Welcome back, everyone! As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing a mini series within HxH Detours to help parse through the main couples of Hunter x Hunter within our first, introductory arc. This time, I’m taking a look at the growing confidence between resident teenagers Leorio and Kurapika, and how their relationship illuminates their transition into mature adults. Also a reminder: I use terms like “couple” and “partner” interchangeably to analyze how characters are paired off narratively into relationships with specific intensity; this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m equating these relationships as explicitly romantic. Anyway! Let’s dig in, shall we?
Shirtless Jogging and Bonding
Let’s be real — the first part of the actual Hunter’s Exam is boring as a viewer and likely for all the exam takers (you can miss me with long-distance running *shudders*). But where we’d usually breeze through a dull part of an arc via lengthy exposition, annoying griping by youths, or overly sentimental backstories happening in sweaty mental recesses, the characters are instead given that quiet space to talk to one another. The participants spend hours (grimaces) running through dark tunnels and racing up winding stairs battling the mental strain of not knowing when the end is coming, and two of the main couples attempt to distract themselves and find camaraderie by turning and diving into the beginnings of how they came to start taking the Hunter’s Exam.
Although Gon tells Killua about his motivations for pursuing the Hunter’s exam, the jog-from-hell gives us the first major secret shared between the teens, Kurapika and Leorio. After setting aside his pride in “looking cool” to move forward with running (seriously WHY), Leorio hightails it past Kurapika who is inspired by Leorio’s sweaty chest to put aside his own pride and catch up to him.
Kurapika, after shedding one of his shirts, is now primed to grill Leorio over his real motivation for taking the Hunter’s Exam, knowing after spending a few days together that Leorio isn’t as shallow as he’s making himself out to be. Leorio remains tight-lipped so Kurapika decides to open up to Leorio about his own circumstances in the hopes that Leorio will feel comfortable sharing the same:
Leorio is visibly touched and shocked by the full story of Kurapika’s bloodthirsty quest for revenge and, seeing how Kurapika is clearly trusting him with very sensitive, personal information, Leorio doubles down on his monetary motivation for becoming a hunter — except *gasp* he’s doing it for a good cause!
Way to bag a stand-up dude, Kurapika! Though very briefly presented as two people who will likely never get along due to their polarizing opinions on what characterizes an ideal hunter, Togashi soon has Leorio and Kurapika push each other to honestly communicate and confide in one another instead, to create a compelling dynamic. They both defy their surface level appearances — Leorio seems like an archetype of toxic masculinity but actually favors compassion, healing, and reason over fighting to accomplish a goal, while Kurapika seems like he’s always calm and collected under pressure but actually has a deep-seated rage burning within him and is prone to losing control of his senses.
The reveal of Kurapika’s revenge-y confession to Leorio plays out in the third part of the exam, at the same point where Killua’s assassin-family-reveal also takes place. As Kurapika prepares to fight the most cowardly prisoner of Trick Tower, said prisoner decides to try intimidating Kurapika into forfeiting the match by cosplaying as a Phantom Troupe member. This backfires spectacularly as he inadvertently activates Kurapika’s spider switch and gets his ass soundly kicked. We finally see Kurapika go into his agitated Kurta state, in which he’s literally blinded red with rage, and threatens death to anyone who is or pretends to be a part of the Phantom Troupe.
While Killua is impressed by Kurapika’s unexpected display of badassery via his intense rage, Gon and Leorio look extremely worried about Kurapika’s actual mental state:
The group and audience know Kurapika is proficient in fighting and incredibly intelligent — but seeing the first instance of how deep Kurapika’s rage lies raises alarms rather than being a power anyone in the group actually covets. Leorio shows compassion and worry for Kurapika when he is openly vulnerable. He knows how justified Kurapika’s thirst for revenge is; what wasn’t readily apparent until his fight with Majitani is the degree to which Kurapika doesn’t have a handle on his all-consuming fury. He even views it as reassurance that he is still on-track to accomplish his goals — someone get Kurapika a therapist, please.
The Journey to and from Zevil Island
Ah, yes, the weeklong stint on Zevil Island, where the stakes are even higher now that examinees are pitted against each other with murder officially being greenlit for the first time. Up until this point, Gon, Killua, Kurapika, and Leorio have worked together to get through the exam. While the prospect of dying did shove its face into their journey, it’s not until Zevil Island that the four of them actually need to split up to progress to the final phase of the exam.
Luckily for these four, none of them get the other’s number and most importantly, none of them get the number of their respective partner. It’s a sobering journey to the island with even the four of them sitting apart from one another, but eventually the partners approach each other to make sure they won’t have to fight to win.
Each pair reassures one another with cute banter that they aren’t each other’s targets, but only Gon and Killua reveal the numbers of their targets to one another. Gon, in a stroke of brilliantly terrible luck, shows that he picked up resident terror Hisoka’s and begins shaking with what Killua accurately deciphers as both excitement and fear.
Since Gon and Killua split up for the entire week, Killua is unaware of the extremely unbalanced face-off between Hisoka and Gon. Gon gets his ass soundly handed to him by not only the examinee tracking him; he also gets sucker punched in the face by Hisoka. Gon certainly has a lot of potential but the line is clearly drawn — he is nowhere near ready to face Hisoka as an equal on the battlefield.
On the airship journey from Zevil Island to the final part of the exam, we see major character vulnerability unfold between Kurapika and Gon, with the former sensing that something serious went down on the island for Gon.
“Wait a minute, that isn’t Kurapika and Leorio! What gives?!” Yes, I know, but I’d honestly be remiss if I didn’t talk about this key conversation between Kurapika and Gon: While before we saw conversations focused on Leorio and Killua confiding their thoughts and motivations where they felt safe to discuss them, we don’t experience the same thing from Gon and Kurapika.
They’re both so forthcoming with their goals to anyone who asks that we almost take those goals for granted. And until taking the Hunter’s exam and meeting people they could trust, Kurapika and Gon have tunnel vision in regards to their blind pursuit of their goals. Kurapika has his moments of self-reflection over the course of speaking with Leorio, and given that he’s entering his late teens, he’s able to internalize more of those reflections in stride. With Gon only being twelve, however, he hasn’t had enough experience (or encouragement from adults) to face his inner trauma of abandonment, loneliness, and current “inadequacy” until his encounter with Hisoka.
Kurapika and Leorio are Gon’s friends, of course, but they more importantly fill the older brother role Gon has been desperate to find. He can open up to Kurapika about his helplessness facing Hisoka and admit his embarrassment of being lonely and wanting to feel worthwhile because he knows Kurapika gets it. It’s one thing to know exactly what your motivations are, but it’s quite another to admit how much trauma is set aside and unacknowledged by using those motivations as a shield.
Kurapika and Leorio are older, more experienced, and thus able to freely give the reassurance Gon needs in a clear way that is only genuine. He may be a kid but he’s been through some shit! Anyway, excuse me while I go cry over how much I love this scene.
NEXT TIME ON HxH DETOURS (mini-series!): we get to our final piece in the main couple mini-series featuring my favorite dysfunctional relationship —Hisoka and Illumi.