As you probably know, Hunter x Hunter anime has ended a while ago, but the manga is still going. Right now, a new batch of chapters is being released, so maybe it is a good time to jump in! The current arc in the manga is referred to as “Succession War”, and it is a part of a bigger arc, which we usually call “Dark Continent”.
I am telling you this to make it clearer what I am going to be talking about. This post isn’t going to be a recap of what happens in the arc, and it is going to be light on spoilers. But still, I will have to tell you a bare minimum about the Succession War arc, like its setup, the parties involved, etc. The arc is really good, and I’ll understand if you’d rather not have any spoilers before reading it; so, decide for yourself.
To put it simple, the Succession War is all about a bloody game the king of Kakin Empire came up with in order to decide on his successor. The Hunter Association got involved because Kakin was instrumental in the expedition to the Dark Continent, which the association was planning. The Hunter Association wanted to just let things go their own way, avoiding any problems; obviously that was not going to work. In order to manage the problems, Kurapika and a group of hunters he selected entered this war as bodyguards for different Kakin princes.
I’ll stop the exposition here. So far, I have presented about 0.1% of arc’s content. Kurapika has multiple motives in this conflict and some of the hunters he enlisted have their own motives too. Each of 8 queens and most of 14 princes have some ideas and plans; most of them have their private troops and guards, and those include individuals who yet again, act out of hidden agendas, not just off their loyalty. This arc is complicated. So much so, that the infographics and charts that circulate on reddit and show just basic info over the characters, they got unwieldy big and now are replaced with 15+ page long documents. Even the Kakin wiki page had to use some fancy designs for their infographics, with tabs and all, just to be able to fit all faces that we saw this arc.
If you have read or watched Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire by George Martin), imagine a couple of those novels condensed into a manga arc, and further compacted temporally and spatially to fit into a week spent on a passenger ship. And, add more characters. That is what Succession War is.
Now to the topic of this post. In his last few arcs, Togashi experimented with complexity and structure of the story. Making the protagonists never even meet the arch-villain, making the villains and the good guys switch their moral images, blending separate fights and encounters into an inseparable stream of events: I feel confident saying that he knows how to write unusual and complicated stories. And judging by the looks of it, this new arc will be one of them.
But, there is something else, besides it being complex, that stands out to me a lot. I am talking about the side characters. Just to make myself clear, let’s step back and remember the York Shin arc. The main characters on the good guys’ side were Kurapika, Gon, Killua, Leorio, maybe Melody and Hisoka. The main bad guys were the Troupe (counting each member as one). The side characters are people like Neon Nostrade and other Nostrade family members and employees, the mafia, the Shadow Beasts, the ten dons, the freelance assassins (who were “helping” Zoldycks to fight the Troupe), etc.
Most of those side characters were fodder. The mafia at the auction got annihilated by only two Troupe members. Half of the Shadow Beasts were killed by a single Troupe member, and the other half were taken out off-screen. Nostrade family never did anything useful, other than loosing people. And dons were also killed off-screen. All those people were only there to provide a background for the Troupe, for Kurapika and for Zoldycks, to give them an opportunity to show their superiority. It is a classic shonen setup.
Back to the Succession War. Here we also have a huge number of side characters. For example, just to count people who stay in contact with Kurapika (which is a tiny part of all characters), we have his team which guards his prince and queen (including hunters, regular fighters and servants), we have people who attend his training sessions (also a mix of everything, about 20 people), we have people who are stationed to observe him (royal army) and we have other princes he negotiates with. None of them is a traditional main character type. There are antagonists in this arc, but Kurapika is not staying in contact with any of them at the moment.
Normally you would think Kurapika would effectively be ‘alone’ in this position. Of course he can’t die or get injured by those meaningless characters, right? I mean, who are they, servants and guards of some random nobles from a kingdom we never cared about? How would they be any challenge to a hunter? And besides, Kurapika has a team of other hunters dispersed among the guards, so surely they could overwhelm everyone if they needed to, correct?
And here is the cool part. It is not even a question, if the hunters can overwhelm everyone or not. It is not a question whether or not Kurapika can be injured. The hunters and Kurapika, they are of little meaning in this story, at least from the in-story perspective. The antagonists in this arc do not wonder if they could overpower Kurapika, because there is no reason to do so. Similar how Kurapika never cared about if he could overpower some particular Shadow Beast member or a freelance assassin in the York Shin arc. The game that takes place on the ship is not just completely out of Kurapika’s and hunters’ control, it never could have been under their control in the first place.
