What truly makes a great character arc in an anime is when characters undergo an unexpected change. Maybe it’s when they realize something that you’ve wanted to see from their character since the beginning of the story, or could it be when a character slowly shifts into someone that can best relate to us, the viewer, on a personal level.
Starting from a character with such foreign ideals but ultimately transforming into a figure so loved and adored that we watch in amazement on the progress they have made throughout their story. The edgy or bad character turning to the side of good has been done countless times in shonen anime.
Take Vegeta from Dragon Ball, Gaara from Naruto, and Greed from Full Metal Alchemist, just to name a few. And while not being an antagonist in any sense of the word, we’re taking a look at a 14-year-old assassin who, through the series of Hunter x Hunter, managed to capture not only the full spectrum of character complexities and growth I just mentioned but also steal our hearts in the process.
For the record, that was not intended to be a pun about how he literally ripped a person’s heart out, but let’s move on. Few characters truly encapsulate the full nature of character development than they do throughout Killua’s story in Hunter x Hunter. We watch in literal amazement how a dark, slightly sadistic, and frankly numb character transitions into a pure-hearted and bright character, showing us that hidden behind a lot of pain, torment, and self-conflict, there truly lies a heart of gold.
The subtle intricacies and shift in this character’s outlook are not only transformative to themselves but the world around them. It’s a rare and beautiful concept that isn’t shared by a lot of characters in anime. Just like the title of the blog suggests, Killua Zoldyck teaches us that within the biggest pits of darkness, there can be an abundance of radiant light waiting to be brought to the surface. So, I hope you all enjoy as we explore the sheer beauty of Killua’s character, his inspiring transformation, and the pure genius of Yoshihiro Togashi’s writing.
This is a story of redemption. This is the story of Killua Zoldyck. What’s up, anime fanbase! Welcome back to Anime Analysis, a channel dedicated to discussing and analyzing all things anime has to offer. If you would like to see more Hunter x Hunter analysis similar to this or have any other anime you’d like to see me cover, smash that thumbs up button, and leave your suggestions in the comments down below. So, without any further delay, let’s dive right into it.
To discover why Killua’s journey, beginning to end, is so impactful, it only makes sense to start where he began. Being raised and expected to be the heir to the Hunter x Hunter world’s most renowned assassin family comes with a lot of pressure and probably more trauma than anyone could assume.
Within this family of unique individuals, there are three identifiable elements that contribute to Killua’s disposition when we meet him at the beginning of the story. Let’s take a closer look at each one of them. Being the character he is, Killua rarely showed any emotion or was very against being upfront about any situation, for that matter.
With this being said, Killua had done an amazing job of concealing all the torment he had endured. When he befriended our main protagonist, Gon, the Zoldyck family torture was seemingly normal and, as a matter of fact, accepted. This is apparent when Milluki tortures Killua after he arrives home after killing Botoro during the final stage of the Hunter Exam.
Ironically enough, Killua only really seems to show anger towards his brother when he threatens to harm his friends, carrying little for the beating just placed on him. Though I’m saving this for later on in the blog, this is the first insight we get into Killua’s sense of self-worth and how he feels his body is the only thing he has to offer to those he has close ties to.
While not too much is known about Killua’s childhood apart from regular beatings, we know that he was subjected to poison on a frequent basis, and of course, we can’t fail to mention his proclivity towards lightning and electrocution, as this was the sole inspiration for his Hatsu. When taking a step back and looking through all the trauma that was involved in Killua’s early years, it’s amazing to think that within a family of monsters, there lies a considerate and, more importantly, human character suppressed by not only the torture subjected onto him but their ideology as a family business as well.
Speaking of this family of monsters, while we know that they are vastly different in one way or another, we do know that there is something that ties them together, and that is the art of assassination, except maybe for one of them. While Killua still rejects this component of his life, he was nonetheless subject to violence, pain, death, and murder all from the ripe age of 12 years old. Looking at this with a practical lens, Killua is very much a child, and like any child, Killua is a creature of habit.
