I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – material like this makes me wonder how Togashi is able to write as quickly as he does, not complain that he isn’t faster. The layers upon layers of subterfuge and psychological intrigue he builds into these conflicts are virtually unparalleled – a “fight” in a Togashi series isn’t just the physical act of combat, but every strata of the mental struggles which seem to extend all the way down to the Earth’s core.
I don’t know that there’s been another anime in recent years that can sustain tension at the level this one does over the course of 22 minutes. There’s just no end to it, and to me this approach is so much more effective than simply showing superpowered badasses going at each other. The majority of the narrative is spent putting us inside the characters’ heads, making us feel what they feel – which in this arc is mostly high anxiety and fight-or-flight induced adrenaline on overdrive. The most obvious example of this is the episode focused on Knov’s (more on him shortly) reconnaissance mission, but it extends to pretty much everyone in the cast – including the enemy.
There’s no question that the dominant figure in this episode is Pouf – it’s he more than anyone that’s dictating what we see on the ground ( and in the air). This is really the first time I’ve truly felt that Morel was psychologically and strategically bested by anyone (or was he?), the first time we’ve seen him legitimately off his game. It’s fitting that the Narrator says that Morel realized subconsciously when the attack started that he’d underestimated the enemy, because I think we have as well. Youpi’s ability to adapt and learn on the fly was shockingly rapid, Pitou’s sudden ability to step outside himself and view the situation from a higher perspective was shockingly unexpected, and then there’s Shaiapouf.
If there’s a headline this week, it’s the arrival of Pouf as a true force. His overwrought panic attacks and neurotic tics made it easy to dismiss him as the weak link in the Royal Guard, but he’s turned out to be far more formidable than expected, both mentally and in terms of pure Nen power. His “Beelzebub” ability is insanely strong (I could see a possible case that it’s too strong, in dramatic terms) – he can create up to billions of tiny copies of himself, an ability which he was using to escape Smoky Jail right under Morel’s (massive) nose. I sensed something was wrong here, so did most new viewers I’m guessing, and Morel certainly did too. His ultimate decision – to attack the cocoon and bring down Smoky Jail, which he now assumes is useless – seems like it’s playing right into Pouf’s hands. But it may just have been the best of several bad options.
The net result of Morel’s decision is that he’s freed Pouf’s original body to join his clones – which are are far weaker – outside. If Morel had waited it out he might have been able to crush Pouf’s body – shrunk to the size of a bee as a result of Beelzebub and hidden inside the cocoon – and put an end to him. As is Pouf and his clones are free to roam, and Morel allows himself to be Shanghaied by Pouf and his pipe stolen. But as a result of his decision, he’s now free to assist his subordinates, who’re in desperate need of assistance. Whether Morel subconsciously knew this was his only choice or it was merely good fortune at work is left to us to judge, but it’s probably a little of both.
When Morel finds him, Knuckle has just engaged Youpi again, enraged at having found Shoot to be missing. Morel fortunately knows his student better than anyone else, and has prepared for the contingency of Knuckle losing his cool, establishing a restriction that he’d only create angry clones of Knuckle when that happens, and that Knuckle could only act once he’d cooled down. Meanwhile Pouf’s little clones are performing recon far more effectively than Flutter’s dragonflies ever could – which is also a clever way of bringing us up to speed on what’s happening everywhere (except underground). Gon continues his standoff with Pitou, and Hina is headed underground with a wounded Bizeff in tow (she was ready to leave altogether but he tempted her to rescue him with the promise of treasure) and Welfin stalking them. Ominously, we see this cocoon Pouf says is a “human that was captured a few days ago” – we can assume the identity of that person – and is “about to hatch”. However, Pouf’s spy mission has inadvertently tipped off the enemy to the nature of his ability – Killua and Meleoron, unseen, have witnessed the tiny clones at work.
There’s one more wild card to be played here – who was it that moved Shoot, who was clearly too wounded to move himself? I’d been suspecting for a while that we’d see Knov find a way to insert himself into the conflict somehow – even in his reduced state the man still has a wealth of pride – and it appears that he rescued Shoot and brought him to a medical facility for emergency assistance. Judging by the looks of the place I’m assuming that before the battle started, Knov established a portal to another of his rooms where he’d set up Doctors with medical equipment, standing by in case one of the attack party needed it. That would, of course, mean that Knov must have mustered the courage to enter the inner sanctum of the palace itself in order to get to Shoot – and given the state he was in, that surely couldn’t have been easy for him.
To say that the state of play at the moment is in flux would be a huge understatement. Knuckle (thanks to the foresight of his boss) has landed another blow on Youpi, and I’m wondering if Potclean’s cumulative interest is finally reaching a critical stage as that battle seems to have turned against him. Morel has only his remaining Deep Purple puppets to fight with and no means to fight any other way unless he finds his pipe, and Meleoron and Killua are currently unaccounted for by either side. Pouf worries for Youpi but remains focused on the King, who much to his dismay has vanished. In fact it’s Pouf who seems to be the key player in determining the next major developments – he’s walked in on Gon and Pitou, who he sees is healing Komugi – the same Komugi Pouf loathes for what she’s done to his King. The perilous cease-fire between Gon and Pitou hangs by a thread, Pouf’s to destroy if he so chooses – but will he choose to? Or will he leave Pitou to follow his chosen course, and go off to locate his beloved master?