HxH Detours: The Hunter’s Exam & Zoldyck Family Character Introduction
Let’s get cracking into the first arc(s) of Hunter x Hunter, The Hunter’s Exam and The Zoldyck Family, which introduce us to the core of our key players in the larger HxH universe. Some of the characters mentioned below we only briefly meet within the first arc — some aren’t even formally met and we operate on word-of-mouth descriptions from other characters. But don’t worry: Any time we encounter characters who will have (later) fleshed out arcs or moments as well as further development within specific sections of the show, I’ll do a brief re-introduction to catch everyone up to speed.
Writing (briefly) about our two main characters, Gon & Killua, especially in a character introduction for the first two arcs, is pretty difficult! Having said that, I’ll give them each a (very) brief summation, along with a few things to look out for and keep in mind as you watch (or recall) the series.
Our main protagonist. Hunter x Hunter takes us through the first main journey of Gon, a 12 year-old-boy on a quest to become a hunter in order to follow in his estranged father’s footsteps.
Gon, who grew up on the small, sparsely populated Whale Island, is a deeply curious boy who wants to explore the world at large. In the course of the Hunter’s Exam & Zoldyck Family arcs, Gon meets his best friend and love interest, Killua, his close friends Kurapika and Leorio, as well as his sometimes-ally-mostly-adversary Hisoka, each of whom shapes how Gon moves through the Hunter x Hunter universe.
Things to keep in mind:
- Gon is intrinsically lonely, and this loneliness is a driving force for how Gon navigates the world outside of Whale Island and how he goes through his transformative years into teenagehood. Keep an eye out for how this manifests in conversations with other characters, his actions and facial expressions, and his inner dialogues.
- In the same vein, Gon is desperate to connect to peers his own age and fill specific voids that his life on Whale Island left empty. He’s eager to share experiences and a future with those he does connect with (namely Killua) throughout his journey.
- Given how Ging shirked his fatherly duties to selfishly pursue being a hunter, Gon tends to cling to older male figures who pop up in his life. This becomes important especially in the sixth (Chimera Ant) arc!
- Gon, having been somehow both sheltered and left to his own devices, operates with a stubborn selfishness that both represents his age and (much later) underlies his inability to healthily process his emotions. What initially begins as childish willfulness eventually spirals into something much more destructive.
Ah, Killua, everyone’s favorite HxH character and arguably one of the best characters in all of shounen anime (and if I’m being completely honest here, all of fiction).
I’ll be writing extensively about Killua throughout the entirety of HxH Detours, and I’ll begin by saying this — Killua subverts the classic “rival” role in shounen by throwing it out entirely, and is instead an examination of growing into queerness and overcoming childhood trauma. In the Hunter’s Exam & Zoldyck Family arcs, we learn that Killua is the son and prodigy of an elite assassin family, and that he’s been groomed to take on the role of leader of the family once he grows up.
Things to keep in mind:
- Killua has gone through excessive trauma — inflicted by his family — by the time we meet him at 12 years of age. Up until he meets Gon, he’s gone through his childhood isolated from other children, not allowed to make friends, and brainwashed by Illumi and Silva to feel satisfaction only when he has killed another person. The foundations of this are laid out in the Hunter’s Exam & Zoldyck Family arcs, and throughout the entire show, Killua must work to actively dismantle this trauma one tendril at a time.
- Killua, we learn after he confides in Gon, resents his family’s interference in his decisions and wants to carve out his own path. In fact, we meet him after he runs away from his family estate (read: mountain) so that he can begin to discover what it is he wants to do.
- Despite being the same age as Gon, Killua is often treated (or expected to act) like a mature adult. He’s already experienced a lot in his childhood as an assassin and is thus more worldly than Gon, often sharing anecdotes in passing that underscore just how much shit he’s been through. Watch out for how he tends to take on the role of the most mature and knowledgeable in whatever group he’s a part of, and how adults and those older than Killua either underestimate him, or hold him to much different standards than Gon.
