Finally, after a full two years away, the inconsistent, erratic, undeniably creative enigma is back, and for once its absence was a true break rather than the agonizing postponement of a resolution to a cliffhanger. Of course, the introduction of the Dark Continent just as the series went on hiatus was frustrating, but that was more of a promise of future content rather than an existing commitment. In that sense, this is a good place to resume the series; the opening pages, littered with intense dialogue regarding entry to the Dark Continent, lay the groundwork for all that is to come for however the long the series will publish this time.
The grotesque sights in the laboratory set the tone well for the dangers of the looming new setting, which seems to have been re-branded as the New World. As it happens, that exact choice of phrase may not be the best; One Piece may not have exclusive rights to that term, but applying the same terminology to a concept that is already similar to one used by another series in the same magazine doesn’t exactly scream of originality.
Beyond the mere uniqueness of its name, this New World faces an overall challenge in being distinct from its rivals. With the New World of One Piece and Gourmet World of Toriko each established and thriving, the Dark Continent must be clearly differentiated in some stylistic way, because it cannot do so on concept alone. The grim, literally twisted corpses of this research facility are a good start towards that goal, because they highlight a key difference between Hunter x Hunter and its pair of direct competitors; all three series can do both lighthearted and serious plot well, but One Piece and Toriko are set in largely lighthearted, positive worlds, while Togashi likes to dabble in more cynical settings. As long as it avoids going overboard into the realm of angst or heavy-handed drama, a cruel landscape of unforgiving creatures and scenarios will make the Dark Continent stand out nicely.
Scenes of Isaac Netero and members of the Hunters Association act as more good introduction to the New World, emphasizing that the immediate future will bring threats of an unprecedented scale. However, the sight of Ging is a worry. He is still in an awkward transitional phase between symbolic target for Gon and this new role as a visible character. While his credentials as an exceptional adventurer cannot be doubted, he has yet to earn his place as an everyday member of the main cast, and thrusting any significant portion of the New World plot onto his shoulders would be a mistake.
Continuing along the lines of the earlier comparison, the “five great calamities” addressed at the end of this chapter are an amusing antithesis to Toriko. That series often introduces new beasts and ingredients in a similar manner, yet the tone of each author’s approach could hardly be more different; where Shimabukuro Mitsutoshi accentuates the splendor and vivid creativity of his – and readers’ – new concepts, Togashi here replaces imagination and eager anticipation with dread and caution. Certainly, this is not a deliberate nod to Toriko, but given the current similarity of both plot lines, it’s an interesting point of comparison.
As for the five calamities themselves, each serves its purpose well, though forcing yet more exposition at this point is questionable. On one hand, the five calamities refine the expansive concept of the Dark Continent into digestible plot points, but on the other hand, they are yet more ideas that have been introduced before any existing concerns have been resolved. The author will have to be mindful to maintain a good balance between foreshadowing and the reward of current action.
All in all, this chapter is a typically Togashi-like way to return to action, indulging in lengthy detail and intrigue before punctuating the scenario with grisly elements rarely found in shonen. That, in itself, is a particular challenge; Hunter x Hunter tries its best to eschew the conventions of its demographic at every turn, yet its roots as a classic, true to form shonen hero’s journey have created inviolable expectations by which the series must be judged.
In that regard, Gon’s absence from this return chapter is notable. As expressed in an earlier article, Gon’s marginalization over the course of the Chimera Ant arc was a serious misstep, and one that must be addressed soon. The exotic New World will hold some measure of excitement no matter how it is explored, but for it to truly shine, it needs the right characters and accompanying plot. Gon is not ready to venture out into the wilds, yet that is the very reason why he must be the one to do so. His weakness, though perhaps taken too far in the previous major arc, is critical in giving the series a sense of urgency and progress.
In contrast, Ging wouldn’t face the same level of challenge in the New World, nor would he have the rapport with readers, simply because he hasn’t actively contributed to the series for anywhere near as long as his son has. Gon and Ging adventuring together is another possibility, but perhaps the weakest of all available choices, since it would only showcase Gon’s regression. Whether it happens now or in the distant future, and whether he is alone or joined by his familiar companions, Gon should be the first explorer of the New World that readers follow; others, even Ging, may venture forth before him, but those exploits should stay in the background, distant from the spotlight, which ought to remain firmly fixed on the true protagonist. The setting is prepared, and readers have good reason to be invested. The rest is up to Gon.
Final Flash: Not a flawless return, but a captivating one nonetheless.