The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and them that takes.
Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1
I have a confession to make: I spent much of Knuckle’s explanation of his power looking pretty much like this. Unlike our little friend Gon I had the luxury of researching Knuckle’s power online after the episode was over, but in the moment it was a dizzying stream of numbers and initials even for Togashi. I continue to be amazed at the way Nen special attacks are like snowflakes – no two are alike. It could be said that for the most part, they tend to reflect the personalities of their wielders – so was that true in Knuckle’s case?
This episode was very simply and neatly staged – the first half was Gon’s fight with Knuckle, the second Killua’s with Shoot (neither of them completed, unsurprisingly). Of Shoot we knew even less than Knuckle, where at least we knew this – even without breaking out his special ability (and I don’t mean his killer math attack, which Gon is weak against), he was still able to defeat Gon with relative ease. At first glance his attack (while the details were a jumble, the gist of it was clear enough) seems quite unlike him. Knuckle is hot-heated and quick to anger – his attack is effectively an accounting scheme. Via the use of the “Amortizing Power Redirector” or A.P.R. for short – but you can call him “Potclean“, which is cuter – he “loans” his aura to his opponent. Problem is he’s a loan shark – 10% interest accrued every 10 seconds (!). Knuckle’s attacks do no physical damage – they simply loan more aura to the opponent. But the opponent’s attacks do no damage to Knuckle either – they only “pay back” the aura he’s loaned out. And until the loan is repaid in full, no attack can harm Knuckle.
Seriously, where does Togashi keep pulling this stuff out of? The upshot of all this is if the opponent’s debt exceeds his total aura, he goes “bankrupt” (hakoware – literally, to break the bank). Then, A.P.R. turns into the Individual Ren Suppressor (or “Toritaten” a kind of gremlin that attaches itself to the victim for 30 days and forces them into Zetsu mode. In a sense this weird attack does seem in character for Knuckle – it’s relatively humane and isn’t in itself going to kill anybody. And there’s no question that Knuckle (who’s apparently a math whiz to be able to do all those calculations on the spot) gives Gon yet more valuable training by telling him about MOP (Maximum aura Output Potential), POP (Potential aura Output Power) and AOP (Actual aura Output Power). But in truth, leaving a Nen user defenseless for 30 days could be close to a death sentence, depending on the circumstances.
This is an odd fight, in that it’s very clear neither of the “enemies” the boys are facing relish the idea of hurting them. I find myself torn about who to root for, in fact, mostly because I know Gon and Killua must eventually triumph. For Gon the Knuckle battle is about mutual respect and continuing to learn and grow – ultimately a positive and forward-moving experience, as Gon’s struggles usually are. By contrast, Killua’s main opponent continues to be himself – which is not to say that Shoot isn’s also formidable. He’s a strange one, to be sure – if anything, Shoot seems even more soft-hearted than Knuckle when it comes to inflicting damage. But his ability (Manipulator) has a disturbing, sinister quality to it. A green aura (have we seen that before?), three floating hands, and a cage. He says specifically that he chose an ability which “cannot be initiated unless I inflict damage. That way I would only fight against opponents I wouldn’t regret hurting.”
Just what the heck does that mean, exactly? I’m not sure – but we see some indication of what it can do when one of the hands lands a punch on Killua’s face, leaving behind a growing shadow which eventually engulfs his left eye. That together with the aura makes me thing of gangrene or some sort of creeping rot, but in any case Killua’s instincts are right in telling him that keeping those hands from touching him at all costs is a priority. Problem is those same instincts are telling him “Run!”. His curse, personified by Illumi, is telling him always to flee when he doesn’t understand the strength of the opponent. Meanwhile Jojo-Bisky’s voice is also in his head, telling him to stand and fight – not to search for ways to escape defeat, but to win. This conflict causes him to react slowly, and gives the clearly soft-hearted Shoot a moment’s hesitation at attacking a potentially defenseless opponent – his own weakness, as he describes it.
It’s very Togashi-like, somehow, to spend so much of a fight focused on the weaknesses of the participants – but then, Nen itself is built around the concept of limitations (as we learned in York Shin). Killua’s struggles are always hard to watch, but when his despair is so plainly etched into his face as it is during the battle with Shoot it’s almost heartbreaking. Bisky’s teachings really personify the concept of “tough love” – she’s harsh and seemingly cruel, but there’s a method behind it. Forcing Killua to confront his own demons was something she had to do, despite knowing how much pain it would cause him. It’s the spectre of leaving Gon’s side that drives Killua forward, or at the very least to hold his ground, when every instinct is telling him to flee. What’s notable, in fact, is just how strong Killua has been despite this burden he carries – in effect he’s been fighting with one hand tied behind his back, but going up against this many hands he’s going to need every one he’s got.
This part of the story has been a respite from the unremitting darkness of the “Chimera Ant” arc – a sort of last gasp for struggles against opponents who respect you and play by the rules before returning to the living Hell of the NGL. Knuckle and Shoot both possess the quality of mercy, and it is indeed not strained – both they and the boys are blessed by it. But that makes them a perfect contrast to what lies ahead, and while Gon and Killua at least go into that struggle with their eyes open this time, it’s easy to be skeptical of whether they’re truly prepared to face it. It’s impossible to forget that all the horrors we’ve seen from the chimera ants are the mere preamble, with the main event only possible after the arrival on the scene of the most powerful of them all. If that’s not an unsettling thought I don’t know what is, and it places the civilized and almost collegial battle against opponents that Gon himself used the word “gentle” to describe in its proper perspective.
Note: Let’s avoid discussing the preview in the comments, in courtesy to those who avoid previews for possible spoilers.