- Throughout this long-winding journey, Killua wrestles with his feelings for Gon and his position in Gon’s life — from friendship into romance — in the tradition of relatable teen angst. Make sure to keep an eye out for how the manipulative brainwashing from Illumi and Silva make Killua constantly question how he truly sees Gon — whether he “wants to kill him”, is only “dazzled” by Gon because he’s never met anyone like him, or is even someone Gon actually wants by his side at all.
Ging is, for all intents and purposes, a piece of shit dad — he knows it, the island knows it, Mito-san knows it, and to a small degree, Gon knows it. The first mention of Ging comes from the fisherman on the island remarking on Gon’s successful capture of the Lord of the Lake, so that he can mirror the same accomplishments as Ging to become a hunter at the age of 12.
From Mito-san’s reaction, we get a sense that behind Gon’s excitement and Ging’s fame, Ging is generally disliked by the family for his role (or rather, lack thereof) in raising his son — apparently, he left Mito-san to do that work on her own. Gon, with an undercurrent of childlike desperation, romanticizes Ging’s lack of clues to where he is as tests Gon will need to pass in order to be worthy of meeting him. This single-minded determination to find Ging and the elusive answers to why he was abandoned as a child fuels the double-edged sword of Gon’s stubborn tunnel vision, leaving him unable to see circumstances around him unfolding, or consciously remember the feelings of those around him.
Mito-san, who is Ging’s cousin, raises Gon as if he’s her own child after Ging leaves Gon in her care as a baby. By Gon’s own admission, he sees Mito-san as his real mother and has no desire to learn the identity of his biological mother.
Mito-san knows how deeply Gon wants to be a hunter but is completely against it — tension radiates from her in waves, due in large part to her anger with Ging for abandoning his obligations as a father and selfishly continuing to be a hunter.
Despite her complicated feelings on the subject, she lets Gon go, knowing that ultimately, Gon is desperately seeking answers that only becoming a hunter can allow him to find.
Leorio, an aspiring doctor, is the bumbling, oldest teenager in Gon’s primary cohort. Despite appearances largely pointing to him being the quintessential shounen archetype — from his character design, to seeming to have the most hurdles to overcome in terms of physical strength — he subverts his stereotype through his goals and motivations.
His main motivation for passing the Hunter’s Exam is to become rich — initially presented as being in service of materialistic desires — so that he can pursue his dream of becoming a doctor and open a hospital where those who have no money can receive treatment for free (hell yeah!). Leorio is a character who is well aware of his shortcomings, and wants to support his friends and their goals, just like they helped him pass the exam.
Kurapika is the 16-year-old sole survivor of the Kurta clan, known for their eyes that change into a brilliant red when they’re under emotional stress. Kurapika lives to seek revenge against the Phantom Troupe — who annihilated the entire Kurta clan — and recover the eyes that were stolen from the Kurtas’ corpses. He seeks to pass the Hunter’s exam in order to glean information on both the troupe’s and eyes’ whereabouts.
Kurapika is intelligent, cool under pressure, and a proficient martial artist, who only has emotional outbursts when spiders are mentioned (there’s a reason for this) or the Kurta are slandered in any way whatsoever. Initially, Kurapika is the embodiment of “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” but his interest in Gon’s pure curiosity and Leorio’s earnestness gradually encourages him to open up to others. One of the most intriguing aspects of Kurapika’s characterization is that he’s ambiguously genderqueer. Voiced by the legendary Miyuki Sawashiro, the anime team frequently plays with Kurapika’s gender ambiguity, which I will get into more deeply later.
The love of my life. Just kidding (coughs). Hisoka is the first primary “antagonist” we meet in Hunter x Hunter. I use quotes because he presents himself as one of the sometimes-allies I mentioned in my intro post. Hisoka is chaotic, unpredictable, overwhelmingly strong, and has a propensity for murder as his kink.
