"Hunter X Hunter, Volume 2" ups the ante a bit, as Gon and his friends continue to wade through the deadly Hunter Exam. Most of the second volume of Yoshihiro Togashi's bestselling manga is taken up by less-than-lethal brands of fighting -- including an unorthodox ball game and a cooking competition -- but it starts picking up and getting darker as the applicants reach the third phase.
Hisoka attacks Leorio and Kurapika, as part of his examiner game -- but when he tries to kill Leorio, Gon appears and attacks him. Surprisingly Hisoka is intrigued by Gon's attitude, and announces that he and Leorio have "passed."
They all barely arrive in time for the next phase, in which a pair of gourmet Hunters demand satisfaction before they'll let anyone pass. The vast Buharo is relatively easy to please: all they need to do is kill and roast giant aggressive superpigs for his dining pleasure. But Menchi presents them with a pretty steep challenge: make perfect hand-molded sushi, despite almost none of them knowing the first thing about it. Of course, it's a complete disaster.
In fact, things get so bad that the Commissioner has to step in to mediate the situation, and find some way of keeping Menchi from failing them all. And on the way to the third phase, Gon and Killua are presented with a unique ball game by the Commissioner -- if they manage to get the ball away, he'll give them Hunter licenses. But there's a much nastier challenge waiting for them at the vast tower where the third phase takes place...
The first several chapters of this series are all about the somewhat fantastical, childlike alternate world that Togashi has cooked up, and "Hunter X Hunter, Volume 2" has a lot of that -- rhinoesque wild boards, a cooking competition for a punky Hunter, and a big silly-looking airship. But it starts getting noticeably darker in the latter chapters, especially when we find out what the third phase entails -- and it looks like it will be nasty. Think single combat.
Along the way, Togashi sprinkles this volume with a fair amount of lightheartedness, from the disastrous attempts at making sushi (most of which involve whole fish) to the relaxed conversation between Gon and Killua ("What do your parents do?" "Mass murder." "Both of them?"). But there's also plenty of action woven in, some of it fairly sinister -- especially since the psychopathic clown-magician Hisoka seems to have an unusual interest in Gon.
Gon himself turns out to be a wee bit of an adrenaline junkie, since he finds the whole fighting-for-your-life thing strangely exciting. And the mysterious boy Killua turns out to have a rather surprising background -- he's part of a family of assassins, and he can be deadly when provoked. Think dismemberment. And the head of the Hunter exam board turns out to be a quirky, deceptively lighthearted old man with some unusual tricks up his sleeve.
"Hunter X Hunter, Volume 2" is a fairly fluffy continuation of the Hunter exam, but things start getting darker and creepier in the last few chapters. Worth seeing, if nothing else to check out how it all starts.