I was mentally prepared for the kind of sea change that was coming to Hunter X Hunter after the “Greed island” arc ended – I’d certainly read enough about it. But knowing it and experiencing are two different things, and I continue to be really jolted by just how much more unsettling and brutal H x H has become in “Chimera Ant”. And the thing is, it’s only just started – we’ve seen a relatively small amount of actual horror, and it all has the filter of being inflicted on basically nameless characters we don’t have a strong emotional connection to (apart from Kurt and Reina, whose story is so painful that it transcends familiarity with the victims). That’s a pretty scary prospect, truth be told.
I think one of the things that’s so unnerving about the Chimera Ants as monsters go is that they capture a peculiar blend of humanity and alien-ness than many writers strive for, and rarely achieve. The thing is, Togashi-sensei is basically a psychology-driven writer – he’s a master of many trades, but fundamentally I think head games are what drives most of his best material. So he really gets what makes them so scary. We’ve seen giant bugs in a hundred monster movies, and they’re not all that scary anymore.
But when these creatures began to incorporate recognizably human ways of thinking, that’s when they became truly terrifying. They’re capable of laughing, being bored, feeling envy – yet they have no concept of humans as anything but food for their Queen. They seem to retain that mentality of pure predators, that killing is innate to their nature and of no moral concern whatsoever – yet they’ve become capable of enjoying it. They’re emerging as individuals while still retaining their ant-like absolute loyalty to the nest. Togashi has combined the scariest elements of ants with those of humans – damn, what a clever and terrible bastard he is.
There’s one seeming exception to all this of course – Colt – and he seems to point up what’s an inevitable crisis point for the Chimera Ants (and might prove their downfall, who knows). We can see quite clearly that Curt has a conscience – he spared his mother quite willfully (if unaware of the reason) and this week we saw him order than a child be spared for no practical purpose. Yet he of all the squadron leaders seems to value loyalty, normally an honorable and desirable trait and one he inherited from the boy he was – yet in this case, his loyalty is to the Chimera Ant Queen. It seems to me that the ant way of living and the human are mutually incompatible – we already see fractures forming in the ant hierarchy as individualism becomes a growing problem.
Remarkably enough we haven’t even met most of the ants who will play the featured roles in this arc (like the Royal Guard and heck, the King himself), but the ones we are meeting are making quite an impression. Among them is Koala (Horiuchi Kenyuu) who’s not even a Squad Leader, just a soldier who gets a great deal of pleasure from killing humans and doesn’t like taking orders from his boss, Meleoron (Tobita Nobuo), who’s ability to disappear seems to indicate he’s descended from a chameleon. Even more worrisome is Yunju (Murakami Yuuya) another reptilian Chimera who’s so twisted he’s decided he wants to make Gyro’s soldiers his “pets” (and guns don’t seem to be working so well anymore). All this business about toying with the prey and competing with each other is very un-antlike – and that’s a problem that I don’t see going away anytime soon.
I’ve gone five paragraphs into a Hunter X Hunter post without mentioning Gon and Killua, which should give you an idea of just how different “Chimera Ant” is from what’s come before it. It’s clear they’re caught up in a much larger story this time, and that story for me more or less marks the official confirmation of what I’ve thought all along – that H x H is closer to what we normally think of as seinen than typical shounen. The whole NGL scenario is cynical and darkly humorous – a high-tech border station set up in a cave, where applicants for entry submit to strip searches and ultrasounds and are rejected from entering if they wear glasses or have any sort of implants. There’s talk of technology smuggled into the country in rectums and a convenient shop where travellers are forced to buy “natural clothes” to replace their confiscated ones. And, naturally, a post set up to rent them horses at exorbitant prices once they clear border security. All this to support the supposed natural paradise of a despot who seems to have structured the whole thing so he could use turn the country into a giant drug lab free from the watchful eyes of the outside world.
Into this madhouse (pun intended) ride the heroes – or at least, the five members of the party who passed muster at the border. They’re accompanied by two “minders” there supposedly to help with translation and the like but obviously to keep an eye on the foreigners – a dig by Togashi at every despotic country that uses the tactic. There’s really only one strongly humorous element in the episode, and it’s provided by Killua. Naturally enough he’s not going to ride a horse by sitting in the saddle, no – he’s going to stand up or recline comfortably, putting on a disinterested “boss face” at all times. Already there are Pokkle, Ponzu and their support team – and they run into the remnants of one of Gyro’s squads, who’ve been devastated by Yunju’s squad. Pokkle recognizes immediately that he’s in over his head and that all of the Hunters who’ve been entering the country need to band together, though he manages to use his Nen to kill three Chimera Ants (one of them a cockroach – ugh) who come after his group. There are serious death flags for Pokkle and Ponzu raised in this episode (scary thought: what happens if the Queen eats a Nen user?), and given that I expect the body count to be pretty high this time around, I’m not too optimistic about their chances. They’re just at the right level of familiarity to be good candidates for the chop, in any case.