As usual, the hunter exam is really more about mind games than physical challenges, though the latter are certainly a serious part of the game. This time the venue for the fourth and final phase is Zevil Island, and the premise is simple – numbers are drawn in random lots, and the twenty-four surviving candidates earn their place of both hunter and hunted. Your tag is three points, your designated target’s tag three, and six points are needed to advance. You don’t have to kill your opponent to steal their tag, but there’s nothing to say you can’t. Naturally the permutations of this are pretty complicated, especially given that the candidates have to spend a full week on the island whether they get six points worth of tags in their possession or not. Alliances could certainly be formed, and defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
A couple of parts of the episode were interesting for me. First, the reactions of the four main cast, who’ve clearly broken down into pairs – Gon and Killua, Leorio and Kurapika. Gon and Killua are obviously aware of the strategic advantages of secrecy here, and there’s an initial wall of tension between them. But they get past this in typical schoolboy fashion, once it’s clear neither is the target of the other. Killua has not even bothered to hide his tag, in fact, virtually inviting anyone to attempt to attack him – and he also has no idea who his target (#199) is. To be honest, I don’t remember either. Gon has unluckily drawn Hisoka’s number, seemingly an impossible target, though the prospect of trying to wrest Hisoka’s badge away has filled Gon with so much fear and excitement that he’s trembling. Between Kurapika and Leorio there’s a sort of false nonchalance, each posturing unconcern to the other in feigned friendliness. I’m not convinced both are telling the truth in saying the other isn’t the target.
I also found Gon’s approach to his problem rather fascinating. Rather than tackle Hisoka head-on, he wisely decides stealth is his only course – but again, does not concern himself with Hisoka right away but rather with training himself for the eventual meeting. He does this by trying to capturing first a still target (apples) and later a moving one trying to evade him, birds. The eventual moment when a fish catching a fly is caught by a bird catching a fish who’s in turn caught by a boy catching a bird is a rather amusing metaphor both in the general and series-specific sense – especially given that Gon is himself being hunted at that moment. His hunter is Gereta (Kanemitsu Nobuaki) a candidate about whom we know very little, but is clearly not taking Gon lightly due to his age and stature.
There are of course many ways in which this could play out. Two candidates could, for example, form a team to jointly take down their mutual targets. Alternatively one might choose to target three perceived weak candidates rather than one’s own perceived strong target. Someone could acquire six points, only to lose by having his own badge taken by his hunter – and someone could lose his own badge and still advance by taking that of his target and three other candidates. This being Hunter x Hunter I don’t expect a straightforward contest. Tonpa is eerily quiet, and will surely be up to something. I expect the bonds of the core group to be tested, and I expect each of them to approach the conundrum as their inner nature demands. Gon will continue to rely on his pure hunter’s instinct, Killua on his cold-blooded ruthlessness – likely trying the bulk approach rather than spending time trying to figure out who his target is.. Kurapica should be matter-of-fact and relentless, and Leorio will take an erratic path guided by his passion and anger.