For Context: I’ve been a long time participant in BobSamurai’s Facebook group, The Anime Dojo, as it’s, like, the only one with some structure. It’s a refreshing break from anime communities that just spam memes and chapter reviews for infinity. Not too long ago I came across this post by one of our members:
In response to this I spent the next 5 hours of my life, ten PM to three AM specifically, hammering out an almost 3000 word Facebook comment railing against every criticism people like to use. There’s apparently this growing sentiment that the Chimera Ant arc of Hunter x Hunter is bad. Of course opinions will always differ on a work of art, that’s a given, but recently a very excellent Youtuber @Aleczandxr has noticed this as a trend… oh lord. ToGODshi save us from this corruption that creeps upon us.
In the past few weeks I've encountered way too many people who weren't a fan of the Chimera Ant arc. This is concerning.
— AJ (@Aleczandxr) March 27, 2017
DISCLAIMER! The primary reason I hammered out what is effectively a 12 page Facebook comment over someone’s opinion is just simply catharsis. It was written because it was the perfect example to stamp out the seeds of some silly criticisms that, when I was younger, I didn’t have the knowledge challenge. The following post is written in my typical crass, verbose, and self-deprecating style. All for the sake of some antagonistic fun. Enjoy.
Oh me, oh my. Where to begin with this pacing thing. The anime community has a noticeable history with common criticisms rotating out over time, as they were mostly stupid irrelevant crap. They only got as big as they did because anime fans are mostly young and are just discovering a medium to be passionate about. Examples include: “Why do they shout the names of their attacks? That doesn’t adhere to logic!” That one mostly faded because, “Who cares? It’s cool.” There was also, “Why does anime always shift tones from serious to comedic? That’s not how you write a story!” Which also took a back burner in obscurity for a slew of good reasons (mostly that it’s also stupid).
Alright, let’s establish the Golden Rule of writing a good, well paced story.
Golden Rule of Writing: There are no rules to writing a good story of any kind.
Subclause 1: If you find yourself doubting this rule, please adhere to the Golden Rule of Writing.
Subclause 2: If you still find yourself with doubts take some time to educate yourself in story telling conventions, then adhere to Subclause 1.
The loop stops when you realize you’re wrong.
Generally when people think the Chimera Ant arc is poorly told or overrated, I label them as attention deficit hipsters with FMA:B Complex. And 9/10 times I’m entirely correct about that assumption, so I will continue to make it, as it saves me time to be productive. In fact the only criticisms ever levied against Hunter X Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc are that, “IT’S SLOW AND BORING AND THE NARRATOR KEEPS TALKING.” All of which are entirely pleb tier, and don’t think they aren’t. So, let’s break each of these down because I’m feeling generous today and I like you people.
THIS ANIME IS PACED SO SLOWLY:
Of all the criticisms for anime fans to have, this one should have been the first to die. I’m not sure why it occasionally rears its head. I’ve dealt with this many times in my career as a #keyboardwarrior. I dealt with it while talking about the slow pace of the Children’s Arc in Log Horizon Season 2 and continually convinced people that I was right. I dealt with it while talking about the squirrel pace of Blood Blockade Battlefront and continue to be entirely correct (albeit there are a good number of things you could criticize from Rie Matsumoto’s distillation approach to the series, most of which I’d still fight you on). I never thought I would have to deal with this in regards to the Chimera Ant arc but, uh, here we are. Complaining something is slow-paced with no other backers is THE MOST MICHEAL BAY COMPLAINT EVER MADE. That’s not even meant to be offensive or anything, it just… is.
In short, “A story’s pacing should match the type of story it’s trying to tell.” And this can vary even within a story, particularly ones that use a multi-arc structure. The Log Horizon Children’s arc is not poorly paced because it exists as a slice of life interlude specifically made to de-stress the series; therefore it’s slow. Blood Blockade Battlefront is not poorly paced because it’s attempting to sell you on the insane and devil-may-care attitude of Hellsalem’s Lot even in its editing; therefore it’s fast.
In regards to Hunter x Hunter specifically I can see why people bring up the pacing because it’s really long, but it’s still wrong. Chimera Ant is one of the most interesting writing experiments in all of fiction because it’s an experiment in Chaos Theory. Now, this Wikipedia article is rather… difficult to read, as it is about a mathematical term. To grossly over simplify, “Chaos Theory states that small differences in something spiral into wildly different end results.” A HUGE segment of Chimera Ant takes place in just the real world time of two minutes. To avoid major spoilers, the arc is a titanic event in the world of HxH. That important of an event packed with such characterization and world ramifications, and that the vast majority of it logically and smoothly takes place within the span two minutes is a master stroke of writing prowess.
