New volumes of Hunter x Hunter are exciting for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it’s one of the best adventure series ever. Besides that, its hiatuses are frequent enough that tankōbons only come out very sporadically. Vol. 36 is out this week, and it follows Kurapika and the princes of Kakin as they struggle to survive the succession conflict aboard the Black Whale. The closer the ship gets to the Dark Continent the higher the stakes become, but does the writing convey this drama effectively? Is Hunter x Hunter Vol. 36 good?
Art-wise Yoshihiro Togashi delivers more of the usual, which is by and large a good thing. The visual pacing throughout is great and there’s a lot of variety to the page compositions that helps keep events feeling dynamic. The designs of the Nen Beasts also continue to impress thanks to how creatively unsettling they are. Then you have the two-page spreads that chart out where all of the myriad characters are at any given time. There’s an especially good spread of the Black Whale with all its decks and balloons pointing to the current locations of all the players involved in the succession conflict. There are literal dozens of them, so having a handy reference guide is quite helpful.
There are also a lot of great establishing shots of the Black Whale as viewed from the outside, reminding the reader that all this cramped assassination is taking place on a boat in the middle of a dark ocean. The shading here is beautiful with the sun and how its light casts down upon the waves which splash about wildly. The characters’ facial expressions throughout are also great, conveying both humor and pure dread depending on the panel in question. Illumi in particular has a ton of intensity just within his eyes.
As far as the writing goes, however, this volume is a mixed bag. On the positive side there are some great dramatic scenes where Togashi effectively conveys the life-of-death stakes of the conflict. The princes are quite interesting and Camilla, Kacho, and Fugetsu specifically get some time in the spotlight. The scenes starring members of the Phantom Troupe are also standouts as they run around parallel to Kurapika; the tension raised by the thought of them bumping into each other is palpable. It’s a situational Checkov’s Gun that’s sure to play out entertainingly in future volumes. There are also a number of new characters with cool powers whose implications complicate the fighting significantly. The last few chapters are particularly well-written and the book ends on a cliffhanger that successfully builds anticipation for Vol. 37.
Unfortunately, the disparate characters and plot threads here don’t always come together effectively. Kurapika only plays a minor role in this volume, so the majority of the story is driven by supporting cast members who haven’t been around very long. As a result it’s often difficult to feel fully invested in what’s going on. The frequent cuts between characters and scenes only exacerbate this problem. There are also so many new characters and powers introduced here that there simply isn’t enough time to effectively establish them all. The incorporation of the new abilities in particular feels more like Togashi is throwing ideas against the wall rather than actually integrating them into the story.
All in all, Hunter x Hunter Vol. 36 is an enjoyable though at times perplexing read. Togashi’s art style is a lot of fun as always, and there are some particularly good two-page spreads and facial expressions. There’s also some good suspense and the Kakin princes are an intriguing bunch. Unfortunately, the large cast of characters just isn’t handled very effectively. Frequent scene changes and a lack of focus on more established characters can make it difficult to stay invested in the plot or fully comprehend what all’s happening at any given time. Nonetheless, this volume is a good read.