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Hunter X Hunter The Phantom Rouge Review: A Great Vision Slighted
Draped by a curtain of rainfall, the city’s dark and foreboding skyline reflects the void within young Killua’s soul as he waited for his prey. Behind him, his brother Illumi reminds him of the deadly principles he is forcibly made to follow. Far below, his target exits the building and walks towards his limousine, flanked by armed guards in tuxedos. Killua descends.
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This is the promising opening scene of Hunter X Hunter the Phantom Rouge, the first Hunter X Hunter 2011 film based on an unpublished manga arc developed by mangaka Yashihiro Togashi himself. Instantly, the atmosphere reeks of Yorkshin City, and it probably is, as it appears Killua is remembering the scene in a dream as he and Gon head towards the underground Mafia stronghold. Ruthlessly efficient and frightfully skilled, Killua dispatches his target easily and effortlessly avoids a barrage of gunfire from bodyguards he soon put down as well. Instantly, I know that Killua’s inner struggle against his family and brother’s cruel dogma will play a central role in the movie. When Killua wakes from his memory and he and Gon talk childishly, it was easy to see that the people behind the movie made an effort to play with the duality of levity – at once easygoing yet underneath, dark and terrible. Unfortunately, the lighthearted nonsense was just that: nonsense. Instantly, I wished that this scene would be the last scene so terribly handled in a movie I waited for so long to watch.
A special screening gave me the chance to watch Hunter X Hunter the Phantom Rouge on the big screen. A few facets of the film intrigued me: the former number four member of the Phantom Troupe, who Hisoka replaced; the tragic past of Kurapica, the last living Kuruta; and the promise of a return to the grim and shady arc that occurred in Yorkshin City. It didn’t hurt that I could get to see the Troupe (and Hisoka) in some serious action again. In the film, Gon and Killua respond to a call from Leorio who said that he and Kurapica picked up rumors about a survivor of the Kuruta clan massacre, who they successfully tracked. Two surprises awaited Kurapica and Leorio as they attempted to talk to the individual: it appeared to be Pairo, Kurapica’s childhood best friend, and he quickly took Kurapica’s eyes through what appears to be a nen ability. With some inside info from Hisoka, they find out that they are up against the former Phantom Troupe number four: Omokage, who fancies himself a puppet master god with the ability to give life to puppets through imbuing them with someone else’s eyes.
Let me get this out of the way first: I was disappointed. What was supposed to be dark became cheesy. What ought to be an intricately crafted series of events felt contrived. Worse, what could have been a deep and well-formed antagonist proved shallow. The conflict centered on Killua when all the elements should have focused on Kurapica. To make the incongruity worse, when Kurapica was faced with all the Troupe members, he could hardly utter decent curses to smite them where they stood. Never mind that he was injured from a previous fight and was still recuperating from a brief coma – when he first captured Uvo and Kuroro, he could hardly contain himself. The inconsistency is baffling. The development of Killua’s conflict, which was awkwardly the center of the film’s developments, strayed too far into the stereotypical and the cheesy. The final straw for me was when he abandoned Gon out of thinking he’s not “worthy to be Gon’s friend,” he just had to walk in the rain crying on a gloomy afternoon. He might as well have gone home to eat a tub of ice cream while watching movies that made him remember his ruined friendship.
The production value of the film was also not film-worthy. It felt like a long episode instead of a movie (it was only one a half hours long too, just three episodes’ worth). The fights were interesting, but never really escalated to the masterpiece that was Kuroro Lucifer versus Zeno and Silva Zoldyck. The antagonist had a past and a motivation that was half-baked but edible, though certainly I wanted it to be absolutely delectable. Yet even through the sheer negatives and the mediocre elements I can still see Togashi’s true vision for the storyline. He envisioned a tortured past coming back to haunt Kurapica. He envisioned a nemesis who was a brother who sought the power to make his sister immortal, only to be corrupted by that power. He envisioned match-ups that rivaled the fight between Uvo and Kurapica: Uvo versus Gon and Killua, Uvo versus Nobunaga, Illumi versus Gon and Killua, Hisoka versus Kuroro, Feitan, and Shalnark, the group of Leorio, Kurapica, Gon and Killua versus the seven leading members of the Phantom Troupe. Had his vision been as masterfully executed as Madhouse currently does Hunter X Hunter 2011, the Phantom Rouge would have rivaled One Piece Film Z.
Watch the trailer below (it captures the vision better than the movie, really):