Hunter X Hunter continues to pretty well re-define excellence, in ways old and new. Of course it’s still brilliant both in terms of writing and the execution of the adaptation – but that’s been true for the last 20 months, so nothing new there. But despite doing something radically different in the “Chimera Ant” arc than it did in the 75 episodes that preceded it, it’s now doing this better than anyone else is doing it. The schedule is packed with series trying to be terrifying and thrilling, in the full range from very good to awful, but none of them can really match H x H for pure fearless brutality and horror. It’s not this easy – it can’t be – but this show is making it look effortless, and making the rest of the field look bad by comparison.
I thought for a while that this might be the first episode of H x H where none of the four main cast members appeared. As it was, we didn’t see Gon’s party until the 18-minute mark, more or less – and it didn’t stop the episode from flying by in what felt like seconds flat and every one of them thrilling and profoundly unsettling. In fact, the first several minutes of the episode were spent chronicling the backstory of a character who’s either dead or about to be, NGL’s “Shadow Don” Gyro. It was beautifully told, too, in a world of shadows and monochromatic backgrounds that reflected just how bleak and terrible it felt to the person in question. Gyro had it pretty miserably, all right, especially given who he was cursed with for a father. But some might reasonably argue that it was excessive to spend so much time on a character who’s never spoken and seems to be doomed, in any case.
I have my own ideas on that, and it all ties in to the fact that with the Chimera Ants, death isn’t forever. It’s one of the many terrifying things about them – their victims live on, but in a grotesque and twisted mockery of the beings they were. We’ve seen this most profoundly in the backstory of Curt/Colt, which should be proof enough for anyone that Gyro’s backstory is very much relevant. But we also had Kaito’s words at the end of the episode that Chimera Ants and the NGL would be the “worst combination possible”. When considering Gyro I can’t forget for a moment that the Ant King hasn’t been born yet – the Queen is still carbo-loading on human genes – and that Gyro set up the NGL to “make everyone’s lives as miserable as his was”. Is this the strain of human desire that’s going to provide the core of the Ant King’s personality and motivation?
As if that weren’t an ugly enough scenario, you can add Nen ability to the mix. The ants are learning frighteningly quickly – they’re using the guns they took from the soldiers they killed, and Peggy and Colt are puzzling over the methods used to kill the soldiers Pokkle defeated with his Nen arrows. It seems that they – at least some of them – are able to see aura and Nen (I’m not sure just why this is possible – could be spider eyes, though it seems very likely they’ve already eaten the Hunters that entered the country before Pokkle and Ponzu). There’s been little doubt what fate was going to befall Pokkle’s group, but my goodness it was terrible to see. First a beheading, with the victim living long enough to scream in terror, then a head bitten off by Pike (Yamanaka Masahiro). Pokkle does his best with his somewhat modest Nen ability, seemingly getting the better of Pike, but Zazan’s sneak attack seals his doom.
In a way it seems as if poor Ponzu is the lucky one – she, at least, was shot to death before she was devoured. She gets off a message (the use of the Japanese Yuubin Kyouku logo on her bee-mail would be cute under other circumstances, but here it’s just tragic) before she meets her end. Sadly Pokkle had the right idea – he knew he was overmatched and was just trying to escape the NGL and warn the world of the danger. Pokkle’s fate is seemingly to be devoured by the Queen herself, with probably disastrous results. What a terrible construction these creatures are – even in the case of Colt. He retains the purest of his noble attributes – he’s smart, loyal and fiercely protective. But now instead of Reina – whose name he remembers this week – it’s to the the Ant Queen and her terrible struggle. He more than any of the Chimera Ants seems to at least have the potential for a real internal struggle – perhaps he’s retained enough of his humanity that as he remembers more and more, he may come to rebel against the cause he now gives absolutely loyalty to. It’s notable that he’s already shown mercy to humans on two separate occasions.
It should be no surprise that an episode even an edgy and psychologically dark series like Hunter X Hunter titles “Evil x and x Terrible” would be a brutal one indeed. It’s a measure of just how bad things are that after Kaito receives Ponzu’s final message, he flat-out asks the boys to go with him. You know in his heart he’d like to keep Gon and Killua safe (he does send Stick and Podungo away, superficially to get a message to the world but mostly because he knows they’re too weak to face what the road he’s following holds), but he realizes things are so bad that he can’t possibly spare their strength – and I would imagine he’s quite torn about not just allowing them to accompany him into what he knows will be a horrible situation, but asking them to do so. Even knowing their precocious strength my stomach churns thinking about what Gon and Killua are going to face – it’s surely going to be hard to watch, and Togashi is not a sentimental mangaka. I don’t think we’ll be spared much, and this journey – while it’s likely to be riveting every step of the way – is going to be the hardest not just for the boys, but for viewers who’ve come to care for them about the last 80 episodes.