Hunter X Hunter really is the gift that keeps on giving. There’s seemingly no end to the ways it can entertain and astound me. To those who complain that “Chimera Ant” is too paced too slowly I can only ask – why? Why would you want something this brilliant to be any different, much less be over faster? Every episode is tense, exciting and gripping even if it only covers a few moments of real time – and a lot of them, like this one, are genuinely deep as well. If you haven’t figured out by now that the fights – as great as they are – aren’t the real point, maybe Togashi just isn’t your cup of tea.
There are some major plot advances this week, that’s for sure, and a fair amount of time spent dealing with the characters on the A-list (or at least the B-list). It’s an eventful ep, starting where the last one left off – with Shaiapouf walking in on the strange scene in between Gon and Neferpitou. Pitou is terrified about what might happen; Gon is cold and unwavering in his rage, Pouf quietly seething about what he sees unfolding. Pouf initially believes he could have killed Gon if Pitou hadn’t spoken up – Pitou quickly disabuses him of the notion that Gon was anything but completely aware of his presence. Gon may be seriously pissed off at the universe, but he’s dialed in – he’s fully in the moment now, and determined to get what he wants.
It’s really fascinating how each of the Royal Guard has completely defied expectations once the attack started (and in Pitou’s case, even before). Who would have believed we would see Pouf be the quiet and menacing one here, intent on killing the enemy, rather than rushing off to the King the moment he was free to do so? Or that Pitou would bargain and put everything on the line in order to save a human girl? These creatures really are a textbook of evolution at warp speed – clearly, none of them had any real sense of just who they were when all this started (especially so in Menthruyoupi’s case, as we’ll see later). They’re children – children blessed with ridiculous power but not with any context of the world in which to find their place and understand their existence. And that’s what makes them so fascinating.
Pouf initially tries to scam Gon by using his wing scales on him, but the boy will have none of that. Plan B is to pretend to play along while Pitou discreetly tips him off as to everything that’s happened, but even if Pitou is willing to risk that – which I have serious doubts about – Gon is too razor-sharp and too pissed at the moment to allow it. Pouf and Gon both are itching for a fight, it seems to me, and Pitou is the one caught in the middle and well aware of that. The situation in that room is unbelievably tense (“Just shut up” has never sounded more like a challenge) but that’s a tension that suffuses through the entire episode.
The scene between Killua and Meleoron is only a brief one, but it packs a lot of weight and reveals much about both of them. I wondered after Episode 117 just how much of what happened between Gon and Killua Meleoron had seen, and the answer is revealed here – he saw all of it, and none of the significance was lost on him. “I have everything under control.” Killua tells him – so classically Killua, the boy who desperately needs to convince himself that he always has things under control. Meleoron isn’t fooled for a moment. He knows how scared Killua is for Gon, and Meleoron – who I really believe is the kindest (to a fault, quite literally) being in this story, along with Knuckle – sees Killua as a kid in pain rather than just a powerful fighter and fellow soldier. But Meleoron – more so than Knuckle – seems able to suck it up and face painful realities in order to help the larger cause. He leaves Killua to his own devices and goes off the check on Knuckle and Morel.
This is where the meat of the episode plays out, and it’s some of the best material of the entire series. Youpi’s clock is ticking – Potclean will bankrupt his Nen in 3:50. But in this struggle that’s truly an eternity, and Morel is at the end of his strength. Youpi is systematically eliminating the last of his puppets and Morel has no way to generate more. Meanwhile Youpi is undergoing yet another transformation – his evolution, both physical and emotional, has truly been the most astonishing of the Royal Guard – as he finds a way to channel his rage by effectively splitting himself into two beings (manifesting as a kind of centaur with an extra oni head) and storing his rage as if it were in a gas tank. The last of the fakes is disposed of, and there’s nothing left between Morel – now too exhausted even to stand – and death.
