Hunter X Hunter 2011 – 77

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Only two episodes in, it’s clear that “Chimera Ant” is nothing like what’s come before.

Welcome to the dark side of Togashi Yoshihiro’s mind.  And since we’ve already seen some dark places in Hunter X Hunter, the fact that this arc seems such a dramatic tonal shift should give a clue as to just how creepy and unsettling it is.  Veterans of the manga and Nippon series have certainly indicated that the series was going to go much darker than it did even in “York Shin”, but it really feels as if I’m watching a different series.

The remarkable thing is, apart from perhaps the two episode interlude set on Whale Island, the first two eps of “Chimera Ant” may just be the quietest in Hunter X Hunter so far.  They consist mostly of Gon and Killua getting to know Kite (and eventually his team, including Togashi-dog) and the slow build of information about the chimera ant phenomenon.  Their disturbing nature comes almost completely from atmosphere – the new BGM pieces help, and the design for the Ant Queen has a distinctly Alien feel to it.  But for most of their length it’s mostly just a sense – something that’s very hard for to me to put into words.  Togashi and Koujina-sensei have managed to infuse the events of these episodes with creeping unease, the notion that as Gon and Kite sit quietly talking, they’re about to get swept up in something truly terrifying.

On one level, theses episodes are clearly tasked with stamping Kite’s nature on our consciousness and building his relationship with Gon, and thanks in good measure to the sterling work of Ikeda Shuuichi they succeed on that front.  I noted in last week’s comments that Togashi has made a practice of always pairing Gon and Killua off with an adult to look after them, even when it was more of a de facto scenario with Leorio in the first two arcs.  Wing, Bisky, Kite, even Zepile.  I think one of the reasons H x H is so consistently relatable is that Togashi never lets us forget that Gon and Killua are, for all their freakish talent and power, still very much 12 year-old boys – with all that implies about their common sense (or lack of it).  Kite has made a strong impression more quickly than any of the other mentors, I think – a sense of strength coupled with idealism and a core of kindness.  And a keen intelligence that’s allowed he (along with Killua, probably) to grasp the true nature of the potential threat facing humanity faster than the rest of the group.

That group is an odd one – a team of amateur hunters who work with Kite on his biological survey missions, discovering rare species (tigers cooking over a fire?  Sugoi…) along the way.  They also offer Togashi to riff with his bizarre naming conventions.  We have gum-popping Spinner Clow (Matsumoto Megumi), and bear-like Monta Yuras (Kanemitsu Nobuaki).  There’s Banana Kavaro (Yasuno Kiyono) and the cheerful Stick Dinner (Yamanaka Masahiro), whose goofball sense of humor immediately sparks a strong bond with Gon.  Later we meet tiny Lin Koshi (Hamazoe Shinya) and Lapoy Podungo (Uki Satake) who’ve been off researching the finding of a large leg that looks suspiciously like a chimera ant’s – except far, far larger than it should be – in a seaside town.  Given that most of Team Kite is played by seiyuu multitasked from other roles in the series, I do rather worry for their long-term well-being.

And there’s plenty of reason to worry, that’s for certain.  As Kite and later his team tell the boys of the chimera ants and why they’ve been granted the highest quarantine level possible, a disturbing picture emerges.  They reproduce via phagogenesis (a method thankfully restricted to science-fiction and horror as far as we know), whereby the Queen devours other species and is able to pass on their genetic traits to her offspring.  She lays eggs in cycles, with the first (infertile) group becoming her soldiers and workers, which eventually leads to her giving birth to the next King.  The implications of this are obvious, though less so is just what caused what was seemingly a, well- ant-sized creature to grow so large, so quickly.  All we have for clues are an unusually dry year and a few bits and pieces in glass specimen jars and on tables in the back rooms of museums.

The most shocking and terrible moments of the episode surround two other new cast members we’re all-too-briefly introduced to.  Nine year-old Kurt (Anzai Chika) lives in a forest cabin with his mother and little sister Reina (Murakawa Rie).  Kurt is a dutiful and protective big brother, vowing always to protect Reina from any harm, much to their mother’s pride.  One day, after a successful fishing trip, they  encounter one of the giant Ant Queen’s first wave of shock troops – sent forth to gather the large prey she desperately seeks to build her strength of genetic stockpile.  It’s all over in a flash, but the implications are pretty grisly – and Togashi and Madhouse don’t spare us the aftermath of what happens in the forest.  You can’t call a development like this truly surprising given the fact that Togashi has already shown he’s a pretty ruthless writer, but it’s heartbreaking (the close-ups of Jizo, the guardian Buddha revered as protector of children, don’t help) and it still makes a big impact.

