Things great shounen can be about:
- Growing stronger
- Fighting evil
- “Where are you, Dad?”
I’m going to have to repeat some of the things I’ve said in prior posts (there are 60 of them, so it’s pretty much unavoidable by now) because they really bear repeating after this episode. Starting with marveling again at just how very different the arcs of this series are from each other. I’ve come more and more to think of York Shin as “Kurapika’s Arc”, because while the boys have starring roles too, it really is just that. That arc is like am embodiment of the character – painful, brooding, conflicted, at times very cold and calculating. York’s Shin’s story is Kurapika’s story – it’s his past and his simmering hatred (and ultimately his desire to move beyond it) that drive everything that happens.
By contrast, in Heaven’s Arena and seemingly even more so Greed Island we have arcs that are very much Gon and Killua. “Pure shounen” is the term I used before and I’ll stick with it, and I still on some level think that it’s this sort of atmosphere that brings out the absolute best in Togashi as a writer – though he’s so good at everything he tries his hand at that it probably just comes down to personal preference. In Japan they sometimes talk about “martial spirit”, a concept that’s very difficult to translate accurately. I think it somehow drives the essence of shounen manga and why it’s such an intrinsic part of Japanese culture – martial spirit encompasses the notions of training and discipline, and courage, and friendship (that’s a poor attempt to encapsulate the concept). It’s most obviously the first part of the term “martial arts”, but it’s often used in reference to the education of boys – and specifically for Boy’s Day (now officially the more P.C. “Children’s Day”) the Japanese have an observance called “Shoubu no Sekko” or Iris Festival (because the words for Iris and Martial Spirit are homonyms). Iris leaves are sprinkled in the bath in the hope that they’ll help boys develop martial spirit. It’s tempting to hear the English term and think it’s about war and fighting, but it’s not about that at all – as anyone who’s practiced a martial art can tell you.
That’s a roundabout way to get us back to talking about Hunter X Hunter, but I think it’s relevant especially after this episode. I think Togashi is one of the shounen mangaka that gets the concept of martial spirit on the cellular level, and it’s most obvious when the focus of the story is Gon and Killua. As pure (that word again) friendships go, this is one of the best in anime or manga anywhere, period. It’s innocent and yet at the same time, very complex and dark (the latter especially in Killua’s case). There are lots of other elements to this ep which I’ll get to, but most of all it’s an expression of the deep affection those two have for each other. It’s reflected in Gon’s concern about Killua and the spell that was cast on him, and how he tries to smile his way through his fear so as not to worry his friend. It’s reflected in Killua’s good-natured patience with Gon’s fiery impulsiveness, in spite of what he might wish himself.
For the entire episode the boys express their friendship for each other in unspoken ways (which is after all what boys generally do) which are nevertheless totally obvious to the audience. And then in the end, Gon comes right out and does what boys generally don’t – tells his friend how he feels about him. Killua isn’t capable of that, but we get a rare direct glimpse inside his thoughts – and what we see is the pure gratitude he feels towards Gon for being the one to finally redeem him by believing in his essential goodness. I’ve said before that I think Killua wants desperately to keep Gon from having to walk the dark paths he’s walked, and I think Killua would be willing to do anything at this point for his friend – the friend Killua believes is better than he is but, ironically, is the only one who saw past his darkness to the real person inside. Really, if you can’t get emotionally connected to this sort of relationship maybe shounen just isn’t the right fit for you, because I really don’t think anime friendships get any better.
The other reason I feel as if this sort of arc might just be Togashi’s most natural habitat is that it really brings out the geek in him. We saw some of it in the Exam arc and more in Heaven’s Arena (even a bit in YS, mostly through Zepile and the auction – not to mention in Level E) but it seems as if in Greed Island he’s going to finally be able to let that side of him fully take flight. The man’s love of exquisite detail in his mythology really comes through here – it’s like “The Silmarillion” except not a sleep-aid. It’s going to require a great deal of restraint on my part not to compare Greed Island to other highly popular series of 2012 revolving around this sort of virtual world, but I’ll try – it seems to me as if even after a couple of episodes the differences between this writer and that one should be pretty apparent for those who choose to see them (and will only become more so).
There’s a lot of new information dumped on us here – the existence of spell cards and how they’re ranked (from SS to H for difficulty to obtain, plus their transformation limit). The rules governing logging out of the game – if you’re out for more than 10 days, your card save data disappears. And critically, about the politics of the game – those players who’ve chosen to become killers for the sake of gathering cards (you can’t take a player’s cards if you kill them, but their transformation limit increases) or in some cases seemingly for the pleasure of it (such as “The Bomber”, possibly, though it’s too early to tell). Gon and Killua meet up with a thief who prays on new players (he’s the one who casts a “Trace” card on Killua), a seemingly common occurrence – and later, a confederation of players teaming up to try and beat the game within three months. They manage to recruit many of Battera’s new players, but the truth of the matter is they intend to win the game by stealing cards too – the easiest of the three means of obtaining them. They’re just pledging not to use violence in doing so – though whether they can be trusted I’m not at all sure.
Interestingly it’s Gon – not the ever-suspicious Killua – who rejects an alliance with these players, even though it means they won’t be able to have the spell cast on Killua removed. Gon feels profoundly guilty about this of course, but his reasoning is simple – this isn’t the spirit of Greed Island as Ging envisioned it, or at least as Gon imagines he did. Gon is as full of martial spirit as ever, and he’s in Greed Island to try and get closer to Ging by seeing Greed Island for the rousing adventure Ging described. Killua of course is there for a very simple reason – Gon wants to be there, and Killua wants to help Gon get what he wants and protect him from those that would harm him. Where that happens isn’t especially important to him.
The big tease for next week (along with the promise of a Jan-Ken-Pon tournament) is the arrival on the scene of the heretofore silent – and memorably named – Biscuit Kreuger (Yokayama Chisa – Madhouse reached deep into the glorious shounen past here) who seems interested in the boys mainly for mischievous reasons, for now anyway. As the first really significant female character in the series (apart from the androgynous Melody and of course Mito, whose significance is undeniable but whose appearances are few and far between) Biscuit is going to be interesting to watch. There’s also the matter of Shalnark inviting Shizuku and Kotolpi to join him in Greed Island, meaning six of the Spiders will now be inside (we get a nice moment as he contemplates Pakunoda’s grave). It should also be mentioned that Madhouse – again – did an amazing job with the animation here. Both in the exterior – making the world of Greed Island come to life – and the interior, with the close-up facial animations, especially of Gon and Killua. All in all H x H kicks of 2013 without missing a beat – and next week the theatrical film “Phantom Rouge” opens, with a promise of a “special announcement” after the credits. Return of the manga, anyone?
Greed Island Tutorial: “Return”