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Hunter X Hunter: Phantom Rouge
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by Jay Seaver

"Fun, though I'm not sure what a rouge is (phantom or otherwise) here."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Every time a film that is spun out of a long-running manga or anime series lands on the festival schedule (or, less frequently, plays locally), I get the idea of grabbing one of the Wednesday regulars at the comic shop and asking what I need to know, though I never do. As a result, I've really got no idea how "Phantom Rouge" plays to longtime fans of "Hunter X Hunter", although I'd guess they will go for it, as might the rest of us if we catch up.

The two Hunters who take the lead in this adventure are Gon and Kilua, twelve-year-old boys who nevertheless are exceptionally well-trained martial artists who can enhance their abilities by tapping into a force called "nen". While the Hunter Academy is training them to be adventurers and peacekeepers in a world of strange powers and mysteries, their newest mission is personal: Their friend and fellow Hunter Kurapika has had his eyes stolen by an evil magician, although he still receives enough imagery through them to direct Gon and Kilua to look for a manor with a certain view. Gon winds up enlisting the help of street puppeteer Retsu, although Kilua is wary, not so much because he doesn't like girls, but because he was born into a family of assassins and struggles with the entire idea of friends, including Gon.

Well, that certainly describes an animated movie based upon a manga I have never read that was as a result kind of difficult to wrap my head around. Kudos to those involved for keeping it from becoming incomprehensible, though - along with the trés kawaii bit that opened the movie to introduce Gon, Kilua, and Hunter Academy to newbies like me, the filmmakers do a fair job of explaining as they go. A benefit, perhaps, of having preteen heroes still learning about the frantic world around them. It can still be somewhat overwhelming, especially since the exposition is not spread around evenly: There's full background on Kurapika despite him spending much of the movie sidelined, just enough on Kilua to feel like half the story, while main character Gon is left fairly simple. Still, the last-act pile-up of characters is shockingly manageable, even if all the talk of "nen" does sort of become gobbledegook to an outsider such as me.

One thing that kind of struck me about it, and I wonder if it's generally true for similar manga & anime, is that while Gon is the protagonist, the more interesting character is his friend Killua, struggling with the very idea of having friends. As much as it makes one kind of want the movie to be about that 12-year-old "hunter" in training, it wouldn't work the other way around; Gon would become kind of extraneous. And truth be told, there's benefit to that; for all the life-and-death struggles that this story (and presumably the rest of the franchise) features, centering it around a kid who is pretty upbeat by nature even if his backstory has him looking to avenge his father keeps it from being a dour, gritty thing. The voice work reflects it, with Megumi Han giving a high-energy performance as Gon and Mariya Ise more introspective as Kilua but still picking up some of his friend's energy, even if it sometimes comes out as exasperation.

Visually, it carries a lot of that spark as well, keeping the big-eyed, spiky-haired character designs from Yoshihiro Togashi’s manga, dropping them into a world that's detailed enough to look good but not enough that a whole lot of detail has to be added to the characters to keep up. It's not quite a prestige picture that has a lot of snazzy CGI integrated with the cel-based material - like a lot of these spinoffs, it looks like a TV series with more polish - but it still looks pretty good, even if it does have stretches that are a series of still frames rather than motion. That's despite director Yuzo Sato handling the action well, no small feat in a world where plenty of characters have the sort of superpowers that can render a fight scene a confusing mess.

I wasn't converted to a fan, but I enjoyed "Phantom Rouge" enough to see the next one a day later, and while I was hoping for something that was able to excite non-fans as well - I always hope for that - that's a fair result, especially considering it's got plenty for the long-time fan in it.

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originally posted: 09/12/14 01:42:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yuzo Sato

Written by
  Shoji Yonemura

  Megumi Han
  Mariya Ise
  Miyuki Sawashiro
  Keiji Fujiwara
  Naohito Fujiki

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