There are moments throughout the story where Killua will resort to this assassination instinct when he is frustrated or under pressure, and this couldn’t be more apparent than in the Hunter Exam arc during the ball game with Netaro. An ordeal that Killua knew he had no chance of winning, resorted to a kick that would, in Natural’s words, “shatter any normal person’s leg.” On top of this, the frustration he felt after not succeeding in the ball game left him in a bloodthirsty state as he ultimately murdered two examinees in cold blood without any second thought like a corrupt child.
It is evident that his sense of morality is incredibly warped as it feels like Killua is teetering on the line of being a functional member of society or an indiscriminate killer. Combined with Killua’s already eroded sense of worth, notice how he becomes incredibly insecure or critical of others when this frustration sets in. This is clear through Killua’s thoughts during Gon’s fight with Hanzo or his negative self-talk when comparing himself to Gon regarding his placement in the tournament’s rankings.
At the core of it all, this outlook didn’t come out of thin air, or it wasn’t something Killua was merely born with. He embodies nurture in every sense of the word, molded by the people who Killua calls his family. Well, what might be the dynamic of this crazy family, you may ask? Great question.
At first glance, you may believe being the heir to a prestigious assassin family comes with its perks, but maybe not as much as you initially believe. Any normal family would be a different story, but with Kikio and Illumi’s obsessive behavior, Silva’s firm belief that Killua is destined to lead the family, and Miloki’s apparent jealousy, things at home are anything but normal.
While I won’t dive into the complex dynamic of the Zoldic family in this blog, it is made abundantly clear that Killua is special amongst the Zoldics. The twisted sense of love they share for him molded him into an unstoppable killing machine, but at what cost?
In stark contrast to Gon, learning to love, opening up to others, and showing affection was never a part of Kilauea’s life. However, as I hinted before, there is a way that Kilauea demonstrates his affection for others without emotionally opening up, and that’s using his body to protect others close to him.
This is highlighted when Kilauea protects Gon, Palm, and Kombuchi during the Chimera Ant arc. The point that I’m trying to make through this example is that although Kilo was surrounded by this twisted sense of love his entire life, he acts on his own free will, deciding to leave the family and blaze his own trails. To me, this indicates that Kilauea is aware of his family’s crazed perspective.
Tying in Kilauea’s overall transformation, the Zoldic family dynamic brings into question whether or not we are slaves to our own fate or whether we have control over our lives. Just by asking himself these questions, Kilo takes his first steps towards the life he had always dreamed of, and while it may not be a life that was fully thought out at the time, at least it would be a life of freedom.
In spite of this promising realization, it would be the first time Kilauea had true agency over himself and his future. How would this jarring shift in his life affect him as a person? Why don’t we find out.
As I explained briefly before, Kilauea’s lack of self-worth and feelings of worthlessness are an incredibly central part of his character arc. Two events particularly stand out to me when I think of how this theme evolves and changes, ultimately landing Kilauea in the bright place he is by the end of the story. Let’s talk about them.
As put best by her favorite clown, Hisoka, transmuters are whimsical and prone to deceit, often having unique attitudes. Many are regarded as weirdos or tricksters, putting forth a facade to hide the truer aspects of their personalities, rarely revealing their true intentions. They often assign unique or unpredictable properties to their net that reflects their personalities. I don’t know about you guys, but I think this explanation fits Kilauea to a T.
While not a pathological liar, Killua is prone to concealing information and keeping things close to his chest. Think of his gratitude and relationship with Gon, as shown on numerous occasions. He is embarrassed by affection, as it is a component of their relationship that he wishes would be kept private. We see that this has a tipping point, though, when he tries to light a palm but can’t hold any of his emotions.
During this moment of desperation, and while this is something that changed gradually and through the course of the story, there was another big aspect to this character that changed at the snap of a finger: a barrier in his brain that twisted his decisions to the whims of another. A metaphorical needle in a haystack, if you will.
