Hunter X Hunter 2011 – 108

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This is a dangerous post for me to write.

I’m at the point now where I’m harboring serious thoughts that no series should be as good as Hunter X Hunter for as long as this one has.  I mean – it must be unfair or a sign of the apocalypse or something, right?  No one should be able to hoard this much awesome in one series – the world just doesn’t work that way.  I’ve already written the “I can’t believe it’s still this good” post about H x H, and more than once too – but WTF else can I do?  It’s just so goddam good.  It keeps delivering, over and over – finding new places to go and new emotions to tap and new ways to amaze and astound.  I hate to write effusively praising posts, never mind repeat them – but what the hell else can I do in the face of the overwhelming evidence?

I think any analysis of this TV anime and why it’s so remarkable has to follow two tracks – one focused on Madhouse’s adaptation, and one on Togashi’s writing.  We’re now two months into the switch to late-night and I can’t really see any dip in the production values – or at least one of any meaningful degree.  If it isn’t unprecedented for an anime to be this consistently good for this long in terms of the actual production – animation, art, pacing, voice work, cinematography and direction – it’s pretty damn close.  I read the manga “behind” the anime, just to see what changes Koujina-sensei is making, and the inescapable conclusion is that he’s capturing the intelligence and substance of the manga almost flawlessly, and that the structural changes he’s making are almost minor, and almost always manage to actually improve the presentation and flow of the story.  They should really teach this series as a graduate-level course for young directors (and old studio executives) on how to adapt a great and long-running manga.  This one pretty much re-defines the standard.

And then there’s Togashi, who really is a straight-up freak of nature.  Maybe this is where the first part of the post comes in – whatever it is that makes it so hard for Togashi to write this series (and no matter what they claim, no one but he, his family and his editor and publisher likely know) without long and repeated hiatuses is nature’s way of leveling the playing field.  He just keeps topping himself – adding new characters, developing the old ones in spectacular fashion, defying expectations and breaking all the rules of both the genre and the medium even as he plays with their structure.  There are times when I really wonder just how deep and dark Togashi can (and will) go in his ruthless examination of the human psyche – if there are limits, we really haven’t hit them yet.  How is it that this man is so incisive about the human mind – how did he come to know and understand so much?  Is it a gift he was born with, or is he a relentless student of human nature (as he certainly seems to be a relentless – some would say obsessive – student of so much else)?

It would be hard to overstate how much I like Gon and Killua as main characters – and thus, hard to overstate how remarkable it is that Togashi can continually take the narrative in other directions without annoying me or making my interest wane a bit.  He can build a mini-arc around anyone in the cast – no matter how deep – and make it utterly compelling.  And it would be hard to overstate just how fascinating and gut-wrenching and tense and emotional it was watching The King and Komugi in this episode.  Who are these characters, to be so riveting despite their role in the story?  It’s never simple with Togashi – everything happens for a reason, and everyone has a reason for what they do.  You might not agree with those reasons but it’s part of Togashi’s genius that he can always make you understand them – and that’s why every character in this series is interesting to watch and not just a name and a plot-driver.

I’ve sensed for a long time that names are a big part of the philosophical underpinning of the entire “Chimera Ant” arc.  I think Togashi is fascinated with the questions of identity and humanity, and this is one of the means he’s chosen to explore them.  It was a crucial moment when the captains asked The Queen if they might have names, and when that memorable exchange between The King (I guess I should avoid using his name until he does, though it’s no secret) and Komugi happened, it felt like the world sort of stopped.  That he would ask her for her name is a huge moment in itself – an admission that he’s come to recognize her as an individual and yes, even to care about her.  And if anything, when she asked him for his name it was even more crucial – because it brought it home for The King that he’s lacking in a fundamental respect that he can’t quite understand.  When Pouf tells him his name is “King”, the response is “That’s not a name, that’s a title – and titles can be bestowed.”  Even if he doesn’t know why he knows – and why he cares – The King knows that this is a crucial distinction.

This is all so beautifully written, and beautifully portrayed – Shaiapouf’s agonizing over what’s happening to The King, the lightning-fast changes in The King’s perception that even he can’t understand.  Shaipouf really is a drama queen – even Menthuthuyoupi tells him his problem is that he thinks too much.   What Shaiapouf feels for The King can only be called love, but The King seems to feel nothing for any of his Royal Guard above a certain amount of trust.  It’s only Komugi for whom he feels anything – and this galls him, because – again – it’s something about himself he cannot understand.  When he sees her undergoing her Nen awakening – an awakening caused by him pushing her farther than anyone ever has – it’s no stretch to say he feels pride.  Both in Komugi, and in himself for having been the one to bring her to this point.

