This is its own arc. Not part of the Hunter Exam. Fight me.
Right after Killua murdered a dude and failed the Hunter Exam, Gon, along with Kurapika and Leorio, head off to find him. Their quest takes them to the Zoldyck family manor, where all manner of trials await them. Can Gon rescue Killua and live to tell the tale?
In terms of actual narrative progression, this arc really doesn’t have much going on. Gon and friends go to rescue Killua, but then Killua just gets up and walks out anyways. Kind of hard to get engaged in a conflict when the central piece of that conflict could just end it at any point if he wanted to.
There also isn’t much going on in regards to action. The closest thing we get to a fight is Gon getting beat shitless, some training, and the coin game at the end. Although, to be fair, it wouldn’t be until the next arc that Hunter X Hunter truly became a battle Shounen.
It also just isn’t that interesting to look at. The animation is decent, but nothing impressive. The few new tracks they introduce are good, so there’s a plus. And some of the locations and new characters have great designs. But in terms of actual cinematography and animation? This arc just gets another passing grade.
Alright, that’s just about all my criticism out of the way. Now let’s talk about why this arc is so damn good. And there’s a singular reason for that: the Zoldyck family.
In the Hunter Exam, we got a few hints about what this family was capable of and what they were like. But here? We get a full look at not just their abilities; in fact, we get very little of that. Rather, it focuses on something far more interesting: the relationships of the family members, their servants, and how they connect to the world at large.
The Zoldyck family is like a complex web of relationships. Each character has their own thoughts and feelings about all the others. Killua has respect for his father and grandpa, fear of Illumi, god knows what with his sister, and utter contempt for his mother and other brother. Killua’s mother, on the other hand, is borderline obsessed with him, so much so that she even seems neglectful of the other children. Killua’s father sees great potential in him and plays into his son’s admiration to manipulate him, albeit not as aggressively as Illumi does. The list goes on and on!
The sheer amount of detail put into the family dynamic of the Zoldyck’s makes each scene with them a joy to watch. You can see that, while this family is wildly dysfunctional and completely fucked up in about seventy-eight quintillion ways, it is still a family. It makes the Zoldycks that aren’t Killua that much more interesting.
It also plays on your expectations as a viewer. You might think this arc would go something like this:
- Gon and friends go to the manor, but are woefully outclassed
- They train to get strong enough to challenge them
- Each member of the trio fights with some members of the family, with Gon facing the deadliest
- Killua might break out and have a fight; that, or he’d be the resolution to the fighting
Does that sound like literally every other battle shounen ever made? That’s because it is. Now, that isn’t a bad thing. That formula is cool! We expect it for a reason.
Initially, this arc plays into that super heavily. Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio all spend a considerable amount of time training with heavy shit to get stronger, a classic anime trope. You think to yourself: “Aw shit, they about to throw down!” You’re completely unaware of just how insanely outclassed they are.
Hunter X Hunter doesn’t follow normal Shounen tropes. If a character is insanely powerful, our heroes won’t surpass them by doing pushups all day in a gravity room. The gaps between them are so wide that it would take years, maybe even decades, to close them. Just because Gon and friends got strong enough to push open a heavy door doesn’t make them strong enough to defeat the deadliest family in the world! They can’t even fight the butlers!
All in all, this is a pretty decent arc. The pacing is kinda wonky and the ending is underwhelming. But it does a great job at introducing new characters, fleshing them out, and creating an interesting dynamic between them. It’s an odd little arc that is often forgotten in the grand scheme of Hunter X Hunter.
Which, I mean… can you blame us? The next arc is fucking Heaven’s Arena!