It seems only fitting that Hunter X Hunter 101 should be a survey course in great anime. It’s all here – the ruthless, chilling and jet-black hilarious brilliance that makes H x H the masterpiece that it is. We also got a fair dose of Togashi geekery as he continues to try and prove there’s no subject he won’t obsessively exploit for story purposes, and a taste of his rare ability to turns the strangest of characters into memorable and even endearing parts of the cast.
I confess that, for all that it pains me deeply that H x H was demoted from its choice Sunday morning timeslot, there have been times when I’ve seriously wondered whether the series should be airing at that time. Probably the most horrifying moment of the series from an existential standpoint was the demise of Kurt and his sister, but there have been many others – and it’s damn hard to watch Gon and Killua suffer, especially. We’ve seen Gon get his arm severed in the fight with Genthru, but I think it was even rougher to see the indefatigably cheerful bozu in utter despair after what happened to Kaitou, and when his weakness undermined his ability to help his friend.
With Killua things are a bit different, because Killua has divorced himself from the shield of childhood emotionally in a way Gon hasn’t. Given the milestone nature of last week’s episode I went back and watched the premiere, just to see if Gon and Killua had really changed over 100 episodes. And it was astonishing to see just how much they had, both in terms of the character design (they’re both far more buff and have less childlike chubbiness to their faces) and seiyuu performance. Mariya-san and Han-san have tweaked their delivery far more than you’d think – it was quite obvious this week when Gon delivered his “It’d be easier for me…” speech to Meleoron. Yet Killua, for all his cold ruthlessness and maturation, is still very much a child, and in fact one who’s taken it on himself to protect Gon’s innocence (as Killua perceives it) if necessary at the expense of his own. We saw him at his emotional low ebb during the Ramnot fight – now we see him, for the first time, physically tortured to the point where death is close at hand.
That near-death comes at the hand of the Ortho siblings – Brother (Aizawa Masaki) and Sister (Ohmoto Makiko). But not before a very interesting exchange between Killua and Ikalgo, in which Killua offers Ikalgo the chance to be spared if he’ll spill the beans about Flutter and who he’s working for. Ikalgo reveals a sort of honor here – and he’s not the first Chimera Ant to do so – by refusing to sell out. He also reveals an intense dislike of being called an octopus, and an aspiration to have become a squid instead. In the end he refuses to betray his comrade, electing to drop to his death at the hands (well, teeth) of the blood-crazed chimera-sharks below. But Killua spares him – because he “seems like a cool guy”, and “in another life we could have been friends”. The irony here is that for all his assassin’s detachment and dispassion towards killing, it’s an act of mercy that ends up saving Killua’s life. Leave it to Togashi to turn a hipster chameleon and an octopus with tentacle-envy into standouts, but so he has here – as absurd as Meleoron and Ikalgo are (their very absurdity makes them stand out all the more in this grim and bloody arc) they’re fascinating additions to the cast.
As for Killua’s life, it needs saving because of darts – specifically spearfish fired by the Conjurer Ortho siblings. After their comrade Coburn attaches the “Bar Double Bull” badge to Killua, he turns the boy into a human dart board – a board which the brother attacks by firing Nen spearfish at him which have no physical substance until they enter his body. As Nen abilities go this one is a bitch – it’s nasty, and damn hard to counteract. As usual no detail is too obscure for Togashi, and he exhaustively explains how Ortho-san inflicts damage to Killua using the rules of Double-in/Double-out 501 (which anyone who’s spent any time in pubs probably knew already). So does Killua – he mastered the game when he was six (or was it seven?) as part of his training, and as such he’s prepared for the final attack because he knows where it’s coming – a double-20, right in the middle of his forehead. It’s only Killua’s astonishing skill and versatility (he uses his electrical ability to send an impulse directly to his arm to grab the dart as soon as it touches his skin) that allows him to survive and only pretend to be dead, thus tricking the siblings into lowering their guard and losing their heads (but not before bragging to Flutter that they’d eliminated the target).
This is not easy stuff to watch – a young boy we’ve come to care deeply about subject to horrific wounds that cause so much blood loss that he’s just about beyond saving – but it’s classic Togashi. The blood is red, and there’s a lot of it. Killua’s last thoughts are of the idea this encounter has given him to get stronger is his fighting (foreshadowing check), and naturally of Gon, and how he wishes he could have been more help to him. It’s here that Killua’s act of kindness (some would say an uncharacteristic one, though I wouldn’t) towards Ikalgo saves the day, as the octopus decides to betray his allies and save the boy who saved him. It’s been tipped off for a while that he’d end up fighting in the Hunter camp, and this just about confirms it.
Meanwhile, not to be forgotten, there’s Gon – having the aforementioned conversation with Meleoron (who might just be my favorite chimera ant). This scene is short but impactful, and pure Gon. Meleoron asks Gon why he trusted him, and the boy answers matter-of-factly (as he always does) that it was because Meleoron swore he was telling the truth. Meleoron’s reaction is a quite literal eye-roll, as he lectures Gon on the dubious nature of promises and questions his putting his fate in the hands (foreshadowing check again) of such a naive kid – but it’s Gon’s response that matters. With a smile that’s not at all beatific he tells Meleoron that if in fact he’s lying it’d actually be easier, because then “I won’t have to show you any mercy – I’ll be free to destroy you.”
In an instant Meleoron sees that this is not the “clueless boy” he imagined seconds earlier, but someone his instincts were correct about. It’s the fact that Gon sees no contradiction between his trusting nature and his willingness to unleash his full killing potential that makes him who he is – he simply sees the world differently from everyone else. He can be the idealist he is and still be ruthless when he has to, just as he can manipulate Palm’s feelings without an ounce of deception by being the boy she wants him to be in exchange for getting what he wants from her. It’s this skewed but simultaneously straightforward worldview that for my money makes Gon, in the end, scarier and more dangerous than Killua.