Not only was the match between Hisoka and Gon the subject of perhaps the most intense build-up of any event in this series so far, but there was the added anticipation caused by the one-week UEFA hiatus (a week without H x H just doesn’t feel complete). As a result the last half of this episode had almost impossible expectations to live up to. The fact that it totally exceeded them for me should let you know just what an amazing job Madhouse did with the fight – but before we even got to the that there was some amazing stuff in the first half of the episode.
I’ve come to really enjoy Wing’s little lectures on Nen, because they really show the level of thought Togashi-sensei put into creating the background world for this series. With the boys pretty much up to speed, the time has come for Wing to finally introduce them to Hatsu – at last, the expression of their Nen abilities into a specific function. This being H x H there’s a very specific taxonomy to these abilities, and they fall under six groups – Enhancer, Transmuter, Emitter, Conjurer, Manipulator and Specialist (one whose abilities don’t fall into the other five groups). Every Nen user has a natural inclination towards one of these five abilities, and perfecting a Hatsu ability native to their talent will be easiest, with those closest to it in class being next easiest.
Wing (conveniently) knows a test to determine one’s natural ability class, using a leaf and a glass of water. Killua is an Transmuter (same as Hisoka), Zushi a Manipulator and Gon an Enhancer (as is Wing). The boys go about training themselves in the development of their newfound skill, set to a completely new piece of BGM (there were several in this episode). Wing gives them four weeks to practice, and then comes their “exam”. Zushi, not unexpectedly, has to deal with the fact that he’s not up to par with his older friends (Wing tells him he’s “One in a hundred-thousand” but when Gon and Killua are “One in tem million” it still has to be a little discouraging). Killua’s Transmuter ability progresses to make the water taste like honey, enough to pass Wing’s muster. But it’s Gon who shows the most progress – his Enhancer skill so powerful that he breaks the glass with the force of the expanding water (another blow to Wing getting his security deposit back). Wing has another revelatory moment about just how scary this boy is – certainly, he seems to have the most natural Nen ability of anyone in the group. And he’ll need it, with the date he’s chosen for his matchup with Hisoka falling on the next day.
Before that, though, Wing drops a bombshell that’s been hinted at for a while – mastering Nen was actually the last phase of the Hunter Exam, and Gon has passed. And
his Master is indeed Netero, as I speculated – the old bastard has his hands in every pot. As well, Wing says that Hanzo and Kurapika have learned Nen, while Leorio is concentrating on his medical school exam and Illumi and Hisoka already knew Nen – leaving only poor Pokkle left behind, struggling with Ren. He also tells Killua that he should take the exam again, for he’d surely pass – which I don’t doubt, though I do wonder if it’s something he truly wants to do.
That revelation was certainly a big deal, and in hindsight explains a lot of what’s happened since the exam proper ended. Indeed, I thought perhaps we might not even get to the Gon vs. Hisoka fight at all until next week, and this would still have been an excellent episode. But boy, was I wrong – did we ever get to the fight. Hisoka was in all his sinister, flamboyant glory this episode – preening naked at the window when Gon called him to set up their “date”, getting “turned on” when Gon gave him his best shounen stare in the ring before their match. This was arguably the first real appearance of this full-on creeper side of Hisoka that’s become legendary over the years, and pretty much erases any worry that his character’s dark side was going to be soft-pedaled in this version. Hisoka is still Hisoka, and he’s deliciously twisted.
And then the fight began. My reaction? Let me put it this way – as soon as the first flurry ended, I jumped back and watched it again, twice. And I took more screenshots of this episode than any I’ve ever watched. They won’t remotely do it justice – it has to be watched in full HD to be appreciated. It reminded me of the first fight scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang, which drew a spontaneous standing ovation when I saw it on opening weekend. To be honest I think this almost entirely hand-drawn sequence is more impressive than the lavish Kiritsugu-Kirei “Matrix” battle in Fate/Zero, though it won’t get a tenth of the attention. It was simply some of the most splendid combat anime I’ve seen since Seirei no Moribito’s third episode. I loved the judicious but excellent use of slow motion, the BGM (new again), the close-ups on the faces. And maybe best of all, the dead silence for almost 15 seconds after Gon landed his punch on Hisoka after using his “Stone Flip” move. An absolutely lovely directing choice that totally enhanced the moment.
Of course, as great as the mechanics and aesthetics were, the reason this really soars is because Gon and Hisoka are amazing characters. There’s not even any Nen here – just martial spirit. Gon definitely reverts to 12 year-old boy mode, initially abandoning all pretense and going after Hisoka with everything he has. Hisoka avoids all his blows and lands several of his own while, as he points out, never moving from his initial spot. But Gon is a creature of instinct with indomitable spirit, and he keeps coming, a little smarter the second time around, using feints and the stone flip to finally gain the upper hand – for a moment. But is forcing Hisoka to use his full power really something to be happy about? For Gon, the crazy little GAR bomb he is, I suppose the answer is yes.
The thing is, of course, that Killua is right in saying the gap in skill is still enormous. Hisoka’s “weakness” may be in his refusal to retreat, knowing he’s stronger – but he is stronger, by far. And the psychological side of this is really the more interesting, because ultimately it’s a question of what Hisoka wants out of this fight. I don’t doubt that Gon’s blow landed legitimately, and hurt like hell – but I also don’t doubt Hisoka could kill Gon if he wanted. But I don’t think he wants to – I don’t think Gon is “ripe” yet in his eyes. I’m guessing this is an opportunity for Hisoka to enjoy himself, to test Gon’s new strength, and perhaps even to give Gon enough encouragement to keep chasing him (which is what he really wants). But that doesn’t mean Hisoka won’t teach Gon a lesson and win the battle, irrespective of whether he cares about losing his fourth fight or gaining the right to challenge a Floor Master (which I don’t think he does). Encouraging Gon and having fun is fine, but Hisoka will want to make sure the boy knows his place – and whether Gon has earned enough of Hisoka’s respect for him to accept his tag back, I’m not sure. In any case, I can’t wait to see how this epic showdown ends – not the result, so much, but the way it comes about.
Gon & Killua’s Hunterpedia: “Hisoka”