Here’s the truth – when this episode ended, I broke out laughing for a good five seconds. It’s not as if anything remotely funny had happened – it was just sheer amazement at what I’d just seen transpire. There’s no GPS in the world that could keep up with the number of unexpected turns Togashi takes, and no imagination in the world that could see where they take you and not be blown away. The adjectives may be running out, but the brilliance is seemingly a bottomless well.
There was another Hunter-related laugh for me this week. I’ve been catching up on the Watamote manga (it’s not like there’s any point in saving myself for another season), and got to Chapter 41. Tomoko, in yet another fruitless attempt to improve her lot, brings a copy of Shounen Jump to class as a conversation starter. One of the boys asks her hopefully (in tiny print you’d almost miss) “Is Hunter in this one?” That sums up the experience of being a Togashi fan pretty well. And here’s my honest opinion – if it takes him ten years to write another arc as good as this one, I’ll happily wait ten years. We may bitch about Togashi taking ten years to do it, but there’s not another mangaka who could do it in a hundred or a thousand – so really, we should be grateful for what we have.
I don’t know what you’d call the direction Togashi took the story this week – bodacious, audacious, definitely something with an “-acious” in it. Last week (well, two weeks ago – last year) we got an episode where the B-part took place in real time. This week we got an episode that lasted 22 minutes and depicted two – and most of that, really, was a matter of a few seconds. Almost all of the dialogue was narration, and most of the rest was narration that happened to be by a character on-screen – one we haven’t seen in months. It was, effectively, the slowest-paced buildup episode ever. And yet it was one of the most riveting anime episodes in years. Don’t for a moment think Madhouse and Koujina-sensei didn’t pull off a miracle here just because the writing was Togashi-level – what happened in this ep must have been unimaginably hard to translate to anime. But they pulled it off, again, stunningly well.
I’m pretty much at a loss for words to describe what I can only call “The Interview With an Assassin”. In fact it seemed like something the anime might have added to break up the flow of narration but I checked and no – it is in the manga. If you saw the preview last week you knew Zeno was going to show up (don’t watch this week’s preview if you haven’t already – it’s even worse), but damned if I could have predicted how he’d be used. I assume he’s the second man who jumped along with Isaac (and that the “Thousand Dragons” is his contribution, though I don’t recall seeing him use it before), though we’re never explicitly shown that, but his main role here is to give the audience a framework for just how strong Netero is – and how he got that way. We’ve seen something of Zeno’s own power, so when he says “He’s always had the upper hand, every time” you take it pretty damn seriously.
This whole scene is a marvel of quiet understatement – Zeno in a lavishly decorated parlor with a table full of Chinese delicacies, an old but fearsome man reminiscing about an even older man he clearly both fears and admires. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in anime, and it certainly does the job of setting the table for Netero’s entrance. His asides tell us much about the man – “He was a geezer when I was sucking my mother’s teat” for example. “His Nen is frighteningly quiet. He has a mind like a plant.” Zeno even reveals the name of Isaac’s signature move – the “Hyakushiki Kannon” (though if you saw The Last Mission, you were already spoiled on that).
Netero is truly the big dog here, the one we’ve never seen use his full strength. The very first time we met him he was fighting Gon and Killua literally with one hand tied behind his back, and he’s been metaphorically doing so ever since. It says something about how seriously he takes this threat that he should ask Zeno to help – they presumably have a complicated relationship to say the least. We get a glimpse of how Netero found his true strength, the four year “path of gratitude” that brought him a power we’ve seen from no one else in this superpowered cast. Netero is over 110 years old now – how much over we don’t know – and by his own admission, he’s somewhat reduced from the height of his power. But he’s still the last person in this series you’d want to face with death on the line.
Most of Netero’s first move, in fact, is seen from the perspective of Pitou. As Morel and his attack force count down the final two minutes Pitou – with pure animal instinct – detects a threat coming from above. This causes him to pull all of his En from inside the palace and project it upwards – his first mistake, and a boon for Morel’s team that we can now see was part of the plan all along. Pitou is conflicted here, and we see the wonder and joy on his face as he sees the dragon, and later witnesses Netero in action – this is a being that relishes the battle, and admires great strength. But he’s also hard-wired to protect The King at all costs, and Netero’s arrival prompts him to go straight to his top attack “Terpischora” (details still unknown). It only takes 1/10 of a second to engage, but that’s plenty of time for Netero to somehow, effectively, stop Pitou’s time – and to utter the memorable “Bad move, Little Ant”.
If Pitou’s signature move is of an unknown nature (sine he’s obviously a Specialist it could be almost anything), so in Netero’s – we know the name but not the nature of his ultimate attack. But we do see he launches an enormous wave of Nen at Pitou with the intent to blow him so far away that he’s out of the fight, and it would have been successful if not for Pitou’s quick thinking in using Doctor Blythe as an anchor to stop his progress. This leaves Pitou some distance away, plummeting to Earth – remember, he has no ability to fly – counting every nanosecond that he’s unable to protect his King who’s presumably under attack.
There you have it – an episode that lasts twenty-two minutes, depicts two minutes and spans sixty years. What a construction. It leaves us with all hell finally starting to break lose. Morel and his team have entered the palace and – thanks to the King’s tantrum – found Youpi on the stairwell instead of where they expected, at the King’s side. Pitou is somewhere close enough to get back into the game – but we don’t know how quickly. Shaiapouf has disregarded his King’s orders (and threats) and rushed to his side at the moment Neferpitou’s En was redirected. And Palm is… well, we have no idea what’s happening with Palm, or with Welfin’s plan, hatched last week. The only thing certain is that all of the machinations of the last months have been building up to this moment, and we’re finally seeing the collision of great and powerful forces that no one can build-up to – or execute – like Togashi and Madhouse. If you’re not excited now, you might just not have a pulse.