable. He can take these lengthy hiatuses because he *can*. Other than One Piece, pretty much no other manga sells as much as Hunter x Hunter does *when* it does actually release a new volume (ie. once a year). People have often lambasted Togashi for returning to WSJ just long enough to pen enough new chapters for a new volume, before going on hiatus again – imagine trying to read a work of HxH’s complexity at this pace – holding *all* that info in your head for a year at a time, before picking up right where you left off a year down the line?

But in this protracted experience, I’ve started to wonder if this becomes part of the ‘art’ itself? Many fans look to HxH’s message – the one about life’s true meaning being far more about the journey than the end goal, and perhaps it holds true here too. What we understand HxH to be as a narrative work increasingly becomes subservient to its themes – and in much the same way, its overly intellectualised ideas (which sometimes read like something culled from a textbook on game theory or psychology) are part of this cut and mix pastebook of ideas. A kind of David Bowie approach to manga – constantly shifting genre, shifting thesis, shifting drive – pulling in all these aspects into a singular vein that becomes increasingly introspective and ‘thinky’.

As Hunter x Hunter becomes more and more an ‘art piece’ (as the ‘quality’ of the art consequently descends into the barest of sketches) – perhaps we come to understand it in a different manner. Just like techno, tribal music or the works of Philip Glass or Brian Eno – its cluttered textheavy layout encourage a new aestheticism, one in which the colour, shape and flavour of ‘information’ achieves the artistic liberalism of what other artists might achieve purely with their pens. Togashi is operating less in our eyes, and more in our minds – forcing our brains to fill in the dots, creating our own palate of understanding. If Hunter x Hunter is about the core of the human psyche and condition – maybe operating on this more cerebral level is the truest route toward that?

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