I keep making the mistake of thinking that Madhouse can’t keep topping themselves, but Madhouse keeps topping themselves. I don’t know how they do it – or how Togashi did it, for that matter – but it just keeps getting better. With every new masterpiece Togashi shows us another element of his mastery, and Madhouse shows off their unimpeachable ability to animate and choreograph action. Series this long aren’t supposed to be this good – it just doesn’t work that way. Authors go into slumps, the money gets tight, something is supposed to go wrong and make a show mediocre for at least a week or two. Dammit, this just isn’t right!
I can honestly say that this is one of the very few shows that’s ever floored me with sheer GAR to the point where I was practically shaking with adrenaline. It always seems to involve Gon, and it’s no coincidence – if Kenshin Himura is the perfect main character – shounen or otherwise – I think Gon is too, in a completely different way. Seriously – how much guts, determination and pure power is it possible to fit into that tiny body? I’m normally resistant to characters who are as pure as Gon is, but as written by Togashi he’s so damn genuine that I’m completely swept up by his heroic nature. He’s everything a shounen lead is supposed to be, including capable of being overpowered and defeated – but in being defeated he simply sucks it up and uses it for inspiration. There’s a reason other characters are swept up by the untarnished nature of Gon’s pride and courage, whether they want to be or not – we’ve seen it over and over, with friends and rivals alike. Hisoka, Biscuit, Zepile, Tsezguerra – even the likes of Wing, Leorio and Kurapika.
Of course, no one has been more changed by Gon’s nature than Killua. And no one comes as close to matching Gon for having strength and courage that outsizes their physical stature. But it wasn’t the more obvious GAR elements of Gon’s character that impacted Killua, it was his loyalty and empathy – he did the most difficult thing it’s possible to in a relationship, which is to inspire someone to be a better person. That’s a big part of great shounen too, and if Gon is a perfect shounen lead, than his relationship with Killua is possibly a perfect shounen friendship. While there’s no question that Gon’s stubborn unwillingness to compromise drives his friend crazy, there’s also no question that Killua admires it – and while he’s strong enough to hold his own in any situation, his loyalty to Gon has convinced him to take on the role of the unwavering supporter and protector (something which Gon truly needs, as his strength does not make him immune to the dangers his courage and stubbornness exposes him to).
In Razor, Gon has found a perfect foil to spur him to reach the next level in his development (which is probably not coincidental, under the circumstances – nor is the fact that Gon so resembles his father with this tourniquet around his head). I like the arcs in H x H that aren’t necessarily driven by a conventional good vs. evil narrative, which is one of the reasons I love “Heaven’s Arena” so much. Razor is ruthless, no doubt, but he’s not malicious – he simply has a job to do, and no pity on those not strong enough to stand up to him. Of course Genthru is still out there and he’s undeniably evil, but there’s the sense that it’s this standoff with Razor – a game that isn’t a game – that’s the true centerpiece of “Greed Island” and the aspect that matters most in the long-term. If there was a consummate Gon moment in this episode (in the last it was his smile when Razor announced he was instructed by Ging to not go easy on Gon) it was in his reaction to Razor’s technique in deflecting his “Jan-Ken-Pon” attack. It was pure, unadulterated joy at seeing such brilliance and elegant power – even though it meant his own attack hadn’t accomplished its ultimate purpose. Gon and Hisoka are more alike than Gon would care to admit (just as Biscuit and Hisoka are closer in their interest in the boys than she’d care to) in their shared obsession with strength.
It was also refreshing to see a measure of Tsezguerra’s true strength – which lies not in pure Nen power, necessarily, but in analysis and technique. It was he who gave the most cogent description of what was happening inside the game – including the fact that Killua’s hands were being ravaged by being the “holder” (sort of the anti-Lucy and Charlie Brown) for Gon’s freakishly powerful Janken attacks. Hisoka has injured himself too, while still managing to use his bungee gum to secure the ball after one of Razor’s trick throws nearly causes him to be knocked out (and does manage to knock Bisky to the “Out” zone by nicking her dress). But Gon refuses Tsez’s entreaties to let him use himself as the holder, though he knows Nen techniques that could allow him to use his hands to channel Gon’s power as Kil is doing, without crippling himself. I don’t know what’s more affecting here – Killua’s heartbreaking quiet courage in hiding his injuries behind a smile and his pockets (something the poor kid has had a lifetime of practice at) or Gon’s heartfelt declaration that he could only use his full strength if it was Killua holding the ball (and Killua’s reaction). This is the complete trust and loyalty of their friendship – and in the end, though Tsezguerra has logic on his side, he has no choice but to acknowledge that his logic is no match for their dedication to each other.
As he often is, Hisoka is the cherry on top of all this glorious Togashi brilliance. Surely this must be heaven for him, watching all the sheer ungodly power and immovable pride (and his two favorite shotas) on display – and he has no small part in the madness himself. It seems fitting that it would end up being he and the boys standing alone in the ring against Razor – fitting, and almost too cool for words. What a notion, that the boys and Hisoka should be thrown together in such a situation – and the preview teases what looks like a kind of Super Sentai formation of the three of them in executing Gon’s plan. Hisoka’s reaction when Gon whispers it to him and Killua protests that it might not work – “Oh, but I so want to try it”- would have been worth the price of admission even if hadn’t come at the end of a spectacular episode that clicks on every level. And it’s interesting that even when standing with strategists and schemers the likes of Hisoka and Killua (and Bisky and Tsez too, for that matter) it’s the “idiot” Gon who keeps coming up with the plans, and they keep deferring to him. Gon may lack the cunning of his best friend and his… whatever Hisoka is to him, but his instincts are always with him, and it’s the sheer unbreakability of his spirit that allows Gon to think most clearly when the tension is at its highest. This is his fight, and I think his friends (and whatever Hisoka is to him) know that – and it’s one that he’s going to have to win his own way.
Because we haven’t done one in 70 weeks, I decided to hold a “H x H character poll” – please stop by the sidebar and cast your vote.
Greed Island Tutorial: “Contact”