Gon and Hisoka are both freaks who are constantly seeking to fight those who are stronger than themselves. Hisoka sees the huge potential in Gon’s abilities, so he’s waiting for Gon to grow into his powers before they (he hopes) fight to the death. Similarly, Gon is drawn to Hisoka’s strength and views him as an adversarial goal to aspire to. Despite appearances of being solely unpredictable, Hisoka’s enemies, along with his very few allies, are wary of him — his intelligence, adaptability in any situation, and his risk taking make him a dangerous fighter.
Illumi Zoldyck / Gittarackur
Illumi, one of Hunter x Hunter’s most disturbed antagonists, is the extremely manipulative eldest brother of Killua. Boiled down to his core, Illumi has some serious issues regarding, well everything, but particularly when to comes to his abusive overprotectiveness of Killua. As I’ll discuss extensively in my following posts, much of the source of Killua’s trauma extends from Illumi’s heavy-handed, violent manipulation and to a more passive extent, from Killua’s father, Silva.
The ruthlessness Illumi exhibits when it comes to his “love” for Killua, means he will go to any length necessary to preserve his delusion that Killua loves him the most — and he’ll kill anyone who stands in his way. Unsurprisingly, Illumi is (nearly) 100% a loner, and with his strength and nen abilities, he attracts powerful foes and uh, battle-strength-obsessed freaks like Hisoka.
We first meet Illumi when he’s disguised as Gittarackur, who’s taking the Hunter’s exam in disguise to procure a license for a future assassination contract. Illumi’s real face is first revealed to the audience when he “changes” in front of Hisoka (who apparently already knows he’s in disguise) in the fourth part of the exam. It’s not until Illumi’s fight with Killua in part five where he fully reveals himself as Killua’s worst brother.
Kalluto is the youngest child of the Zoldyck family, and at this point in time we know very little about his role in the larger HxH universe. We don’t know how the genderqueer and female-presenting Kalluto identifies, but he uses the male-leaning-though-ambiguous “boku” as his pronoun with other characters (and in the official character guide) so I’ll use masculine pronouns for him moving forward. In the Zoldyck Family arc we see him glued to his mother’s side while he scrutinizes both the changes in Killua after returning from the Hunter’s Exam and Gon’s interactions with Canary. Kalluto makes more involved appearances in the fifth and sixth arcs of the show, so I’ll write more on him in the near-distant future!
Canary serves as one of the Zoldyck family butlers whose loyalty lies with Killua. Being only a couple of years older than Killua, she meets him a few years prior to the present day story as an apprentice butler.
She and Killua bond quickly, though, sensing hyper-objection from Killua’s mother, she declines his request to become friends, a decision we see weigh heavily on her when ordered to “handle” Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio. Though Canary’s appearances in the show are few (only towards the end of the Hunter’s Exam/Zoldyck Family arc & in the final Election arc), she offers a glimpse into the complex inner dynamics of the Zoldyck family and helps illuminate the trauma inflicted on Killua by his family.
The dubious honor of being our other favorite terrible dad of Hunter x Hunter goes to the patriarch of the Zoldyck clan, Silva. As we see throughout the Hunter’s exam, Killua idolizes his father — describing the practiced artform of his assassinations and Silva’s exceedingly high hopes for Killua. When we finally hear more about the extreme trauma inflicted on Killua by Illumi and Silva, we learn how Silva brainwashed Killua to the point where Killua doesn’t feel in control of his actions (which we later learn is further exacerbated by Illumi’s manipulation).
Silva, when speaking with Killua before he “lets him go” seems to be a loving and understanding father in Killua’s eyes. This is a disturbing pretense, as Silva says exactly what Killua wants to hear the most, but fully expects Killua to return to the family, believing his current desires are fleeting at best. Silva views Killua not as a son but as an object and tool to be used at the sole discretion of the Zoldyck family. Whatta dad!
NEXT TIME ON HxH DETOURS: we finally dig into the meat of three of HxH’s main couples, as well as looking at the use of transitory moments to develop relationships and character development.