I noticed something interesting about my own viewing experience as an audience member when I came across the character of Hisoka in Hunter X Hunter. I realized that from the beginning of any story, we as an audience unconsciously do one thing. And it is that very thing that writers use to their advantage time and time again to introduce or shock us with plot twists. Do you remember how for 6 books and a good part of the 7th, we were convinced that Severus Snape was a villain? Remember how we were all shocked and moved when we realized what he was actually doing? Now Severus Snape is immortalized as a fan favourite.
So, what was the trick?
Dumbledore was great but something about Snape’s story moved the audience. While it is undebatable that what made Snape’s character truly outstanding was his selfless conduct and the willingness to be misunderstood by everyone just to save Harry as a part of his devotion to Lilly, I want to focus on how J.K. Rolling brought out this side of Snape with so much poignance. She used our habit as an audience against us. We categorized Snape as a villain and we were so sure, and she pulled an uno reverse on us. This tendency to categorize on-screen character as either Heroes or Villains is ever present in our viewing experience. It only became obvious to me, when I was watching the character of Hisoka Morow from widely popular anime, Hunter X Hunter (HxH).
The popular anime series follows the adventures of Gon Freecss in his quest to become a what is called a ‘Hunter’. The anime is set in an imaginary world, where most of it is uncharted territory, and the job of discovery falls on these ‘Hunters’. In order to become a Hunter, one must pass a vigorous examination risking their lives to prove themselves worthy of the title.
We encounter Hisoka as a participant in the Hunter examination where Gon is hoping to achieve the title of Hunter. His face is heavily adorned with make-up and his bright crimson hair that contrasts his pale complexion gelled up to give the appearance of an ancient street performer. He sports an eye-catching outfit that is adorned with the 4 symbols of playing cards to indicate his weapon of choice, as if to highlight his tendency to use them as throwing knifes.
In his very first scene, Hisoka is seen taking away another contestants arms just because the contestant bumped into him and didn’t apologize. At once, he becomes a prime candidate for the stories’ villain. An overpowered evil force that our main character is supposed to defeat to save others. A villain to create a hero. As the story progresses however, we encounter a slight problem to that thinking. Do I mean to say Hisoka becomes an altruistic character and just another misunderstood villain? Not a chance. It was the fact that despite being a true embodiment of a psychopath, he was not a villain or an antagonist in the same way he should have been.
Our conflict as an audience occurs when we realize that the character of Hisoka goes out of his way to make sure Gon is able to pass the exam. Now analysing Hisoka’s unusual obsession with Gon would require an article of its own. The point of this one is to see how our viewing experience is shaped by the idea of heroes and villains. At the end of the first season of the anime, I could only come to one conclusion about his character. He may be far from good, but he was not a villain, at least in the general sense of the word. He is not the biggest obstacle that the hero has to overcome. At times Hisoka actively helps Gon in his journey to become a Hunter. At other times he has an almost pedophilic obsession with Gon. At times, it is obvious that he will not bat an eye to Gon’s death if it serves him. And by serving him, I completely mean ‘if it was entertaining enough’. Throughout the series there are an uncountable number of psychopathic behaviors that Hisoka displays. He is narcissistic, shows pedophilic and sadistic tendencies and can easily be classified as a psychopathic serial killer. Yet, among many HxH fans, he is a popular character.
The point of this article is not to glorify psychopathic behaviours or to simp on villains. Yet, purely as an enthusiastic fan, Hisoka’s character is one of the most thought-provoking characters I have come across in media. He is unapologetically evil without having any redeemable qualities and yet there are throngs of fans who are captured by this character. While many would easily categorize this obsession as ‘simping’, the audience’s attraction towards the character comes from more than that. In fact, in the same series, Meruem, who redeems himself from the position of a villain at the end, was still more of an obstacle and a villain to Gon than Hisoka ever was. But if one were to argue who was the greater of the two evils, it would undoubtedly be Hisoka. Hisoka is not placed in the position of a villain (an obstacle to hero’s journey), and instead is an ally to the main character in most instances. Yet, we can choose to support Hisoka in the guise of wanting the best for our hero. Understanding this character and my own obsession with him has lead to one point that I want to leave with the reader.
The portrayal of a Hero and a Villain, a clear-cut two-sided representation makes it easier for the audience to take the side of the main character or the Hero. Hisoka’s character goes beyond that distinction to explore the existing notions of all-encompassing evil of a villain and the undisputed altruism and goodness of a Hero. Most importantly his character leads us to question our own prejudices that blur our own moral judgements, and to see human nature for what it is; a conflicting mix of moral righteousness and animal instincts.
– Rtr. Yeshani Fernando
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