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Hunter X Hunter: The Last Mission
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by Jay Seaver

"Hunters gotta keep hunting."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As near as I can tell, there were fifty weekly TV episodes between the two "Hunter X Hunter" films released in Japan last year, so it's not exactly surprising that "The Last Mission" does not exactly pick up right where "Phantom Rouge" left off - and despite this film's title, the weekly anime and manga adventure has rolled on through 2014, meaning another film is not unlikely. And they may as well keep on going; the fans are still there and this is a good time even for those going in relatively cold.

Pre-teen Hunters Gon and Kilua haven't changed that much since the events of Phantom Rouge, although Kurapika is now working as a princess's bodyguard and is apparently on speaking terms with a villain he wanted dead before. Today, Gon & Kilua are attending the Battle Olympiad at Heaven's Arena to support their friend Zushi as are many other members of the Hunter Association as well as various dignitaries. Which means that bit from the beginning of the movie when Isaac Netero, now president of the Association but one of its fiercest warriors decades ago, didn't quite kill rebel hunter Jed before he could cast a "Demonic Grudge" spell, is obviously foreshadowing a pretty massive hostage situation.

As before, there is a fair amount of Hunter X Hunter mythology referenced by characters who don't exactly get a proper introduction, so non-fans may be a bit lost at times. On the other hand, enough of it is in the form of secrets being revealed that it's not hard to catch up with the important stuff, and the script by Nobuaki Kishima makes things a bit easier by sticking close to familiar genre material: This is basically Die Hard, when you get right down to it, albeit with super-powered 12-year-olds in a kilometer-high building. That the resurrected Jed is threatening to reveal the Hunter Association's dark secrets works on its own as a macguffin without the actual nature of those secrets being terribly important, and that his powers come from "on" rather than "nen" isn't that big a deal, either. While some events are probably a big deal for fans, the action and emotion is big and over the top enough to be a blast for the rest of us.

One thing I couldn't help but notice about that action is how, at this point of a long-running manga/anime (especially fighting series like this one), the characters have become so ridiculously powered-up that what might be an exciting action scene in most movies is basically skipped over. Gon and Killua are confronted with an army of mercenaries? No big deal; the audience just assumes that the kids will make quick work of them, so the film cuts away rather than show an underwhelming fight - you've basically got to skip right to the boss battles now. Fortunately, there are more than a few of those, and both the energy level and quality of the animation pick up during them - director Keiichiro Kawaguchi choreographs a good fight scene even with all the use of nen, on, and the like going on and becoming a bigger part of what's going on, especially during the climactic fight.

That simplicity until the action gets ramped up is a big part of the appeal, but does limit The Last Mission at times - fighting is such a central part of every character's mindset as a way of solving issues and as a source of respect that things can look really messed up if you step back and start thinking of them as actual violence being perpetrated by and on children. And you kind of have to, because Gon really does take a narrow, kids-eye-view to certain things, so the end features just as much yelling about right and wrong as throwing around magical lightning. It's not a bad thing - kids are a big part of the audience for this series, and that sort of upbeat outlook is a good look for it; it just seems like an odd fit for all the complex activity going on.

Technically, I think it might be a hair below Phantom Rouge, especially in between fight scenes - there's less cheap-looking freeze framing, but the animated-kids'-show look is always present, from the flat coloring to some of the goofier comedy bits. The action looks good, though, and sometimes the filmmakers just seem to have too much to put in (as in the previous movie, a character I suspect is the series' main villain pops up to begrudgingly help, both the establish the new threat as serious and because he can't not be there, even if his main development should be saved for the series).

There are worse problems to have, and the filmmakers handle things fairly well. "The Last Mission" is a fun, watchable animated action movie even for those who have never seen the series before, and likely a highlight for those who have been keeping up faithfully.

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originally posted: 09/15/14 03:35:30
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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
  Keiichiro Kawaguchi

Written by
  Nobuaki Kishima

  Megumi Han
  Mariya Ise
  Keiji Fujiwara
  Chisa Yokoyama

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