In the battle of epic island arcs, Shounen Sunday vs. Shounen Jump, Fairy Tail vs. Hunter x Hunter, Madhouse takes the lead over A-1 Pictures with the best episode of H x H and one of the best anime episodes of a young 2012.
That was just about the culmination of everything this series has been building up to so far. With that kind of pressure it’s mighty hard for an ep to stand up to close scrutiny, but pretty much everything there was spot-on for me. I’m sure we’ll hear some complaints about it from the 1999 purists, but there’s not much I would change. It was the crucial episode of the series for both Hisoka and Gon, and they both passed the dramatic test with flying colors. Not only that but the episode featured the best art direction of the series so far and superb pacing.
Hisoka remains a fascinating figure, the one person in this series you can’t take your eyes off of. Good heroes are rare and so are good villains, but good anti-heroes might be the best characters of all from a dramatic standpoint, and Hisoka’s one of the best. There’s no denying his cruelty, but there’s an odd sort of honor to the guy that’s cut from the mold of the classic shounen anti-heroes. The first confrontation of the episode – with Leorio and Kurapika – was only the appetizer, but it was interesting in its own right. Kurapica and Leorio’s reactions were pretty much predictably in character, with Leorio ready to plow ahead into a hopeless fight and Kurapica playing the rationalist to the end.
More interesting was watching Hisoka and watching Gon (watching Hisoka). Gon had to face the epic decision of whether he would intervene on behalf of his friends, or stick to the plan and go after the tag. We’ll never know what he would have decided – of if that decision would have been different if it were his best friend Killua facing Hisoka – because Hisoka did something very intriguing by not killing Leorio and Kurpika. Kurapika’s argument did make sense, but surely Hisoka would have carried the day easily if he’d cared to, and agreeing to Kurapika’s terms left him one point short of his quota. Clearly, though, Kurapika’s stoicism and cleverness piquéd his curiosity, and so he played along with them.
But that’s when things really took off, as we got one of the best and creepiest anime scenes in a while. Hisoka stood still as a statue, allowing a blooderfly to land on his finger, and slowly his blood lust came over him in a way we haven’t seen yet. It was very cleverly done by director Koujina Hiroshi, in a manner better seen than described – absolutely chilling and thrilling. Meanwhile Gon was observing all this, and a terrible fear came over him unlike any he’d felt before. I mentioned it last week, but it’s only in Hisoka’s presence that we truly see Gon’s childish vulnerability come out, and he truly acts like the little boy he is. It’s the fear, but there’s something else too, something that ties into his aim to be a Hunter, and this will come into play later in the episode.
The practical implication of Hisoka’s deal with Kurpaika is that Gon has lost his chance to steal his tag while Hisoka attacks his victim, but it’s clear to Gon that Hisoka will surely sate his bloodlust on whoever he meets next. So Gon climbs for a better view, scopes out the victim and the likely meeting place, and gives us a good demonstration of his hunter skills, blocking out everything but the two targets. He also shows the fear and excitement that he worries will give away his position, but he manages to surprise (very much) Hisoka, and steal his tag just as he’s making his kill. But while Gon may have learned much from his hunting practice, he forgets the lesson he should have learned from the bird – the hunter is always being hunted – and Gereta takes him down with a stun dart as Gon is fleeing with Hisoka’s tag.
The main course – or dessert, if you like, anyway the best part of the meal – is still to come, and it’s the final meeting between Hisoka and Gon. Hisoka kills Gereta of course, but he doesn’t take back his tag. Gereta was his target, and with the tags he got from Kurapika and “Gittrackur” he has enough points – so he let’s Gon keep both the boy’s tag and his own. Both man and boy really show what they’re made of here, with Gon – theoretically paralyzed – angrily telling Hisoka he doesn’t want his charity and Hisoka refusing to take his tag back, promising that he won’t kill Gon until he’s grown enough to be worth killing. When Gon manages to fight through the poison and rise, despite the fact that it would immobilize most grown men for ten days, Hisoka is even more intrigued – but still refuses, telling Gon that the lad “owes him one” before knocking Gon out with a serious left hook and promising he won’t accept the tag back until Gon can do the same to him.
Heh. In an age when anime has largely jettisoned the male lead and even the male character, I guess it’s fitting that we have to reach back to a 14 year-old shounen manga for an old-school series full of things that used to be mainstream in anime. It’s great to see a story full of GAR and mind-screwing, a straightforward yet complex tale of guts, glory and ruthlessness. The way this episode set up the series-long duel between Gon and Hisoka was truly epic, with Hisoka showing his darkest and scariest mien, yet still acknowledging that Gon might be the rival who could challenge him enough to make life interesting. As for Gon, he was painted in a (relatively) realistic light here, anxious and not in full control of his emotions, no match for Hisoka yet – but wholly extraordinary in every way with his animal instinct, cunning and courage. I’ve enjoyed the ride up to now, but with this episode Hunter x Hunter took its game to a vastly higher level.