We’re reaching the point now where I think it’s permissible and even necessary to start asking – is this the greatest Shounen Jump adaptation ever? The greatest shounen adaptation ever, period? It’s a sort of a perfect storm. We have an astonishingly good source material, with no slippages in quality (apart from Togashi’s notorious unfinished sketch chapters, which don’t matter in this context). We have a studio delivering stunning animation week after week, given a timeslot that allows them to comprehensively adapt the entire manga. And we have them doing so – by all reports – with remarkable faithfulness. Everyone will have their favorites, of course – for me I’d stake the “Kyoto Arc” of Rurouni Kenshin against any shounen, period, but the adaptation as a whole has already been surpassed by H x H. Perhaps my pick for the best start-to-finish shounen adaptation might have been Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, but this is the better story, and it didn’t rush through the early chapters as that one did.
I was at an onsen yesterday, enjoying a nice soak in the outdoor bath, when my friend pointed out a bug crawling on the rock wall adjacent. I glanced over and watched it with interest for a few moments – I have no idea what it was, possibly a small beetle of some kind I’d never seen in America. It fell off the wall and dropped to the ground below, a distance I’d estimate to be about a meter – perhaps 35-40 times its own body length – and I noted how remarkable it was that an insect could fall what would be the equivalent of 65 meters for a human and casually stroll off as if nothing had happened. To this my friend innocently replied, “Isn’t it a good thing that insects aren’t human-sized, and don’t have opposable thumbs?”
“Chimera Ants have always been aggressive. But it seems that consuming malicious humans has made them even more evil.” A perfect storm indeed – as I’ve already noted, it seems as if Togashi may just have come up with the perfect monster. They’re so like us, just so unlike us. They possess the single-minded purpose and physical strength of ants, but also twisted versions of human emotions and creativity. And now, also Nen. It seems almost unfair to put a power like this in Togashi’s hands – he’s a cold bastard when he wants to be, and clearly gets a good deal of pleasure from using it. A more perfect crucible to subject his young protagonists to could hardly be devised, and there’s no doubt that they truly are walking into Hell with their eyes open.
I really love the way the battle is being staged. I don’t think it’s just my eyes deceiving me or their new wardrobes – Gon and Killua are stronger. It’s obvious that they are in terms of Nen, but this is really the first time I’ve looked at them and been struck by the fact that time has passed, and they’ve physically grown up – especially Gon, who’s been driving his body so hard. I don’t think this is a coincidence – there’s a symbolism here that we’re meant to see, though whether this comes fron Togashi’s art or Madhouse I couldn’t tell you. They may not be ready for the test that’s facing them, but I think this part of the arc is largely about asking that question – asking in the person of Kaito, on behalf of the audience.
I worry for them, naturally. Killua has always been the more analytical and detached of the two, but when he says “This is the first time my switch has been turned on in a while” what comes to mind for me is this: can that switch be turned on and off so easily? Killua has journeyed far to reach this point, and now he’s being told – quite by necessity – that he must enter battle with intent to kill and no hesitation in doing so. These aren’t human enemies, but they have faces and they speak, and feel. Can Killua take their lives and not risk sliding back to where he was when he fled the Hunter exam in shame, having just murdered a man who bore him no ill intentions?
For Gon, the problems are of a different sort. For all he’s seen, Gon remains comparatively innocent. He still longs to follow his heart and save everyone, and he still feels shock when he sees the brutality of evil unleashed. Kaito sees this too of course. He scolds Gon not to look away when he sees Yunju savagely exterminate one of the NGL drug lords he’s turned into a “dog”. He scolds Gon not to let his anger drive him to rush blindly into battle. He scolds Gon not to look away when he’s sliced his opponent in half, because these creatures can still kill you even after the head has been removed from the body. If Killua must fight to retain himself, Gon must rise above himself – he has to become a colder and more hard-hearted boy, a challenge that’s surely as critical to surviving this ordeal as honing his Emitter ability to give himself a powerful “Paper” attack to use in battle.
The kind of “Sakuga” animation we see in Hunter X Hunter fights is usually reserved for movies or OVAs, but 82 episodes in, Madhouse just keeps delivering it. Yunju has stamped himself as especially vile from the first, but the business with “Spot and Rover” was really disturbing even for this series. With Kaito saving Yunju for himself, Gon and Killua are again put to the test in taking on his underlings. It’s a good example of how far they’ve come – Killua doesn’t even need to use his new abilities to take out his busty opponent, relying basically on his assassin training (including resistance to poison). For Gon, it’s an opportunity to showcase that the “Scissors” portion of his Janken is fully battle-ready – it’s shockingly powerful, though he’d best switch to a vertical cut where chimera ants are concerned. Most telling is that he figured out that in order to defeat this opponent, he couldn’t rely on his comfortable strengths but instead needed to alter his mode of attack. In the moment, Gon once again proves his instincts are second to none.
As for Kaito, he remains basically untested. When he pulls out his Crazy Slots Conjurer ability even an officer is seemingly no match for him – this is the second time he’s groaned “Bad spin” and still wasted his opponent with ease. It’s clear that he’s added some limitations to make his ability that much more fearsome – he has no choice on which weapon he gets, and must use it before he can change to another. It seems safe to say that Kaito is the strongest Conjurer we’ve met, but now that Nen has found its way into the chimera ant equation, all bets are off. Rammot being the one to display the ability first is a worst-case scenario in some ways – not only is he sworn to revenge against Gon and Killua, but he’s preposterously psychopathic to begin with – rarely have a I seen rage so powerfully depicted as Hamazoe Shinya is doing here. Rammot is one scary shrike-rabbit ant – even his own kind are in trouble now, it seems to me.
How is it that Rammot is displaying Nen ability now? Surely it’s an offshoot of his battle with the boys – but why? Is it a learned ability, or did his body somehow absorb it after he was attacked using Nen? Or was it latent in his system from The Queen having consumed Nen users before Rammot was born, only to be awakened by the battle? Happily, Nen-powered Rammot is the chimera ants’ problem for now – but Nen ability will surely spread through their population like wildfire. In Togashi’s hands, that’s a terrifying prospect indeed.