The crowd goes wild any time Kurapika does anything, and Silva Zoldyck is Daddy.
There’s singing. There’s dancing. The crowd goes wild any time Kurapika does anything, and Silva Zoldyck is Daddy. It’s Hunter x Hunter: The Nightmare of Zaoldyeck (sic), and it’s real.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Hunter x Hunter, the wildly popular Shonen Jump manga by Yoshihiro Togashi, actually has two stage musicals. The first one, 2000’s Musical Hunter x Hunter: Deja Vu in Summerーor just Musical Hunter x Hunterーsure does exist. It has an original story featuring original characters and taking place between the Yorknew City and Greed Island arcsーand this is where it goes wrong. The story is convolutedーespecially for a relatively short stage musical packed with songsーand spends altogether too much time on characters we don’t know or care about. Stage productions of anime and manga are a singularly fan-oriented affairーit’s hard to imagine someone who’s not familiar with the source material going to see one, since they tend to assume a certain amount of foreknowledge and are usually unremarkable in terms of production values. We’re here to see the characters we know and love go on an adventure and sing about their feelings, not get wrapped up in investigating a kidnapping case involving ghosts and attempted massacres (and sing about their feelings). It fundamentally misunderstands what the audience wants to see.
Thankfully, the folks in charge of production seem to have learned their lesson admirably, because 2002’s The Nightmare of Zaoldyeck (sic) is an absolute delight, start to finish. The first act is a fairly simple retread of the Zoldyck Family arc, in which Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio go to Kukuroo Mountain to free Killua from his family’s mansion. The second act is pure crowd-pleasing fanfiction. I imagine the conversation in the writer’s room went something like this:
Writer 1: Okay, but wouldn’t it be cool if everyone met Killua’s family after that?
Writer 2: Oh totally! They should have a big party and everything, with all the main characters in suits!
Writer 3: You know who should be there too? Hisoka and Illumi! They’re fan favorites!
Writer 1: They’re not in this arc, though.
Writer 3: …what’s your point?
Writer 1: …oh man, you’re right!
Writer 2: And Kurapika and Leorio should go to the hot springs together! And Gon and Killua should have a tickle fight!
Writer 1: Remember Hisoka’s showstopping dance number that was the best part of the first musical? What if we did that again, but even better?
Writer 2: And Leorio should sing a big dramatic number about friendship while scrubbing himself down in the hot springs!
Writer 3: If we’re gonna have Hisoka there anyways, he should fight with Silva and Zeno! There’s no point but it’d be really cool!
[This continues for 3 hours.]
And the thing is, it all absolutely worksーbecause the fans do want to see every bit of what they put in front of us. It’s not all just fun, crowd-pleasing character interactions, either. The original Zoldyck Family arc always ended a little anticlimacticallyーeveryone storms in to rescue Killua like knights saving a princess and it seems to be building up to some big confrontation between our protagonists and Killua’s family, but then Silva just lets him go after a talk and that’s that. In the musical, Leorio says there’s no way they’ll be able to just leave after meeting the Zoldycks, because “a story needs more conflict”ーand sure enough, we get just the confrontation we were denied in the original, with Illumi and Hisoka there to boot. The narrative is a simple one in which the power of friendship triumphs over the curse of Killua’s bloodline and Illumi’s manipulationーa far cry from the complexity of Togashi’s writing, especially compared to later arcs, but perfect for a stage show. All in all, it gives the impression of something made by people who love Hunter x Hunter with all their hearts, having the time of their lives with the opportunity to take it into their own hands. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the enthusiasm.
It’s not perfect, of course. As mentioned before, the production values are low, with little to nothing in the way of sets. The songs are unremarkable, though delivered with admirable gustoーGon, Killua, Kurapika, Leorio, and Hisoka are all played by their voice actors from the 1999 anime, but they’ve all got great singing voices. They largely manage to hold their own in terms of dancing as well, but there’s a clear contrast between them and the professional dancers and acrobatsーSilva and Zeno in particular do a lot of backflipsーthat make up the supporting cast. Gon’s actress in particular has a tendency to overact during lighter momentsーeven by the standards of stage actingーmaking Gon overshoot “peppy” and land on “shrill.” The rest of the cast do their jobs well enoughーthe only standout performance is Hisoka, whose actor does an uncannily good job embodying the pervert magician. Oh, and it’s a little hard to tell due to the poor video quality of the only version available online, but it looks an awful lot like Canary’s actress is in blackface. Just…putting that out there.
Overall, though, The Nightmare of Zaoldyeck (sic) is still astonishingly good for a silly stage musical based on an animeーespecially compared to the first Hunter x Hunter musical. It’s definitely worth being seen by anyone familiar with the anime/manga up to that point in the storyーsure, it might be pure fanservice, but there’s nothing wrong with giving the people what they love.