At this moment it’s utterly pointless to compare Hunter X Hunter with anything else currently airing. It’s a combination of the fact that H x H is at a ridiculous level and the fact that we’re in the midst of a historically weak season, but I can’t remember a time when the gap between one show and everything else on the schedule was this wide. It’s no exaggeration to say that the only competition for Hunter X Hunter right now is itself.
Of course, that’s some insanely strong competition – the best, in fact. There truly was no way any show could possibly top last week’s episode, which was the best anime episode of the season by a country mile and possibly the best for a very long time. It was one of the three of four most historically spectacular eps in Hunter X Hunter’s historically spectacular run, and one of the most intense anime episodes ever created. There was no way this one was going to top or even match it – and if we know anything about Togashi by now, it’s that he’s smart enough and knows his own talent well enough not to even try.
In keeping with the narrative practice of this arc (though the episode title is a bit of a fake-out), Togashi gives us a staggeringly good setup and then points the camera elsewhere, usually where you least expect it. Gon and Killua are almost entirely absent from this episode and judging by their absence from the preview, it may be a while before we return to the A-plot. That’s sheer agony given how incredible it is and where it was left off, but that’s Hunter X Hunter. We get just a glimpse of Gon and a bit more of Killua, though the latter is fascinating even at that. Meleoron tracks the boy down and reveals himself with an encouraging smile. Meleoron brings Killua up to speed and enlists his help, but what’s interesting here is that he clearly senses Killua is suffering – just when did Meleoron arrive, and how much did he see? Meleoron is such a kind soul, a bro’s bro – whether he’s seen what happened between the boys first hand or simply inferred as much as he could from Killua’s face, he’s clearly determined to help Kil get through it.
Meanwhile, another brief but fascinating encounter is taking place outside. Cheethu has spotted Zeno Zoldyck and (frustrated at not being able to get at Morel) challenged him. Cheethu is Cheethu – a child, yammering on about his cool new ability and oblivious to everything else. It’s obvious Zeno – who ominously says he’s “not in the mood” to fight – is troubled. For the first time as head of the family, he may have killed someone he wasn’t paid to kill. He’s seen great changes in his grandson. Zeno tries to give Cheethu a chance to spare himself, but Cheethu is determined to show off that precious new ability of his and won’t take no for an answer.
I think we all know how a fight between Zeno and Cheethu would have ended up, but Silva makes it a moot point by turning Cheethu’s head into mush (Zeno even tried to warn Cheethu about that). What an ignominious end for Cheethu, shocking in it’s quick and clinical (if messy) nature – but Cheethu was always in over his head amongst the big boys in this story, never able to think on their level. He’s a bit player (his ability not even worth the trouble of revealing) and I think that’s the real point here – this is a battle so epic that only the truly terrifying matter. The most consequential aspect of this encounter for me, in fact, comes when Zeno off-handedly tells his son that Killua seems to have removed Ilumi’s needle, and Silva’s reaction clearly indicates that he’s know about it all along as well. It explains to some extent why both of them were so willing to let Killua walk away and pursue his own path when they did, but it also paints that final conversation – at the time surprisingly warm and sincere – between Silva and Killua is a different and rather cynical light.
Whether the two senior generations of Zoldycks will continue to play a role in this encounter remains to be seen, but for the bulk of the episode the focus turns to Knuckle and Youpi. Morel continues his standoff with the cocooned Shaiapouf, with an increasing sense (which I share) that something isn’t quite right here – it seems odd that Pouf is so willing to be sidelined while his beloved King is in danger. Knuckle successfully evades Youpi’s initial flurry of attacks and manages to lure him into following, but Youpi foils his plan by refusing to chase Knuckle out of the palace. In fact, Youpi is so unconcerned with the “flies” that he passes up a chance to finish off the barely-conscious Shoot – once these opponents are no longer a threat to the King (as he perceives it) they interest Youpi no longer. The only problem I have here is that it’s only later that Youpi considers that killing Shoot might have impacted the strange blight on his shoulder (Hotel Rafflesia), but given what he knows and that he’s a direct and uncomplicated creature, this probably isn’t unreasonable.
The problem here is that Knuckle is every inch the bro that Meleoron is, and Youpi thinking so little of himself and Shoot rubs him entirely the wrong way. This is a mistake (as the Narrator tells us) because if Youpi wants to guard an empty throne room, Knuckle really ought to let sleeping dogs lie. But he doesn’t – no, for Shoot’s sake more even than his own Knuckle determines that he has to land a blow for both of them. He even devises a perfect way to deal with Youpi’s overwhelming power, but the problem is that Youpi keeps leveling up and foiling Knuckle and Shoot’s plans before they have a chance to work. And Youpi is growing increasingly frustrated that no one on the other side of Morel’s smoke cloud is answering his shouts, not to mention that the annoying Potclean and Hotel Rafflesia are still attached to him. This causes yet another level-up, revealing yet another monstrous new form and ability (and knocking the palace off its foundations) – and even in his heightened sense of bro-rage, Knuckle realizes the prudent course of action is to scoop up Knuckle, make like an egg and beat it.
That’s where things come to an end – with three minutes having passed since the start of the mission (which means we’ve seen about 130 minutes of screen time over six spellbinding episodes cover a bit more than 3 minutes of narrative time). Again we see the surprising twist where Pitou is effectively helpless, while it’s Youpi and Pouf who seem most frightening. Pouf’s silence in his pupa is ominous, and the growth of Youpi’s menace is pretty terrifying – not only has he exponentially increased his aura based on pure rage, but he seems to have figured out that this is only useful if he’s in-control enough to use it to support the King. The Hunters remain the more cohesive and mutually loyal team (ironically) but the tide of battle seems poised to turn against them at the moment.