God damn – how many gears does this man have? How is it possible to reach into the well time after time and not only never come up dry, but with sweeter and sweeter water at every turn? Every time I think Hunter X Hunter must surely reach a plateau, it keeps climbing and climbing. The question really isn’t whether this is the best shounen adaptation ever or whether it’s the best anime airing – not anymore. The question is, just how much better can it get?
There is, in all seriousness, a concern in mind for me that this show has been too good, for too long. I worry about fatigue setting in with a series that’s not just this splendid and riveting, but this intense. How many weeks can I keep going back to it and being blown away as I have been so many times over the last 21 months without reaching a point where I get numb to it? And more immediately, how can I keep coming up with new things to say when adjectives don’t really seem to do the job anymore?
This was the episode, I think, where “Chimera Ant” really stepped up to the next level – where it combined elements in such a way as to make it exceptional even by this show’s Godly standard. Togashi had already served up what was one of the top 5 premises in my personal manga or anime history, and Madhouse was executing it flawlessly as usual. But the character element hadn’t fully kicked in yet, at least not with Gon and Killua. Their relationship with Kaitou was fantastic but playing out in the background, as most of the time was spent patiently advancing the chilling world of the Chimera Ants. But this week that all changed, and with it “Chimera Ant” gained a new emotional resonance.
I think it’s fair to say this was the most reflective episode in H x H so far, or at least in a very long time. It also proved that not even Togashi-sensei is immune from the gravitational force of immutable death flags – when he raises as many of them as he did here, not even Togashi is willing to fight the power. Gon and Killua looking back on their journeys isn’t something we’ve seen all that much of, especially Gon. As Killua said, it seems as if at every turn there’s been someone there to guide them forward at just the moment they’ve needed it. Some of that was Ging’s doing, some Netero. and some of it perhaps coincidence. Never has the classic shounen trope of the journey to grow stronger felt so personal and authentic as it did here.
As the dots were connected from the past to the present some of the BGM from earlier in the series was recalled, but in a new form that matched the tone of this arc. Kaitou is someone who’s appeared to be very much in harm’s way for a while now, but the moments in the first half of the episode were so emotionally transparent and so hopeful that it was impossible to escape the feeling that the worst was about to happen. He seems to represent the best of the Hunter ideal in so many ways: his great power matched by his empathy, and a respect and even reverence for the the vocation he’s chosen and for those he hunts. There could hardly be a better role model for Gon to follow, and surely Ging knew this and chose wisely. If there had been time for Kaitou to train Gon, he could surely have helped mould him into a truly great hunter – but in the moment the only training Gon might receive is survival training. The situation is worse than anyone could have imagined, and sentiment is a luxury no one has time for.
There was never a question that Neferpitou was coming for the three of them – the only question was when it would happen. When he struck, it was quick and brutal – shockingly so – and Kaitou barely had time to warn Killua and Gon to run before he was under attack, and his right arm severed (and presumably absent Machi’s ability or an Angel’s Breath card this is a permanent situation – severed arms seem very much a theme in this series). This was strictly a shock and awe scene – the sheer enormity of Pitou’s malevolent aura in all its terrifying force. The reactions of Gon and Killua are of course different, and tellingly so. Both are terrified of course, but Gon, in seeing what’s happened to Kaitou, lapses into a state of pure rage and gathers his aura about himself. Killua reverts to the rational and seeing no other option and having no time to think, knocks Gon out using considerable Nen power and proceeds to flee the scene (much to Kaitou’s approval).
This is an important moment in terms of what it says about each of them. When push came to shove, Killua had only one priority – save Gon. Gon, on the other hand, instinctively acted on his need to fight evil and defend Kaitou. Who was right and who was wrong? I’m not sure we’re supposed to know the answer to that yet, and there may not be one. For much of the episode I kept thinking to myself, “Where the hell is the cavalry already?” and sure enough, they were on the way. Killua manages to carry Gon to safety and rendezvous with Kaitou’s team, who’ve brought reinforcements. Netero himself, along with two other Hunters – Morel (Kusunoki Taiten) and Knov (the unmistakable Miki Shinichiro – it’s almost a unfair that a show could already be this good and then add Shinichiro Miki). About them we don’t know much, yet – but as Netero says, sending in anyone except the best of the best would only make the enemy stronger, so it’s safe to assume they’re pretty damn good.
Killua is always a character with a darkness inside him threatening to break through and consume him. Morel lectures him rather sternly that once a Hunter has run away, he’s no longer fit to be one – and it’s clear that the other two (even Netero) have no time for babysitting or even being concerned for the weak. As Gon lies unconscious Killua reflects on what’s happened and especially what Morel has said, and he’s very surprised when Gon awakes and thanks him for what he’s done. The dynamic between these two is absolutely the central element of H x H – it can be dormant as a theme for a while (as it was for parts of “York Shin”) but it’s always present. I’m always a bit in awe when Togashi has one of the characters give voice to one of my thoughts, because it reflects just how amazingly he ties everything he writes together. I thought back to my post on episode 37:
“This easy ability to slip into innocence is something that separates the two boys, and while Killua lowers his guard enough to act like a goofy kid around Gon, there’s an “old soul” quality to him that says that part of him knows it’s an act. And it’s the desire to protect that side of Gon, I think, that motivates Killua to walk the dark path when necessary so as to spare Gon from having to do the same.”
“Gon, you are the light” Killua tells his friend this week – though like so many of his core feelings, it’s unspoken. “But sometimes you’re so bright I have to look away.”
Gon, always looking towards the light, is convinced Kaitou is alive and that Killua’s action saved both boys from certain death. After the heat of the moment has passed even hot-blooded Gon realizes that the two of them are no match for Pitou: “We were weaker than Kaitou, even with one arm.” Killua thinks. “And that thing knew it.” Most crucially Gon thanks Killua because by saving them both, he’s given them a chance to save Kaitou. But first they must prove their strength to Netero, who’s left a challenge behind to see if the two are really serious about facing the peril before them. With Gon’s strength to support him, there’s no question Killua will follow his friend’s lead and move forward once again – just as there’s no question that Killua is always prepared to use his strength to save Gon when he’s the only one that can.
Of course, we know the terrible truth. Togashi is a hard and ruthless writer, but even for him this is an ignominious end for a character as carefully crafted as Kaitou (and I can’t believe we’d never find out what spin #3 is). The facts seem indisputable but I haven’t seen the body – just the head – and in anime, nothing can ever be certain. If Kaitou is indeed dead, I think we’re going to see a side of Gon that goes beyond anything we’ve seen up til now. Gon is always driven by the purity of his emotions, and while it might impair his judgment at times I don’t think we’ve seen what he’s truly capable of when his rage is unleashed in all it’s raw ferocity. Not even Killua will be able to rein him in then, and he surely won’t leave the field until the task is accomplished or his life is spent.