If the comparative frolic of “Greed Island” already feels like it happened years ago, “Heaven’s Arena” and the “Hunter Exam” seem like a thousand lifetimes away. There are times when I find I almost find it difficult to believe this is the same series, though Togashi-sensei’s fierce intelligence and the sheer quality of the animation always shine through. Kite’s words to Gon and Killua this week – “Whether we win or lose, Hell awaits us” – serve as an ample warning to the audience, too.
I’m wholly riveted by what we’ve seen so far, but if I have a worry about the “Chimera Ant” arc it’s that it might just have an exhausting effect in the long-term. This is especially a concern since as far as anyone can guess, “Chimera Ant” might reasonably be expected to run for somewhere around a year. So far so good, but I don’t know how I’ll react to a Hunter X Hunter that’s this dark and terrifying for a year – I have no basis for comparison. In a sense this might just be too good a premise for a writer as brilliant as Togashi – he’s crafted a setup that affords almost limitless potential to wreak mischief on the characters and the audience, and there are few as good at doing that – or that seem to take as much glee in it.
What’s really fascinating is that so far, it’s the ants who’ve had the most well-defined character arcs while the heroes have been more or less acting as agents of the plot. It’s no secret that Togashi never has throwaways among characters of any importance, but the intriguing and bizarre dynamics of the chimera ant colony continue to grow exponentially more Byzantine, with Colt at the very center. He’s the one that represents the sheer paradox of their existence – his worthwhile and admirable qualities twisted to serve what, by human standards, is an evil and repugnant purpose, yet one he sincerely believes in.
Key among the new faces this week is Rammot (Hamazoe Shinya). He’s yet another opportunity for Togashi to twist the knife, a chimera ant born from the genes of a bull-headed shrike. As Gon and Kite explain to city-boy Killua, these real-life birds have the gruesome habit of impaling their prey on sharp objects like branches or barbed-wire fences – presumably so they can be stored and ripped apart at leisure, though ornithologists debate that point. In Togashi’s hands that trait is borne of pure sadism and rage, and Rammot is the most bloodthirsty of all the ants we’ve met so far – like Koala he’s not even an officer, but he takes great delight in the hunt and rages about the fact that he’s not allowed to eat the humans he kills, but must settle for horses and the like.
We see in Rammot a growing issue with the chimera ants – as Peggy says, they have “too much personality”. This ironic comment seems to be the outgrowth of the foreshadowing I noted when the ants first asked the Queen if they might have names – once the journey down that road begins, there’s no turning back. Individuality has given the ants strength, but also threatens their unity – “sedition” (how very chilling and bizarre – i.e. Togashi-like – to hear that uttered by one chimera ant about others) being rampant in the ranks, according to Curt. Indeed, with the Queen now demanding a hundred humans a day to nourish the King from her exhausted leaders, the new rage is the “rare humans” with the life force overflowing from their bodies – the ones Zazan brags have the nutritional value of a thousand humans (Nen – it does a body good). Yet some commanders, like Leol (Saitou Jiro) begrudge being told even to turn these over to the Queen – they hunger to taste the flesh for themselves. More and more these strange creatures take in the aura of a twisted reflection of ourselves right down to their social order, and that’s surely no coincidence.
It’s Rammot as well who offers Gon and Killua (and Kite) their first look at what the chimera ants have become, and their first chance to fight them. As Colt watches surreptitiously from a nearby branch, Rammot encounters the trio at the scene of one of his grisly kills, and Kite does something we saw Bisky do in Greed Island: he steps away from the field and forces the boys to prove themselves. Of course Kite suspects that this is but a foot soldier, someone the boys must be able to defeat if they’re to endure what faces them, but he’s no pushover. Enraged as they are at being “treated like kids”, Gon and Killua have their share of trouble – Rammot lands some blows, and forces both opponents to unleash their recently-minted special abilities. Killua’s Thunderbolt and Gon’s Janken are fearsome indeed, but – most worryingly – Rammot survives the attack, to be spirited away by Colt. Mind you he’s been severely injured, but he lives – and it’s his blind rage that fuels him and makes him determined to hunt Gon and Killua down and do everything up to and including “shit on their skulls” before he’s done with them.
This is yet another superbly animated and drawn – if brief – fight sequence as a feather in H x H’s cap. But it’s not even the appetizer – I don’t think the table has even been set. Colt is almost alarmingly smart, and he surely learned much from observing the use of Nen by those who possess it in spades. He also managed to disguise his presence so that none of the three professional Hunters knew he was there, which is a rather alarming prospect. Gon and Killua are strong indeed, and Kite undoubtedly even more so – but there’s no way they’re strong enough to take on the threat as it currently exists, never mind once the actual enemy (the Ant King) enters the picture. Help will surely have to come from somewhere – we know who at least one of the sources will be from the OP, presumably – but it seems safe to say their neither the boys or the audience of H x H have dealt with anything remotely approaching a menace of this scale. Hell awaits us, indeed.