“The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way of our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there.”
– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Yes, I meant it when I said that Ponzu was the lucky one. And now we know just horrifyingly true that was.
Enter the Royal Guard, at long last. This is obviously a development that has the potential to change everything, for all that we knew it was coming. The first eight episodes of the “Chimera Ant” arc, for all their horror and disquiet, were merely the preamble – the overture that plays before the opera begins. Now the major players begin to walk on stage, and the first of them is Neferpitou (Fujimura Ayumi). He (I say “he” because Togashi has apparently said Neferpitou is male, and gender is an established part of Chimera – and real – ant physiognomy. It’s certainly not the first time Togashi has introduced a male Hunter X Hunter character some mistook for female – I never thought so about Kurapika but he got me with Kalluta) appears to be largely modeled on a cat – not a larger one like Hagya, but a house cat or small wildcat of some kind.
What really matters is that Neferpitou is the first of the three Royal Guard to hatch, and the depth of the difference in power should be evidenced in the fact that Rammot – who appeared to be just about the most psychotic and self-absorbed in the bunch and was brimming with Nen power – immediately cowered before him, utterly beaten. It’s surely no coincidence that Togashi chose to have Pitou appear just as Rammot was haboring thoughts that his Nen power might make him a suitable candidate to be King himself, suggesting that the individuality among the ants was truly spiralling out of control. Let’s remember what we’ve been told – the Royal Guard exists for the service of the King, not the Queen. It’s to him that they owe their allegiance.
The sheer brutality of what happened in the ant nest tests even the high bar Togashi has set for himself in this arc. There was the spectacle of a fat pig-ant apparently assigned as the Queen’s chef/butcher, supervising a huge pile of bodies that he made into “meatballs” to feed to her. Given what Rammot said about the nerve toxin the victims are injected with, it seems safe to assume this is a living larder – that most of these humans are alive and paralyzed as they wait to be consumed. And underneath a huge pile of skulls is Pokkle, alive and apparently waiting in vain for a chance to escape. He’s able to mask his presence from Nen novice Rammot when he and Peggy come searching for him, but as soon as Pitou arrives on the scene he susses out Pokkle’s presence without any problems.
There’s not much need to elaborate on what Pitou did to Pokkle – it simply confirms that Togashi has pretty much no limiter, and nothing is out of bounds. It’s one of the most horrible things I’ve seen in anime, but in practical terms it’s also terrifying to note than Pitou was able to do what he did just from reading about the brain in one book. It seems indeed that Gon’s attack on Rammot opened his pores and freed his Nen, and the implication is that Rammot became an Enhancer because that’s what Gon was (though to be honest it fits Hisoka’s personality test to a T). Naturally enough, it occurs to Peggy and Rammot that they might introduce Nen to the other ants in similar fashion (Colt is already the first), which I suppose would mean the world would be facing an army of chimera ant Enhancers. But then there’s the fact that Pitou himself has Nen power, and he was born with it – he’s a Specialist, in fact. We don’t know exactly how that happened, but the implications are obvious.
Once again the main cast is on the periphery of the episode, though their faceoff against Hagya is an important one. Hagya, as he says, hunts like a lion hunts – he waits in the tall grass while the prey is flushed out of the forest. It’s no surprise that Kaitou, Gon and Killua are too powerful for his cannon fodder to handle (Kaitou seemingly spins #2 again). But what it interesting is that when Hagya sees this, he realizes he’s outclassed and calmly walks away from the fight. He, too, remembers things from before he was killed and “reborn” – the power he thought he had as King of the Jungle, and the realization that his claws and fangs were nothing against the true monsters of the world. In some ways his quiet retreat is more frightening than Rammot’s frenzied rage and threats, because it implies a deeper and more profound danger. Hagya will be heard from, though in just what role I’m not sure.
The dynamic among the ants is a fascinating variable going forward. For weeks we’ve been watching them grow more and more individualistic, seemingly implying a splintering of their ant-like single-minded sense of purpose, a possible vulnerability. Is the arrival of Pitou – with his two fellows presumably close on his heels – enough to stem that tide? Will the very presence of the King’s Guard cow everyone into obedience the way it seemed to with Rammot? Is there enough individualism now hard-wired into the chimera ants’ code that a civil war between the Queen and King and their followers could come about? At this point we really don’t know the answer, only that Pitou’s presence has changed the rules of the game in dramatic terms. And given how keenly he seems to be able to sense Nen, with three true colossi of Nen coming ever closer to the nest as they follow Hagya, a major confrontation seems imminent.