The stage, then, is set.  And it seems that Gon and Killua – really for the first time – are to be introduced to the harsh world that pro Hunters deal with.  Not surprisingly Gon has asked to join Kite’s team and not surprisingly Kite has agreed – and they set off for York Shin to continue their investigations.  Meanwhile the true horror of what’s happening with the Ant Queen is revealed as the first of her human-infused offspring is born – Colt (Nojima Hirofumi), his name and face a twisted mutation of what he was as a human.  Given how dark things are already, it’s hardly a surprise that we have no equivalent of the “Hunterpedia” or “Greed Island Tutorial” segments yet – it might seem too irreverent – though losing out on both those and the “This Week’s Space Photo” at once is rather cruel.  By way of small consolation we have Gon and Killua speaking English in the preview – and a glimpse of a face we haven’t seen since way back in the Hunter Exam…

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  1. a

    Good review and blog you have here. As a proud owner of this arc in its manga volume entirety I can safely say that things just get progressively darker; which may isolate some fans but excite others. For what its worth this arc is simply much more than just evil ants taking over the world. There's many themes present that will make the viewer think deeply on things also. Togashi is brilliant at gradually sinking his works into darker territory as was evident by the dark chapter black arc in Yu Yu Hakusho. Still, I'm interested in seeing how madhouse handle the extremely graphic moments of violence that will be coming up, and the general atmosphere of the arc. I have faith they'll do great.

  2. l

    You're right on a mark about isolating some fans. This anime adaptation is my first exposure to the entire series, but it has become the series that I look forward to most weekly just because of how masterful it is. That being said, this week's episode was the first time I felt displeased watching. So while I do yearn for more, I am also weary about how macabre things are getting.

  3. h

    I find your choice of nickname utterly enthralling and can't for the life of me understand why I failed to think of adopting a similarly absurd randomized moniker. I feel it may also serve as a critical step in reducing the number of direct responses I receive (countless beyond fathom though they be), and allow me to retreat further under my shroud of practical anonymity while retaining a singular distinctiveness worthy of the statistical impossibility of chance duplicate ID generation.

    That and it seems to hilariously mess up the comment feed in mobile KHTML-based browsers, which is all good.

  4. s

    "which may isolate some fans but excite others." That's exactly how I felt about this arc, on the isolated side.

    I said it before, even as a HxH fan I was NOT looking forward to this arc just because of the places the arc will go. That being said, it seems like the anime might speed it up a bit by removing some "fluff" manga material.

    Gon and Killua were supposed to help the Team Kite identify some animals proving out their worth before the Ant hunt. The production team probably want to get into the heart/guts of the arc sooner as it's pretty lengthy (or maybe it was normal length but just FELT long because of all the hiatus during the time it was written)

  5. G

    This arc gives off a monster movie feel to it and also reminds me of the old giant ant horror movie THEM. Seeing how they killed 2 cute kids right off the bat I don't expect Kite's team to stay intact for very long.

  6. A

    Been over a year since the Hunter exam, they're 13-year-olds now.

  7. In magic anime land, I don't think the characters in this series age.

  8. l

    Kurt's fate is perhaps the most unsettling thing in this adaptation, to me. The way the "camera" zoomed into his mouth just as he said the line, "I'll always protect you," as if he had committed some mythological taboo that comes an impending punishment more horrifying than death. And then the focus on the religious idol. And lastly, the actual showing of him being killed and the blood-stained garments of the two children. I have the right mind to say that I would have preferred it if it just showed the Queen devouring human clothes, without any back-story. (Unless it ends up integrating into the plot, such as remnants of Kurt's personality being inside a Chimera Ant or some such.)

