I’m continued to mull over what Satosz said at the end of episode 21 about the Hunter Exam not being over, and especially in light of some commentary I’ve seen on the episode, I wonder if the way Madhouse presented the line made it seem somewhat more literal than it was originally intended. If it was meant as a sort of “life itself is the exam, and you can never relax” kind of thing, or that they were going to be monitored closely for worthiness during the first year, that would actually be somewhat more fitting with Netero’s prior behavior than to literally trick the examinees into thinking they’d passed when in fact they haven’t. Or so it seems to me, anyway, though I may be giving Netero and his his subordinates too much respect there.
Whatever the true nature of that key line of dialogue, it’s very clear that the nature of the series itself has changed – exam over or not, we’re clearly in a new arc here and the tone changes quite a bit. The new short-term goal, of course, is to find Killua and bring him back to the light, a course from which Gon appears totally unwilling to be swayed. I enjoy the way Hunter X Hunter is so willing to ignore the conventions of shounen and go off on tangents, presenting events in a different light that you’d expect and always seeming to present a slightly skewed view of the world. When Gon, Kurapica and Leorio arrived on their airship, I certainly didn’t expect to see them end up on a classically Japanese bus tour of Kukuroo Mountain, complete with a genki female guide with the omnipresent numbered flag (visit any major tourist site in Kyoto and you’ll definitely appreciate the humor in this). The “Lamentation Tour” reveals just how much the locals have cashed in on the dubious celebrity of having the legendary Zoldyck Clan of assassins nearby, despite the fact that no one can enter their estate on top of 12,211’ Kukuroo Mountain and the family itself is never seen.
In one way I was reminded of the legendary “bored” episode during the exam, which I loved but not everyone else did. I think part of Togashi’s game with this series is to put his characters in various different situations facing trials both trivial and mortal, and to see how they react – in fact, I wonder if he sometimes doesn’t know himself how that will play out until he writes the material. This is his author’s version of the Hunter Exam – a psychological study of his characters that’s quite detailed and subtle at times. As it so often is the spotlight is on Gon here, and it’s always interesting to try and guess how he’ll react in any given situation. He never stops processing in his head – I swear you can actually see the gears turning sometimes – and he manages to surprise me quite a bit.
Gon’s foil this time is Zebro, the seemingly innocuous old guard at the gate of the mansion – except he’s neither innocuous nor a guard. The fate of the two glory-hounds who tagged along on the bus tour was predictable enough, but what happened afterwards was rather intriguing to watch play out. The mansion’s first line of defense is Mike, an enormous beast that devours anyone who forces their way through the small locked door near the guard station. There’s another way in – to move the two-ton main gate (actually seven gates, each doubling the weight of the one below) – and Mike has been trained not to attack those who enter that way. But while Gon might very well be unable to open that gate what really offends him is that he’s being asked to do so at all – the very idea that a friend should have to be tested to enter flies against everything he believes in. So he has no interest in trying that way – he initially plans to go through the locked doors instead and take his chances with Mike.
His verbal sparring with the house butler definitely show off Gon’s determination and bull-headedness, but here’s where Gon shows some of the facets of his character that are very appealing. In the first place, though he didn’t consider what forcing his way in would mean for Zebro (death) when Zebro gently made him aware of that fact, Gon immediately abandoned that plan of attack. Then, when Zebro showed Gon what Mike really was – a highly-trained and single-minded hunting dog and not the sort of wild animal Gon can work his magic on, he had both the good sense to be scared and the honesty to admit it. It’d actually pretty uncommon for the hero in this kind of manga to just come right out and say “I’m scared” or “I can’t beat that”, but Gon has admitted his fear on more than one occasion already. He’s young, he’s stubborn, he’s courageous to the point of recklessness – but he’s definitely not stupid. He has both instincts and intellect, and the good sense to use them both.
I can’t say where this is going from here, but I suspect that the standoff may give Gon an opportunity to show off another one of his core attributes – patience. He’s obviously not going anywhere until he sees Killua, and he’s going to bide his time until such an opportunity presents itself. With what I’m sure are many layers whose express purpose is to keep people like Gon away from Killua to get past, and the very real possibility that Killua won’t want to see him in the first place, that may take a while. But it’ll be a chance to learn more about the Zoldyck and their secrets, both for Gon and for the audience.
Let me finish by saying the voiceover on the preview – “Go! Go! Niju Go!” in stereophonic Gon – made me LOL, and not for the first time with this series.