To begin with the "x" in Hunter x Hunter does not appear to be spoken aloud — as either "ex" or as "times," which is how I first read it. But from the way, the voice artist playing Gon reads each "x"-strewn chapter ("Encounter x Hesitation x Departure," for instance) on the first boxed set of HxH's anime series, the letter in the title of Yoshihiro Togashi's manga-turned-anime series is just a place marker between the two "Hunters."
So now that we've gotten that important matter out of the way, let's take a look at the boxed set collecting the first fifteen episodes of the ten-year-old anime series based on Toshihiro Togashi's still-ongoing manga series. Released by Viz Media, the three-disc set is primarily devoted to introducing the quartet of characters who take up the opening credits. The central figure, the one peering out at us through the die-cut "x" on the front of the box set, is a young village boy named Gon Freecss. A skillful fisherman with a pole and line capable of supporting his own body weight, Gon also possesses a preternatural affinity with the creatures of the woods, particularly the large hybrid creatures called fox/bears.
Gon lives with his sad-eyed Aunt Mita and believes he is an orphan, but, none-too-surprisingly, it turns out that his father Ging really is alive. Gon's old man is a Hunter, perhaps the "greatest Hunter in the entire world;" true to his profession, he travels the world in pursuit of "mysteries and hidden treasures." Once Gon learns that his father is out in the world plying his dangerous trade, he vows to find him. Best way to do that, he figures, is to himself become a Hunter.
The primary story path of the first fifteen eps, then, is of young Gon making his way from his isolated village to Dulle Island, where the Hunter Exam is conducted, and beginning the grueling series of tests designed to weed out unworthy applicants. Along the way, he hooks up with three other would-be Hunters, each with his own reason for wanting to pass the exam: Leorio, the oldest, claims to only be in it for the money, though this mercenary claim later proves to be untrue; blond Kurapika wishes to become a Hunter so he can avenge the death of his family at the hands of bandits called the Phantom Troupe; while lavender-haired skater-boi Killua is striving to make up for the misdeeds of his own family of professional assassins.
Of the four, the most dynamic character proves to be hot-tempered Leorio, who frequently is used as comic relief in the series. Both Kurapika and Killua come across as equally grim, though the former does get off an occasional wisecrack at Leorio's expense. Our hero Gon is open and altruistic, if more than a bit boyishly reckless: his ability to commune with "magical beasts" is a sign that he has it in him to become prime Hunter. "More than anything," we're told, "a good Hunter is loved by animals."
The quartet's examination begins before they even reach Dulle Island, but, once there, they meet many of the competing applicants. Foremost among these are Hisoka the magician, a kill-crazy Joker type who wields a deadly deck of playing cards, and Tonpa, a perpetual candidate who delights in undermining his fellow contestants. The candidates are subjected to a series of grueling and mind-taxing tests (in the most lighthearted one, they're told to make sushi, a dish only one of them has even seen). The first boxed set concludes with our heroes still in the midst of Phase Three of the exam, matching wits with a group of hardened criminals who've been charged with preventing them from climbing down a tower within a prescribed time limit. At some point, presumably, our foursome will be complete their exams, though since we're never told how many phases there are, the testing could continue through a whole other set.
Hunter X Hunter's animation — as is typical for teleseries anime — is limited, though some of the imagery can be quite evocative. Though its characters are rendered fairly seriously, in a few instances you can see manga visual conventions sneaking into the work — as when Leoria gets a softball-sized lump on his head or angry Kurapika temporarily becomes more cartoonish. As with most Western dubs of Japanese 'toons, the young boys in the series are primarily dubbed by actresses (Gon, for instance, is done by Elinor Holt), though blustery Leorio is amusingly vocalized by Jonathan Love. As a series lead, Gon is a mite bland, particularly when placed against his more colorful peers. If he's meant to be a gateway for younger viewers, the Viz set rates the series as suitable for "Older Teens," though I've gotta admit that nothing in the first fifteen episodes struck me as too intense for a PG-13 viewership.
Viz's boxed set doesn't offer much in the way of extras: a few promos for their upcoming DVD sets, an ad for Shonen Jump magazine and their line of paperbacks, plus a series of storyboards that didn't show up all that well on my twentieth century 26-inch TV screen. No explanation anywhere on how that "x" got in the title, though. I guess if you have to ask, you don't deserve knowing . . .