If you’d like to compare and contrast a good Chaos Theory anime arc to a bad one then compare Chimera Ant to the Arrancar arc in Bleach. The Arrancar arc is actually pretty well paced… but it sucks, nothing happens besides people having a power contest. I think this comparison speaks for itself.
THE NARRATOR WON’T STOP TALKING AND PROVIDING DETAILS ABOUT WHAT THE CHARACTER IS THINKING OR DOING:
So you mean… like a book?
I’d like to split this into two different discussions 1: Tonal Consistency and 2: Medium Advantages in Story Telling.
Point 1: Tone + Tonal Consistency
When I said there’s no correct way to tell a story, I meant something akin to this. Using different story telling methods produces different effects to your story. Take for example what’s become the almost the Western ideal in story telling. Where every scene supports the overarching narrative and themes, has unique characters that are strong yet flawed, and everything comes to a final head at the climax. A.K.A your Full Metal Alchemist, Breaking Bad, or Legend of the Galactic Heroes affair. They are definitely “that type of show,” keyword being “type” as in there’s more than one way to tell a story. Not everything adheres to Freytag’s Pyramid no matter how much that’s probably a good idea. Like how My Little Pony can tell heartfelt character stories with strong personalities. Or how Maid Dragon is half cute faffing about and half excellently told romance anime (check out the Pedantic Romantic’s video). Or how Monogatari is just Araragi and friends not shutting up for episodes on end.
I’ve drifted a tad off topic here, so here’s a Digibro vlog for further clarification. My point is that inclusion of a narrator that’s giving us the plot is not inherently a bad thing. Comments that, “Most of the times he just repeats what the characters said just a moment ago, or states something which is obvious,” is just sort of off base in this case. Togashi is one of the best at weaving narration into his scenes and it wouldn’t be hard for me go through and evaluate this claim on a case by case basis and put it each instance through the ringer, but that’s time-consuming I’m four pages deep and it’s coming up on one AM.
See, the most important reason for a narrator is that he provides information that would be difficult for us to extrapolate without being told. To reiterate, Chimera Ant is a story that shakes the entire world. Where several participants (that being basically all of them) of the story undergo changes that define there lives forever. And most of it takes place within two minutes…
Ya wanna know what happens when you don’t use a narrator when you really really need one? You end up with a travesty like Naruto’s Land of Waves arc, which breaks the idea that these characters are shinobi into little tiny pieces. One that is admittedly a cool arc… but fails as a story because these ninjas that prioritize stealth and tactics will stand in hiding and divulge their entire emotional subplots and back stories to THEIR ENEMIES because… I don’t know. Seriously Zabuza, do you also give intimate details about Haku’s showering habits while you slit random people’s throats?
The other thing a narrator does is apply a different tone to the atmosphere. A Mr. Matthew Shannon here was nice to enough to already say the Chimera Ant Arc felt more like a Greek play. One of the little brilliant strokes of My Hero Academia is Deku’s narration. You might think that MHA is the story of Deku’s time in the Hero Academy, it isn’t. The story is actually a very long reflection of Deku’s time at the Academy from adulthood. Which compliments the very mature take My Hero Academia has on the Battle Shonen genre and gives the series a very personal edge to it.
Hunter x Hunter’s narrator, in contrast, is harsh and impersonable. It might be worth my time to write about how My Hero Academia has learned from Hunter x Hunter’s story telling conventions some day.
While the dramatic old man narrator is definitely one of the best hype men in anime, he serves to detach the viewer from what’s going on. “Why would you want to do that?” This is an excellent question, actually, and one that requires some knowledge into the Ethos (the fundamental character or spirit of a culture) of Hunter X Hunter. Thankfully, this was given at the end of the anime and isn’t a spoiler no matter how much you might whine about it being one.
“You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest. Because that’s where you’ll find the things more important than what you want.”
-You’ll Find Out Who, Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter is a story about little stories. It’s the reasoning that pushed the Phantom Troupe to the forefront of the York New Arc and Gon into Greed Island. Not that it’s plot relevant but that it’s freakin’ cool, and everything else be darned. The destination is irrelevant, but the path you walk is where you find excitement, love, and friends. It’s a strong message that ties the entire story into a concise package at a level that next to none do.
What this Ethos did for HxH is far-reaching, but most important of all it created a world. And when you want to tell a story of a world of stories, it’s best step back and give a more objective point of view. In a book, this is when you’d favor a third person narrator to a first person narrator. In Hunter x Hunter, Togashi chose a disembodied narrator to not taint the lens of the story in possible confusion and increased difficulty that comes with making an active participant (with limited information of the plot points) the narrator.
