There are very few shounen anime that can hold a candle to Hunter X Hunter in narrative and character development. The series hits on so many themes such as friendship, redemption, enlightenment, and revenge. But, nothing stood out to me quite as much as the notion of ‘finding a purpose’ brought up throughout the season with Killua.
Shounen characters’ ambitions tend to be grandiose and often over the top. Take Black Clover, for example; Asta and Yuno both want to become the wizard king. Or, consider Midoriya in My Hero Academia that wants to become the GREATEST superhero in the entire world. Even characters within Hunter X Hunter have backstories that set them their respective goals. Kurapika is the lone survivor of a genocide leading him on a path towards revenge. Leorio grew up poor and was unable to save his best friend from dying, leading him to become a Hunter to attend medical school and save others. Gon’s father abandoned him as a child leading him to follow in his footsteps and become a Hunter.
Although an epic backstory will motivate characters throughout a story, that isn’t how life works. This then leads us to Killuas’ character which although has a big backstory, doesn’t give Killua’s a quest to chase after. Early on in the show, Gon asked Killua why he wanted to become a Hunter, and he said that he thought that the exam would be fun. Killua was raised by a family of assassins that pushed their ideals and aspirations onto Killua. However, Killua shared none of these aspirations. He did now want to become an assassin, so he ran away.
We see real development with Killua’s character. At the beginning of the show, Killua could best be described as a psychopath bearing little value on life and the ones around him. He was brainwashed from a young age to care about nothing but his family and that he didn’t need any friends. However, by the end of the exam arc, he replied that he wants to be Gon’s friend when asked what he wanted by his narcissistic older brother Illumi. Illumi proceeded to tell Killua that nobody would be friends with him and that he should return home.
Gon, Kurapica and Leorio end up chasing after Killua and rescuing him from his family. After the Zoldic Arc, Gon and Killua go to Whale island to visit Gon’s family. Killua expresses to Gon that he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. Gon replies that they should spend time together while searching for Gon’s father because they enjoy spending time together and that along the way, Killus can search for what he wants to do. This is how it remains until the end of the election Arc when Killua decides that his purpose, for the time being, would be to protect his sister from the rest of his family.
This plot obviously isn’t too deep; however, the execution is excellent, and it resonates throughout the story since Killua’s character development serves as the emotional backbone of Hunter X Hunter. Everyone throughout their life needs to decide what they want to do with their life. More often than not, this choice is thrust upon the character in fiction with an over-the-top backstory. However, having a clear purpose in life isn’t always given; you need to seek it out. For Killua, he found purpose and fulfillment in protecting his friends, and in the end, doing the same thing but with his sister.