Confession time: I was really looking forward to this episode, as much as any I have for a long time. Partly it’s because I’m such a huge fan of Gon (the most under-appreciated member of this sterling cast, IMO) and I knew this ep was really going to give him a chance to shine. Partly because I knew it was likely to deliver a big dose of humor, one of the almost countless elements H x H can deliver brilliantly but which has been in short supply in “Chimera Ant”, and figures to be even more so from here on out. And of course, I had a pretty good idea we were going to see another side to Palm we hadn’t seen already, though not exactly what it might be.
Now, normally, coming into an episode with such high expectations is a major worry for me, because it’s asking for disappointment. But I can count on one hand with room left over how many times this adaptation has disappointed me in any meaningful way in 93 episodes, and the most remarkable thing is that it manages to both meet and defy my expectations at every turn. You’d think after getting to know a writer and set of characters as well as you do after 92 episodes, things would get a tad comfortably predictable – but somehow the way things play out in H x H is never exactly as I expect. The only thing that’s predictable is that the result will be brilliant and vastly entertaining, and so it was here.
Togashi is nothing if not ruthless, and the first victim this week is the ruler of East Gorteau. Change the “East” to “North” and you have a pretty good idea of what Togashi is parodying here, and it was just as timely when it it was written as it is now (indeed, with the drug mafias and bogus anti-industrialism at work in the NGL this arc has been the most politically satirical yet). While the events which transpire when the King and his court arrive at the palace are hardly surprising, they’re still a compelling watch. Togashi uses the opportunity the King’s innocence in such matters offers as a device to go after the nonsensical method of humans in choosing their leaders, and given that Japan has probably the most dynastic nature of any modern democracy it’s not hard to see where his sights are aligned. The King likes what he sees in the palace, and decides to make it part of new empire – “The Meat Plantation”, a place where his new food supply will be processed and he can enjoy the view of his new domains.
That dark prelude is a clue that this episode isn’t going to fall into the conventional pattern of “light-hearted” or a comedy break, but in fact provide some very stark contrasts in tone. Prelude it is, though, as the main event is clearly the event of the title, Gon’s date with Palm. This works on so many levels it would be exhausting to try and list them all – as character development, as straight-up comedy, as parody, and as a plot development as well (just for starters). Togashi doesn’t do things conventionally and this is no different – it takes the series (and Gon’s character and his relationship with Killua) squarely into places it’s never been before.
First and foremost, this is really funny stuff, but it’s also shockingly direct and blunt. Palm, for starters, makes no bones about the fact that she’s hot and heavy after a 12 year-old boy. Gon, for his part, proves himself to be a serious player not just in the way he calmly handles Palm’s advances (and her psychotic episodes) but as he reveals his past to Killua. The really hilarious part of all this is that Killua considers himself the sophisticate of the two, but in fact Gon smilingly tells him of the “older women ” who came to Whale Island on their fishing boats, and how because they “only like younger men” he would show them around the island and “had them teach me things”. You can’t rank Gon’s calm recounting of all this or Kil’s stunned reactions – they’re equal in terms of brilliant hilarity. “Teach him things?” a stunned Killua asks himself. “That means Gon is… a grown-up!”
Well, I don’t think things are quite as Killua imagines them here – though who knows – but he’s never seemed more like a little boy than as he basks in Gon’s worldliness. “Woman like that were called fanatics” Gon cheerfully explains – well, we have other names for them, Gon… But whatever they taught him, one gets the sense that it’s not Gon who needs to watch out for Palm, but the reverse – because Gon clearly knows his way around charming (I was going to use a wardrobe-based idiom here, but I think I’d better not) older women (sometimes the cougar stalks the prey, and sometimes it’s the cougar that’s hunted…). Palm cheerfully allows herself to be twisted around Gon’s little finger, and it’s part of the alchemy of Gon’s character that one can almost believe it’s possible for him to be as innocent as he seems in doing it, yet not doubt that he knows exactly what he’s doing. As for Kil, he of course resolves to stalk the pair of them to “protect” Gon when they’re on the date, and while there’s a legit need, his deeper motives are impossible to miss. “I spent all my time training with you… And I don’t ever really want that to change.” Only the first part is said aloud, of course, but it’s the second part that really tells the story of Killua’s mindset in all this.
The date itself is, once again, brilliant stuff. As Killua stalks the happy couple in what looks like a heavily modded Mongolian cap (hilariously, the extent of his “disguise”) he’s in-turn stalked by an arrow which rather unnecessarily keeps us abreast of his location. Palm has cleaned herself up remarkably well, to say the least, and Gon is the very picture of relaxed, confident innocence as he shows her the town (and surroundings) in gallant fashion – “player” doesn’t do him justice. But there’s trouble in the mountains, and this is where despite his self-doubts, Killua is correct in what he’s doing. He knows (thanks to one of the WTF newscasters of all-time – no detail too small for Togashi weirdness) that there’s been a Chimera Ant attack two cities over (Cheethu at work), and because Knuckle has called Gon to let him know Kaitou was alive (though… not himself) that the ant captains and out playing King-to-be. And in fact, as Gon takes Palm to the mountains where it seems he plans to present the gift he’s gathered for her, Killua senses the aura of a Chimera Ant, and takes it upon himself to draw it away from Gon and Palm.
As always, it’s all about Killua sacrificing for Gon here – in many ways his every move is a refutation of Bisky’s warning about him, though he can’t see that truth for himself. With Gon helpless due to Knuckle’s ability Killua is truly the only protection he has (apart from Palm, whose true powers in battle we’ve yet to see, though one suspects she’d be fierce if called on to defend her little darling). Unfortunately the rogue ant that’s turned up is none other than Rammot, the boiling mass of rage and Nen bunny-shrike power that he is. This is a huge symbolic moment for Hunter X Hunter, and for Gon and Killua. As Killua takes to battle quite literally to preserve Gon’s innocence, happily playing with Palm (though Gon is clearly less innocent than Kil once thought) he faces a battle which he cannot run away from. He must either kill Rammot or condemn Gon to die, because if Killua runs Rammot will surely find Gon soon enough and kill him. Retreat is not an option – it’s quite literally victory or death, because if Killua reverts to his usual pattern and retreats, it would unequivocally mean betraying Gon, and admitting that he’s no better than the cold-blooded assassin his family raised him to be.
Cruelty of cruelties, there’s no episode of Hunter X Hunter next week (presumably due to Koshien) – and what a place to leave things off. I’ll repeat once again, please do not post any manga spoilers in the comments – no matter how many times I say it it keeps happening, and at this point any intentional manga spoilers are going straight into the spam folder and the IP address onto the blocked list. But as always, read the comments at your own risk – I make no promises about deleting every spoiler before it sees the light of day, though I do my best.