The vagaries of the anime schedule are what they are – every week brings its ebb and flow, its ups and downs. But then there’s Hunter X Hunter, which doesn’t torture us with three-minute recaps and brain-dead and offensive omake cartoons and clumsy expositional speeches. All it does, week after week, is be great – and sometimes, like this week, completely and utterly glorious. If the last episode amounts to what passes for an off week, that’s only further evidence of just how thoroughly this show is raising the bar.
Really, this ep pretty much had it all – sakuga animation, humor, tight-as-a-drum pacing. And it had some of the strongest emotional moments we’ve seen in 95 episodes. It’d be hard to overstate just how much it nailed every detail, all the way down to Palm. I confess I didn’t notice her on the train and it was only when I saw her in the cafe that I rewound and looked for her. And there she was, off by herself, her little black hearts floating into the ether as she stared at Knov. That and the way Toritaten signed off after its 30-day assignment with Gon provided the biggest laughs of a pretty serious episode – proving again that no detail is too small for Togashi and Madhouse to go the extra mile and get it just right.
This episode was impressive in its scope, too, covering an astonishing range of plot without feeling rushed or overwhelming. For starters there was the showdown between Knuckle, Morel and Cheethu – in which we learned at the very least that whatever human gave Cheethu part of their DNA liked baseball. This was a pretty splendid battle, beautifully choreographed and animated, as each said felt the other out and sparred verbally as much as physically. The turning point, as you’d expect, when was Knuckle managed to use Morel’s smokescreen and Gyo trickery to attach Potclean to Cheethu – it’s really almost an unfair attack in a way, so effective it is against those who don’t know about it. His first taste of a Nen greater than his own definitely throws Cheethu off his game – it completely unnerves him, in fact – but his speed still presents a real challenge for Morel and Knuckle, and Cheethu’s fate is left somewhat surprisingly for another day. The beast has been tagged, and now its movements can be tracked.
With that we turn to the main event of the episode, which is the meeting of Gon and Kaitou. It’s fascinating in so many ways, not least because it reveals so much of Gon’s greatest strength and how it’s also a weakness. Also revealed for the first time is Shoot’s true ability – “Hotel Rafflesia“, where he can capture all or part (like the eye of a young boy) of an opponent. This is a hard scene to watch in many ways, both for its unsparing depiction of just how terrible is Kaitou’s fate, and for what it does to Gon. Where other – and more experienced – Hunters would be able to harden their heart to such things, Gon not only feels them as deeply as ever but seems to revel in doing so. This childlike purity of spirit is essential to Gon’s identity – it’s simply who he is, and while it’s certainly a vulnerability it’s also the source of his strength, and what draws others to him.
What makes this scene especially effective for me is the way the direction is very spare and simple. Mostly, it’s just a focus on faces – first Gon’s, as we see it reflect a pain of the type it hasn’t before, not even when he broke down after losing to Knuckle and staying behind as the others returned to the NGL. But Knuckle’s face is almost as memorable, because it reflects the compassion he feels for Gon. Knuckle’s problem has been well-established – he’s too nice for his own good – but the pain he feels in watching Gon suffer is just as real as Gon’s pain, and does Knuckle a world of credit. It’s not easy watching Gon allow Kaitou (or what remains of him) to pummel him mercilessly (thinking back to when Kaitou punched him when they first met), but the sense is that Gon is not just assessing what stands before him but punishing himself for what he sees as his own failure in allowing Kaitou to be lost. Every blow strengthens Gon’s resolve to make this right, and he makes it very clear with his very un-Gon like declaration to Killua -“I want that one myself” – that he’s not the sort of person you want to piss off.
With that, the only question is whether the boys will be allowed to accompany the others back into the fray. Morel weighs in on this – he says they’ve become “tigers” now, ready to take care of themselves – and even defends Gon when Knuckle and Shoot worry if he’s as ready as Killua is. “He’s inconsistent” they argue, but Morel replies that he’ at least “consistently inconsistent” – and that he’s saving up his anger and energy to unleash it on the one who defiled his friend Kaitou. When the moment comes, though, he demands one more demonstration of resolve from Gon – and in the process gets altogether more than he bargained for, including an apology from Gon that he “really was about to kill” Morel before Killua stepped in. As for the matter of going against Netero’s orders in allowing the boys to fight, Knov falls back on the technicality that this order applied only to NGL, not East Gorteau. That’s all well and good, but the old man does indeed, as Morel says, have long ears – just how he manages to know what’s being said about him from hundred of miles away I don’t know, but he still needs email to communicate the final plan to Knov.
It’s too early for this final battle to be the final battle, of course, but for now the stage is set – the others will split into three pairs (I might nitpick that there are actually seven of them, including Palm) and draw the Royal Guard away while Netero targets the King. Showing adroit deception the royal party has used Pitou’s Nen control to animate the leader of East Gorteau and use him to order everyone in the country to gather in the capital “Peijing” (I guess Togashi-sensei is covering all bases with this satire) in ten days for what Colt has told the Hunters he believes is a screening process to harvest the Nen users among the populace, and to kill the rest. But in the meantime, surprisingly, it seems we’re going to have a jarring change-of-venue to what I assume is Meteor City for a story centered on the Phantom Troupe. Just how this ties in to the “Chimera Ant” plot I haven’t deduced but it’ll be interesting to see that lot again. Oh, and the fujoshi-bait in the preview voice-over reaches a new level of innuendo…