Come on, surely you’re going to trust Togashi-sensei unreservedly by now. With most authors, leaving the main story at one of its most suspenseful junctions ever right at the close of a fantastic and emotional episode would seem to be folly. Not to mention abandoning the cast you’d been following for months to touch in with side characters who’ve been absent for the entire arc, and antagonists at that. Crazy, desshou? But this is Togashi, and we know two things for sure about him if we know anything – he’s utterly brilliant, and he rarely does anything conventionally.
The Phantom Troupe is a pretty remarkable auxiliary cast, that’s for sure. Villains without a doubt, but such utterly fascinating ones – even without the presence of their most fascinating member, Chrollo (who’s sadly not a part of this plot twist, apparently, and neither is Hisoka – who’s presumably searching for him). Togashi introduces so many truly great characters that you wish they could all find a place in every episode but that’s obviously impossible – he’s basically ignored half of what looked to be the main characters for over half the series, after all. But I think he sensed an opportunity here that was simply too good to pass up. In a single turn of the pen, he can:
- Show the extent to which the Chimera Ant menace has spread
- Give us an origin story for the Spiders, bringing us at last to their legendary birthplace of Meteor City
- Give several Spiders a chance to show just how damn GAR they are
- Showcase Kalluto Zoldyck, who’s been briefly teased as a character in both the “Zoldyck Family” and “Greed Island” arcs but never truly gotten a chance to show off
- Take a breather from the preposterously intense (both in terms of action and emotion) main story and show us something that’s undeniably dark, but has less a sense of despair and consequence
It all makes a ton of sense, really – it’s just that few mangaka would have thought of it, and fewer still had the kintama to follow through. But that’s rarely a problem with the Phantom Troupe, who have plenty to spare. It’s fascinating how we generally see the Spiders in subsets, rarely all together – there are various fault lines hinted at, such as seniority and – less obviously – a general sense of who the more and less “evil” of the bunch are. In fact of the original members I believe only Feitan is with the group we see here, who also seem to generally identify as the more wicked of the bunch – certainly Nobunaga and to a lesser extent both Machi and Franklin (all absent) seem to have more of a sense of conventional honor than the others, though despite obvious tensions in the group there’s clearly a powerful loyalty to all their fellow Spiders. All of the Spiders we see this week were also in “Greed Island”, as it happens – though in this instance they’re engaged in a somewhat more high-stakes mission.
The role of the Spiders as benefactors in Meteor City has been suggested directly, and here we see the proof – when Meteor City comes under deadly attack from Chimera Ants, the local authorities call on them for help just as Mitene called in the Hunter’s Association and the Mafia Dons the Shadow Beasts. Meteor City is a refuge for the refuse of society, garbage dump for the world, off the grid, and home to millions who survive by scavenging the refuse that’s dumped there. Phinks (sporting his immodest Pharaoh garb), Shalnark, Feitan, Bonolenov, Shizuku and Kalluto (who seems to have grown quite a bit) arrive to help, and find that the Chimera Ants aren’t just killing their victims, but turning some into hideously mutated slaves. This is the work of Zazan, who’s set up her nest in the ruins of a castle and calls herself the Queen.
It’s worth noting that when the Troupe (as is often the case with this faction, Phinks acts like he’s in charge) comes a-calling, they go through the front door – disdaining stealth as both unnecessary and beneath their dignity. Basically, this ep is a chance to show off just how beastly the Spiders are, including some – like Bonolenov, who haven’t had much of a chance to do so before. Of him we learn that he’s a Bapu warrior, from a tribe who have holes drilled in their bodies at three years old so they turn into human musical instruments, using sound as both a battle hymn and a weapon itself. He’s a creepy one, is Bonolenov. We have seen Phinks and Shalnark fight before, but they reveal attacks we haven’t yet seen. For Phinks it’s the “Ripper Cyclotron“, an Enhancer skill where he winds his arm to add strength to his punches (15 times is “more than twice” as much as needed to dispatch a Chimera Ant captain). For Shalnark it’s “Autopilot” (clearly an homage to DBZ) – a last resort attack where he uses one of his own needles to control himself to perform a specific task that would normally be beyond his abilities. It’s easy to see why he prefers not to use it.
Shizuku and Feitan are in action as well, and Feitan has actually found his way to Zazan herself, while Shizuku is taking on our old arachnid friend Pike – but the focus of the latter part of the episode is on the new #4, Kalluto. First, though his Chimera opponent (as I did at first) calls him a girl, Kalluto is definitely established to be a boy – albeit a rather elegantly-dressed one. We’ve seen little if any of his abilities (he keeps them secret even from his newfound allies, as Phinks points out) but he’s apparently a Manipulator and origami master, using paper as his weapon of choice. Through tiny scraps he keeps tabs on his fellow Spiders – Phinks has promised that whoever kills the “Queen” first will be temporary leader – and he uses confetti and his “Meandering Dance” (or Serpent’s Bite) to slice and dice his opponent. He also flashes us a chilling smile as he finishes off his victim – something we see rarely from the Spiders (Hisoka is an exception though no longer – and arguably never – a member, and Shalnark just smiles all the time). Kalluto is still very much an enigma, but he’s already established himself as a scary little man.
If there’s a moral to this story, it’s the same one the Shadow Beasts learned – don’t mess with the Phantom Troupe. Shizuku and Feitan are still in combat and Zazan is still alive, but it seems pretty obvious how this battle is going to turn out, and I expect it will probably wrap itself up next week. The Spiders fill quite a unique role in Hunter X Hunter – or rather, they fill many roles. Enemies they are, certainly, but as always with Togashi it’s not so simple. More than anything, perhaps, they’re a center of power – one of many in this mythology that we’ve been introduced to, none of which can claim to have a clean moral slate.