It’s hard to believe that there’s been complaining about the latest run of episodes of Hunter X Hunter, but there has. In fact, it goes back to the days when the manga first introduced this part of the story. I suppose it’s a testament to how faithfully Koujina-sensei is adapting that the complaints are largely the same now – it’s rare that you see an anime criticized for adapting a manga too faithfully. I’ve religiously avoided reading H x H until after the relevant chapters have been animated and I consider these last two months as good as any the series has had, so for me the complaints seem to be a product of false expectations of what kind of writer Togashi-sensei is more than anything. But those opinions are no less valid than mine – just as different as they could possibly be.
I would hope that an episode like this one would be more satisfactory to those dissatisfied with the approach Togashi and Madhouse have taken, for while it wasn’t wall to wall shounen battles it was largely action-driven. And damn, was it tense – though pretty much every episode lately has been unbelievably tense. In hindsight I think a large part of that tension spring from how much of the narrative is playing out inside the characters’ heads – the “Narrator” role gets all the pub (and hate) but the internal narration of the cast is even more important to keep the audience in the loop, and at the same time make us feel the extreme agitation and unease they’re feeling. And yes, that includes the Chimera Ants.
Another product of this approach is that it really plays up the strengths and weaknesses of each character – their thoughts and feelings giving us a greater understanding than the characters have themselves. This episode largely played out through the perspective of three characters – Youpi, Knuckle and Ikalgo. Yes, we saw others – Morel and Pouf’s battle was looked in on, and much to my surprise Killua played a small but crucial role in the end (kudos to last week’s preview for being unusually circumspect in not tipping us off that it was coming). But it was really about Youpi – up until the last few eps by far the least explored of the Royal Guard – and the Bro Squad.
What did this episode tell us about Youpi? Well, for starters I have to give him credit for adapting with incredible speed – obviously a frightening hallmark of his species. Could any human go from being controlled by their own rage to controlling it for purposes of deception as quickly as Youpi has? Of course not. Youpi has always been the most direct of the Royal Guard, never asking too many questions and intentionally avoiding overthinking. But here he recognizes an opportunity that requires a skill that’s completely different than his usual repertoire, and he actually pulls it off brilliantly. I thought to myself that the fact that he was so new at this subterfuge business might be his undoing, but I’m not sure anyone could have anticipated the attack that thwarted his plan. Still – one could argue that it was Youpi’s inexperience in deception that allowed him to be deceived in the act of deceiving – and it’s impossible not to think all the way back to the Hunter exam, when Gon (still new at all this himself back then) was ambushed while in the act of ambushing Hisoka. What goes around comes around, and old themes repeat themselves.
On the other side we have Ikalgo and Knuckle, who’re so alike in many ways – so human despite the fact that one of them isn’t actually a human. Ikalgo continues his quest to locate Palm, and Brovoda has followed him to the basement to confirm his suspicions. Ikalgo has no way to know where he slipped up, so he’s really flying blind here. The quest for Palm nets nothing more than a message from Palm (written in Nen) that confirms she’s fled Area B and headed for the palace – the most-expected result, but not what Ikalgo was expecting to see. The more immediate problem is Brovoda, who unwittingly tips off Ikalgo to the mistake he’s made because he assumes it doesn’t matter, as he’s about to kill Flutter anyway. He does “kill” Flutter, not realizing the real turncoat remains behind – and Borovoda seems to have made a huge mistake in descending Bizeff’s elevator without knowing about the passcode system. But for Ikalgo a major problem remains – he knows now that “Hagya” (which Borovda himself uses to refer to Leol after he blasts Flutter to scraps) is wrong, but not what the new name is.
As usual, the episode saves the biggest drama for last. Knuckle is impossible not to love – he’s just such a straight-up guy. An idiot? Maybe – but one who knows he’s being an idiot and can’t stop himself anyway. The whole notion of going after Youpi instead of waiting him out in foolish to begin with, and Knuckle knows it. His bro-nologue as he’s attacking Youpi is a truly great moment – funny, incredibly tense and very sad. He’s walking right into Youpi’s trap, of course, and some part of him seems to sense it as his time slows to a crawl. “Wow!” he marvels, “I’m amazing myself! I don’t think my mind has ever moved this fast.”
Knuckle deconstructs himself completely as this scene plays out, displaying the full range of his fallibilities. He muses that he never even liked Shoot that much, yet he’s risking everything to land a punch for the sake of Shoot’s honor – yet, that’s Knuckle to a “T”. He’s a bro’s bro, too kind for his own good, a sweet soul who has more faith in the fairness of the universe than someone in his position should ever have. When the nanosecond when Youpi reveals the trap happens (and the BGM changes), Knuckle is convinced he’s about to die and it’s very easy to believe he’s right. It’s yet another shiver-inducing moment of raw intensity in this arc, one earned by Togashi’s willingness to go where few mangaka would be willing to go. Knuckle’s thoughts in that moment reveal him for exactly what he is, flaws and all – probably on-balance the most decent and innocent person we’ve met in a brutal and pitiless world of killers.
Killua isn’t the only one who makes a surprise appearance at this point – though “appearance” isn’t exactly the right word for what Meleoron does. His ability has been used dramatically exactly as it has strategically – unpredictably and with great effect. No question, Youpi bested Knuckle here – Knuckle says it in so many words – but if anyone ever deserved to be bailed out, he does. Killua proves himself a magnificent bastard here, striking at the perfect moment, paralyzing Youpi with a lightning bolt far bigger than we’ve seen him use up to now. Killua may be a young boy and Knuckle a seasoned adult, but too much of Killua’s innocence has already been lost. It would be wrong to call him unsentimental – indeed, he can be hurt very deeply if it’s Gon doing the hurting. But Killua still has a core of cold steel inside him and it reveals itself in moments like this.
As Killua silently (that silence is quite conspicuously showcased) strides towards Youpi he tells him “Sorry, but what’s about to happen is just me blowing off some steam.” As much of a badass as Killua is I wonder if he’s taking Youpi too lightly here, but given than Knuckle was able (thanks to Kil) to land eight blows, Youpi should be in dire straits indeed at the moment. This is a ripple radiating outwards from the moment Gon said those cruel words to Killua – a moment, it seems, that will make its effects felt in many ways subtle and gross, for a long time to come. I’ve said in the past that both Gon and Killua have their moments (and that “ripple” moment was one, for both) where they reveal themselves to be the fragile children they still are. But in Killua’s stature and presence here and Knuckle’s emotions both before and after Killua intervened, it’s impossible to escape the feeling that the man is in many ways far more innocent than the boy. And that does nothing but make the both of them all the more endearing.