To make what I am saying more concrete, here are a few examples. In the beginning of the arc, Kurapika managed to overpower a few people who attacked his team. Even then, he did it with the help of his team members. But soon after, the royal army assigned a level-headed intelligent person to watch over Kurapika, to study his powers, come up with counter-measures and get some info on his plans. That spy/guard is Babimyna. He is not aggressive, although he pushed Kurapika around quite a bit, and Kurapika is even forced to ask his permission when he wants to exchange information with another guard. On the other hand, Babimyna willingly plays directly into Kurapika’s hand and even supports him. And Kurapika is in a position where he has to accept this help without having any knowledge of Babimyna’s reasons. Nothing seems to escape Babimyna’s attention, and he seems to be very aware of Kurapika’s movements and intentions. He even gathered some info on the abilities of their team members. All without giving away anything about himself.
Another royal guard that happened to cross paths with Kurapika is Furykov. That dude managed to read Kurapika’s movements as a nen user and get a very detailed picture of his potential powers. Again, all one-sided. It is not clear if Kurapika could defeat either of these two; far less, if he could hope to defeat both at the same time. And there are 13 royal guards alive so far, and each is a more or less competent. Do you get the picture? Kurapika’s fighting powers are almost irrelevant; all he could realistically hope for is to avoid conflicts with the royal army.
That story isn’t about Kurapika though. In fact, one of the two antagonists of this arc, the first prince Benjamin, mostly sees Kurapika as a potential problem, while he has some real ones too. His real problems include another price who acquired an ability that makes his personal army almost undefeatable as a unit. Another antagonist, price Tserriednich, doesn’t even try to do anything about the war yet, being too busy training his newly found nen; he discovered the existence of nen during the journey, and his talent seems to exceed Gon’s.
Now let us step back to the York Shin arc. Can you imagine how it would have worked if all those fodder characters actually had powers and intellect to stand up to the main guys? Would have been a completely different story, I think. When anybody could be a threat, the possibilities become endless. Would a normal direct approach, the “charge in head-first” kind, work then? Probably not. That is why in the Succession War everyone, including hunters, spends most of their time with diplomacy, talking and developing schemes, rather than fighting or searching for a fight. For example, there were a couple murders during Kurapika’s training sessions, and Kurapika didn’t find the murderer yet. He didn’t even look for him too much. All because it was more important for him to remain in control and avoid chaos.
The only big spoiler in this post is right ahead. It is not that bad, I wasn’t even surprised when I read it, but anyway, you are warned.
But not everyone is level-headed like most of the princes, Kurapika and the hunters. Some guys do charge ahead without thinking. The second prince Camilla got herself into deep waters rushing to victory with a direct attack. One of the royal guards died that same way. Also there are some guys called Ryodan that run around the ship with absolutely no plan at all, as well as with no regards for the rules of the game.
That is right, the Troupe is on board. It is not that surprising if you think of it. If you want to read about patterns in the HxH storytelling, try this post on the three act structure that Togashi seems to employ, it fits with the Troupe’s appearance pretty well I think. Anyway, they are on the ship, and they have a goal, which is to kill a certain someone (I don’t mean Kurapika, don’t jump to conclusions like that! :P). The Troupe is on a different deck of the ship, separate from the succession war. Instead, they are in the middle of mafia territory. Reminds you of something? Do you think Chrollo is going to repeat his air guitar air orchestra conduct performance during this arc, while his people will be slaying all the nameless nobodies around? Well, look at the pictures below, maybe they will tell you something.
It could very well be that the Troupe will wipe the floor with these mafia guys later. And I have no doubts that none of them is stronger than Chrollo. However, wouldn’t it be interesting if these mafia guys actually corner the Troupe? The point is, the Troupe doesn’t have expendable members, every death is a heavy blow for them. If you disagree, just read this arc, you’ll see something relevant to this discussion. I’ll not spoil those events and dialogues here.
The Troupe acts as brats, while everyone else plays the game. If the Troupe can back it up, then they will cement their fame as beings from a different level of existence, unreachable for mere mortals. But, it would be fun if they won’t be able to back it up, if they lose the game. Chrollo is a bad leader (which you can convince yourself of by remembering all of his past decisions) and it would be fitting if he drives his people into a death trap.
Here is another page from this arc:
This dude, who would be a fodder in any other arc, makes me excited here. What if he is actually good enough to stand up to a Troupe member? The whole story about balance of power and about hiding nen, which the mafia boss was talking about previously, just how much there is to it? Could it be that there are lots of powerful nen users in Kakin, which never show off because only brats would do that?.. That would be very cool.
I think that this arc could be something like a riot of side characters. The characters whose only purpose should have been to provide background and circumstances for the main guys, they revolt and make their own story, where the protagonists have to calculate their moves, as to not annoy some nobody dude whom we met first a few chapters ago. That would be amazing, and together with Togashi’s ability to write convoluted plots it could actually work.
Hope this motivated some of you anime watchers to check out the manga. See you next time!
For more boats stories, see Blue Heaven! It is not that good though, so better not.