I’m not at all surprised to see Togashi leave behind all of his main characters (it feels like it might be for a while) and focus on a couple of completely unorthodox battles, one of which is taking place on a board. This is simply how and who he is – he does things his own way, and terms like “shounen” and “battle manga” don’t mean the same things with him that they do with normal writers. But even knowing its coming, I’m never quite able to peg exactly where he’s headed – I get lucky sometimes and figure out the general direction (largely because Togashi amply foreshadows his major developments, even if it isn’t always apparent until after the fact) but the execution always manages to be fresh.
There are times, in fact, when I wonder if illness or financial security isn’t the reason for Togashi’s many hiatuses, but boredom. If he can’t think of a weird and different way of doing something, he just doesn’t want to do it. Who knows – probably just the man, his wife and his editor – but in any event he certainly keeps the reader/viewer on their toes. This week the spotlight was shared between two very different confrontations – the one between Mereum and Komugi over the Gungi board, and the one between Morel and Cheethu over Nen. There’s a splash of Knov in there too, but Gon and Killua (and even Knuckle and Shoot) are nowhere to be found.
To start with Morel and Cheethu, this is an interesting confrontation in terms of what Togashi is likely trying to get across. This is one whose basic dynamic has been apparent from the beginning, and the outcome clear – because, I think, Togashi is using it to demonstrate the limitations of Nen. Some have commented on how the Nen powers have started to get a little ridiculous, and I’d chalk that up to the fact that they’re in the hands of bizarre, hybrid creatures whose makeup is a hodgepodge of species. We now know that Shaiapouf has the ability to grant Nen abilities to his underlings – which is how Cheethu, at the very least, obtained the ability he’s currently using against Morel. It’s likely Nen has never been used in this way before, and in theory the Chimera could seemingly have limitless power as a result.
But there are limits, no matter what Shaia is able to do with Nen. Quite simply, Morel is too smart for Cheethu. The latter is basically a child – a petulant, distracted, hyperactive one. His chosen ability is incredibly ill-suited to his nature – why would Cheethu, of all beings, want to engage in a struggle that takes eight hours? Because, presumably, he thought that being chased by a slowpoke with their life (presumably) on the line would be fun. Even when desperation somehow allows him to come up with a new ability on the fly, it’s another silly choice – a projectile weapon that’s slower than he is. Morel is incredibly powerful in terms of Nen, and he uses it to defeat Cheethu – but make no mistake, it was Morel’s brains and experience that won him this battle. I don’t think even Cheethu realizes how much scary Conjurer potential he has, but without the smarts and discipline to use it wisely, he’s cannon-fodder for the likes of Morel.
Meanwhile there’s the equally fascinating showdown between the King and the Gungi master. Here, the main take-away for me is a repeat of something we saw earlier with the Chimera Ants: no matter how powerful they are, their human side always sticks its meddling nose in and complicates matters. The rise of individuality within the colony (I take some pride in the fact that I spotted the moment the Captains asked the Queen if they could name themselves as a crucial one, because it may have been the most important in this entire arc) proved both a great strength and a great vulnerability to the ants – eventually causing the colony to splinter – and now we see the invincible Mereum, brought low by his boredom and obsessing over trying to beat a sniveling (literally) young girl at a board game. And not just that, enjoying it. Merely beginning the succession of “bored game” challenges was a very human act – his reaction to being humbled by Komugi even more so.
This entire King-Komugi dynamic is a very strange one, indeed. The first time he was able to cause her to hesitate before moving wasn’t because she was worried – she could have moved instantly, and crushed his attack. No, it was because the “Supreme Leader” (Komugi’s blindness is a crucial plot point here, obviously) used the same stratagems she’d devised 10 years earlier (when I can only assume she’d have been eight or nine years old) and later been forced to crush when an opponent used them against her. She says that it was like “seeing my child brought back to life”, and this makes her hesitate. It’s a fascinating turn, all the more so because despite his bluster it’s clear that for the first time, Meruem is truly enjoying something. This can only end in tragedy – everything involving the most powerful of the Chimera seems to – but it’s going to be interesting indeed to see how this strange relationship resolves itself.
As for the larger story itself, it’s basically in a holding pattern. While Morel was spending several hours inside Cheethu’s playground, Knov was busy taking out Neferpitou’s puppets and – eventually – figuring out what was going on with Flutter and taking him out (his “Hide and Seek” ability is revealed to us in the process). This prompts Leol into action, and we also see his “Rental Pod” ability, but it’s hard to see him being more than a speed bump for the likes of Morel and Knov. The King and Shaia are basically consumed with Gungi, it seems, while Killua recuperates somewhere under Doc Ock’s care and Meleoron prepares to reveal himself to Knuckle and Shoot and Netero gathers his strength. It seems that Pitou is the one doing all the grunt work for the Royal Guards at the moment, gathering food supplies and getting ready for the day of the selection, when all these disparate threads will seemingly come together at last.