Hunter X Hunter 2011 – 88

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Madhouse continues to illustrate what happens when brilliantly written shounen is elevated to high art.

Of late, Hunter X Hunter has taken on that peculiar quality that great anime sometimes does, where a 22-minute episode seems to last about five minutes.  It’s a product of not-wasted time, I suspect – when H x H is on a roll it pulls off the rare feat of being both incredibly entertaining to watch in the moment and making you incredibly anxious to see what happens next.  I never find myself saying “get on with it!” because every scene is both spot-on in delivery and relevant to the story, but the level of anticipation never goes down because Togashi always keeps the story moving forwards.

I think of late the “Chimera Ant” arc has come into its own as the true culmination of Hunter X Hunter in that it both combines elements from the disparate main arcs that came before it and transcends them.  As great as the first 10 eps of “CA” were they were fairly monotonal – creepy, scary and despairing.  But since the death of Kaitou the arc has become much more diverse, something of a unifying thread tying the others together.  Sometimes quite literally – we have Netero from “Hunter Exam” and Bisky from “Greed Island”.  There are strong elements of “Heaven’s Arena” in Gon and Killua’s relationship with Knuckle and their quest to find the missing pieces in their development, and the obvious link to “York Shin” is the dark tone and shocking violence.

Ever more, “Chimera Ant” increasingly shares the quality that “York Shin” took on where one could palpably feel a gathering of great forces on the horizon – great both in power and in narrative weight.  The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been in H x H, and the big dogs are on the hunt.  The King is about to be born, and the last of the King’s Guard just has – Menthuthuyoupi (the great Tachiki Fumihiko, no less than Ikari Gendou himself).  Pitou continues his ghastly experiments with Kaitou’s body, and Netero begins to feel his oats at last.  Gon and Killua creep every closer to Knuckle in strength as Bisky worries over them like the loving but stern mother she’s become, and Palm grows increasingly desperate as the clock ticks down.  And of course the King continues to stir, coming ever closer to emerging from the Queen’s womb and truly ratcheting things up to another level.  Knov’s offer to overbet Morel by a factor of ten and wager a million Jenny on Gon and Killua (or whoever he bet on) was symbolic, I think, of where we are in the story – the stakes are being raised in a big way.

There are several moments in this episode that really stand out as spectacular and show off what an incredible sense of style Madhouse is bringing to this adaptation, and some surprises as well.  In the latter category we definitely have Shoot McMahon, who – seemingly at least – turns out to be a paper tiger in a big way.  Togashi did his usual ace job of trolling me on that with all Shoot’s build-up, because I definitely did not see him ending up as a coward afraid to attack two exhausted little boys.  I’m convinced there’s more to this that we haven’t seen yet, but at the least Shoot is a very different opponent than we were led to believe.  Meanwhile Gon and Killua do what they usually do – improve at a ridiculous pace – but Bisky knows them well enough by now that her timetable proves to be quite realistic.  She tells us each of them are “missing something”, and defeating Knuckle will only get them “halfway there” – a truly classic shounen presentation, that – but doesn’t share with is just what the boys lack.

Biscuit is also worried about making her own eventual escape from the hilariously demented Palm, of course, assuming things don’t go as planned – and Palm continues to vent her frustration by unleashing her Godly kitchen skills.  My hunch is that she’s actually too kind at heart to do any of the things she keeps warning Bisky and the boys about, but at the very least she continues to fall for Gon and his mercilessly innocent boyish charms.  Of course I think the real question here is this: is Gon really as innocent as he lets on?  Gon is far cleverer than the role he chooses to play, that we know – and to some extent I suspect he’s intentionally manipulating Palm with smiles, compliments and puckish charisma.  This is the first of the really great moments in the episode, as Gon performs a pinky swear with Palm and promises to get her to Knov for certain – and in true Whale Island fashion, seals it with a cute song and a “thumb kiss” (indeed, he does everything but head-bob, giggle and kiss her on the cheek).  “Chimera Ant” was missing hilarious moments like this, and they do wonders to provide some relief from the unrelenting darkness hovering over the story.

Meanwhile, more brilliance is playing out in the NGL on both sides of the struggle.  Madhouse effectively show us just how much of a badass Netero is when he sets his mind to it, as with Morel and Knov’s help he relentlessly, pitilessly and methodically eliminates one Chimera Ant squadron after the next.  As Knov himself lets on, Netero was being modest with his earlier self-deprecating comment that he was “only” at their level – he’s “still much stronger”, says Knov (and damn, Miki Shinichirou is a fine seiyuu).  On the defensive for the first time, the ants hole themselves up inside their nest to preserve their remaining strength – and it’s there that the next superlative scene transpires.  As Shiapou plays a beautiful piece of BGM on the violin, we witness the birth of the aforementioned Menthuthuyoupi and the continuation of Pitou’s attempts to re-animate Kaitou – about which we know little, though presumably it’s with his Nen that Pitou is causing Kaitou to react.  This is a gorgeous scene – beautifully shot and drawn and choreographed to the soundtrack, with Kaitou doing a grisly ballet.  It’s both beautiful and horrifying, a credit to the way Madhouse brought the scene to life.

