Gon is GAR.
I thought Hunter X Hunter was going to have a rough time equaling the epic power and intensity of the blockbuster episode 16, but this week’s effort might just have done it. And the fact that it did so while featuring a character – Hanzo – that we’ve barely gotten to know to this point is all the more remarkable. Kishio Daisuke (Zazie!) did a great job with the character, but it’s Han Megumi’s performance as Gon that’s increasingly knocking me for a loop. I know she has the genes for it, but it’s hard to recall another example of a female seiyuu in a boy role hitting a home run like this. She may be a newbie, but Han-san is a seiyuu star in the making.
As with the sixteenth episode, I hardly know where to begin to praise this effort – it really was shounen at its best. The GAR was so thick you could cut it with a knife, the intensity level was off the charts, and it had that particular H x H mind-screw quality that makes this series so uniquely enjoyable. And when it comes to mind-screw, Netero takes a back seat to no one. I knew he had some mischief up his sleeve when he conducted those interviews with the nine surviving candidates, but the scheme he came up with was truly ingenious – and diabolical. For starters, the notion that only one applicant will fail is a surprising choice – but it was the way he stacked the deck that was his piece d’resistance.
My feeling on Netero at this point is that there’s absolutely nothing incidental in anything he does – everything is calculated to the last small detail. That’s why it was so fascinating to watch the reaction from his audience when the details of his final test became clear. For starters, to rank the candidates according to a pretty nebulous formula mostly based on “overall impression” – and then to salt the wound by telling them it was really about their potential – was truly devilish. And it started a spiral in Killua’s character that told us a lot about the darkness that still drives him. As Netero was describing his plan, I kept thinking to myself “It would be truly insane if he instituted a no kill rule – that’s what this needs to push it over the top.” And so he did, as if on cue – thus ensuring that the individual matches would be a festival of pain.
To say that the details of Gon’s match with Hanzo were difficult to watch is putting it mildly. This is the essential contradiction in Gon’s character from an audience standpoint – he’s a formidable fighter and a marvelously clever strategist with great natural instinct. Yet for all that he’s still a child with an unmistakable quality of innocence to him, and that makes it very difficult to watch him suffer the way Hanzo made him suffer. It says something for Leorio that he was so agonized that he was willing to disqualify Gon just to try and spare him more pain, but his rage seemed like the most natural reaction in the world to me. As Killua was internally raging over the fact that he could have done so much better in the fight and mocking Hanzo’s braggadocio at having killed a man by age 12, Leorio and Kurapika were quickly reaching the boiling point from watching the brutality being inflicted upon Gon.
As for the combatants themselves, they were equally fascinating to watch. While Gon certainly overestimated his own strength vs. Hanzo, he was correct in assessing the nature of the test Netero had devised – it was a battle of wills, not a battle of strength. There was a certain honor to Hanzo, as cruel as he was – he thinks like a samurai, despite his ninja training. But Gon simply refused to give in, no matter how much pain Hanzo inflicted and how many threats he made, even after his arm was broken. We know that Gon has an iron will and constitution, but he didn’t refuse because he didn’t care about dying – he simply believed Hanzo wouldn’t kill him and give up his own chances for a year, and that as long as Gon held his ground Hanzo would eventually give in and meet him on his own ground. This was really the first time we’ve heard Gon talk so movingly and openly about his father and why he wants to be a hunter, and it was clearly the right time for it.
When Hanzo finally made the choice to surrender, several interesting things happened starting with the choice itself. For starters, Gon wasn’t bluffing with his refusal to accept the win – if his conflict with Hisoka proved anything, it’s that his pride is very real. Hanzo correctly surmised that trying to meet Gon’s demand for a fair fight was a no-win situation for him (literally) so he ended things the way Hisoka did – but though Gon ended the fight unconscious again, he was still the winner – because he had the stronger will, if not the stronger body. But I think the most fascinating thing to see was the reaction of two of the spectators, Killua and Hisoka. Killua, rather than being pleased for Gon, was genuinely shocked to see his world-view shaken – that there were different kinds of strength besides the ability to kill. This seems to be a watershed moment for Killua – a true paradigm shift for better or worse, and in a sense, Gon has surpassed him. And Hisoka’s reaction to Gon’s cheeky “triumph” was genuine mirth – I don’t think there was an ounce of irony to his laughter. For him, Gon has proved himself the most interesting and challenging of all the candidates, and for someone who seems to loathe boredom above all else (and perhaps, for less savory reasons) it’s easy to see that his fascination with Gon will become an obsession.
And so it goes on, with the main character already having ensured his own passage – an interesting twist on conventional dramatic buildup. It’s hard to imagine Hanzo won’t dispatch Pokkle in the next round, though perhaps it’ll surprise me, as Pokkle vs. Killua doesn’t seem to hold much potential for drama. I see Gittrackur in Killua’s half of the draw, and destiny seems to be calling those two together for a match. On the other side, Leorio and Kurapika (facing Hisoka in the first round) could be destined for a match – another pairing that seems as if it could have been in the cards from the beginning. On the other hand, there’s mysterious Bodoro – who’s conspicuous claim that he would refuse to fight a child can only be put to the test if he meets Killua in the final match, which can only take place if Bodoro loses to both Kurapika (if Hisoka defeats him) and Leorio. There’s certainly enough mystery here to keep things lively for the rest of the tournament, as Gon presumably convalesces and nurses his injuries – and bile.