I wrote a lot about last week’s episode, and I suspect next week’s is going to be impossible not to likewise discuss at length – so I feel as if I really need to control myself now. In my defense there’s just so much here – the amount of psychology, strategy, tension and pure emotion in a single ep of Hunter X Hunter at the moment is more than most series could dream of generating in their entire run. There’s no part of this scenario that’s too small for Togashi’s attention, no character not worth exploring, and no short-cuts taken to get to the headlines faster.
I wouldn’t change any of that, but I do recognize there’s a downside to this approach – the gut-wrenching waits between episodes. I feel your pain – quite literally. I get why some viewers are impatient with an episode like this one, but on balance for me it’s exactly how I’d want it because I want to savor this experience as long as possible. I want to understand what’s happening in every corner of every room, what every character is thinking and feeling. And Togashi-sensei and Madhouse seem hell-bent on making sure that’s exactly what happens.
After last week’s brutal cliffhanger, it only makes sense that we’d spend an episode largely focused on Meleoron and Welfin. This is pure Togashi, because he steadfastly refuses to take the story where you’d expect it to go. The guy’s writing is out where the buses don’t run, and mere mortals would be fools to even attempt to copy his style (which is why, I’d argue, that surprisingly few have tried despite his huge commercial success). Rather than focusing on the main pair, Togashi doesn’t even take us to the “1-A” tier with Netero and the King or Knuckle and Youpi (though we get a touch-base there) – he once again goes another level out, spending most of the episode on Meleoron and Welfin. It’s crazy, surely.
But it’s not – because these are fascinating characters in their own right, with fully-developed psychological profiles that are essential to understanding the overall story. One thing that strikes me in watching this episode is that each of the Chimera Ants, even the most powerful, has one essential character flaw that makes them vulnerable. Is this an intentional comment by Togashi on their genesis, foreshadowing of the ending of the arc – or do the humans in the story more subtly (and not always that) share the same flaw? With Youpi, it’s his simplicity – as with all the ants, their weakness is also a strength. Youpi isn’t easily distracted by shiny things like Pitou or a slave to his emotions like Pouf, but his direct, battering ram style is vulnerable to attacks which rely on other means for their potency. He rages at what he can’t understand, and at those who would fight him without taking him on directly. This makes him rash – we’ve already seen it – and in that sense Knuckle and Shoot are well-matched opponents for him to the extent that anyone could be, given his terrifying pure power.
With Welfin, once again we see the strength and weakness entangled to the extent that they’re inseparable. As the Narrator tells us his very nature is his suspicion, right down to his “Missile Man” Nen ability. Welfin is wonderful at “sniffing out” treachery and danger, whip-smart – but he’s also too calculating by half and sees threats where there are none because if it were him, he’d always be planning some sort of treachery so why wouldn’t everyone else? This hyper-sensitivity and naked ambition causes him to hesitate where action is called for. He’s incredibly dangerous, for all the reasons Meleoron says, but also his own worst enemy. I’m suspicious that he’d really consider going over to the other side as suggested in this episode, but I do think the notion gives him yet another reason to be hesitant in his actions.
This entire conflict cannot be framed in a conventional good guys vs. bad guys context, which is one of the many reasons it’s pure genius. But if there’s a major difference I see between the two sides here, ironically it’s that the Hunters (and their new allies) are more cohesive as a unit than the hive-mind ants. All of these attackers are dedicated to each other, and to their cause. Knuckle sheds tears because he sees Shoot being slowly destroyed by Youpi; Meleoron because he cannot stop to help Shoot when it might endanger the overall goal. Ikalgo dedicates himself to finding Palm because although he’s never met her, she’s a friend – because she’s Killua and Gon’s friend, and because she risked her life to try and defeat the King. For all the loyalty of the Royal Guard to the King, the Chimera are a bit of a mess – each caught up in their own world, and at the level below the R.G. a tangle of confused loyalties. And even the Royal Guard themselves are basically fighting independently at the moment, to some extent dancing to the Hunters’ tune. It’s ironic that humans – and ant turncoats – should be more loyal and acting with more cohesion than ants. But so it seems to be.
And then we have Gon and Killua, once again only a small part of the overall narrative in terms of screen time. But those short moments cast long shadows, and linger as the most significant of the episode when thinking back on it. What did Zeno see in Killua’s eyes that told him, “He’s changed”? He certainly has – his loyalty to Gon, and his transcendence of the chains Illumi placed on him (though the psychological effects are clearly still being felt). Zeno’s job is indeed done here – his role was to create the chaos that separated the King from his Royal Guard, and to give Netero his single combat at a remote location with few innocents in harm’s way. He’s been paid, and he (apparently) leaves – but clearly, seeing Killua was an emotionally significant moment for the old man. Would some part of Zeno, who lives by the mercenary code of the professional killer for hire, want to stay and help his grandson in his own struggle, which is not for financial reward but for the sake of those he cares about? I suspect the answer is yes.
I can’t help but notice that we’ve seen much more of Killua’s face than Gon’s these last few episodes, and it’s no coincidence. Gon has mostly been seen in shadow, in profile, from the back – as Killua might see him – because he’s become a remote figure to us just as he has to Killua. This is the element of the “Let’s go!” aftermath that I should have touched on last week and didn’t – in addition to all the other reasons for his melancholy that I cited, he’s clearly worried that the Gon he loves more than anyone in the world is changing, becoming a stranger to him. More than for anyone else in the Hunters’ attacking party, this has become personal for Gon, and Killua certainly recognizes that.
Facing off against the terrifying Pitou is bad enough, but it’s now obvious that Togashi has also set this up as a battle against himself for Gon (likewise, a frightening opponent). The purity of his own feelings, his seeming incorruptibility, may be working against him here, and the rage over the injustice of what the King is planning and what Pitou has done to Kaitou transforming into hatred. For most of the series we’ve seen Killua battle against himself as Gon’s unimpeachable solidity acted like True North on a compass, guiding his friend whenever he was lost. Now, it seems, we may at long last be seeing the time come for that debt to be repaid – for Killua to provide the anchor to keep his friend and brother from drifting off course, the hand to grasp and pull him back from the darkness. It should be a beautiful and terrible thing to watch play out, and I suspect that drama is going to begin in earnest next week.