Hunter x Hunter is one of those shows that I’ve come back to in the last year, and realised how much I’ve grown since I was watching the ’99 version in 2011. I loved the original so much back then that when I was first hearing about the reboot around the same time, I was against it even though I hadn’t seen any of it. But recently, I started to figure it would be silly not to give it a go, at least. Little did I know you could read so many more meaningful messages into my old favourite characters now they’d been built up again. I was too busy worrying that they wouldn’t be as I remembered them.

God knows where from, but I’d picked up the idea that the reboot was aimed at a younger audience. And I mean, kiddy young. What an image, eh?  Still, I was picturing a Saturday morning cartoon Hisoka I dreaded coming face to face with, and I was so relieved to be proved wrong. My magician was back, but as the series went on, I found he was even better than my memory of him. The subtle, pained and mournful layers of his portrayal by Daisuke Namikawa have made him someone I want to channel in standing out from a crowd and overcoming suffering, in emanating iridescent waves of confidence and poise. He’s at the top of my cosplay list as I fully recognise and accept my fangirl self, because I want to step out with that atmosphere surrounding me, and rebounding from everyone who watches me walk by. The more I watched him, and the characters surrounding him, the more I realised his deep transformation was in them too. And a couple in particular have been teaching me more about that courage I want to reflect.

Hunter x Hunter - Gon and Killua.jpg
Gon and Killua in defiance

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Gon and Killua as a pair in the classic anime, but separately I much preferred Killua. Gon I usually found a little annoying when I wasn’t just disinterested.  But with the reboot his complexities have become heartbreaking, the shadows behind the search for his father shown up in delicate strokes of fury and loneliness. He’s already been put through more pain than any child should, and that’s without all the harm he invites upon himself through the will to protect his friends. His aura of innocence despite it all brings me to tears. The only way I can put it is that, in seeing him again, I’ve been opened right up to the rarity of his joyous, adventurous soul.

Maybe Gon mirrors what it means to grow up. You have to fight to keep your sense of exploration and optimism in life, and looking at him when he laughs, you can’t help but aspire to grow down, and look over the regrets in your roots to brush them off with as bright a smile. His friendship with Killua comes to represent that ideal more as you spend time with them, but compared to their first anime series, the struggles they’re facing together have taken on much more loaded meaning. Gon is dealing with the trauma of abandonment and an obsessive desire to prove himself equal to his father, repressing it all with loving exuberance. Killua, meanwhile, is learning to take the tough but necessary risks to find and trust the people he can rely on, but all the while he’s facing anxiety alone.

His brother Illumi has taught him never to dare, or give into passion or determination in case of failure, and the same lessons have taught him that he can never have friends. His permanently guarded state is resembled by Illumi’s lingering spectre, but Gon shows him his own potential for goodness in freedom. Their time together heals him, but until he’s confronted with true failure himself, he can’t find the empathy to shake off his brother’s influence. And so, when he’s faced with imminent defeat, the two great presences in his life clash. He finds himself unable to fight for anyone in Illumi’s shadow, but the fact that Gon is there at all pulls him through it with greater strength and sense of self.

Hunter x Hunter
When you smile, I smile

I can now understand the beauty of the balance in their friendship, how they teach each other to better themselves through what one lacks, while the other has held a power their whole lives. Killua, when he’s known himself and Gon suffer failure, can see the fragility in everyone including himself, and that his inhumanity was a mirage. At this turning point, he knows the need to take hold of his own strength without always being able to lean on others, and at the same time Gon can recognise Killua’s flaws. He understands it’s inevitable to find yourself frail at someone’s mercy at times, and most of all, knowing that sheer defiance can’t force life to go his way, nor his heart charm all to his side, he has to be stronger and smarter than that to pick himself up and continue his journey by his best friend’s side.

The two of them together are the image of opposing sides of ourselves, which we learn to compromise with as we grow up. As much as we’d love to keep our childlike joy and inhibition, we need the wariness Killua has to succeed, and yet realise when we’re pushing ourselves too far. More than that, I’ve struggled with Killua’s own lessons learned, getting past worrying about the consequences of failure, and finding the courage to risk it for the sake of my own happiness. But, at the same time, I consider my Killua side as a different kind of power, giving me hyper-awareness of my situations and surroundings when I’m brave enough to open myself up to them.

I’m still learning all of this myself, but in coming back to Hunter x Hunter, I’ve found two role-models I never would have expected in all my stupid fretting that the show wouldn’t be the same rebooted. Taking a chance has taught me, while watching Killua learn from Gon, that finding courage is as easy as a smile and a leap. Consider all possible outcomes for too long and you stagnate; to move ahead, you have to be like Gon, and think only of the good that will come from the risk.

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