I hate to keep using the word “somber” but it just keeps leaping into my mind unbidden as I watch the “Chimera Ant” arc unfold. I could use for others, too – sober, subdued, other “S” words… But you get the point. The only thing I can really compare this to is the early part of the “York Shin” arc, with the run of episodes that focused almost solely on Kurapika. But there are two major differences: first, it seemed at the time as if the absence of Gon and Killua was a large factor in the dark tone. And second, the pervading emotion in “York Shin” was anger – Kurapika’s burning hatred which drove his lust for revenge, which in turn drove the entire arc. And of course that was the very definition of a personal battle, while events in “Chimera Ant” clearly have much more far-reaching implications.
In this arc, rather than anger what dominates the mood is creeping fear, unease and sadness. There will be no Gon and Killua showing up the brighten the mood as they did in YS – they’re already here, and swept up in the darkness. And Madhouse knows full well what’s happening in the story, and are a willing participant – the BGM is quieter and dominated my minor key pieces, the coloring is subdued and the world is full of shadows. Gon and Killua’s own behavior reflects this – as if sensing the nature of what’s about to unfold it’s like they’ve grown up overnight, leaving the carefree boys they were behind on Greed Island and joining the world of men. Given as on top of everything else this is their first real job as professional Hunters, that turn in the writing is likely not coincidental.
There’s just no denying that what’s happening with the Chimera Ants is creepy and incredibly disturbing. Last week it was the existentially brutal scene where Kurt and Reina were taken; this time around it’s entire villages being rounded up like herded cattle and taken away by businesslike human-ant hybrids. Damn that restless brain of yours, Togashi-sensei, for coming up with yet another brilliant premise, this the most horrifying one yet – insanely clever just like all the others, but seeming to hit all the bullet points to make me shudder to the very core.
Going inside the Chimera Ant colony – getting to know them – makes things worse, rather than better. That’s because there are no recognizable villan traits here – they aren’t criminals like the Phantom Troupe, or greedy psychotics like The Bomber, or even out to get off by fighting strong opponents like Hisoka. No, this is all about simple survival and expansion. We’re watching the Chimera Ants evolve before our very eyes, and it’s a frightening prospect. They just go about their business, rounding up humans as food, preparing for the birth of The King, doing The Queen’s bidding without question. As to that last part, though, it’s not literally true – they do ask questions. Not of the Queen’s authority, but of the world – and they have initiative.
I feel a little tickling inside my mind telling me that the moment when the tortoise squadron leader (who naturally enough doesn’t have a name yet) asks the Queen if her officers might have names is a crucial one. It feels like a sea change and she seems to recognize it herself – musing that she might have some human blood herself to find it so fascinating – though she seems not to sense the threat to her in it that I sense. As she says, the squadron leaders (and when did they feed the Queen Wonder Woman, anyway?) becoming individuals – proposing ideas of their own, challenging each other to contests for human harvesting, reading books – and we see that Colt clearly even has some memory of his life as a human, because he recognizes his mother and spares her when his squad goes to his old village to harvest. Once ants become individuals, can a colony exist as a single unit? At what point does unquestioned obedience begin to waver, or nagging doubts about The Queen’s single-mindedness begin to take hold?
As to that colony, it appears most likely to be in a place called NGL – Neo Green Land, a county of Luddites who’ve not just fled modern civilisation but made possession of any of its accoutrements a capital offense. This is, as Kaito* explains, the worst possible scenario in many ways – NGL is a secretive land with sealed borders and no known means of communication faster than a written letter. When epidemics strike they let nature run its course rather than fight it, and even in the unlikely event they asked for help in combatting giant ants, it would take a long time for that request to reach the outside world. Naturally Kaito decides that there’s no alternative but to go there and investigate, despite the risks above and beyond any potential chimera ants – and not just Kaito. Old friend Pokkle has gotten wind of a possible giant insect attack, and he’s determined to see for himself – and he’s with Ponzu, too, whose special talent with bees is oddly relevant to the matter at-hand.
There are also signs that Togashi might have intentions of taking the story into more political waters than it usually sails. NGL is obviously more than it seems – they’re rumored to be producing massive quantities of a newly popular drug called D², and for a country without technology their soldiers are equipped with something that seems suspiciously close to a machine gun. After their troops have a run-in with Tortoise’s raiding party – only the leader escapes – mention is made of “Gyro” as their leader. It’s obvious that Gon, Killua and Team Kaito (and Ponzu and Pokkle, for that matter) are headed into very dangerous waters here. Kaito, as you would expect, asks the boys if they’re sure they want to risk it – but I’m sure he knew what the answer would be. His condition is that the boys be able to fight for themselves, and that they leave Kaito behind and save themselves should they get into trouble. This prompts Gon to some uncharacteristic silence and reflection, though the answer he shares with Kil is the only one Gon could ever reach – he’s not abandoning Kaito under any circumstances. As for Killua, he cheekily declares himself “a spontaneous guy” and says he’ll decide his course when the moment comes – but in truth, his actions are no more difficult to predict than his best friend’s. Wherever Gon is Killua will follow – and if that means being at Kaito’s side, that’s where Killua will be.
*Yes, I know I’ve used “Kite” up to this point, because that’s what he seems to be called in every English translation I’ve seen. But given that “Kaito” is the far more natural Japanese pronunciation of his name, especially since H x H basically uses no native Japanese (i.e. Kanji) names anyway, I decided it makes sense to translate the name as it’s spelled out in Katakana.
Also – is that a Chimera Koala I see in the preview?