I love the idea of Heaven’s Arena, which is a massive skyscraper with over 200 floors described as a mecca for martial artists. New entrants begin at the bottom and gradually work their way up, each further level bringing with it stronger opponents and better prize money. At the 200th floor, the fighters are no longer paid; they remain only for the joy of fighting.
I love the idea of Heaven’s Arena because I love a tournament arc in my shonen anime. Naruto’s chūnin exams and My Hero Academia’s U.A. Sports Festival are just two examples that come to mind, where a tournament structure, with clear winners and losers, is easy to follow and fun to watch as well as clearly demonstrating a character’s evolution.
By the end of Heaven’s Arena, it’s no exaggeration to say that Gon and Killua are 10 times the fighters they were. Mostly, this is due to their introduction to Nen, Hunter x Hunter’s own way of allowing its characters to wield supernatural powers, because in this world, if you’re not a Nen user, you’re going to get hurt. Pretty badly.
I guess I’m still surprised by people being seriously maimed or just straight-up dying in Hunter x Hunter. When Gon & Killua make it up to the 200th floor, some of the first opponents they meet are guys with no legs, with 1 arm or in a wheelchair, maimed by other the fighters at that level for not being Nen users. This a marked difference to other shonen anime, where the consequences of losing are often hand-waived with a contrivance of plot. No, here you lose parts of your body, or worse; your life.
Another difference is just how competent and talented Gon and Killua are. It’s spelt out during Heaven’s Arena that these boys are 1 in a million and will grow up to be frighteningly strong. Contrast this with Naruto and My Hero Academia, where the heroes are the hard-working underdogs. By acknowledging Gon and Killua’s talent, Hunter x Hunter has these kids fighting against fully grown adults and still coming out on top. It’s pretty cool, but also emphasises the surreal talent of Gon and Killua.
Of course, there’s 1 adult they still can’t beat; Hisoka. Before Heaven’s Arena, I was convinced he was a villain, but now, he feels less a villain to me and more just like this weird, bored guy that loves fighting. His fight against Gon had some great, hot-blooded moments, like the camera panning from Hisoka’s perspective as Gon circles him searching for a weakness like a wolf on the hunt.