Among the many things I must credit Togashi and Koujina-sensei with, it seems one is temporal manipulation, because there’s no way in hell that was 22 minutes. In terms of real-time it seems as if this might have been one of the more stretched-out episodes in recent weeks, but just as those episodes that only covered 15 seconds did, this one felt like it was over as soon as it started. Compounding that is my own like of time at the moment, forcing me to rush through this already-delayed post when I feel like I should spend hours writing it. This episode was unbelievably deep.
And tense. Boy, was it ever, even by this arc’s standards. I suppose we need to start by talking about Ginga Banjou, the 65 year-old seiyuu stalwart who had the unenviable task of stepping into the late Nagai Ichirou’s shoes in portraying Netero starting with this episode. I won’t say “replace” because you can’t replace someone like Nagai-san – but the show, as they say, must go on. For my part there was definitely an initial disconnect – how could there not be? But the highest compliment I can pay Ginga-san (and the writer and director) is that by the end of the episode I wasn’t thinking about the change, only the moment. Ginga’s Netero isn’t an impersonation of Nagai’s, which is a good thing. He projects just as much stature and power, but to my ears with a bit of a harder edge – there was a whimsical note to Nagai’s Netero that I didn’t hear in Ginga’s (yet). That said, the situation hardly called for it. It’s a sad moment for Hunter X Hunter, but despite that I think this ep showed Netero is in good hands with Ginga-san.
Ginga could hardly have asked for a tougher moment to take over – talk about needing to hit the ground running. This was a watershed episode for Netero’s character, not just the first time we’ve seen he and the King in many weeks but the first time (apart from “The Last Mission”) where we’ve seen him display his true ability. If you were thinking the same about the King, you’d be mistaken – but how could it be Togashi without a major event surprising us? Apart from defense, the King showed none of his real power, and things – as usual – took a very different direction that the one we might reasonably have expected.
There’s only a very brief look-in on the scene between Gon, Pitou and Pouf – and during it Gon utters not a sound. Pitou tells the truth, making sure to include information new to Gon to keep him focused on the narrative and not Pouf. Pitou accomplishes two things here – tipping off Pouf as to the King’s general whereabouts (“He left through that doorway”) and making Gon waver – just a bit – in his certainty that he’s got the enemy figured out. We’re seeing this motif play out over and over – each side being forced to reconsider the nature of the other. It’s driven by the incredible mental and emotional evolution of the Royal Guard and even the other Chimera Ants – their outlook changes as they develop, and that development changes the way the Hunters and their allies see them.
We know, of course, what Shaiapouf will do here – send a little of himself (6/7 in fact, needing only 1/7 to maintain his facade for Gon) to search for the King. On the way he spots Menthuthuyoupi on his own (quite deliberate, it seems to me) way to do the same. There occurs what can only be called a tense staredown between the two of them – Pouf is pretty freaked out that both of his colleagues seem to have changed substantially (“You’ve grown up” he mutters to Youpi), and of course, no one has changed more or more quickly than Youpi. Youpi is afraid, too – afraid of how quickly his perspective is evolving, and how much less certain of things that makes him. He agrees with Youpi’s resolve that what they must do is immediately go to the King, but it’s clear that the relationship among the Royal Guard has been fundamentally altered, likely for good.
That tense staredown is nothing compared to the one between Netero and the King, though. Here we see the depth to which Komugi has changed the King – “You humans were as mere livestock to me, but now I see that there are some humans worth keeping alive.” He ranks Netero among that group, offering to spare his life – an offer Netero obviously cannot except – and not only that, refuses to fight him. This is the fascinating and unexpected nature of the showdown Togashi has given us – the King sitting down and refusing to fight, leaving Netero to try and goad him into battle rather than engaging in a frank philosophical discussion. There’s no seeming possibility that this could be a ploy by the King – such trickery simply seems utterly beneath him. He sees no point in fighting someone who cannot defeat him, and no has no desire to kill someone he deems worthy of sparing and of possible future value to him.
It’s hard to overstate just how strange and compelling this encounter is. Netero curses internally at the “newborn brat” in front of him, and indeed, that’s exactly what the Chimera are. He uses the same thought process we saw Youpi use only moments before – he must act quickly because if he doesn’t, his own resolve will waver. The King’s words are cold, seemingly emotionless, but cut straight to the point. What the sense in preserving a world where children starve because of a line on a map, while scum live a life beyond the dreams of avarice while doing nothing to deserve it? “I shall crush that madness, and create a world so fair that equality has no meaning. I have learned what power is meant to be used for… To protect the weak that deserve to live. Power is not meant to be used to torment the defeated!”
Wow – just wow. This isn’t simple anymore – but the truth is, it was never simple. The seeds of what we’re seeing now were planted months ago, near the beginning of this arc, but to think that they would bear such fascinating fruit as they have is truly remarkable. Netero is, by his own admission, in a difficult position. He’s a peaceable man by nature and he’s been asked to do dirty work and take the blame for it, yet he sees no means of accommodation with the enemy before him. He plows ahead before his resolve can waver too much, and we finally see the true nature of Netero’s Nen ability – the “100-type Guanyin Bodhisattva“. This is the result of the years of devotional silence and isolation we saw depicted many weeks ago – the fruit of a lifetime of mastering his own thoughts and emotions and grooming the strength inside him, a terrible and awesome power. And it has so impact on the King whatsoever, apart from a bit of a bloody lip.
In all my years of watching anime and reading manga, “You will only influence me by using words” may be the most fascinating battle cry I’ve heard. This is a showdown like none other, a complete rejection of shounen convention and a direct challenge both to the heroes and the audience. Netero is resolute – he’ll fight rather than talk, and we’re asked to root for the man who chooses violence over dialogue against the monster who’s changed so much in so little time and now refuses to fight. The wily old Hunter has one more trick up his sleeve – he knows the King’s name, and the King may only be able to learn it from Netero if in fact the others who know have already been killed. This information Netero uses to coax the King into fighting – the challenge to defeat Netero without killing him, in which case he’ll tell what he knows. For the second time in a few weeks, Madhouse and Togashi have given us a long-awaited showdown that’s both confounded and exceeded expectations in every way – and the though of waiting a week for what feels like a few seconds of reward is sheer torture.