Hunter X Hunter 2011 – 123

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Togashi Yoshihiro continues to be the sorting hat of mangaka. with the help of Madhouse and Koujina-sensei.

This is a landmark episode of Hunter X Hunter, though only for personal reasons.  It’s the first time in at least a year (to be honest I can’t remember the last time) that I delayed viewing an episode by a day.  I’ve been traveling all week and by the time I got home last night I was simply too exhausted to give the show its due.  The worst part of being an anime blogger for me is that when I go on trips or have friends in town, I always feel guilty about ignoring the blog or falling behind and either shortchange whatever I’m doing or feel bad about not doing so, and end up hugely backlogged (which I am now).

I’m still exhausted and the backlog doesn’t even enter the conversation until after H x H, but I can only hold off for so long.  It’s a measure of my great regard for this series that it’s always leapfrogged to the top of my list no matter what else is released at the moment, and what else is happening in my life.  It’s just that good.  But not everybody feels that way, and they aren’t shy about saying so.  For the first half of this show’s run, it was the constant drumbeat of abuse from fans of the 1999 series by Nippon Animation.  Once the Madhouse version lapped that one that chorus of caterwauling died off, and things were pretty quiet during “Greed Island” and the first part of the “Chimera Ant” arc.  But we have a new symphony of complaint (how much of it from the same viewers, I wonder?) in recent months, and it regards the unorthodox pacing and narrative style of the recent stages of “Chimera Ant”.  I guess it just wouldn’t be Hunter X Hunter if no one bitched for too long.

What to make of the drumbeat of criticism for an arc I consider to be among the finest in anime history?  The temptation here is to simply say “pearls before swine” and dismiss it – the disconnect between my view of an anime and the contrary position has probably never been more complete.  But that’s too easy, and while there are limits to how much I can empathize with a view I so strongly disagree with (there are times when the criticism genuinely, utterly baffles me) I can at least say that Togashi-sensei seems to be almost gleefully challenging his fans.  Make no mistake, this is a Togashi issue and not an adaptation one – usually we hear carping about anime which take liberties with source material, but now people are complaining because Madhouse is being too faithful.

Episodes like this one are certainly a case in point.  While there’s relatively little from the Narrator, Togashi takes his usual approach (seriously, aren’t you used to it by now?) of turning the camera away from the glamor shot just as it’s about to peak.  He once again turns to the C-List, Ikalgo, and Koujina devotes the entire episode to one scene – the faceoff between Octobro and Welfin in the guards control room.  It’s an utterly gripping scene, reveals much about the deeper meanings of this conflict, human and chimera nature and the specifics of the plot – but it’s one scene, basically an Off-Off-Broadway one act play while the choruses and dancers are going crazy a few blocks away.  It takes real balls to move the story here, and real balls to adapt it as is rather than choose an either path, and I fully understand why some people are disgruntled by that.

But I wouldn’t change a thing.  I don’t love Togashi because he skilfully does what everyone else does – I love him because he does what no one else does, because they can’t.  In for a penny in for a pound, and it’s the obsessive fixation on every detail, on major and minor characters alike and the subtlest wrinkles of the brain that makes this arc so spectacular.  For me it’s the fact that Togashi and Koujina not just give us so much depth with characters like Ikalgo and Welfin but make me care about those details that makes Hunter X Hunter an all-time classic.  The King and The Chairman will still be there when we get back – and by the way, how much of that main character have we seen for the last two months?

At heart, “Chimera Ant” is really a study of identity and the nature of humanity.  I’ve commented on that extensively, but I think this ep is really there to color in between those lines. Ikaklgo shows his weakness by being so distraught over showing mercy that he misses the crucial moment when Welfin sneaks Bizeff and Hina past him.   But he then shows his strength when Welfin then surprises him, ordering him to offer no resistance and answer questions or be killed.  Octobro immediately offers resistance, fully expecting to die – for as unwilling as he is to take anyone else’s life, he’s readily willing to offer his own rather than endanger his buddies by living.  Ikalgo excoriates himself as a coward, but he’s not – he’s simply (like Knuckle, if perhaps even more so) too compassionate for his own good.  Welfin launches his “Missile Man” attack, but by not responding to Welfin’s challenges Octobro has unwittingly neutered it to some extent.  Not so much, however, as to avoid getting black centipedes under his skin – centipedes which respond to his resistance by inflicting severe pain.  Definitely one of the grossest Nen abilities we’ve seen so far.

