It’s remarkable, the transformative effect Gon and Killua have on Hunter X Hunter. No matter how dark Togashi goes – and let’s face it, he goes incredibly dark, sometimes when the boys are directly involved – there’s always a ray of light whenever they’re on-screen. Maybe that’s the larger point here, something about the relentless power of youth to overcome obstacles and rebound from despair, but there’s no question that the genre term “shounen” is never more aptly applied than to what the boys bring to H x H. Take them away and this series is really much more a seinen in shounen-deconstructing clothes, but their overflowing spirit is what grounds the series in optimism no matter how subtle and existentially bleak it gets.
First things first, and that’s Morel’s fight with Leol. This is one of those battles that doesn’t bring with it a whole lot of suspense – there was never any real chance a mid-boss like Leol was going to take Morel down – but it’s endlessly fascinating to watch Morel go about his business. I grow more and more impressed with this guy the more I see him, because his combination of a hugely powerful Nen ability, physical strength, intelligence and patience is off the charts. Simply put he’s a beast, and I think it may be his mind that’s impressed me more than his raw power. He’s never rattled and he’s got an answer for every situation – at least every one he’s faced so far.
Of course none of that would matter if Morel didn’t have the game to back it up, but does he ever. He figures out Leol’s ability in no time (it doesn’t hurt that Leol was using an ability stolen from a fellow Hunter that Morel recognized, admittedly) and pretty much surmises that he’s a peon. Not only that, all he really needs to do against Leol’s “borrowed” ability is buy time – because he’s sucked the oxygen out of the room with his massive lung capacity, and Leol is slowly dying of carbon dioxide poisoning. It’s a brutal way to go, but while Morel doesn’t seem especially sadistic he’s not sentimental either, and he’s got bigger fish to fry. Of all the Hunters we’ve seen in H x H, Morel would have to rank in the very top echelon in terms of pure formidability.
It’s after this fight that the episode plumbs its darkest depths. I’ve always liked Palm – I thought she was a good soul under that heapin’ helpin’ of crazy, and her crush on Gon was adorable – but even if you didn’t I can’t imagine it’d be easy to see her going through what she is. It’s bad enough that she has to play the role of sexual slave to a despicable toad like Bizeff, but she has to force herself to go to the same place that broke the mind of a strong Hunter like Knov. It’s hard to tell exactly what happens when she does, but it appears as if she recoils from Shaiapouf’s aura, which suddenly disappears – and then is replaced by Neferpitou’s, which is even more terrifying. Perhaps this simply means Pitou has finished repairing Meruem’s arm and is free to resume his role of protecting the perimeter, but either way it seems as if Palm was paralyzed with her fear and may very well have been caught. Gon may soon have another big log to fuel the fire of his rage.
Speaking of Gon, at long last we return to he and Killua, starting with the latter. Killua wakes up after having been out for two days, convalescing in an underground hospital under Ikarugo’s concerned eye (the aspiring squid is actually sitting by his bedside). Naturally the first thing Killua does when he wakes up is ask how long he’s been out, and the second thing is announce that he’s leaving. There’s still the matter of his bill, though – 1.8 million Jenny, payable in body parts if cash is unavailable. This prompts a quick call to Gon, who’s overjoyed to hear his friend’s voice at last. Kill also gives everyone a quick but rather showy display of his ripped torso as he’s changing into his own clothes – holy crap, those abs! If there’s a BYOB party after Meruem is defeated Killua will be all set, because he’s sporting a twelve-pack (one for each year of age?)…
Not to overstate the case, but Killua’s conversation with Ikalgo represents one of the more significant moments for his character in the entire arc, I think. In effect, Kil summed himself up perfectly with his own words – loyalty above all else (it’s worth pointing out that this was the message his father imparted to him before he left Zoldyck Manor), and not interested in messy displays of affection. As different as Killua and Gon are, they’re very similar in that they’re a unique combination of childlike idealism and purity and very grown-up detachment and ruthlessness. In a perfect world they’re too young to have had to see and do what they have, but they’re well-adapted to it and somehow managed to get this far with their essential natures intact. I think in Killua’s case these impulses – loyalty, responsibility – have always been there, but it was in breaking away from his family (especially Illumi) and becoming friends with Gon that they’ve blossomed and become the essence of who he is. Gon’s trust and friendship has made Killua a better person – and I think Killua is very much aware of this, and it’s a big part of the reason why he loves Gon as much as he does and would do anything for him.
Ikalgo is powerfully moved by this display (the character, not the physique) from Killua and sees in it a sort of idealized version of the world he always hoped he’d be a part of, a kind of Bro-paradise where guys watch out for each other and expect nothing in return but the same in kind. The essence of Gon and Killua’s charismatic ability to draw in other strong people, it seems to me, is that they represent this unvarnished childlike ideal of loyalty yet have the ridiculous level of strength to back it up. And it’s a good thing too, because allies like Ikalgo are Meleoron are even more vital with Knov, in Morel’s words, “probably out of this fight” (which is what I speculated). And it appears that Meleoron and Knuckle have hit it off in a big way, just like I figured – these dudes are bros if I’ve ever seen ’em, and they were born to exchange fist-bumps with each other. It’s a bromance that was meant to be. All this is a nice little burst of hopefulness, but the truth is that the real enemy hasn’t even been confronted yet, and all that the good people – and Chimera – have been through already is nothing compared to what they still have to face. They’re going to need every ounce of fraternity and loyalty they can get.
One final note this week: 2013 manga sales were reported a few days ago, and Hunter X Hunter finished in 8th place (ahead of ongoing giants like Bleach and Fairy Tail) among all manga in Japan, with 4,231,475 volumes sold. That’s despite the fact that Togashi has been on hiatus for almost two years, and there were no new volumes of H x H released during all of 2013. It’s a truly astonishing testament to just how popular this series remains, and just what a jugguenaut it would become if Togashi-sensei ever returned to drawing it.