I think the entire sequence scene where The King grills his Royal Guard on the terrace is brilliant, but I also think it involves a wonderful misdirection by Togashi.  Not the one that fooled Pouf into thinking The King might be about to admit regret for things he’d done – though that was a gripping moment – but the King’s seeming renouncement of conscience and regret.  I think what’s revealed here is that The King is in fact, developing a conscience, and he’s desperate to suppress it as violently as he can – and I think this actually makes him even more dangerous than he was before.  He fools Shaiapouf, but I don’t think he fools himself – he’s coming to understand that no matter how powerful he is there are things he cannot control – other types of power, and his own mind.

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

How is it that this strange, self-loathing blind girl has completely shaken the foundations of the most powerful being on the planet to their very core – caused an introspection in him that’s made him question the nature of his power and very existence?  It’s not just beating Komugi at Gungi (and fair and square, too) that he’s become obsessed with – it’s Komugi herself.  No, I don’t know why that eagle chose to attack Komugi at that very moment – driven mad by The King’s Nen, perhaps – but it’s a startling and revealing development.  The King even goes so far as to call Komugi a “guest” as he scolds her for not screaming for help – which she can only justify by saying “I didn’t want to be a bother”.  Taken unawares with his guard down, The King reveals that he actually cares about Komugi and yes, even feels affection for her.  Whether this will prove to be the seed of his unmaking remains to be seen, but neither he or his vision of the world he seeks to dominate will ever be the same.

Meanwhile, the heroes do make an appearance in this episode.  In it we get the details of the plan they intend to use to get to The King, and see the fault-lines as they exist in their little group.  Killua and Shoot are the hard-headed rationalists (in truth just better at hiding their sentimentality), dismissing Gon’s worry for Palm as a luxury they can’t afford.  Knuckle and Meleoron are like Gon – they care too much, to the point where it perhaps makes them less hard than they should be in moments like this.  Yet it’s that quality in Gon that makes Killua so loyal to him, and in Knuckle that made Meleoron trust him.  Only one more day remains before the selection, Killua has a sense that something is “off” (and anyone would be foolish to ignore his instincts) and there’s no word from Palm. The hard truth is that her death is far from the worst-case scenario – that would be if she was made by Pitou to reveal the details of the plan, but if that’s happened the Royal Guard didn’t tip their hand (indeed, Pitou seems to think Morel is acting alone).  I don’t know what’s happened to Palm but I find it very unnerving that the camera kept settling on that large vase outside the throne room.  And I love Gon all the more (and I suspect Killua does too, though he’d never admit it) because in the face of the most dangerous thing he’s ever done, and with the fate of the world possibly at stake, he still finds room in his heart to worry for her.   It’s that part of Gon that gives Hunter X Hunter it’s core of hopefulness in the face of darkest despair.

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  1. j

    I could care less about Gon and Killua, I want more King in my HxH 🙂 Other than the random bird, this was a great episode.

  2. j

    Also, the ED has really grown on me. I wish they wouldn't include dat art style in the beginning and final scene because it feels awkward and out of place, but other than that, it's awesome. Watching it makes me keel like Komugi and King are the main characters, while Gon in DAT rage face is really the villain who lusts revenge.

  3. S

    I'd say that's the twist. This arc reminds me of "I am legend" – the book, not the movie. It's less of a humans vs monsters story, and more of the story of two completely alien biological species competing for living resources. It's not about being right or wrong, it's simply about survival. Both sides are at the same time heroes and villains.

  4. G

    I don't think it was random. I thought one of the royal guard put it there to attack (and hopefully kill) her. Never heard of a bird that size attacking a human like that unless its some sort of man eatting species only found in HxH.

  5. d

    As always, greatly enjoyed your review; you bring excellent insights and perspective to what you've watched.

    As someone who's read the manga, fear not – your astonishment will only increase the further we go. At least, as far as the writing goes, though given the outstanding job MH has done, it looks to be even better. I can't get over how hyped I am to see the coming weeks / months. It's truly elevated to my favorite shonen ever the more I re-read and re-watch it; nothing beats Togashi's writing.

  6. This passed FMA: Brotherhood as my favorite shounen adaptation some time ago – it's just basically seeing how many times can top itself at this point. Thanks for the thought – an episode that makes you think and feel like this one did is a joy to write about.

  7. S

    I think that its only true fault compared to FMA: B is that it seriously risks never having an equally satisfying conclusion due to the manga hiatus. If the anime creators manage to write a good original ending that wraps up the plot for good and doesn't leave any bitter taste I will personally take them around the city of Tokio in triumph.

  8. e

    I think it could – the "ending" of the manga (by which I mean, the ending of the last arc to be published before that last hiatus), while not a conclusive and satisfying ending in and of itself, had all the necessary components to BE a satisfying and conclusive ending to the series.

  9. n

    I thing the name thingy also corresponds to the tradition of no one has right to call you by your personal name when you assumed the throne. You'll always be known as king or queen while you're reigning (at least in East Asia, specifically Korea, I'm not so familiar how this works in Japan). Calling you by your personal cam is treason. Hence, one of the reason Shaiapouf is bewildered when the king brought it up. You'll have to discard your personal name and even after dying, you'll be called not by your name but a posthumous one. Being a ruler amounts to be stripped off of the name given to you by your parents. And that applies to the Chimera Ant king.

