If the Whale Island mini-arc was the Yin of Hunter X Hunter, this episode definitely marks the beginning of the Yang.
This may about as straightforward a H x H writeup as I’ve done so far, because that episode pretty much spoke for itself. No Gon, no Killua, no Leorio – just the payoff of 42 episodes of building up the Phantom Troupe as the badass, nasty, vicious, cold-hearted and snarky group of nasties out there. The question this episode is charged with answering: can they possibly be as bad as all that?
I guess another question some viewers might have had in mind is – will Madhouse censor this episode’s content? Well, I can’t speak for the level of graphic violence in the 1999 version, but the blood was red and there was plenty of it – a veritable ocean of it as the advance guard of the Phantom Troupe wiped out the 500 bidders on-hand to take part in the first night of the auction. Franklin and Feitan took care of this group (though 499 of the kills went to the former, so it was hardly an even distribution) and in one of the more grisly scenes I can recall in anime it was Shizuku who sucked them all up – bodies, bones and possessions – using her Nen vacuum “Mr. Blinky”. It’s certainly a novel way to hide the evidence.
The thing is, one gets the sense that these three aren’t especially the strongest members of the troupe – we see one in action later who might be, and could easily guess as to who the other two might be – but they’re certainly strong enough to dispose of Mafia security without breaking a sweat. Neon’s bodyguards Baise (hardly seemed worth introducing her in Gon & Killua’s Hunterpedia, but that was probably just an excuse for the usual Gon-Kil bromance humor anyway), Ivlenkov and Tocino also die – again, quite gruesomely – in this preliminary assault. An interesting element here is that the merchandise the troupe has planned to steal had been moved from its underground vault, possibly by Owl, one of the Shadow Beasts (more on them shortly), seemingly implying that the Mafia had been tipped off about an attack. But as Chrollo points out, if that were the case why was there no added security?
If the purpose of this episode is to establish the Phantom Troupe as a presence in the story and not just a concept – and I think it largely was – mission accomplished. What really stands out for me is not just how ridiculously strong the troupe is, but how routinely they go about the business of mass murder. Sure it’s fun, but it’s not ritualistic or especially joyous – just casual entertainment, as if the people they kill aren’t even worth getting excited about killing. That’s what really gives the troupe a chilling aura, and that certainly applies to Uvogin. He’s played by the stellar Ootsuka Akio (Black Jack and Rider? Say no more) in a fantastically, gleefully GAR and gonzo performance. This guy does give the impression that he’s one of the stronger members of the Phantom Troupe, and not just because he seems to be acting as Chrollo’s deputy. He puts on a display that makes Franklin’s work in the auction hall to shame.
As all this is happening, Chrollo and Hisoka are among the group patiently waiting. The impression of the others isn’t necessarily that they’re geniuses of anything – just geniuses as their Nen skill. Of Hisoka’s mind we know much, of course, and it’s clear that Chrollo is well-suited to be the brains of the outfit – calm, detached and sinister, he’s quite a contrast to the ones doing the field work (his “Judas” speech wasn’t exactly run-of-the-mill Shounen Jump material). All this might get quite boring if there were no one about to challenge these guys – while Dalzollene seems determined to lead the survivors of the Nostrade guard into battle as a matter of honor there’s little reason to think they stand a chance – but we also learn this week of the aforementioned Shadow Beasts. They’re the elite guard the “Ten Dons” of the worldwide Mafia leadership use for the tough jobs, the ones no one else can handle. Dealing with The Phantom Troupe certainly seems to qualify, and we meet a few of them who’ve arrived on the scene to do battle.
Phantom Troupe vs. Shadow Beasts – will the latter stand a chance? As we know basically nothing about them it’s hard to say, though while I’m sure they’re serious Nen badasses my money is on the Troupers. Of course it must be pointed out that Kurapika at this point knows nothing of the Phantom Troupe’s involvement in the auction massacre – for now, he’s just a guy doing a job – but the stakes will rise for an order of magnitude for him when he learns the truth (which will surely be very soon). And what of the others? I suspect it may be a couple of episode before we see them, and I’m very curious to see how Gon and Kil are introduced into this scenario. Will they end up joining the fray and directly doing battle with the troupe? My gut says no, or at least that it won’t be that straightforward – and then there’s Hisoka. He’s going to play a trump card sooner or later – his loyalty to his colleagues is zero, he’s invited Kurapika specifically to this dance, and in the end his agenda is always completely self-serving. You wanted big-time, epic setup? Well, you’ve definitely got it here. Buckle up and smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
Gon & Killua’s Hunterpedia: “Baise”