I never realized it before now, but Jan-Ken-Pon is actually rather important in the mythology of Hunter X Hunter. In a funny sort of way, I think Janken is symbolic of the series itself – seemingly straightforward and simple, but actually quite intense and complex – a game where both instinct and strategy can dramatically impact the outcome of what should be random, and inner calm even more so. Even more so, it’s symbolic of Gon himself (of whom “seemingly straightforward and simple, but actually quite intense and complex” would be a pretty good description), for whom the game represents much more than a game – it’s a link to his past, but it’s also something that seems to help him focus his mind and harness his limitless but sometimes wild abilities. If there’s any truth to Bisky’s tale about Janken’s origins as a secret way of practicing martial arts I’m unable to find it, but it’s the sort of story you want to be true – and you can tell that Togashi is the sort of guy who definitely would love that himself.
This was a funny sort of episode. It starts off looking very much like a classic training ep, but the second half takes a jarring turn into something much darker and more menacing – a reminder that while Gon and Killua are wiling away the weeks rigorously training under Biscuit’s discerning eye, Greed Island continues to be a life and death struggle. For me the most interesting moment of the episode came very early on, with Biscuit’s observation that Greed Island itself was probably designed specifically for one purpose – to make Gon stronger. That it’s doing that for many other Hunters – and non-Hunters – and killing even more of them is merely incidental. The implications of that fact are rather far-reaching, not least of which in what they say about the sort of man that Ging might be. It also tells us that Gon is likely to be tested more harshly than he ever has before, as his father doesn’t strike me as a particularly sentimental fellow – if he wants to see whether his son has what it takes or not, he’s going to be willing to risk Gon’s life on the bet that he does.
As with Heaven’s Arena, we see Togashi indulging his inner shounen geek, and why not? Having basically invented his own martial art (Nen) he’s eager to show off its myriad details (I wonder if he figured all this out in advance, and just had a Nen encyclopedia that he referred to when the moment came during the writing?). In this episode we’re introduced – by Bisky, of course – to no less than three new concepts:
- Ko – The gathering of all your various Nen disciplines into one concentrated spot – such as a fist. One assumes this was the secret of Uvogin’s power. An obviously attractive quality for an enhancer (the link between Gon and Uvo has certainly been noted more than once, not least by Nobunaga) but with the limitation that it’s applications are quite limited – not least because it leaves all the other parts of the body defenseless.
- Ken – Seems like a kind of Super-Ren. If Ko is an all-out attack technique, this is a defensive specialty. It covers the entire body in a protective coating of Nen – not as strong as Ko, but much more versatile.
- Ryu – To me, this seems like the most powerful Nen skill the boys have learned – because it combines elements of the advanced Ko and Ken techniques. The ability to shift power to various parts of the body, both to attack and defend – the possibilities are obvious. It’s no wonder that this is the last of the techniques Bisky introduces her colts to in this episode.
Biscuit is a stern teacher, but there are signs she’s easing up on the lads as they bear up under her torture – and like Wing (and everyone else) before, she continues to underestimate just how quickly they’ll pick up new skills, and how powerfully. She assesses Killua as the physically stronger (which surprises me a tiny bit) and more analytical, but Gon as having better concentration and recovery ability. As such, they’re the “perfect team” as she describes them – and it’s worth speculating on just how strong the likes of Biscuit, Hisoka and Chrollo were before they hit puberty. While it’s clear that Gon and Killua aren’t nearly as strong as some, they’re only 12 – and less than a year into formal training. Gon, especially, is still a raw jewel – he lacks the years of assassin’s training that Killua has, but is still his equal in ability. His instincts seem unerring, and he really responds to Bisky’s story of the “evil fist” origin of Janken – one senses that he really believes his very nature is tied into the concept.
Meanwhile, there’s big trouble among the alliance of Hunters trying to gather the 100 spell cards and beat the game. Namely, that one of their leaders, Genthru (Yoshino Hiroyuki, the second seiyuu from the 1999 series to appear in the 2011 as a different character) is actually the Bomber – and has only been playing along with their plan in order to gather all the cards in one place so that he can steal them. I have to say I never saw that one coming – maybe I should have – but in point of fact he’s a pretty sick bastard. He’s planted bombs on all the alliance members which he says will detonate if he isn’t given all the spell cards. It was a pretty grisly end for Puhat, who made a positive impression with his friendliness towards the boys – but Togashi is no sentimentalist, that’s for damn sure. As if that weren’t a big enough problem, it seems as if the two teams of Spiders have joined forces, and located the real-world location of Greed Island. That’s trouble – but I can’t imagine that Ging and others of his formidability wouldn’t have foreseen that possibility.
There’s an interesting dichotomy to “Greed Island”, between Gon’s innocent notion of what it should be and the ugly reality of what it really is. It’s interesting to speculate on what Ging thinks of the game as it currently exists – one suspects he wouldn’t be surprised that the likes of Genthru have tainted it, though he’d probably view them with a certain contempt. More so than any arc that’s come before, it feels to me as if this is the one that will sap some of Gon’s innocence. Killua and Kurapika have certainly seen enough terrible things to leave a stain on their soul forever, but Gon is a seemingly indomitable boy – his spirit and optimism is relentless, and while he’s suffered physically he’s more or less escaped the “Hunter Exam”, “Heaven’s Arena” and “York Shin” arcs with his idealism intact. He has more on the line in “Greed Island” than anyone, though, and more than ever before he’s going to be seeing a world that’s very different from the one in his imagination. He’s strong enough to survive it unbroken, but I suspect he’s going to do some growing up before this arc is done – and in ways that aren’t covered by Nen training.
Greed Island Tutorial: “Leave: