Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say, though I’m not certain that would be possible in this case. There’s no denying it was a good reminder of just how much of a grip Hunter X Hunter has on my anime consciousness at the moment, and it felt strange indeed to have a week without it (there have been others, but none for many months). As great as it was to have the show back, I find myself for the first time since… well – since I don’t know when – looking back on an episode and actually feeling a bit conflicted about some aspects of it. Or at least, unsure.
This ep was really a tale of two halves for me. The first, focused on the conclusion of Gon’s Date with Palm and Killua’s “date” with Rammot, was fantastic. The second left me a bit perplexed and in one or two instances even a little disappointed. Given this show’s track record anything less than superlatives in my reaction are the sore thumb – I’ve gotten quite unused to feeling anything less than unreserved admiration when an episode concludes. I guess it’s reassuring to know that not even H x H – or Madhouse and Togashi – are perfect, and to know that I’m still seeing this series with a critic’s eye.
For starters, the good stuff. I thought the way episode #93 set this week up was fantastic, and the episode took off without missing a stride. Pretty much everything about the first half of the episode was spot-on, right down to the truly lovely BGM playing when Gon was delivering his present to Palm. In many ways, this sequence was the literal manifestation of the symbolic journey much of the series has been about. As I’ve mentioned many times, Killua has always seemed to see his role as walking the dark path so that Gon could walk the light – to spare Gon from having to soil his soul the way Killua feels his is already soiled. But we’ve never seen it laid out in such stark, bare terms: Gon in a ethereally beautiful place sharing a tender moment with a crazy woman who he’s managed to connect with by treating her as someone beautiful, and Killua doing battle with his own demons and a very real demon out to kill him.
This is all great stuff, and the contrast between the two settings is portrayed brilliantly. I’ve loved Hamazoue Shinya’s work as Rammot right from the start – it’s an explosive performance absolutely bursting with rage and hatred. But Ise Mariya delivers some of her best work as Killua here, really giving expression to all the agony inside him, and the full depth of his longing to protect Gon. This was about as unabashed a declaration of love as you’ll ever get in a shounen – call it “dear, dear friend” or whatever you like and attach whatever insinuation, but to me it’s as simple as it could be, Killua loves Gon with all his heart and would do anything for him. It’s the power of belief – Gon’s belief in Killua is so pure and so unshakable that it drives Killua to desperately try and justify it by believing in himself, something that by now is completely unnatural to him.
Meanwhile, Gon and Palm continue their oddly moving date. This is really an expression of what a strange character Gon is, because it seems as if he knows exactly what he’s doing – taking advantage of a woman with a weakness for young boys – yet he also seems completely sincere. Gon is many things – he’s more complicated than he lets on, by far – but here, it seems as if he’s expressing a side of himself that’s very uncomplicated. The best thing for everyone is for he and Palm to get along, so why not simply do whatever he can to make that happen? It’s in both their interests and while he knows full well what’s happening (just as he did with the maniakku back on Whale Island) it comes off as practical and honest rather than calculating. That’s the magic of Gon, and when he gives Palm that tree branch and the fireflies come to roost on it, for all that it’s bizarre it’s a genuinely tender and beautiful moment – which is the magic of Togashi, I suppose.
For me, this is where things come off the rails a bit. Part of it is in Madhouse and Koujina-sensei’s choices (rare that I’ve ever said that) but the larger part is in Togashi’s (even more rare). I know Palm is nuts, but I was kind of disappointed to see her reduced so quickly into pure psychopathy after having been shown as quite a sad and vulnerable character. I was also aghast at the choice of BGM for the scene where Killua and Gon were fleeing her – it seemed completely out of place to me. In any event there’s no denying she quickly reverts to a state where the elevators don’t go the top floor, and in the process reveals her ability – a kind of fortunetelling using her own blood (type A) and some kind of hideous “mermaid” relic which allows her to locate Gon and Kil (and to do who knows what else).
My biggest issue, though, is that (unless I’m totally misreading the moment) Togashi seems to have chalked up Killua’s inner struggles in part to Illumi having physically planted a needle in his head. That’s seems like a cheap out by his standards, for starters, but I also feel that it undercuts some of the pathos of Killua’s struggle. I think what the boy was going through was much more interesting when seen as a purely psychological struggle, as his love for Gon forced him to try and overcome the damage his family’s conditioning had done to him – an internal war over what sort of boy Killua wanted to be. To see him physically rip a wire out of skull and thus to have the scales lifted from his eyes… It just doesn’t feel like Hunter X Hunter to me. It doesn’t seem like Togashi’s usual style, or his usual standard.
In truth, it’s too early for me to close the book on all this – there may be more to the story that changes the way I view it (apart from the Benny Hill BGM). I hope there is, anyway. And in fact the episode does recover somewhat in its final moments, as Knov and Shoot arrive back in town. Palm throws over Gon like an old sock as soon as she gets a look at Knov, and as nuts as she is I can’t help but feel sorry for her – the impression her is that Knov is knowingly manipulating Palm and her emotions because her powers are useful, in a far more calculating and cold manner than anything Gon did. Knov and Shoot are there to observe the boys to see if they’re up to seeing Kaitou in his current state (a clue as to just how grisly that is) and what they see is the two acting very much like the goofy youngsters they are when their guard is down. That means seeing Killua, especially, feeling “liberated” as he says himself – free, at last, to stand at Gon’s side without (mostly) second thoughts. Meanwhile Knuckle and Morel are off to do battle with Cheethu, apparently having been the ones chosen to fulfil the Hunter Association’s promise to stop him. Cheethu is definitely faster than they are, but all he’s show so far really is speed – and given what we’ve seen of their strength, I can’t imagine Cheethu has enough of his own to survive.