But here, yet again, things take a surprising turn. Youpi affirms that he’s going to kill Morel, but makes it clear that he’s developed a profound respect for these enemies who continue to fight even when all seems hopeless. Developing at a staggering rate, Youpi has come to understand both the endless depth inherent in Nen and the power the enemies’ humanity has given them. He’s no longer the ant who kills the fly – he understands the difference between these enemies and himself, and how much of what defines him comes from the part of him that’s like them. This is what Knuckle wanted all along, really – an acknowledgement that the Hunters were an enemy that was worth killing once defeated. But just as Youpi is about to deliver the killing blow to Morel, Morel disappears – we know why, of course, but the surprising thing is just how correctly the seemingly simple-minded Youpi has deduced the nature of his opponents’ powers.
Meleoron has saved Morel, of course – but he wasn’t able to reach Morel before Youpi’s scythe deeply wounded him. Not even Perfect Plan can hide a trail of blood, and this makes tracking his opponent a simple matter for Youpi. Meleoron has already resigned himself to the reality that if Youpi moves to strike again he’ll have no choice but to leave Morel to die, but Knuckle scrambles the deck by revealing himself. He challenges Youpi to a straight-up fight, no more running, as long as he’ll let the others escape – but Youpi has leveled up intellectually way too much to fall for that uneven exchange. He’ll agree – but only if Knuckle pulls Potclean off him. Youpi may not know exactly what Potclean is, but he knows it’s the reason Knuckle has been doing so much time-wasting.
This is yet another incredibly tense moment, and we can basically watch everyone’s thought process playing out as it happens. Calling off Potclean would be a disaster, undoing all that’s been accomplished – Morel certainly knows it, but crucially, so does Meleoron. Kind, ultra-bro Meleoron knows the hard truth and he knows the risk of Knuckle taking Youpi’s deal, so he takes it upon himself to put an end to the situation – and to Morel – by revealing Morel’s presence. But this backfires, for the sight of the bleeding Morel is too much for Knuckle. To Morel’s anguish, he cancels Potclean and leaves everyone’s fate in Youpi’s hands.
This scene, I think, cuts to the very heart of what the Chimera Ant story really is – an exploration of humanity and of identity. The irony has never been lost on me that it was the humans that went into this final battle with great solidarity, while the supposed insects were each going their own way. Youpi seems to have had an epiphany here – he understands that in a very fundamental way he’s just become much more human, but not just that – he also grasps that he’s both gained and lost a great deal in the process. Youpi, who had less of a sense of self than any of the Royal Guard, now finds himself acting based on his curiosity about the creatures he’s fighting and their Nen and the respect he’s developed for them. The right decision if the welfare of the King is all that matters? Kill all three of them on the spot, without question. But Youpi doesn’t – he sticks to the deal he offered, even encourages Knuckle to get Morel to a doctor, and says he’s going off the find the King. He’ll fight them later, if they want – as equals.
It’s hard to know just what to make of all this. Perhaps, in the end, Knuckle wasn’t completely foolish after all – because he acted based on what he head Youpi tell Morel, which resonated with his sense of honor as a warrior. And he was vindicated by Youpi’s actions, though he’s still surrendered what amounts to likely the only chance to take Youpi down. It’s here that Knov appears again – looking utterly ravaged and ghastly, clearly terrified at being so close to the palace again but forcing himself to do what has to be done. It’s he who takes Morel away for treatment, just as he did Shoot, and he informs the others that Zeno has passed along a message – Netero’s plan has succeeded in isolating the King. Even if the Royal Guard left immediately, they would be too late.
In a sense, then, this is mission accomplished – and with both Morel and Knov effectively incapacitated, it’s left to Meleoron and Knuckle to decide their own course. There’s never a doubt for a moment that they’ll stay. There’s the unknown fate of Palm, of course, but they won’t allow themselves the luxury of worrying about her yet – there are still two Royal Guard in the palace, and two young boys whose mission there is not close to complete. For all Knuckle’s flaws lack of loyalty is obviously not one, and the inevitable pairing of the two ultimate bros is finally here – they’ll be whatever help to Gon and Killua that they can. As the standoff between Gon, Pitou and Pouf continues to balance on the knife’s edge of disaster, it seems that at long last we’re going to catch at least a glimpse of the two most powerful figures of all – and it will be interesting to see whether Nagai Ichirou’s voice still speaks for Netero, or whether the recording of next week’s episode already occurred too late.