At Their Most Broken
Character Analysis Part 1
Aside from writing, I also spent time this past year reading, perusing Youtube and consuming anime—too much I’m sure. Here’s the thing, anime and the manga it is derived from are no different from the comics and novels created by North American authors. Some are comedic, some adventurous and some are romantic. While others have a more serious even disturbing undertone. But whatever the genre these stories usually have a thought-provoking message to share.
In my opinion, what makes a story great are well-contrived characters each with a past, who evolve naturally as the plot progresses. When it comes to anime/manga some of the finest examples of character development can be found in shōnen (young teen boys), seinen, fantasy, isekai (set in a different world), drama, thriller and slice of life. One of my personal favourites is shōnen. Okay, I know, laugh all you want. But some of the best backstories and noteworthy character development seems to occur in shōnen. However, depending on the subject matter, it can be argued that some shōnen transitions into seinen. And, I agree. But that's a debate for another time.
Although the lines are blurred during some arcs in these series, the following labels apply.
Shōnen series: Bleach, One Piece, Naruto, Detective Conan, Hunter x Hunter, Black Clover, Haikyu!!, etc.
Seinen series: Vangabond, Berserk, Hellsing, Monster, Vinland Saga, Tokyo Ghoul, Dorohedoro, etc.
Manga have chapters just like a novel, which are put into volumes, and those volumes make up a series, and a series is usually built on multiple story arcs. Thus, the reason manga series can be lengthy. On average a chapter contains anywhere from 20 to 50 pages, and a volume contains an average of 10 chapters. This means that a long-running publication can produce an equally as long, if not longer running, anime series, especially with filler content. An example of one such lengthy manga is One Piece. To date, it spans over 900 chapters collected in 97 volumes, and the anime is up to 957 episodes and still counting. Generally, an anime episode is 23 minutes long.
Now, you do the math! LOL That's a lot of viewing time. 😣
Character Analysis: Gon Freecss (pronounced Freaks)
Hunter x Hunter (Hunter Hunter) is a manga series by author and illustrator Yoshihiro Togashi, published in 392 chapters in a collection of 37 volumes. The anime has 148 episodes split into 6 seasons and ran from 2011 to 2014. The anime has 7 story arcs: Hunter Exam, Zoldyck Family, Heavens Arena, Yorknew City, Greed Island, Chimera Ant, and the Hunter Chairman Election.
Hunter Hunter is exactly what I've come to expect from a shōnen. It has a young protagonist, who has to beat certain odds, in order to overcome whatever it is that's holding him back from reaching his "seemingly" unobtainable goal. Whether that's saving his family, friends or country, it really doesn't matter. The goal can be literally anything, even if it means just winning a tournament or discovering he's a god.
In the case of Gon, he's 11 in his debut but 15 years-of-age at the end. To be blunt, although it's understandable considering his upbringing, Gon is a naive optimist, who believes that everyone is salvageable. He's a character, I found frustrating. But, part of the allure is to see if he'll change; perhaps toughen-up and see how corrupt his world is.
From the Hunter Exam arc to the Chimera Ant arc, his naivety slowly but surely leads him down a path he can't escape. Even though his stamina and powers improve with incredible leaps and bounds, Gon's emotions seem to stagnate until the game-changer, he loses his mentor and friend Kite. His fundamental problem, the one obstacle he has to overcome, is himself.
The Chimera Ant arc, in my opinion, treads into seinen territory with its on and off-screen graphic content and implied ultra twisted violence. Just the concept itself gave me the creeps. This environmental and biological threat, the Chimera Ant Queen, ingests all manner of animals/insects/fish until she eats a human, to discover humans provide the best nutrition; then everything goes haywire. Whatever genetics she ingests, animal or human, the ants are born with those traits. So, yeah, you guessed it, eventually, the ants become part human, and in some cases, the ants retain the memories of the humans she ate. Of course, this concept leads to all sorts of depravity and ugliness. The whole idea questions the characters' moral standings, ethics and fears. Thus, the Hunter organization is forced to kill the ants because they are the only people capable. Which places Gon and his friend Killua in a precarious situation.
What I'm talking about is that point where a character is at their most broken. They're emotionally, mentally, physically and even spiritually wrecked. At that precise instant, they either overcome or they never recover. For Gon, it's near the end of the Chimera Ant arc, when he realizes that Pitou can't heal Kite, that his mentor is in fact dead, he loses his mind and starts muttering to himself. Suddenly, his anger with Pitou is temporarily extinguished by guilt, as he knows how foolish he's acted. Then his swirling emotions turn to wrath. For the first time in his life, he wants to kill, he wants revenge, he wants to somehow make amends for his wrongdoings, even though he knows it won't bring Kite back.
Honestly, for me, this is the turning point in the entire series. The moment Gon relinquishes everything and transforms into an adult with adult powers, which normally would take decades, perhaps even centuries to achieve, marked the end. Once a character achieves their ultimate goal, no matter the circumstance, moving past it is difficult. I'm not saying it can't be done. But the Chimera Ant arc is so well contrived and executed (for the most part), the best the author could do is side stories.
Getting back to Gon. In the beginning, I felt apprehensive. Hunter Hunter moves at a slow steady pace, and while it did keep my attention, Gon's emotional development seemed lethargic, and I wondered if he'd ever mature. Then Kite was gravely injured by Pitou in front of him and Killua. By that point, I was peeved with Gon and about ready to throw in the towel. I said out loud: "Now, are you going to grow up or keep acting like a naive idiot?" However, after I calmed down, everything came into perspective, and I knew I had to finish the series. So much happens to Gon, and his youth almost makes it laughable. However, his age is what also makes it incredible. The obstacles he overcomes--the mockery he endures--he truly is a multi-faceted and endearing character.
Hunter Hunter isn't for everyone. But if you do decide to give it a try, I don't think you'll be dissatisfied. Gon's exponential maturity makes this series a gem. As an author, Yoshihiro Togashi's Chimera Ant arc didn't just entertain, it inspired. Hunter Hunter is a hell of an emotional ride.