Illumi’s needle could be argued to be the most important item in regard to Kilauea Zoldick’s sense of self-worth. Being programmed to run away from any battle that he was unable to win has ironically huge ramifications on not only his character descent but also his character growth as well and his path to redemption. Suddenly, all the strange things about Kilauea’s past connect and begin to make sense. Like the time he was frozen when face to face with Illumi during the hunter exam and him suddenly killing Barrow for seemingly no real reason.
If anything, the needle is a testament to Killa’s resolve, as the act of pulling out the needle comes at a time when he was desperate to save the friend he cares so much about. Ironically and also beautifully, the removal of Illumi’s needle Kilowatt’s brightest and most redeeming moment coincided with Gon’s darkest moment through his brutal murder of Pito.
After this, we see a character with more autonomy, clarity, focus, direction, and most importantly, happiness. The removal of the needle is Killua’s shining moment and what I believe to be the climax of his character arc, signaling his ultimate plunge into light that starkly opposes his dark beginnings.
And while the things I’ve been talking about have only pertained to Killua and his conflict as an individual, his characterization couldn’t be complete without addressing his relationship with the one person he could call a friend, his best friend, Gon. I believe that the true beauty of Gon and Killua’s friendship throughout Hunter x Hunter takes the form of their dualities and opposite paths. As the story progresses, both their characters and character arcs are polar opposites of one another’s.
Gon is outspoken and loud, while Killua is reserved and quiet. Gon is willing to make friends in a heartbeat, while Killua is closed off. Gon’s Nen is explosive and seemingly unrefined, whereas Killua’s is meticulously crafted and thought out. But most of all, their maturity contrasts with each other’s, just like their themes throughout the story, and this doesn’t show more than in the Chimera Ant arc.
The message central to the Chimera Ant arc is the notion of what it means to be human, as it challenges the lines between human and monster. While we notice Gon’s spiral out of control due to his lack of maturity and his visions clouded by revenge, anger, and hatred, Killua’s maturity only grows, staying focused on his vision of protecting those close to him.
As a result of this experience and their eventual parting between the two friends, Killua emerges a changed person set on his ways, knowing deep within his heart that he’s on the path forged by himself. On the other hand, Gon leaves the friendship the same way he joined it, as a jovial boy with no Nen abilities, while Killua leaves with a mastery of Nen and a vastly different outlook on the world, proving to be a light for not only Gon but to his little sister, Alluka, as well.
And just like friends on their separate paths, they part ways, knowing that a time will come when they will see each other again, something I’m sure we have all experienced at one point in our lives, or is something that we can all relate to. Having said all that regarding Killua’s roller coaster of a journey, I think the importance behind any analysis is what we can take from it moving forward.
I believe the main lessons one can take away from Killua is the importance of balance. It is never wise to commit to one thing but instead to view yourself as an amalgamation of your experiences. Killua didn’t suppress the assassin within him; he just learned how to quell those urges and use his exceptional talent for good.
He teaches us that whatever background you may come from, whatever challenges you may face, whatever thoughts you have dominating your mind, you have the ability to change and become the self you envision. You do have complete agency over your life, and I can’t think of a better way to symbolize this than Killua’s transformation throughout the story of Hunter x Hunter.
If you’ve made it this far, I truly appreciate each and every one of you for listening in on my thoughts about Kilowatt Zoldyck, truly one of the most special characters anime has to offer. What are your thoughts on Killua and which scenes did you think played the biggest role in shaping his character? I’d love to start a discussion in the comments down below.
If you like this, I have a growing playlist of Hunter x Hunter analysis blogs to which I’ll leave a link to the playlist right here. Thank you all so much for reading, your support really does mean the world to me. With that being said, and until next time, stay curious, anime fam!
That’s me, Andreea Blaga, author of the blog anime-everything.com. I work as a content creator in the US. I am also passionate about Japanese Anime.