- I knew there was a reason I always hated dodgeball whenever we played it in gym
- If ever there was a sport Gon was born to play, dodgeball is it
This is one of those episodes in the manga/OVA that’s so legendary, even H x H newbies like me can’t have avoided hearing about it. It’s pure Togashi genius that he can take something like dodgeball – one of the terrors of the schoolyard for those lacking in physical attributes their more rapidly-developing peers possess. Dodgeball is pure, elemental schoolboy extremism of emotion – terror, exhilaration, rage – bundled into one ruthless sport. It’s a game but not a game, and as depicted here it’s dodgeball, but it isn’t – and that’s the real beauty of it. Hunter X Hunter is shounen in it’s purest form (which the folks who dismiss it without giving it a chance never get past) yet is isn’t really shounen at all. Togashi’s writing can never be constrained by something as limiting as genre because the essence of his writing is taking genre clichés and twisting them into never before seen patterns.
I don’t want to say this was an intense episode, but when Hisoka can be present for the entire run and rarely be more than an afterthought, you know it was pretty intense. Most of that comes courtesy of Razor, but in the end the real jolt comes from the main character, who really proves why he is the main character in this episode. Indeed, it’s all about dodgeball, but there’s some pretty intense stuff just on the way to get there. Tsezguerra proves willing to play along with Gon’s group in the plan to take on the pirates and win “Strip of Beach” (probably a good idea to let Goreinu act as the leader of the group here for appearances sake, though we all know the truth of the matter) – but not before Killua humiliates him – first by making him “audition” his Ren (payback time), and then by (along with Gon) easily trumping his skill of teleportation. This is classic bratty Killua here – Biscuit would have falcon-punched him into the stratosphere – but Tsezguerra is man enough to care more about the amazing growth the boys have shown than about his own humiliation.
That amazing growth curve is obviously a recurring theme, a classic shounen trope Togashi is twisting – Gon and Kil are forever surprising those who misjudge them based on appearances (just as H x H itself does, ironically). But there are larger issues here, namely that even with Tsez and his allies there are only nine real players – meaning that they’ll have to drag along six dead weights just looking for a ticket off the island. And that becomes even more of an issue when Razor makes an example of the pirate Bobobo (Killua’s putative arch-enemy) and in rather graphic and grisly fashion too. Understandably the six hangers-on begin to seriously re-think whether this is all going to be as safe and easy as they thought, and when Razor gets the measure of his opponents and realizes that he’s going to have to be the one to finish them off himself, the notion of facing him in a deadly game of dodgeball proves too much to bear. Fortunately Goreinu shows off his Nen by creating two Nen beasts to fulfill Razor’s requirement that they field a team of eight (three of the “real” members of the party have already been used up) – though that pales next to Razor’s ability to populate his entire team with Nen creations of his own.
I think the game pretty much speaks for itself, and I really don’t have to add much – it’s classic Togashi excess done up in typically superb style by Madhouse. I haven’t seen the OVA version so I can’t compare, but I’m hard-pressed to see how anyone might be dissatisfied – not only did we get the usual splendid animation, but a new BGM track as well. But really, this is where the shounen genes of H x H really shine through and I must say, with no claim to be free of bias, that it’s also where Gon’s strengths as a character really shine through. I know I’m in the minority in claiming Gon as my favorite character, and I’m not judging anyone as there are some fantastic choices in this cast (Killua usually tops the manga polls, with Gon second or third) and it’s almost heresy to have the MC be the favorite in shounen. But dammit, Gon is everything a shounen lead should be and it’s moments like this when we see it. That smile when he heard Razor say “I was told not to go easy on you… By your old man.” That smile says everything about Gon as a character. He’s exactly as Bisky describes him – an unspoiled diamond, pure martial spirit – enough for an army – jammed into one small body.
In its way, the entirety of Greed Island seems to be a setup to test Gon’s mettle – to prove just how strong he is, and how strong he wants to be. It’s a test of his ability in other ways, too – to gather trustworthy and powerful friends around him, to be a leader, and to endure whatever Ging’s long arms can throw at him. Seen through this lens the dodgeball game becomes quite a powerful metaphor, and Razor’s ruthless approach makes perfect sense. Not only willing to kill his underlings – who are all convicted criminals – he’s clearly willing to inflict fatal damage on the likes of Goreinu and Tsezguerra too. In the process he knocks then both out of the game – seemingly breaking Goreinu mentally in the process and forcing both of them to use all their mettle just to survive death – but this only inspires Gon. “Bring it!” indeed – if there was ever a boy who lived by that motto, it’s Gon. Gon is high-spirited by nature but it’s rare that we ever see him as truly pumped up as he was when Razor targeted him, and it’s a pretty amazing thing to see as he musters as his Ken and Ko to repel an attack so powerful it literally knocks his boots off as well as leaving him bloodied. Bloodied, yes, but definitely unbowed – in fact, getting his face smashed up fires Gon up even more. The message to Razor – and by extension, Ging – is clear: if you want to stop me you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that…
Setting aside his baser impulses, it’s really no wonder that Hisoka finds Gon such an appealing potential foe. Rather than shrinking in fear, Gon actually grows – he uses his fear to make himself stronger. We saw this as far back as the “Hunter Exam” arc, which was the last time we saw Gon truly doubt himself (after Hisoka flattened him). Hisoka’s life has surely been a litany of opponents who were overcome by sheer terror upon seeing his strength, but Gon truly knows no retreat (even when he should). And where Hisoka’s tactics fail him (bungee gum is trumped by Razor’s Nen combining) Gon’s directness might still win the day. He’s making no attempt to outsmart or deceive Razor – simply making the statement that he can take Razor’s best shot and emerge strong enough to kick his ass. We’ll see whether that’s actually true – it seems likely it isn’t, and indeed Hisoka knows full well that patience is required before Gon and Killua have grown enough to be true threats to him. But Gon is the rare foe that Hisoka – and Razor, and Ging – can never discourage or demoralize. They might kill him, but that’s the only way they’ll stop him – and knowing that in itself makes a surprising difference, as Hanzo found out in the Hunter exam. And if Gon survives his own reckless courage long enough to get through adolescence, there might just come a time where even the likes of those beasts won’t be able to kill him – and that’s a truly awesome and scary thought (and one which no doubt thrills Hisoka to the core).
Greed Island Tutorial: “Accompany”