This story is next to impossible to tell without the Narrator, as doing it first person round robin style would undoubtedly cheapen much of the emotional payoff of many of the characters’ development.
Point 2: Medium Advantages in Story Telling (Kill me it’s 2 am and I’m still writing this comment)
I have a friend with the handle Page who thinks manga is the most objectively superior medium of all. The man is a real life savant in his manga love, we did a podcast together about it. I wouldn’t disagree with him, as i would get rekted in a debate and would have to lean on the “personal preference” argument like a pleb. I recently read another comment on a Digibro video saying that books are the objective best medium for stories since they’re unmatched in creativity and how it can be expanded upon in-depth. Man, I talk about Digibro often. Almost like I’m a gay fanboy or something. Moving on.
Different mediums inherently do different things well.
Books can be extended nigh infinitum to give as much or as little detail as needed, but rely on the reader to use their imagination to get immersed. Comics are able to weave images and words to tell their story, but can’t just dump loads of text on page as it has to happily marry image composition with speech bubbles. Another great boon is that they can be taken at any pace the reader wants. Film and Animation have the massive benefits of voice acting, camera movement, and the ability to enhance ALL of this with music. Only at the tiny costs of being expensive, needing hundreds of man hours, usually being restricted 24, 90, or 120 minutes on average, and having to merge all these benefits together perfectly within a set time frame and/or before the budget runs out because people need to eat and sleep.
If an anime, being Animation, has all these limitations and wants to tell a story with as much depth as the Chimera Ant arc, with the additional clause it can’t be boring because the viewer might just turn it off, then what do the creators do? It could be distilled, as was the case with Blood Blockade Battlefront, and retain just the core elements for time and money’s sake. Which is what happens in all anime anyway, but boiling down to such a degree would create a shell of what the original was. Blood Blockade Battlefront was an exception but that was a 1 in 1000 adaptation done by best girl Rie Matsumoto. Once again, Togashi realized this dilemma and chose to push the narration hard, importing a tool most often used in books as a way to integrate as much detail as possible without having Sword Art Online cafe scenes in every episode. Perhaps if Bleach had a well used narrator during the Arrancar arc that was providing background and detail to the thoughts and actions, it might have been really good, instead of being the equivalent of toddler smashing his samurai figures together in a Lego city.
Man I am being really hard on other series today. I’m not even sure why… other than the fact they suck.
[ NO, BAD CHERRY, BE NICER]
BUT IT BE BORING:
Well now, my fictional strawman born from my spite and crumbling sanity because it’s 3am, I ‘m going to disagree with you entirely. I’m also going to say you have trash taste and get on my level of patrician you pleb, behind your back. However, I’m not going to fight you on this. Perhaps Chaos Theory story telling ain’t your cup of tea, no matter how well told it is. It’s your opinion after all. I am not the almighty arbiter of quality control. I still find it asinine, but you do you dear buddy. But let me bring up this final point regarding anime viewing habits.
Once again, Mr. Mathew is one of the few with some sense left in his brain as he watched Chimera Ant in 20 episodes chunks. This is objectively the best way to consume the Chimera Ant. There’s an absurd amount of detail on display and compared to the York New arc, the pacing can feel like being ground to a screeching halt. So, watching this story in 2 or 3 episode bursts is doing yourself a disservice. I generally don’t watch weekly airing anime until the season is over. This is because there aren’t many that can give me a satisfying enough experience that I want to just watch them one episode at a time, spread out week by week. Some are one-off comedies that I have no problem watching weekly as they’re just pleasant, i.e Konosuba, Maid Dragon. Some anime transition perfectly week to week, originating from their writing source of a weekly serialized manga, i.e basically every not crap manga adaptation. Now, would you like to grind up the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy and only snort it in small piles once a week? I didn’t think so. Watch it all in like two or three sittings max. Not all art is meant to be consumed in the same way.
I’ve factually disproven the claim that Chimera Ant arc isn’t bad. WHEN I REALLY DIDN’T HAVE TO.
Now, I ain’t no Pause and Select, so you fancy pants with your egg heads reading this take it easy with the academia, “YOU MADE A BAD ARGUMENT/ANALOGY IN THIS PARAGRAPH” stick. Or be a manly man and criticize my writing so I can get better.
This message and been looked over and approved by the Hunter x Hunter 2011 D.R.A.
“Listen for the voice of ToGODshi then follow it, and know that in time you will find your salvation. Follow the teachings of ToGODshi and receive his blessings, and so it shall be that the seas will again become bountiful and the raging storms will subside.”
Praise be to ToGODshi’s name
GOOD NIGHT YA FILTHY ANIMALS
*Because I know someone is going to get this twisted, here, ya fiflty nerds.