We’re getting a one-week break for the New Year (most anime do take it) but happily, the Hunter X Hunter NTV schedule for January has finally populated with new eps starting on the 7th. Sorry for the false alarm but we can relax for another cour at least, it seems – and thank goodness. Can you imagine that being the final episode? The final frame? A one-week break is going to be torture enough, but I can live with the agony for that long. I guess Han Megumi – bless her heart – really was crying because she just loves being Gon that much.
Meanwhile we get another stellar episode to send of what was for me the best full-year of anime any series has posted since Cross Game (and even there, it’s a photo finish). This was not a flashy episode by any means, but it was very subtle and sneaky tense. Togashi took the opportunity to turn yet another Chimera Ant into a fascinating character with a personal agenda, the dynamics surrounding The King and his guard got even more antagonistic, and we were treated to a quietly spectacular depiction of the final moments of the legion of eight as they prepared for battle, complete with nicotine fits by Meleoron – a scene which (you can check) actually played out in real-time. Madhouse, I can only salute you again.
As great as this episode was, what really stands out for me is Killua. I get the sense that Togashi remembers every word, every letter, every comma he’s written – and that every one of them matters. No detail is too small to be important, and what I see (and Shoot does, too, despite not having witnessed all we have) in Killua is a culmination of all the development he’s received in 110 episodes (at least the 100 or so he’s appeared in). Take note of the gesture he makes when he thinks he’s on to something but can’t figure out what – look familiar? When that scene happened I remarked that Killua was like a cat – smart enough to get himself into trouble, but not always smart enough to get himself out. And to an extent, that’s how I’ve thought of him ever since.
Cut to this episode, and Knov’s hidden room in the final moments. Killua utters the damning words himself, to Octobro – “You can’t overthink something.” But you can, Killua – that’s the problem. He’s correct in the specific instance of teaching Ikalgo that he’s wrong to assume the Royal Guard could never leave The King, but in the big picture, he’s wrong. If Gon thinks too little sometimes, Kil certainly thinks too much – and I think it’s the vulnerability that prompted Shoot’s “fade away” comment (spotted, I think, because Shoot has the same worry about himself). Killua is a strategic genius, but ask yourself – if things go completely off the rails at the key moment, who would trust to make the right decision when there was no plan in place, Gon or Killua? I’d trust Gon, because he knows there’s a time to think and a time to trust your instincts. Again Kil is winning the battle and losing the war – he’s correct that there’s a wild-card factor around The King, but all that suspicion has done is undercut his confidence and sent him into the fray unsure of himself and the plan he so anal-retentively obsessed over.
Meanwhile, superficially at least it seems as if events may be conspiring to help our heroes in their attack. The King is increasingly absorbed in existential navel-gazing, and increasingly irritated at being smothered by the protection of the Royal Guard. As he looks ahead to the prospect of what’s to come, he laughs maniacally and says he’s sure to die of boredom. Conquest is no longer enough for its own sake – in addition to his name, The King now longs for a purpose. Increasingly human in every way, which Shaiapouf views with a growing apprehension. In practical terms, The King forbids Pitou from surrounding him with his En field, and finally relents to allowing Pitou to cover the first floor to detect against attacks from underground – but only the first floor, and thus bans all other Ants from the second floor of the palace. So The King will be alone there – or rather, alone but for the presence of one wild-card with a runny nose.
There’s another wild-card brewing in the palace too, courtesy of the rarely-seen Welfin (Nakamura Daiki). Yes, another interesting Chimera Ant – a clever fellow who sees his future as “The King behind the scenes” and the key to achieving it getting in good with the despicable Bizeff. This is another fascinating example of how the Chimera Ants’ transition to individualism has been a great strength and a great vulnerability, because rather than think about protecting The King at all costs Welfin is more concerned about his own welfare. So he doesn’t tell the Royal Guard when he discovers Knov’s shoes in a pool of blood (you knew that was going to be big), but rather tries to figure out what’s happened and catch the intruder himself, using Bizeff as a patsy.
Welfin is very clever indeed (in addition to his wolf-like sense of smell) but because he doesn’t know the nature of Knov’s ability, he can’t quite get to the truth. He gets admirably close given how little he had to go on, but the upshot is that he’s on a rogue mission to blow his own horn, and the Royal Guard are unaware that the palace has already been infiltrated. If Pitou had known that, of course, his conversation with The King would have taken a very different turn indeed – but he didn’t, because Welfin is an individual who thinks like an individual rather than being one small component of a hive mind.
In any event, the preliminaries are surely over now and the true fireworks are set to begin. We still don’t know Palm’s fate – thank goodness Morel’s speculation about it was wrong, as what we know for sure is bad enough – but because Welfin is more concerned about credit than The King, when he overhears Bizeff talking about Palm’s escape it’s yet another crucial development he keeps to himself. If you’re the sort of person who avoids previews to avoid spoilers, this would be a good week to do so – nothing of Palm’s fate is revealed, but there are certainly a couple of interesting developments that are.