  10. n

    *came* -> name
    typo orz

  11. c

    maybe your country might know you as king but what about the rest of the world and time. you would want everyone to know who change the world.

  12. n

    And that's one importance of having your personal name known.
    But I think Togashi is criticizing here this system that what you'd be known after your reign is not your personal name. Some personal names of kings and queens have been lost. However, this is a tradition that has been passed down from hundreds of years before them. Almost all kings in Korea are known by their posthumous names. In the tv series, Tree with Deep Roots, Se-jong was always called by his antagonist as Yi-do, his personal name. Doing that is mocking the king and is appropriate for him to do so since he wants to overthrow the king. In Japan, I think it's the same, the king/emperor would be known by their reign name, e.g. Meiji-tennou.

    I think in Judaism (I'm not sure which it is), there's a tradition wherein you're forbidden to call God by his name because his name's sacred. You should call him by lord or god or whatever it is. The result? No one knows how to read the tetragrammaton correctly.

    I'm interested in how Togashi will wrap this plotpoint. I already forgotten what happened in the manga xD

  13. K

    Your opinions matter to us. And I am not alone.


  14. i

    I realized from this episode how I feel about SnK.

    It's a brilliant setting and idea, with a decent conspiracy and mystery ruined by one character and then left for dead by one man.

    It's amazing that in the entire HxH universe there isn't a single character I hate on an intellectual level. I hate some that are pompous villains but their roles are both marginalized and they fit their role well and it's a joy to watch the rest. When, like SnK, there is a character that is in every aspect poor what I want is for him to disappear from the story or die. Having him be the hero is like eating bile. Having him get beaten up constantly but still not die and inevitably triumph is like watching Tottenham losing 1-0 for 85 minutes and then score 2 in the last 5.

    Togashi does not make the mistake that this entertainment first and foremost and the first rule of entertainment is to not annoy his viewership. That is probably why he can't create something out of seemingly nothing IMO. Some people complain that this is filler. If this is filler what below the surface of the earth, beyond on knowledge, sewer effluent is the filler in Naruto and Bleach?

  15. G

    whats SnK?

  16. That may be the first time that question has been asked on an anime board in a while! 😉 Shingeki no Kyoujin.

  17. G

    There are so many animes and so many abreviations I can't keep track of them all. I did watch that series roo.

  18. C

    my autism flares
    I am sorry but I must do this
    the plural of anime is: anime
    again i apologize but this had to be done

  19. e

    I'm in glee and awe.
    That's all.

  20. 1

    Maybe this is part the reason of Togashi's frequent hiatus. It always amaze how this guy is constantly able to create (almost) flawless plot and storyline for each arc. I think to pull something as carefully planned as this require more time than he is able to at weekly basis.

  21. C

    As a recent teen I think I relate to that hilariously melodramatic butterfly just as much, if not more then I relate to the 'human' cast. Writing Quality = Togashi Sensei

  22. m

    hunter x hunter is too cruel
    if this show is this good, how can i watch anything else without feeling at least the slightest bit of boredom.
    i think my heart will die when this series ends. i'm already banging my head against the table just because an episode ended.

    really loving the inner monologue from pouf! he's like the audience and the narrator with his dramatism and heavy foreshadowing and explanations. i think my face was almost like his while watching this episode.

    and…. *anguished* the exchange between komugi and the king is so heartbreaking and heartwarming, knowing how they'll likely end up, i feel like dying again!

  23. U

    As I posted somewhere else.

    This episode really highlighted the difference between the royal guards in regards to the King.

    Youpi is a simple person and a follower who does not have too many opinions. As shown by the fact that he did not think he could give the King an answer to the Kings question about his name.

    Pouf is mentally unstable and has a view of what the King should be and if the King stops being like his Ideal he goes crazy. He does not care about the King as a person as shown by him thinking the King should not have a name and being the only one sad when he thought the King was going to show regret.

    Pitou meanwhile seems to care more about the King as a person as shown by her opinion that the Kings feelings are the most important and if he wants a name he should chose one that he likes for himself.

  24. G

    I wonder what Komugi's Nen power is going to be? Hopefully its something more then just being better at the game.

  25. U

    It was explained back in Yorknew that some people awaken Nen by being really good at something. Komugi has done the same. As the King said she will grow but only in Gungi.

  26. h

    huh?where is my post?I didnt post spoilers

  27. u

    Don't know if anyone will read this post, but this really is one of my favorite episode. That final scene with the King seemingly attempting to convince himself that he doesn't need Komugi around and that he will kill her, only to save her when he sees the eagle. Damn, man. I also liked the part with him talking to the Royal Guards. Basically everything from him asking Komugi her name on was pretty brilliant.

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