Sorry to bore you, but I just have no choice but to lavish some more praise on Togashi Yoshihiro. This episode (which apparently consisted of about 4 short manga chapters) was a masterpiece of imagination, wit and pure balls (and I don’t mean Hisoka’s). We all know that Togashi-sensei is a master of plotting and psychological subtlety, but it’s his pure fearlessness that really strikes you in watching this episode. I think there’s a special something to Togashi’s writing when he’s scripting for Hisoka that isn’t quite like any of his other characters – a perverse kind of toying with the audience that reveals the sheer joy he gets from putting those thoughts in Hisoka’s head, and words in his mouth. I’ve felt for a long time that calling H x H shounen is as limiting as calling Chihayafuru josei, but an ep like this one proves just how ingeniously Togashi is twisting the cliches of the genre.
The intersection of Hisoka with Gon and Killua is one that we’ve known (even new viewers) has been coming for a while, and boy, was it worth the wait. The first half of the episode, while clearly the appetizer, is extremely worthwhile in its own right – continuing the controlled pacing and fascinating game-within-a-game tone from last week. The battle with the pirates is an interesting one – it’s Killua’s insight and amperage that gets them in to see the leader in the first place, and he turns out to be none other than Razor (which we already knew, of course).
What follows is somewhat reminiscent of the “Hunter Exam” arc, with a contest devised whereby Kazsule’s team of 15 will go up against Razor’s pirates in a sports duel, first side to win eight times wins the contest. Razor is the picture of confidence here – he bends over backwards to give the challengers a chance (out of boredom as much as anything, one senses). But it soon becomes clear that there’s not enough ability in this group to steal eight wins – in fact, Killua realizes it almost immediately and concocts a strategy to lose as quickly as possible while gathering information. Again we see it’s Killua thinking one step ahead of everyone else – though not Razor, who takes clear note of the boy’s train-of-thought. This sequence is also notable for the emergence of Goreinu (Tenjin Hidetaka – interestingly enough a mecha designer who as far as I can tell has never acted before) as a potential long-term ally. He’s the only other member of Kazsule’s 15 who sees the true nature of the challenge (it’s designed to sow dissent in any challenging party) and who sticks around to join up with the boys and Bisky, realizing that it isn’t enough simply to assume Genthru will never be able to put together a party than can win the day.
What this all means, of course, is that this group of four somehow has to find enough members to become a group of 15 – and that means calling on any strong players they’ve met already. There’s a notable (and hilarious) fracas between Gon and Killua over just how to deal with the “Chrollo Lucilfer” on their contact list – while played for laughs, I got the sense Gon was actually getting a bit tired of being called an idiot by Killua – before Gon proceeds to use “Accompany” to take the group to the location where the fake Chrollo awaits. What follows is classic Togashi outlandishness, as the figure barely visible in the steam of a natural hot spring slowly reveals red hair (way scarier than the other red-haired anime reveal this weekend). It’s none other than Hisoka – a very naked Hisoka at that – and I’m not sure whose reaction to his reaction upon seeing how “ripe” Gon and Killua have become is the funniest.
There are no punches pulled here, either by Togashi or by Madhouse – it’s obvious beyond dispute exactly what’s happening in this scene, as well as the scene shortly thereafter when Hisoka brazenly ogles Gon and Killua’s backsides and gets such a pronounced Nen-arousal that the freaked-out boys insist they switch places. I really considered that Madhouse might edit this scene, if any (it’s pretty notorious from the OVA version) but no, if anything it’s even more disturbing than ever. Hisoka is an unapologetic creeper, there’s no doubt about it – utterly brazen and seemingly incapable of shame. But while he’s rather good at hiding his intentions, he never makes any attempt to hide his nature, and that makes him one of the most fascinating antagonists in any anime. And then there’s the fact that, beyond any shadow of a doubt, he’s powerful – a powerful ally if on your side, and a terrible man to have as an enemy. In practice Hisoka rarely seems to be either of those things to anyone – he can’t be pinned down that easily – and that makes him an even more intriguing dramatic presence.
It’s Bisky who invites Hisoka to join their party – though one suspects she’s barking up the wrong tree with her charm offensive – and she also senses (as Killua does) that Hisoka’s story about being in the game trying to find other Spiders who can tell him where to find Chrollo is at best a deception. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer is well and good, but how does that apply to Hisoka? He’s strong and they need strong allies, and being a man who in the end seems to hate nothing except boredom Hisoka certainly isn’t going to decline the invitation. This leads to a visit to the “Love City” of Aiai, and it’s one of the highlights of the series for pure comic genius. It begins from the moment they enter town to the strains of the “Aiai!” chant repeating itself, and continues through a delightful and wholly unexpected parody of manga romance tropes, complete with obvious Sailor Moon allusions. It’s the context that makes this really brilliant – coming where and when it does, it’s completely out of left field.
But there’s serious business to be played out, and the subsequent battle of wits between Killua and Hisoka is really spectacular to watch. Killua is an incredibly smart little guy, a tactical genius – but here, he’s like the very clever cat who figures out a way into trouble but can’t figure out how to get out. Kil is used to being ahead of everyone else and indeed, he correctly susses out that Hisoka’s real game is to find the Nen cleaner who can remove Kurapika’s bindings from Chrollo. But he’s stepped up in class here, and for one of the very few times in the series he’s obviously in over his head. Hisoka is never outflanked – if Kil is a step ahead of the rest, Hisoka is three. He’s clearly loving this battle with Killua, and taking great joy in seeing the boy hyperactively overthinking every detail, trying to find what he’s missing. Oh Kil, you’re swimming into a rip-current here – and there are pervy sharks in the water, too. Killua is a supremely capable little boy, but he’s still very much a child – and his vulnerabilities present themselves from time to time in dangerous form. He’s sometimes smart enough to sense his own limits and restrain his actions accordingly, but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case here.
All I know is this – his affection might be twisted, but thank goodness Hisoka likes Gon and Killua just the same. I can’t see any scenario where he’d want to do long-term harm to either of them at this point – if anything he’ll still try and help them along to the point where they become truly interesting rivals for him. And on whatever level it’s possible for him I think Hisoka genuinely does like them – especially Gon, for his feckless sincerity and determination that’s so different from Hisoka himself (Killua is a bit too much of a reflection of his own nature). I would even argue that Hisoka’s interest in the boys is not that different from Biscuit’s – she may or may not have a tinge of his prurient curiosity about them, but she too likes the challenge of shaping their raw, bombastic genius into something laser-sharp and lethal. And there’s something in that which comes rather close to the essence of what Hunter X Hunter is as a series, which is perhaps why Hisoka, for all his creepiness, remains a very difficult character to dislike.
Greed Island Tutorial: “Paladin’s Necklace”