They call this arc “Chimera Ant” but there was nary a mention of the buggers in this episode. Rather, it focused completely on Gon’s fight with Knuckle – and in the process re-examined some old themes that have been a big part of H x H since the very beginning. As usual though, Togashi has a way of skewing the perspective so that old chestnuts like the training arc can be seen from new angles, and lends a curiously realistic psychological element to the fantastical combat elements.
Knuckle has been an interesting addition since he was introduced, and his role in the story has taken a fascinating turn. As we see more and more of him in action it becomes increasingly clear, this guy is good. He may not be Hisoka or Chrollo-level good, but he’s damn strong and no fool either. But the thing is, while he’s not an enemy in any real sense he’s certainly been set up as a crucial opponent and obstacle – and his fault is simply that he’s too nice. Gon uses the word “gentle” and from his perspective that’s how it seems I’m sure. But Knuckle seems simply to lack the stomach to use lethal power against a child, much less one he’s come to admire and respect. What a turn – to place Gon in the position where he has to take advantage of an opponent that’s too kind in order to prove himself and go back to the NGL.
I can’t help but think all the way back to the “Hunter Exam” arc, and another opponent who found the idea of hurting children distasteful. Bodoro paid with his life at the hands of one of those children he didn’t want to fight (for me, still Killua’s darkest hour so far) so it’s clear Togashi isn’t overly sentimental on this score. Knuckle was left behind by Netero and Morel precisely because he’s too nice, so in the context of this story his kindness is a genuine flaw – but it’s hard not to like Knuckle for it, at least for me. Even as he’s schooling Gon in battle he’s literally schooling him – coaching him on his weaknesses and on how to get stronger. He rates Gon “as strong as a mid-level pro” in terms of aura and declares that all he’s really missing is experience, and it’s clear he doesn’t want to be the one to end Gon’s journey.
Let’s be clear – I think we all know who’s going to win this fight. The story isn’t going to end here for Gon, as he has to go back to the NGL for the arc to continue. I’m going to feel sorry for Knuckle when that happens, but a little sorry for Gon too, because he’s also fundamentally a kind person but one who’s being increasingly forced to become ruthless. Knuckle is making the same mistake everyone makes – underestimating the speed at which Gon improves (even Killua does it). Knuckle tells Gon the weaknesses of his Ja-janken attack (after a pretty hilarious exchange about its new n-name) – too long to charge, and too risky (focusing all his aura at the fist, making hum vulnerable to a fatal attack). But not only has Gon been aware of those weaknesses, but he’s adapting on the fly – using the intimidating power of the attack to apply it as a misdirection (illustrated by Killua with a special baseball-themed assist from Leorio and Kurapika) that exposes the enemy’s fear and vulnerable spots to attack. This is Gon’s true strength – his peerless instincts which allow him to adapt his strategy to the moment at hand, and to have the sheer will and self-belief to press ahead with what they tell him to do.
I’ve little doubt Gon will find a way to end this without killing Knuckle – I just can’t believe even Togashi would go that far. But that’s still going to be a hard moment for Gon, I think. His first task – still unmet – is to get Knuckle to use his full strength. The full power of the new and improved Ja-janken was on-display here, and it was only because Gon had already almost tapped his strength that it failed – and Knuckle knows it, too. As rough as this struggle is, the real darkness – as usual – surrounds Killua. He’s been a spectator throughout Gon and Knuckle’s various brawls – deferring to Gon as Knuckle’s true opponent – but his own adversary awaits him in Shoot. And while Gon is getting most of his education from Knuckle, Kil is getting his from Bisky – who’s a harsher teacher in every way.
The full import of the lecture Morel gave to Killua becomes clear as Biscuit restates it herself – using kinder language, perhaps, but even more brutally. As Killua hasn’t fought anyone for a month, she takes it upon herself to give him a workout. That means revealing her much-despised true form (under the penalty of even more brutality if Killua ever reveals it to Gon), and using it she delivers Killua a terrible beating. The physical beating is nothing next to the verbal, though, and she eviscerates the boy by laying his every self-loathing fear bare. Killua enters every fight looking at potential escape routes. When he’s up against what he perceives as a stronger opponent he never even considers that he might win – he’s only looking for how he can survive. He’s too cautious, too negative – and the cruelest cut of all is when she tells him that if he doesn’t change, he’s “certain to leave Gon behind to die one day”.
This is the essence of what Morel and even Knov told him, I believe. Killua’s entire approach to battle is based on his analysis of the opponent’s strength – but as Biksy tells him, that only works if the opponent is at full strength. On any given day “A, B, or C have a good chance to defeat D” – even if D is stronger – because if they’re at their best and believe in themselves and D is not, victory is possible. Fascinatingly, she ascribes this a curse that was passed onto Killua as a kind of “smothering love” – a “twisted and self-serving” love undeniably, but love nonetheless. Illumi has always been the darkness that hangs over Killua, though it’s never been explained so elegantly as Bisky does so here. For Killua, Gon and Illumi are the light and the dark, the essence of the person he wants to be and the person he fears he truly is. As always we see the contrast between the two boys in stark relief – Gon’s path is ever-forward, to do the things he wants to do. Killua’s is always dictated by what he doesn’t want to do, and what he fears will happen.
It seems that Biksy’s role in the story is over for now. She’s sent her beloved little ones off into their final battle with Knuckle and Shoot, and her harsh but necessary dissection of Killua was her last benediction. If he cannot defeat Shoot – who we must presume is “D”, and stronger than Killua on paper – he must leave Gon’s side before he betrays him in his hour of need. This has always been Killua’s fear, that he wasn’t worthy to stand with Gon, and Bisky’s probably done him a huge favor by forcing him to confront it. For Gon the challenge is simpler – to force Knuckle to use his full strength and then defeat him – but he too must find a way to do it without losing the essence of who he is (which killing Knuckle would surely indicate he has). The difference is that Gon has absolute self-belief and trusts himself to do the right thing in the heat of battle, no matter the opponent – and that’s something that in truth will never apply to Killua. As always, he has the harder path – to act correctly despite analyzing everything too much, and to succeed despite the self doubts that will always plague him. Succeed or fail, for Killua the struggle will never end – he simply has to find the strength to trust himself and forge onward anyway. I think for Killua the key lies in the wisdom of Kamina – not so much to believe in himself, but to believe in the Gon that believes in him. And later, perhaps, he can learn to believe in the Killua who believes in himself.