E. A Solinas | MD USA | 07/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It turns out the Hunter Exam just becomes more brutal as time goes on. And "Hunter X Hunter, Vol. 2" sees our heroes to the end of the exam, but they have some chilling and sometimes shocking obstacles in their way before they can get their licenses. And while there are some dull spots (a whole episode of Gon angsting?) the whole anime-only battleship arc fleshes out the test and characters nicely.
First, the gang has to finish Trick Tower -- Leorio's match is a dismal failure, and Killua's sets him against a mass murderer of nightmarish skill. And at the end of the path, the five potential Hunters are forced to decide whether to fight each other to determine who will continue.
Then the passing applicants are taken to a vast battleship-turned hotel, where they are forced to dive for treasure to pay their way. But when the hoteliers vanish during the night, the group must figure out a way to get to the next phase of the exam, with only wrecked ships as their transportation. Unfortunately, something deadly is brewing in the island's bay, and the only way to survive is to work together to somehow free the grounded battleship.
The next phase isn't much fun either -- a week on Zevil Island, where the applicants must hunt each other for their numbered badges. Unfortunately Gon has drawn Hisoka, but the psycho-clown isn't the only problem for the gang. And in the final phase of the exam, the applicants are put into a series of one-on-one fights -- but one of the combatants has a shocking message for Killua.
"Hunter X Hunter Volume 2" basically has the complete second half of the Hunter Exam, and it's a bit grimmer and more dangerous than the phases that have gone before. In the meantime, there's a bit more exploration of the supporting characters (such as chatterbox ninja Hanzo, who spends a whole episode in his underwear), and an entire arc that was made up for the anime but is still surprisingly good.
Some of the scenes drag on too long, such as a drugged Gon agonizing about Hisoka, throwing up under a tree and floating in a stream... for what seems like a whole episode. Thankfully there are only a few of these moments, and instead we have some spectacular action sequences involving battleship cannons, tidal waves, blowguns and fishing rods. And the final round of one-on-one fights gets fairly gruesome when Kurapika fights the increasingly crazed Hisoka (who starts slurping his own blood off a card!), and when Gon gets the torturous once-over by Hanzo.
Fortunately between the life-threatening experiences, there's also some fun comedy (Kurapika's violent reaction to Leorio in the nude) and funny dialogue ("What IS this? It's gross, get it off me!" tiny assassin-boy Killua howls after catching his first fish). And one entire episode is devoted to the applicants frantically cramming for a written exam that never happens.
The happy-go-lucky Gon experiences some personal storms here, especially when Hisoka takes pity on him rather than regarding him as an equal, but his sunny personality remains fairly steady. More of Kurapika's bloody past is revealed when he finds a Kurta ship wrecked in the bay, and the chatterbox ninja Hanzo is shown in two different ways -- as a competent, knowledgeable leader who can and will torture almost anyone, and as a quirky guy who spends most of one episode in his underwear ("... if I get any hotter, I think my brain is gonna melt!").
Killua demonstrates his super-assassin skills (casually plucking out a heart), but seems to be on the path to being a normal little boy -- but a rather mind-twisting encounter with one of the other applicants leaves it unclear what will happen next with him.
"Hunter X Hunter Volume 2" is a solid continuation and end to the Hunter Exam, but a shocking end twist serves as the lead-in to a future arc. It's obvious the ride is nowhere near over."