It becomes increasingly clear that nothing of any consequence comes easily in the world of Hunter X Hunter. Life is a test, and the entertainment comes from watching how people react to being tested. Sometimes the tests are literally just that, sometimes it’s merely the act of surviving or trying to achieve a goal – but I’m hard-pressed to think of a single episode where the main characters – and especially Gon – haven’t been rats in a maze to some extent. But as there always have been, there are unexpected allies along the way to help him – that’s pretty much what Kurapika and Leorio were, to begin with – and so it is at the Zoldyck Estate.
Zebro’s help seems to be something along the lines of Netero’s and Satosz’ – he simply takes a liking to Gon and is impressed by his determination enough to take an active interest. Zebro’s colleague Seaquant is an interesting one, a jaded and sarcastic fellow-employee who openly discourages the trio from bothering to attempt the testing gate, but in the end also gives them the crucial piece of advice that allows them to eventually breach it. He also seems to be a member of a group that once aspired to attack the estate, and looks to have even managed to get past the gate themselves- only to be massacred to the next-to-last man by an apprentice butler. He’s an odd one to figure out – helping the trio with one hand, warning the head butler of their progress with the other.
The actual riddle of the gate proved to be totally straightforward, a simple matter of brute strength – gained through Zebro’s training and the fact that everything in the servants’ quarters is weight training – though it’s not till Gon shucks off his sling and joins the pushing that the gate is breached. But the lasting moments of the ep come mostly from the Zoldyck family, of whom we learn just a little but more than enough to know they’re sick bastards. Hell, never mind Killua – Illumi might be the normal one compared to this bunch. As Killua is chained in a dungeon being taught a lesson for his transgressions, older brother Milluki (Saito Kimiko)– chubby and pig-eyed – seems to have the role of main torturer, and to perform it with so much glee and abandon that even Killua’s frighteningly depraved mother Kikyo (Iwao Junko) attempts to restrain his enthusiasm. Tagging along in Mama’s shadow is little
sister brother Kalluto, who doesn’t have a lot to say and seems content to follow obediently behind her his mother.
While there’s no mention of the father yet, make no mistake – it’s Kikyo who seems like the dangerous one in this bunch. Dressed as some kind of twisted take on a Victorian aristocrat, she talks sweetly to Killua even as she oversees his whipping and bondage, and we’re to see more of her nature a bit later. For Killua’s part he seems unrepentant and quite unmoved by the tough love treatment his family is giving him, and equally as sure that Gon will break through the trials that await him and succeed in reaching the mansion. With her little one at a “delicate time”, Kikyo is quite determined that Gon – and anyone else – not be allowed to see him.
H X H is certainly good at those difficult to watch moments, and most of them this week aren’t Killua in chains but instead the confrontation between apprentice butler Canary and Gon. Though Canary (apparently the same one who dealt with Sequant’s crew three years earlier, though she looks about 12 herself) dishes out some severe punishment to Gon, he takes the same tack he did in his fight with Hanzo – he simply refuses to break down. In this case he doesn’t even fight back, but merely wears down her resistance by forcing her to abuse him and not allowing Leorio and Kurapika to interfere – and in this course he was no doubt emboldened by the hesitation he saw in her eyes when he mentioned Killua’s name. Gon’s instincts are unerring as usual, and he does eventually wear Canary down – but not for the first time Gon’s determination has unintended consequences, as Kikyo – by all appearances, anyway – shoots the girl in the head when she breaks down and begs Gon to help Killua. Not having seen that moment coming, it provided quite a jolt to say the least.
“Tip of the iceberg” is what comes to mind when I imagine what the anime has shown us of the Zoldyck family so far – of their cruelty, and of their power. It’s clear that this is a very twisted group of people, that their sickness has warped Killua in ways that will take more than a little time and fraternal love to mend, and that he’s wrapped so tightly in their tendrils that extracting him is going to prove quite a challenge. Which I’m not minding a bit, as this is proving a nice stylistic shift away from the exam arc, while still maintaining the same edge and ruthless tone. I’m also enjoying the new BGM gradually being mixed into the series and the darker color palette this arc features.