It’s not just Ikalgo about whom we learn much here, but Welfin too – and in doing so, about the nature of the conflict itself and those engaged in it.  What I love about Welfin and his story is how internally consistent it is – he’s like a Shakespearean character in a way, one that’s always hoist by his own petard.  Over and over again Welfin’s (it even sounds Shakespearean) tale hinges on his paranoia and self-glorification, and it’s had a major impact on the story. Here we see that his Nen ability reflects him perfectly – it reflects his anger, his inability to trust, and his Achilles heel.  And when Octobro defies Welfin’s worldview by his selflessness – his willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends – Welfin basically suffers a spiritual collapse and goes on TILT.  As Ikalgo endures the agony of the centipedes he inflicts non-fatal wounds on Welfin, over and over, and Welfin increasingly panics.  It’s a surprisingly gut-wrenching scene to watch.

Not content merely with stripping these two of all their artifices, Togashi also uses them to shine a light on the entire “Chimera” story.  What’s the one question Ikalgo chooses to ask Welfin once he’s fully mastered him?  “Do you remember anything from before you died?”  Ultimately, humans are so different than any other creature the Chimera Ants have assimilated that the fateful moment when their shock troops encountered those villagers was the key to forever altering their very nature (and possibly their downfall, though it’s too soon to say).  There’s a durability to the human condition that exceeds the Chimera ability to assimilate it – it’s not just a shrike’s instinct to impale its prey or cheetah’s need for speed that survives, but the existential essence of humanity itself.  The curiosity, the empathy, the petty cruelty, the need to be loved – it’s exceeds the ability of Phagogenesis to suppress.  In a sense it’s like the classic sci-fi plotline of a virus being uploaded that exceeds the ability of an evil computer to process – though the ultimate result here is still very much to be determined.

What we’re left with is that instead of a group with an unbreakable hive mind, the Chimera Ants are now even more individualistic than humans, because their human individualism is combined with the other part of them that comes from a huge range of species.  For Welfin, finally being forced to reflect on his personal situation reveals a surprising amount of introspection – he sees the essential truth of the way Nen abilities reflect the nature of their wielders.  His memories are revealing, and not just of himself – he remembers his hardscrabble childhood in the NGL, and the “non-biological” brother who was his only salvation.  That was Gyro, one of the great unknowns of this arc, and Welfin expresses a desire to see Gyro one more time.  Where does that mysterious figure – who had an entire episode dedicated to his past – fit into this fabulously elaborate puzzle?

There’s one more important result of this facedown – Welfin finally reveals to Ikalgo what’s happened to Palm.  She is indeed the one in the cocoon – and Welfin says that the Royal Guard referred to her as “Number 1”.  That’s ominous to say the least (one might theorize she was intended to become the King’s mate), and so is Palm’s new appearance when we finally see her.  It’s yet another wrinkle in this massively complicated story, and one whose ramifications are impossible to ascertain yet – the union of human and ant produces complicated results, and Palm is complicated even by human standards.  That human element seems to come increasingly over time, and time is the one thing the good guys (though that term is becoming increasingly elastic) don’t have.  We know know where all the major pieces are at last, and that feels like a watershed moment in the story – and I’m glad Togashi and Madhouse had the conviction to bring us to this point with such a challenging and unconventional episode.

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  1. S

    I agree with you fully on the bold choices made by Togashi. One thing: adapting this chapter now was, in fact, Madhouse's choice. In the manga, at this point, the King vs Netero fight continues for a couple of chapters, while it seems to me that Madhouse has decided to keep those for a longer future focus on that scene while it unravels these other hanging threads. Not a bad choice imho, and contributing to build up tension for the fight rather than break it in the middle out of nowhere.

  2. S

    Not going to point out how I might know this for the sake of avoiding any remote spoiler, but the HxH anime will continue on through the Spring cour. =) (In case there's still any concern over this tidbit.)

