In some ways, you could almost say that the 75 episodes of Hunter X Hunter Madhouse has produced have all been the prologue, leading up to this moment. After all, the story told in those episodes has been told on-screen before, although not all of it in series format and arguably none of it with this caliber of production quality. But that wouldn’t be doing justice to that glorious year-and-a-half of anime – those 75 eps represent one of the most consistently brilliant manga adaptations in anime history, a triumph in every respect for Madhouse and the catalyst for the continued thriving of the H x H franchise despite Togashi Yoshihiro being on hiatus for most of that time.
Nevertheless, this is undeniably a hugely important moment in Hunter X Hunter history. As a devout fan of Rurouni Kenshin I can only imagine the emotions that would be running through me when, after 15 years, the first frames of the “Jinchu” Arc were finally brought to the screen (we’ve seen FMA and H x H get their full re-tellings – when will RK finally get its due?). This entire adaptation has been a revelation to me as someone who hadn’t read the manga or seen the Nippon Animation version, but it’s met with its share of hostility from some of the old audience – though even many of the critics seem to have withered under the relentless brilliance of Madhouse’s work here. Now, though, with the weight of expectations so overwhelming, the task faced by Koujina Hiroshi and his team has never been more difficult.
In fact, the Madhouse version of the “Chimera Ant” Arc already starts off in a different place than the manga version did, because some of what we saw in this episode actually takes place at the beginning of the manga. There, a meeting takes place between Gon and Kite – a very important one, in fact – in the earliest stages of the story. While there was a meeting in the anime version too, Gon was quite unaware of who he was meeting with at the time – it was merely a strange man with long hair who saved him when he stumbled into the territory of a foxbear with her cub and needed saving (and scolding). And rather than seeing that meeting in its chronological place in the timeline, here it’s presented as a flashback when Gon (with Killua in tow) and Kite are reunited after Gon uses “Accompany” in the aftermath of his victory in Greed Island.
I’ll leave it to others to debate the merits of the change, because this is the version that I’m writing about – and in this version, things make sense just the way they are. Somewhat cruelly, Gon has once again been denied the chance to meet his father. Ging had Elena rig it so that only if Gon used “Magnetic Force” would be be taken to Ging. If Gon used “Accompany” he would be taken to see Kite (Ikeda Shuuichi), yet another friend set up as a kind of way-station on Gon’s road to Ging. Ging’s reasoning is that if Gon used “Accompany”, that made him “gutless” because he needed friends with him for the meeting – while Elena counters that it’s really because Ging is “shy and weird”. The most telling moment of this exchange comes, it seems to me, in the aftermath of Gon leaving the game, when Elena thinks to herself “I feel sorry for Gon-kun” at the prospect of trying to deal with a father like Ging.
There are many striking things about this episode, which starts with the fated meeting between Gon, Killua, and Kite. The tone is starkly different from any other arc so far, even “York Shin” – I would describe it as “somber”. This is reflected in the new OP animation (“Departure” remains, but the visuals are dark and somewhat reflective) and even more so in the new ED. Things are quieter, more thoughtful, sometimes sinister – while Kite comes across as a decent and even warm person, there’s an unsettling feel to many scenes, and the new BGM interspersed with older tracks also reflects this. Of the “Chimera Ant” that reflects the arc’s title we see only snatches, but they’re enough to be thoroughly creepy – the dismembered head that takes a bite out of Killua’s thigh, and the Queen (74 year-old Ikeda Masako) we see sitting in a sea cave, wounded and feverishly feasting on fish, desperate to survive long enough to “give birth to the King”.
Hunter X Hunter has faced many critical casting choices over its run, and Kite obviously represents one of the most important. In reaching out to an anime stalwart like Ikeda-san they’ve hit another home run. Ironically Ikeda has already played one of the great mentor characters in manga history – Kenshin Himura’s Hiten Mitsurugi-ryuu master, Hiko Seijurou – and he brings the same sort of world-weary gravity to Kite. Ikeda has a personal connection to this series – he’s a close friend of Han Keiko and Han Megumi (Gon) has described him as being “like a father” to her, which completes a sort of circle than began when Han Keiko was given the role of Gon’s Aunt Mito, the closest thing he’s known to a mother.
It’s easy to see that Gon and Kite’s relationship is going to be a deep and complex one – in a sense, Ging has given Kite the most important role of all in leading his son to eventually reunite with him. Kite’s reaction when he destroys an ant nest to save the unwitting boys from being attacked – “Man, forced to take another life…” – is the same as when he saved Gon from the foxbear, and immediately stamps him as someone who’s well aware of the precious and fragile nature of a living creature’s existence. The story he tells Gon is of a hardscrabble life in the slums, which Ging saved him from, and of the search to find him that Ging set up as the final test of Kite’s readiness to be a Hunter – a story that further stamps Ging as a friend of the outcast and despised, and as a man whose true nature is impossible to grasp.
Ging’s ability to manipulate people and events is the stuff of mythology at this point. It’s clear that much of what we’ve seen in the series is a direct result of his machinations, not least of which the entire Greed Island scenario and Gon’s meeting with Kite. Could it be possible, as Gon suggests, that even his friendship with Killua was the result of Ging’s manouverings? It’s too early to tell – it seems unlikely, but with Ging it would be unwise to declare anything impossible. But this series, ultimately, isn’t about Ging – this is Gon’s story, and it starts and ends with his friendship with Killua. We see over and over again the dedication to the other that they share – Killua’s instant instinctive reactive to save Gon first being only the latest example. If Ging truly saw reliance on friends as Gon’s weakness he was surely incorrect, as his bond with Killua has only made him far stronger – if anything it seems as if Ging’s inability to fully trust anyone may be his only weakness. If the premiere was any guide “Chimera Ant” is going to take them – and the series – into darker and more challenging places than it’s gone before. But millions of H x H fans all over the world are ecstatic to finally see that happen on-screen. It’s pretty rare in TV anime that we truly see history being made, but this is one of those moments when we do.
ED4: “Nagarebushi☆Kirari -Yuzu Version- (流れ星☆キラリ -ゆずバージョン-)” by Yuzu