I apologize, but I fear I really am running out of good things to say about Hunter X Hunter 2011. It’s just so damn good, week after week after week – I think we’re getting into some pretty rare air for series that have run this long and have had so few slips, never mind derailments – it may not be in a class by itself yet, but it sure doesn’t take long to call the roll. Even the wonderful Hikaru no Go, a show (and manga) which I revere greatly, had some so-so episodes mixed into its run. H x H just keeps delivering time after time – yes, it’s Togashi’s brilliance as a writer but the animation quality for a series of this length is truly astonishing. I’ve come to admire Madhouse greatly for their work with this series, and I have to say based on what they delivered this weekend between this H x H and Chihayafuru and my general lukewarm feelings for Amnesia, Madhouse might just have nosed in front of Brains Base as my favorite studio of the moment.
I’ve come to feel I know the characters pretty well after 64 episodes, and Togasahi’s writing patterns too – but I confess I was surprised by the major plot turn this week. Perhaps there were clues that Killua would be leaving the game to re-take the Hunter exam, but I missed them. Of course it reveals that a full year has nearly passed, and brings us some highly nostalgic echoes of the first episodes – but it also separates Gon and Killua, and ensures that the series will be split into two narrative fronts at least for a little while. I have to assume pass or fail Killua won’t be gone for too long, but the Exam arc lasted almost 20 episodes, so there’s only so much that can be hurried along without losing a touch of realism. I also can’t help but wonder what Killua might have done if Bisky hadn’t been with Gon – would he have been willing to leave him on his own to go take the exam? I have to think the answer is no – it should be pretty clear by now that Kil values Gon’s well-being above his own – but knowing he’s under the watchful eye of one of the strongest Nen users in the world has to ease Killua’s mind considerably, no matter how much he and Biscuit are at each other’s throats.
It was also interesting to se Biscuit – really for the first time – show some signs of compassion for the boys in her care. Innocence is the theme here – the quality that Gon still has in abundance, but that Killua has already lost. Both boys continue to exceed her expectations – Gon with his ability to quickly pick up the “Sphere of Aura” technique so vital to his “paper” attack, Killua with the ability to convert his Nen to electricity at such a young age. Bisky strongly implies that Killua’s ability comes from converting the pain he’s suffered (“tragic.. a living hell”) into power – something that he shouldn’t have enough of at 12 to do what he’s doing. “It’s a miracle he can smile now” indeed – and it’s no coincidence that it’s when he’s with Gon that he’s able to do so most freely. Gon’s technique is by contrast one born of innocence – his love for a game. It’s simply a specialized attack based on Jan-Ken-Pon. He has the “Jan” part down, obviously, but “Paper” requires him to develop his skills as an Emitter, and “Scissors” as a Transmuter. As such, it’s a perfect training exercise, and Bisky’s approval on the grounds that cross-discipline abilities should be chosen largely based on “what feels right to you” seems perfectly suited to Gon’s nature.
Gon’s innocence clearly touches Bisky too, when it’s revealed through a encounter with Abengane (Hanawa Eiji), who’s destined to be the last survivor of the alliance targeted by Genthru. Abengane has his own motives for the meeting, but the story he reveals to Gon and Biscuit is a bitter one indeed. Gon’s impulse, of course, is to try and save the doomed men – something Bisky realizes immediately is beyond their practical ability to do. I think we can see Bisky most openly wrestling with the conundrum her “perfect diamond” poses her here. Gon’s purity of spirit is a part of his very being but even more, it’s obviously a great source of strength to him. Yet Bisky would clearly like to disabuse him of some of his childish idealism here, knowing it doesn’t hold up in the real world – as a service to him as his teacher, and to spare him pain later. Yet in trying to change that part of Gon, she risks cutting a flaw into the gem she’s so carefully polishing. If anything, perhaps, she might see her role as protecting that gem from this flaw for as long as realistically possible rather than damage the gem by forcing Gon to take this step out of childhood. But time will surely do the work in any event, whatever his teacher decides is best. It’s the same impulse we’ve seen in others – Kurapika certainly, and most obviously Killua himself – something in Gon that despite his great strength inspires others with the urge to protect the part of him that’s fragile.
As for Abengane, he’s being a bit selfish here but quite understandably so – looking to acquire as much Nen energy as he can for the difficult task he faces. Apparently Abengane’s Nen ability is to use outside Nen – be it other Nen users or the “forest spirits” he refers to – to create a creature capable of devouring the product of another person’s Nen (are you out there, Chrollo?). This successfully removes Genthru’s bomb from his shoulder, but in the process he acquires an unwanted companion he won’t be able to separate from until Genthru is dead. I suspect Abengane would have dedicated himself to killing The Bomber even if that weren’t the case, as a simple act of vengeance. It was certainly no surprise that he didn’t keep his word and disarm the bombs after the others surrendered the spell cards, but detonated them instead. There’s no nice guy armor in Hunter X Hunter, and the thoroughly decent Nickes dies with the rest – brutally and pointlessly.
It’s interesting to see The Bomber set up as the main baddie here, with five of the Spiders still lurking on the fringes. They’ve managed to make it to the actual location of Greed Island via natural means – thus proving Shanlnark’s theories – but there they meet Razor (Kuroda Takaya). He introduces himself as one of the game’s creators, impresses Phinks as an absurdly strong Nen user, and promptly dispatches the Spiders with a “Masters Only” spell card and destroys their boat. Of course they won’t give up that easily, but the back door of Greed Island appears to be closed to them, forcing the Spiders to tread the same road that Gon and Killua are traveling. Of course, it seems obvious that what we saw from Razor is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power the Hunters who created Greed Island bring to the table – I suspect we’ll be seeing quite a bit of it before the arc is over.
Greed Island Tutorial (AKA Gon & Killua’s Weekly Fujoshi Theatre) – “Blackout Curtain”