If anyone ever needed a mom, Gon and (especially) Killua did, right about now. And with the return of Biscuit Krueger, we have – I would argue for the very first time – a change of tone in the “Chimera Ant” arc. It’s ironic that it should happen now, after the way episode 85 ended, but it’s definitely happened. “Chimera Ant” has been an unbroken run of dark, somber, creepy and brilliant episodes that felt totally different than all that had come before. That all changed here, with an episode that was certainly full of serious moments but much more reflective of the tone in arcs like “Greed Island” or “Heaven’s Arena”.
My first question – what was up with that outfit, Killua? I never pictured you as a khakis and plaid shirts kind of guy. Kil has always been the adventuresome one when it comes to fashion it’s true, as compared to Gon’s relentless consistency, but that was a shift as dramatic as the one in tone. And so was the introduction of Palm (the marvelous veteran Inoue Kikuo). It’s she who greets Gon and Killua in town, though contrary to their initial reaction she’s not there to fight them. I’d try to describe Palm but I think any attempt would be futile – “bizarre” is about all I can come up with. She’s Knov’s student and madly in love with him (though her heart later goes a-flutter when she sees Gon’s boyish sincerity and determination), and quite vexed about being left behind while her master heads into the NGL to fight chimera ants.
This setup is easily the most classic shounen element of the arc so far. It’s a challenge that must be met, with a time limit of a month – defeat the assassins and prove strong enough to join the fight in NGL. Except that the assassins are actually Hunters too – two students of Morel, Knuckle Bine (Takagi Wataru) and Shoot McMahon (Ueda Yuji) likewise left behind with the challenge of defeating the boys to prove they’re strong enough to enter NGL. Despite Palm’s insistence I don’t see this as a fight to the death situation – it’s clear that Knuckle, at least, isn’t a bad guy. Despite his hilariously shounen bad-boy pompadour and brash demeanor, he’s kind to dogs and picks up their poop to keep the park clean. His only interaction with the boys so far is a brief crossing of paths with Killua while the latter is on a scouting mission – during which Knuckle is loudly issuing a challenge which Killua ignores and in fact quite wrongly believes is so transparent that it could only be a trap.
The point is, this is Netero’s condition – and seemingly only one pair can win and advance into the NGL (though Palm seems determined to tag along if the boys manage to defeat the men). Gon and Killua are basically unaware of any details of their opponents strength, which leads to the most interesting conversation of the episode – one which I’d call a direct offshoot of the scolding Morel gave Kil last week. Killua argues that they must not only strengthen their fundamentals but learn as much as they can about their opponent. No fight with a small chance at winning is worth fighting, and 50% is the bare minimum requirement – 70% is better. Gon – as always far, far more clever than he seems to be – makes the very valid point that if they go to the NGL, they’ll constantly have to battle opponents without knowing their strength. A win here is meaningless unless it prepares them to win against the chimera ants. Kil is a bit taken aback, but points out that without a win here, nothing else matters.
I would describe this disconnect as the difference between a Hunter’s perspective and an Assassin’s. There was a lot of viewer reaction to the tongue-lashing Morel (and Knov to an extent) gave to Killua last week – argument over who was “right” and who was “wrong”. If I’ve learned anything about Togashi it’s that looking for simple answers is the wrong way to go – this isn’t an argument he intended us (or the boys, especially Kil) to be able to settle in the moment. Kaitou himself endorsed Killua’s decision to flee – but Morel’s argument is that a Hunter simply can’t think in terms of first reactions and odds and flee on first sight. This is a complicated issue, in the context of H x H and generally, and I think it’s one that’s going to get a lot of play in this arc before it’s over.
Into all this is added the wonderful presence of Bisky, at once a stern taskmaster and a protective maternal figure guided by her love for the boys. She’s there because Palm used her power (we know she’s an Enhancer, but not much else) to look into the boys’ past and determined that Bisky-tama was the best way to help them get stronger. As she says herself, she picks up where she left off – giving them impossible training tasks to fulfill before she lets them move on to the next step, with warnings that if “notoriously nasty” Netero gave them a month to complete a task, they probably need a year. Whereas Gon wants to do it in a week, because his priority is understandably to go back and save Kaitou. As Biksy shows off her taste in magazines and Palm looks on anxiously, Gon and Killua “Osu!” their way slowly forward, aided by a bit of recuperative Nen from Cookie-chan while they sleep.
While all this is happening – and providing a much-needed break from the relentless despair in the NGL – things aren’t quiet on that front. Netero reveals that he has no concrete plan to defeat the Chimera Ants, and in fact tells Knov and Morel that based on his snooping Pitou seems stronger than he is. He also admits to being “only half” of what he was at his peak and says it’s been 50 years since he was the strongest Nen user (could that now be Ging?) – now he’s all the way down at their level. Netero is working under an assumption that it will be two months before the King is born – I suspect this may be optimistic myself – and for now seems content to conduct reconnaissance, through the use of Morel’s Nen smoke-bunnies. I can’t help but wonder if this small, elite force notion is going to fail – at some point it might become an “all hands on deck” affair for the Hunter’s Association. At the very least it will seem odd to me if Biscuit trains the boys up, then doesn’t join them in the NGL when she’s clearly a Hunter of elite strength herself.
Lastly, we have developments among the ants themselves – and they’re big ones. Another member of the King’s Guard has been hatched – Shaiapouf (Hatano Wataru) who says the last of them, Menthuthuyoupi, will be born soon. All we know about Shaiapouf for now is that he’s a bishie with butterfly wings and he retains the ability to read minds, including Pitou’s – which the latter doesn’t seem too pleased about. And it’s with Pitou that the really big news lies, because he’s saved Kaitou’s body – a body which, I might add, seemingly has its head very much attached. And Pitou decides that the power he wants to develop is to bring Kaitou back, seemingly so he can fight him again. This is just full of weirdness and I’m not too keen to guess what’s happening yet – but clearly it sets the stage for a potential return for Kaitou, though perhaps not in a way Gon (or he) would want to come back.