Finally, we have the moment where it all comes together, the last of the spectacularly executed sequences in the ep – not so much a single scene as a collage of those moments.  Bisky finally allows Gon and Killua to rest before taking on Knuckle, as they’ve achieved three hours of Ren without concentration, and only a day remains before Netero’s deadline.  We’re treated to a brief but bombastic battle between Gon and Knuckle, where the latter still dominates even without using his full strength, though he says he’s finally going to relent and do so – and he promises to tell Gon the two “huge weaknesses” in his Janken special attack.  The King stirs, and Netero tells Knov and Morel that they’ll wait out the ants until the results of the struggle among the disciples are revealed.  And all the major players become pieces on the chessboard, a brilliant visual as Netero declares that he’s not sure if he’ll be able to bring this one off without “sacrificing someone”.  Let that death flag wave proudly and ominously, though for who remains a mystery.

There have been flashier episodes of Hunter X Hunter certainly, and in this arc too.  But this was one of the best, I think.  In terms of style and visual flair it’s some of the best work Madhouse has done yet – a beautiful example of a studio and director using the possibilities of anime as a medium to make something already great even better.  It also brought a variety of moods and tones out better than any episode in the “Chimera Ant” arc so far, and represents one of the most emotionally complex episodes in the entire series.  There was really only one flaw with it – we have to wait an entire week for the next episode.

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  1. i

    The knuckle vs Gon fight is really reminding me of a less sadistic version of Hisoka (appear damn it, look at how strong some of these characters are) vs Gon, wherein Gon landed a punch at the expense of a battle. HxH never does Bleach like sudden power ups from battle and so I honestly think Gon might lose as he seems thoroughly outclassed, though the more clinical Killua might be able to get both tags and continue for the two of them.

    Also MADAO enters HxH, how awesome is that. Shoot is well weird, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry when the narrator called him a coward. I can see why Morel didn't take them immediately: one loves animals and the other is scared.

    Really hard to know what to expect besides epicness and one way or the other the king's birth, seeing as he's in the opening.

  2. A

    Madao indeed, directly thought of Gintama when Youpi spoke :)
    Considering how much Enzo love seiyuus he really should watch Gintama!

  3. i

    Its a bit crude and is often inconsistent in the humour department, which is a cross for him probably. In my opinion Gintama becomes hilarious after ep 34 and remains so until just after Benizakura. It goes back and forth over every few episodes following that but the best episodes are those that involve the girls, Katsura or Shinsengumi for comedy, of course along with the Yorozoya.

  4. G

    I'm wondering if we will see Hisoka, the Phantom Troupe or even Ging in this arc? It just does not seem like the good guys have enuf powerful folks to beat the ants (especially with the 3 underbosses and the King about to be born. Where are Killuka and the other guy studying to be a Doctor?

  5. Killuka?

    I don't mind crude in the least, as my list of favorite comedies will amply prove. I just never found Gintama all that funny. If there's one thing that's a strike against a comedy for me, that's it. I realize Gintama isn't a pure comedy, but I don't find the rest of it all that involving either. It's not bad – just doesn't float my boat.

  6. G

    I mean't Kurapika and Leorio.

  7. i

    The thing I liked best about Gintama, besides the crude, breaking the fourth wall comedy, was that it felt limitless as a setting, similar to Urusei Yatsura. There simply was nothing the series had to conform to, no school, no office, no war. It simply did as it pleased, making up stories about anything and everything which I feel keeps it fresh, unlike modern one-cour comedies that feel draggy by just the tenth episode.

    If you didn't find it funny its more likely you didn't find Yorozoya funny. Kagura and Otae being violent is also something you'd dislike Enzo. The random violence for comedy I'm guessing isn't to your liking.

    However whether you like it or not, I suggest you watch episode 239 and 240 of Gintama. IMO those two episodes are the funniest the anime industry has ever produced. I really do recommend it.

  8. S

    Hey Enzo, just a heads up. Know didn't bet on Gon & Killua, but it's unclear as to who he actually betted on.

  9. r

    I always pay attention to eps of HxH, but that Royal Guard meeting scene is one of those "eyes-glued-holy-crap-this-is-awesome" moments. Really well done, stylistically and musically.

    Knuckle continues to be one of my favorites. He's so goofy and earnest and serious.