  3. Thanks (for being cautious too) – it's already on the published schedules for NTV so I wasn't too worried, especially as it was obvious they weren't close to an ending. I think the real question is whether Spring will be it, or we get another cour after that. I'll ask everyone to avoid spoiling, but I know broadly there should be enough of this arc for most of this cour, but probably not more than that. I did hear a rumor that Parasyte would be taking over the slot in October, but I have no idea if there's anything to it.

  4. S

    You know… While I wasn't in the vocal group that hated the Chimera arc, there have been times where I've been baffled by Togashi and Madhouse's choices to just divert the story to another, entirely unrelated scene, and do a constant switch back and forth.

    The one thing though, that keeps me engaged is that nothing Togashi presents is ever boring. Its not like he's delaying the meat of the story, its just like the man is dying to tell too much story, and tries to cramm in as much detail as possible.

    Honestly, I'd like to stay with the Netero/King battle, but I can't deny that what I saw this episode wasn't engaging. It was engaging, surprising, tense and emotionally charged. Its good entertainment, great character work, and great storytelling.

    Honestly, I've stopped caring about the ending, because for Hunter x Hunter, the journey, the little moments where minor characters become almost like protagonists of their own little bubble of the story, are what make Hunter x Hunter such a joy to watch.

    So yes, in short, I agree with you, but I can also see how this isn't a show for everyone. Only people who truly appreciate nuance and depth in characters, story and have patience can truly appreciate what's happening here.

    If that's a minority, then I'm proud to be in that minority. XD

  5. I don't know if it's a minority or not, but what amazes me is that it isn't a virtual unanimity – that's how disconnected I feel from much of the criticism.

    The only issue I really take with your comment is that I don't think this is too much story – it's exactly the right amount. Would it be too much in the hands of a lesser writer/director? Sure – but this isn't a lesser writer and director. I like the fact that we get virtually unprecedented numbers of fleshed-out characters and details. I can get good conventional storytelling a decent chunk of the time – where else can I get this?

  6. R

    Games of Thrones

  7. Yes, I agree to an extent, though the difference in actual volume of material is so vast that it's almost an unfair comparison. Togashi has to be a lot more judicious in his composition given the limitations of his medium.

  8. R

    I would disagree on the limitation of the medium, seeing as that GoT has the disadvantage of being a live action show and is therefor far more limited then an anime with all the work that has to go into Costumes, building of believable props, getting filming rights from local authorities etc.
    Not to mention the problems that arise with the aging of the younger actors which forces them to bring out new seasons at a far tighter schedule before they become to old for their Roles.
    Also sudden death amongst the cast poses a far bigger issue for a non animated show. Replacing someone like Neteros Voiceactor isn’t as difficult compared to lets say, replacing Tywin Lannister. The first can be done without the Audience noticing if the necessary Talent is there. As for the second, no matter how much talent the replacement has People would still notice.

    So to sum it up, I think the HxH Anime as to face far less limitations and problems of the medium compared to GoT.

  9. Well I was referring to the book vs. the manga, actually.

    If you want to take about the adaptations, I really think we get into apples and oranges territory. Yeah there are issues HBO faces here, as you expect. But they also have possibly the largest budget of any TV series in history, and at least 7 seasons to tell their story. I think each medium faces a unique set of challenges, but the real point for me was in construction of the story itself – which amounts to the manga and the novel format. And there, I think Togashi has a tougher environment than Martin in which to try and tell a story of this scope and depth.

    I'd also add that as GoT has gotten deeper into the story, in my personal view Martin does in fact start to run into some pacing issues, and some of the characters arcs begin to drag quite a bit.

  10. A

    My main complain is about using Tomoko Mori here and not in the Meruem vs Netero episode. She is, by far, the best animator. Koujima and his decisions…

  11. h

    there are 2 pages who have been cut about gyro,I don't think you will be spoiled if you read them and I dont think Madhouse will go back to them

    on another note,yeah,I'm furious about wasting tomoko mori on this episode,dont get me wrong I loved it but now we probably arent gonna get netero vs king with Hisoka vs gon quality

    -also how the episode plays out depends on the episode director not the series director

  12. h

    forget to say don't delay the HxH review again :D,I kept checking every hour,I love your review that much 😀

  13. M

    On the contrary I think Madhouse WILL go back to them…at the opportune moment.

