If psychological intensity is your bag, it would be hard to top H x H. I hear people complaining sometimes when there’s not enough action, but for me that’s missing the point – and not just in the obvious way. Yes, this show isn’t about the fights – awesome as they are – and the big set pieces nearly so much as it’s about the mental warfare the characters deal with constantly. But even more than that, all that psychological brutality is action – it’s violent, it’s intense, and it’s thrilling. H x H would be a great action series even if the characters never raised a hand against each other.
After an agonizing off week, this ep jumped right into the fray without missing a beat. It was pretty much non-stop tension from start to finish, about as nerve-wracking an episode as the series has mustered up. That starts with the fact that Gon and Killua are hostages, their lives hanging by a thread, which fundamentally changes the nature of the conflict between The Spiders and Kurapika. It’s here that Kurapika has no choice but to rely fully on his friends at last – Melody is his secret weapon, a unique source of inside information without which Kurapika’s plan would have been impossible. And Leorio at last finds a task for which he’s uniquely suited – using his natural gift for theatrics (and the fact that he’s the oldest-looking teenager this side of Okabe Rintarou) to provide a distraction for the Spiders in the hotel lobby and crucial kernels of information to Killua and Gon.
The rest of the episode pretty much takes the form of a game of chicken between ridiculously formidable opponents, with life and death as the stakes. Gon and Killua must play their part, interpreting Kurapika’s coded message correctly and trying to stall Pakunoda’s Memory Bomb for as long as possible. Critically, Killua and Kurapika are thinking along the same lines – with Kurapika’s identity known, it makes sense to shift the target to Chrollo. And after Kurapika launches his attack, using the darkness to trap Chrollo in his chains and give the boys a chance to escape, the dynamic is fundamentally changed again. But the escape fails, and now each side holds a bargaining chip in the form of the lives of allies.
This is the time when the psychology of the situation gets really complicated. Starting with Kurapika, he’s barely able to contain his anger when in the same car with Chrollo – and Chrollo, clever sort he is, realizes immediately that his rage is one of Kurapika’s great weaknesses and seeks to provoke him. Leorio can see through this immediately of course, but Kurapika is a weak person when it comes to the Spiders – fierce in battle, but a slave to his own darkness. Chrollo for his part is, as usual, cool as the other side of the pillow – since this isn’t in Neon’s reading, it’s nothing worth worrying about. The question on my mind – and certainly Chrollo’s, too – is this: would Kurapika sacrifice the boys in order to see his revenge brought to fruition? For this is exactly the situation that’s developed – Pakunoda now knows the truth that can unmake Kurapika, all his weaknesses, but he makes sure she gets the message – breathe a word of it, and Chrollo dies.
On the opposite side, for the first time we see real cracks in the unity of the Phantom Troupe. Initially Nobunaga seems to naturally slide into the leader’s role, but this is put to ruins after Kurapika phones in his demands – Paku cannot communicate with the others, the boys must not be harmed, and the other Spiders must return to the hideout in their entirety. The question of whether to pursue the Chain User and use what Paku knows to destroy them (and sacrifice the boss) or to follow his demands and return to the hideout divides the Troupe, with the ultimate question being whether to risk the Spider itself to protect Chrollo, or to sacrifice him to protect the Troupe. Nobunaga emerges to lead the former group – he seems the most sentimental of the Spiders in many ways – and Phinks and Feitan the opposing camp. Phinks even tries to scam Kurapika by telling him he’s “had to break a few bones”, but Kurapika quickly slaps him down.
As for Pakunoda, she’s truly caught in the middle here, and it’s almost possible to feel sorry for her (especially given that she gets the cursed spot in the Hunterpedia this time) as you can see how tortured she is by the decision. Chrollo himself preached that no individual Spider is more important than the whole, and that his life should never be the priority – as we learn in a flashback where we see a much younger Chrollo, along with a boyish Nobunaga and an afro-toting Uvogin. But just as Kurapika’s hatred for the Spiders is both a source of great strength and vulnerability, so what might have been called the most redeeming quality of the group – loyalty – is a weakness here, and that’s without even taking into consideration the splintering of their unity. In truth, the practical thing to do would be to listen to Phinks and Feitan, kill Gon and Killua and use what Paku knows to destroy the Chain User. It would be easy, and a new leader would emerge. But when push comes to shove the Spiders are humans with human weaknesses after all, and that weakness seems to be leading them down a path where Neon’s prophecies will come true, and half of them will die.
The entire strategic battle between Kurapika and the Spiders was a thing of beauty in the way it was laid out, a fascinating war of wits that while technically a standoff, certainly seemed to see Kurapika having the upper hand despite his rage issues. But the pièce de résistance was Hisoka. As so often has been the case lately he’s barely a factor for most of the episode, but when the end comes he’s squarely in the center of things – this time with a phone-call to an old ally. As if things weren’t crazy enough, Illumi makes his appearance – with all the complications that adds to the equation. For Hisoka things could hardly be going better, and he sees the chance to make his dream battle with Chrollo a reality – almost as if he’s been one step ahead of the game all along, waiting for his moment to strike. Imagine all the intricacies of the endgame in a chess match between Grandmasters – and then imagine the board is a pentagon, with five different Grandmasters playing out the game against each other, trying to move their pieces into position and deciding whether the sacrifice of a crucial piece (or two) is worth making. If you don’t see that as exciting and action-packed, you’re probably watching the wrong show.
Gon & Killua’s Hunterpedia: Pakunoda