In case you missed it, there was some big news this week on the Hunter X Hunter front. The move to late nights forces us to contemplate, for the first time, that the unprecedented run of technical brilliance and storytelling freedom that Madhouse has utilized to such glorious ends with this series may be coming to and end sooner than we’d like. No one can say for certain what this move means, but it seems certain to portend a sizable decrease in the animation budget. We can only hope that’s the worst thing that happens. But more than ever, we should really step back and consider just what an amazing achievement this adaptation is, and what a magnificent two-year run it’s had.
Whatever happens from here is out of our control, and for my part I’m going to focus on the series itself. As wonderful as the sakuga animation has been, it’s not the best thing about H x H and Madhouse has already proved they can deliver good-looking episodes of this show even with a lesser budget. It’s the characters and the story that really count, and I expect no change in their level of brilliance. As interesting and entertaining as it was to spend some time in the company of the Phantom Troupe, it’s really good to reconnect with Gon and Killua again, and with the boys facing the darkest and most dangerous part of their journey, the sense of consequence in raised exponentially from the Spider episodes, which feel almost like a relaxing break by comparison.
Before we get to the main event there’s an interesting pre-credits diversion, where we see Leol and his flunkies Flutter and Hina staggering through the desert on their way to East Gorteau’s capital Peijing – which they finally reach – for undisclosed purposes. Just what the dynamic is here I’m not at all sure yet – Leol seems to throw himself on the mercy of the King (in the person of Shaiapouf), perhaps to apologize for raising himself above his station. But it’s clear he has ulterior motives, and not at all clear why he’d abandon his own quest to be a King himself. I could hazard a guess that perhaps he’s decided it’d be easier to kill the King and take over his kingdom rather than start one from scratch, but I wouldn’t be confident in that guess – though I am totally confident that he has no chance against either the King or any of his Royal Guards, and he’s going to he a dead ant-lion very soon.
Meanwhile, we pick up Gon and Killua where we left them, skinny-dipping their way into East Gorteau with ease. This is a place Kil knows a lot about thanks to his Grandfather having done a job there decades earlier, and it gives Togashi an opportunity to savagely satirize North Korea while making very little effort to disguise who he’s talking about. It’s a nation where “Dear Leader” Ming Jol-ik (heh) has set up a system of informants, rewarded for spying on each other and punished as a group if any member strays, where families are divided and used as hostages to ensure the good behavior of the others. I think more and more that Togashi set up the Chimera Ants to be as terrifying and hateful as possible right out of the gate, only to slowly chisel away at the moral distinctions between they and the bulk of the human race as this arc progresses.
That said, what’s happening in East Gorteau at the King’s behest is undeniably terrible. A deserted village and a shallow mass grave are the boys’ first hard clue that the culling has already begun, and Killua’s theory is that the ants are using Manipulator Nen to use puppets to weed through individual villages and towns, searching for special humans. In the process they’ll wipe out 4,950,000 of the country’s 5 million population in ten days – a process Gon especially finds horrific. With his superior inside information Killua is very much the man in charge here, much more so in his element than Gon where large-scale strategies are called for. The issue, of course, is that the main job here is to take on the Royal Guard and clear the way for Netero to take out the King, not to save the population. But this doesn’t sit well with either lad, especially Gon.
Again, we see that Gon and Knuckle are really soul-mates in a way. Each of them bristles at the prospect of standing by and watching the slaughter of millions in order to make sure their presence is hidden until they’re ready to engage their targets. The difference is that for now, at least, Shoot carries the day in holding fast to Netero’s orders, but Killua offers up a plan – to take out the puppets doing the Nen checks and wreak havoc with the selection process. Gon, of course, is all on-board with this, but Kil has a condition – he does all the disruption himself, while Gon stays hidden and focuses on the larger goal. He even tries to extract a promise from Gon that he won’t reveal himself no matter what horrors he sees – a promise, I note, that Gon doesn’t make. The boys splitting up here was not at all what I expected, but so they do, and Gon quickly becomes the target of a group of Chimera Ant soldiers – soldiers whose presence seems not to make sense, given that the local village has already been wiped out.
Though he never reveals his presence to Gon, it seems obvious that the ant that really matters here is not any of the ones who attack Gon, but Meleoron the Chameleon (Tobita Nobuo). He seems a very different sort of Chimera Ant – thoughtful and calm of temperament – and I’m anxious to see where his role in the story takes him. As for the last Hunter pair, Knov and Morel are using their waiting time to buy off the services of Marcos (the name of another tinpot dictator prominent at the time this was written), who appears to be one of Mind Jol-ik’s military leaders, promising safe exile in exchange for insider information on the working of the country and it’s armed forces. And there’s still no sign of Palm, for the record, though one suspects that wherever Knov is she’s likely not far away…