One of my favorite catch phrases when it comes to anime I love is “simple and profound at the same time”. It’s something a few very special series can manage to pull off, but another one springs to mind when I think about what Togashi is able to accomplish with Hunter X Hunter – epic and profound at the same time. When I watch an arc like “York Shin” or “Chimera Ant” I think of what Salieri said of Mozart in Amadeus – it was like he had everything finished in his head and was just writing it down, like “taking dictation from God”. The sheer number of moving parts in these arcs is staggering, almost as much as the intricacy with which they’re woven together. But even more impressive is how Togashi can make these huge stories resonate emotionally, to make them about the characters even as he builds a huge story around them.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a strange quality to the first half of the episode, speaking in terms of emotional reaction. It seems as if on some level Togashi is asking us to look past what the Chimera Ants have done, long before the birth of the King – the humans they’ve killed on behalf of their Queen. Colt is certainly not immune from this, even as he’s remained the most sympathetic of them (along with Peggy. Peggy!). They wiped out entire villages. They turned human children into meatballs. But as I noted more than once, the Chimera are quite different from the earlier antagonists in H x H in that their motive has simply been that most elemental of all motives – to survive, procreate, and advance their species.
Something has fundamentally changed, starting I think with the birth of Neferpitou. We saw abject cruelty before, and certainly rage (not least with Rammot) but Pitou and especially the King are of a different order of magnitude. Both in terms of ambition and power they they’re playing a different game, but that fact in itself doesn’t change everything. I was far from moved by the Queen’s dying moments and Colt’s agonizing over them, genuine though it obviously was. These are not tragic hero figures, not after what we’ve seen. Knuckle breaking down in tears is hardly a surprise, but I can only take Morel’s reaction to be an expression of approval for such unswerving loyalty as Colt is showing. And the truth is that the ants are very much like humans in their individual variety, as we’re seeing more and more in the splintering of their society.
For all that, the strangest element was the baby – the tiny fetus that Colt pulled from the Queen’s carcass after Netero’s seeming good-faith efforts to have his people save her failed. Just what the hell that thing is I don’t know, but that whole sequence was pretty damn creepy – though I’m not sure the balance wasn’t supposed to be a little more evenly weighted with the emotion of the moment (mostly drawn from Colt’s memories of his time as Curt). Meanwhile there’s that prototypical Togashi “gathering storm” vibe going on, as great forces are moving all over the place. Netero himself has put on his “Kokoro” t-shirt for what he sees as his last big fight, and expressed a GAR excitement at Colt’s assessment that he wouldn’t make it past the Royal Guard, never mind have a chance against the King (in cutting off his topknot Netero symbolically renounces his position at the top of the totem pole, and accepts his lower status as “Challenger”). The King and his court are seemingly about to invade the republic of East Gorteau. And most of the surviving squadron leaders have left the nest, set on making themselves kings – with the requisite feasting, procreating and conquest that’s involved.
Then there’s Gon, who’s set aside for most of the episode as it focuses on events in the NGL. As we pick up his story he’s still in mourning over his failure to make his way back to Kaitou’s side, and the statement it makes about his own weakness. But, in typical Gon fashion, he recovers himself as quickly as he’s lost himself – well enough to fake it and focus on the future, anyway. This is the ability that Gon has and Killua lacks for now – to accept himself and believe in the fundamental goodness of existence, and give himself a reason to believe in the future. He gets a stern talking-to from Spinner, who gives us a little more back-story on just why Kaitou means as much to her as he does. Kil remains silent through all this, focused no doubt on his own failures, and his promise to Bisky.
In the usual Togashi fashion, there are important things that most of the major players are unaware of, and have the potential to change everything. Kaitou seems to have been left behind by Pitou, and to bear very little resemblance to his old self. Netero has gone off the meet “an old acquaintance” whose identity is not shared with the audience or anyone else (Morel and Knov may or may not know). The Queen’s last wish is that the King bear the name she’s chosen for him – Mereum, “the light that shines on the world”. And still waiting for Gon is Palm – though it appears we’re going to see a different side of her than we’ve seen before, as she and Gon have a “date” in their future. Watching Gon turn his boyish charms on Palm (he’s likely innocent enough, though he at least seems to know what a date is) promises to be one of the more amusing episodes of a very dark and disturbing arc – whether it’s a last gasp of levity before things go off-the-charts bleak remains to be seen.