    The past two episodes have been a bit too colloquial for me to continue venerating each week's episode, but the groundwork they have established is undeniably evoking anticipation from me. How does the Queen choose which traits to give "birth" to? If she eats a human, can one of those inheritances be that person's distinct Nen ability? Although in a lot of insect species, the mother is eaten upon giving birth, what if the Chimera Ant Queen instead keeps eating her powerful Kings and other strong humans/species to repeatedly make the next offspring stronger? I've a lot of wonders about what Togashi intends to do (or already has done) with this premise, so I'm definitely looking forward to when things kick into high gear. (When that Dodgeball game started on Greed Island, things got thrilling real quick.)

  9. S

    This episode reassured me. The last one had a slow pace and inserted filler material, but this one was just perfect; the buildup of tension is so creepy it's turning this series into an horror. I also like how Kite & co. handle their investigation with competence and scientific method. IRL, this might be the story of a group of doctors trying to isolate the origin of a particularly nasty virus and put a limit to its spread. Of course Togashi managed to make it even WORSE – the Ants' ability to adapt and evolution speed is frightening, and makes for some formidable adversaries. At the beginning of this episode, the threat would have been eradicated without any risk by any decently armed human group who were to find the queen. At the end, it would probably take a couple Hunters. But give them a few days, and these things will become too much to handle for pretty much any force on Earth.

  10. a

    Oh god, I knew I was forgetting something! I think I repressed that memory! Togashi definitely knows how to shock people.

  11. Sorry, that's way too specific as is.

  12. S

    Ok, sorry for the spoilers then ;).

  13. I know you guys don't mean any harm, bu think about it from the perspective of someone who hasn't read the manga. Why would we want to have the impact of what's to come muted by knowing it's coming, even if we don't know when?

  14. S

    Yeah, you're right, I guess we're getting over-excited here XD. Must be due to the fact that this episode really made me sure that Madhouse is going to keep up the excellent work throughout the arc.

    By the way, not being a manga reader, were you annoyed by the OP? I don't really like the fact that they unveiled so many character designs so early. Though it's true that it's hard to imagine how they should have done it otherwise.

  15. i

    That preview and the new op, does it mean we are about to get a war between hunters and chimera ants?

    Phagogenesis just sounds like what normal viruses do except instead of using their host as a breeding ground they uses it as source for genetic mutation. Scientists would be able to recreate the effect in a lab by introducing viruses into a species and then taking the same viruses after some level of mutation and putting them into another one. But thankfully nature deemed this impossible and natural mutation/evolution or what some imbeciles in government call lies, only occurs when there is a prolonged need (several generations relative life spans) due to their environment.

    But if it were more like Alien with face hugging scorpions or chest bursting babies then I'd get even more freaked out. Alien haunted my early teens and I refused to give part 4 a try as a result.

  16. No, not really. First, I'm used to spoilery OPs and second, things like character designs don't concern me anywhere near as much as plot points. I mean, all of these character designs are in the SJ news releases anyway, which I posted on this site weeks before Greed Island even ended.

  17. S

    Yeah, I know. I guess I feel like this because I read this week-by-week and back then what the design of the King would have been was a subject of lots of anticipation and speculation. So, knowing it straight away feels kinda lame.

  18. A

    I liked how Yorknew city and the Southern Peace auction were brought back.

    I mean, is nice to have new things too, but recycling elements give the series a sense of continuity.

  19. s

    As you said GE, the stage is set, so be prepared for this dark ride.

    Overall, knowing the manga material, for the most part, I'm content with this episode, while it deviated slightly from the manga and cut a bit it didn't cut anything important really. Some (may) complain we don't get to see the contrast of Kite's team to Gon+Killua (i.e. in the manga they helped discover a few new species by virtue of their Nen) but I don't think its absolutely needed int he grand schemes of this arc.. it was more of a chuckle to see applications of Nen :S

    Anyways GE, you'll probably hear it numerous times, but be prepared for a long and likely dark arc :)

  20. A

    Felt sinister vibes early on. When Kurt and Reina were introduced, I thought they were somehow related to Kite's gang. When the Queen issued the orders, I feared for the kids, and boy… that was chilling.

    As an anime exclusive follower, I'm liking what I see so far. Preparing myself to see how much darker it will descent.

    The BGM used was cleverly executed. Helped enhanced the atmosphere.

    Not to forget about your brilliant posts as usual Enzo. I'll join you on this thrilling ride. Keep churning these, yoroshiku onegaishimasu. :)

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