    That pre-Netero part multicolor shot at the end is now my new desktop background (sorry, crazy old dude). Had to get a good 1080p screenshot of that as soon as the episode was over. Cool as hell.

  10. U

    This is my last entry I will make on Pitou`s gender.

    On the databook entry on Pitou`s gender while Togashi did sign the Databook it’s very unlikely he really read it over or wrote it. It’s old and lots of information it gives is incorrect. There is a grand total of one line that calls Pitou a he and it has been the only time Pitou has been called that ever.

    I can say that Pitou was not intended to be male, I can also say with the same certainty that Pitou was not intended to be female ether. Pitou was created and intended to be ambiguous as Pitou’s gender matters very little to the character. I call Pitou a she myself just out of preference. But it matters very little what Pitou is called. If Togashi at all cared or wanted to tell what gender Pitou was he would have already like he did with Kalluto and Kurapika.

    I do believe Madhouse is leaning towards female however due to giving Pitou a more femmine body with clear curves.

    Anyway Call Pitou what ever you want as it matter so very little to the character.

  11. N

    Enzo, what are you favorite episodes so far?, where would you rank this one? I am curious now…

  12. Very hard to pick. My two favorites, probably, are the Gon-Hisoka battle in Heaven's Arena, and the ep where Hisoka clocks Gon in the Hunter Exam. But there are so many great ones it's damn hard to choose. This ep would certainly be in my top 10-15 or so, though it isn't as flashy.

  13. A

    The really awesome thing is that that Madhouse didn't "brought to life" the Royal Guards scene : it wasn't even in the manga ! In the manga we only get this :

  14. d

    HxH is a good deal harder to watch one episode at a time. I marathoned this a few weeks back right after doing the same with Chihayafuru and Game of Thrones. Watching by week, I'm always left wanting more, but the time spent with HxH on the brain has gone down to drastically since the there's so much less immersion. I may wait for a few episodes to collect since I miss the cumulative impact marathoning provides, though like any HxH addict it's likely I'll take what I can get.

  15. C

    Gon's innocence… Oh boy. No, not going there.

    Instead, I'd like to share the chapter page of Palm's "hilariously demented"-ness. I feel the source material is needed before you can properly appreciate that scene.
    The extent of Togashi's art for some scenes (like this one) is just amazing; seeing it helps both sides shine from the manga's simplicity to the anime's quality transition from paper to animation.

    Chapter 205, Page 6:

  16. f

    This may be kind of a weird question, especially because you haven't read the manga but how do you feel about omniscient narrators talking about the characters feelings and thoughts? Some point in the manga this is the narrative choice Togashi took and it worked surprisingly well on manga but I'm not sure they will be bringing that to the anime :/ I don't think it would work nearly as well in anime format.

    I hope you don't see this as a spoiler and please understand that I'm not sure of how they will bring it to life in animation. i'm just asking to see what would your opinion be if that was to be brought to life in the anime.

  17. It doesn't bother me. It's not among my favorite narrative devices generally, but I find the way it's used in H x H perfectly fine. There's not too much of it, and the voice (Futamata Issei, who's also Peggy) fits.

  18. e

    Dat pinky chuuu and dem conversation skills! Gon you're growing into a ladykiller of killer ladies. I'm half-proud half-scared of your progress oh thou who walk in shorts. *discreetely grabbing a bite from Palm's banquet. Aaah no risk no gain <3 *
    On the subject of Gon's innocence for now I'm trusting Killua and Biscuit's shared reflections during the meal. But I admit I'd be very curious to hear Hisoka's updated and detailed opinion on his fav fruit's ripening progress :p.

    Shoot's reaction was deliciously anticlimatic. Loved the voiceover sealing the scene too.
    One of the man elements that have been constantly worked for me in HxH is its specific mood blend. Unlike in other series here the mixture of serious lighthearted menacing humorous morbid dark and heartwarming just feels so perfectly right.
    Random observation: never mind his fighting abilities but Netero is one supahlimber grandpa. And his facial expression shift just after closing his phone call was a great little detail foreshadowing his words at the end of the episode.
    On the Ants' side of things I'm guessing that giant puppeteer shadowy thing pulling the strings of Kaitou's reanimated dance-fighting corpse (can't think him of being anything different by now) is another manifestation of Pitou's Nen. Relatedly I wonder at what Youpi's areas of Nen prowess might be.
    Last but not least, every time I see Colt on screen I recall his human child self qualities and it effing hurts. Togashiiiiiiii DDD,:

    P.S. /Update: as I'm back in the land of the internet and can load pictures… I APPROVE OF THE NEW BANNER. It literally brought a tear and a little smile to my eye. Dat was a good scene to pick from, Enzo :,3 .

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