    I'm not furious. First of all, I seriously doubt that Madhouse will put anything less than the best for Netero vs the King. Second of all, with the way things are looking Madhouse is likely to "delay" Netero vs the King. So maybe we'll get Mori after all.

    Also this is just me and my wishful thinking but a hour long episode–would be REALLY nice for Netero vs the King. Really nice.

  14. h

    I wont go much into that to avoid spoilers ,hopefully Madhouse will surprise me

  15. S

    If they did something special for Morel vs Leol (Bringing in Hidehiko Sawada for that fight), I don't think Netero vs The King would be such an exception.

  16. b

    I find it unfathomable that people could not enjoy this anime, but, for those who don't, I honestly imagine it hangs on one detail. Most people who like this style are most likely harking back to DBZ and the animes that follow its lead. This makes this point even more humorous as this entire ark is in large part an homage to DBZ, but with one major deviation/advancement. Togashi isn't organizing his theme on the fights themselves. This store isn't about the world being in danger and a hero rising up to stop it. That is still an element, but it might as well be circumstantial. The entire organizing principle is humanity itself and its power to endure with all its neurosis. Desire: of friendship, power, knowledge. Fear: of the other, of death, of loss, of oneself. Of Transformation and of Identity. Thematically I'd say it has more in common with Ghost in the Shell than DBZ, and if you can see this organizing principle than it makes perfect sense where the camera is taking us, because Togashi is asking questions, and it is character above plot that he's using to examine those questions. Anyway, that's my loose interpretation. Let me know if I'm wrong.

  17. w

    You know, I think I was more enthralled by these 'bit players' than I was by Netero vs. The King. I think HxH is at it's best when it's doing these psychological battles, and Welfin and Octobro are both goldmines. The fact that they doubt and second-guess themselves so often makes them a far more compelling watch, IMO.

    I'm curious as to Welfins motives for helping Hina and Bizeff here. It doesn't seem like he'd just smuggle them out without seeing something to gain from it. Did he plan on catching up to them as soon as he had dealt with Ikalgo, and make them his subordinates?

    Poor Palm though, 'the new queen' is pretty much exactly the conclusion I've come to as well. But, what is she? She's clearly not an ant in the same way as all the others, she's like a hybrid. A completely new breed altogether. I just hope she maintains her sense of self.

    Also, Enzo: you're only human. I think in general we understand that you have a life outside of blogging, you don't have to worry so much about being late every so often. You should be able to enjoy your real-world life without feeling guilty.

  18. We actually had a meeting between Welfin and Bizeff a few episodes ago, and I thought it made it pretty clear what Welfin's motives were. He's a self-serving guy, and he saw getting in on Bizeff's good side as a chance to cash in later in terms of power and influence.

  19. C

    Heh "Togashi-sensei seems to be almost gleefully challenging his fans." If Level E is anything to go by I think the better word is TROLL. In fact that's the very word I uttered the same moment I was suddenly hit by teary eyes over the pretty dam terrible bastard Welfin. No way Togashi would have made it this far if there wasn't some perverse pleasure in surprising his readers. Thank godness for that. Also thanks as always for your reviews Enzo i'm really amazed you didn't take a short break from here for your real life break.

  20. S

    Togashi sensei is but a pseudonym. In reality, this is all the work of Baka-Ouji.

  21. G

    TonyTonyStak(Mal): the anime subtitles say: "Missile man only works with a question, otherwise it's null and void"
    That's incorrect, the manga says: "My attack is reactionary, so it requires strategy"

    Technically, the subs did not mistranslate, they just made it confusing. What's null and void is not the missiles (as in blank shots), but the whole point of the attack is to extract information, they only activate upon reaction, so they will never, ever draw first blood, which is a great disadvantage.

  22. S

    This is why I want the anime to get a broad release! Crunchyroll's subtitles just seem bland in a way…

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