There was pretty big news in the world of the Hunter X Hunter anime this week, though it’s of the unofficial variety and thus may qualify more as “highly feasible hearsay” than news. Abiru Takahiko (one of the animation directors on Hunter X Hunter) tweeted in Japanese, apparently stating that the “Chimera Ant” arc will be ending at episode 135 (and when this caused a bit of a panic after being mistranslated – or at least misinterpreted – clarified that it was the arc that was ending, not the anime).
If this is true that gives us 11 more episodes of the current arc – which would somewhat ominously mean it would end on the 23rd of June. However, readers of the manga seem to feel that one cour would be about right for the chapters that follow this arc, and that combined with Abiru’s follow-up tweet leaves me thinking it’s more likely that the anime will end – or suspend – after the Summer cour than any other scenario. In any event we’re at the point of having to confront the end of this magnificent arc and series at last, it seems, and that never gets any easier for me. Awash in a pretty good batch of new premieres, it’s still striking how even the best of the new shows usually pale in comparison to this one that’s been our constant companion for the last two and a half years. There’s anime, and then there’s Hunter X Hunter.
Last week gave us a spectacular (though that didn’t stop the ingrates from carping) episode with two C-listers, Welfin and Ikalgo. At long last we return to one of the pillars of the series, Killua, and in the process answer a number of questions that have been hanging for a long time. There was a time when I counted the minutes every time Gon and Killua disappeared for a while, but it’s a testament to the strength of “Chimera Ant” that I no longer even think about it – I’m completely bought in and willingly go wherever Togashi takes me. That doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to see them again, though. Togashi has removed Gon from the action to a staggering degree in recent months, slowly building to the point where the main character’s story will finally take center stage again and no doubt feel even more special because it’s been drawn out for so long.
Killua is a supporting character – albeit the main supporting character in H x H – but in many ways, he’s more approachable than the lead is. Gon is my favorite character in this series but there’s an alien quality to him that’s undeniable – he simply thinks and feels differently than a normal person would. Killua, for all his absurd strength, bizarre family life and history of violence, makes a much easier stand-in for the audience. His feelings are more like what most of us would experience in his shoes, and he wears his emotions far more openly (it’s a fascinating contrast between the two boys in that when Gon breaks down it generally manifests in rage, while with Killua it’s grief). One of the many things I love about Killua is that he experiences and expresses fear in a quite normal way. When he’s in a situation that should freak him out, he gets a little freaked out. He worries, he grieves, he doubts himself – and he still has a child’s fragility to him. Gon does too, but in his case you have to squint a little harder sometimes to see it.
We join Kil this week (after half an hour has passed since the attack began) as he’s recharging (literally), presumably intent on re-joining Gon as soon as he’s ready to fight. But he senses the presence of someone watching him, forcing a change of plans. The aura is familiar and unsettling, and of course by now we all know who the watcher is. Killua figures it out soon enough, and while there’s an understandable caution in him at realizing this strange apparition before him is Palm, he almost immediately decides he needs to get to the truth of the matter – for Gon’s sake. There’s a battle of wits between the two of them – which is as much Killua battling himself as anything – before he decides that she’s definitely an enemy, and refuses to tell Palm where Gon is.
Killua really is heartbreakingly consistent. He’s always, always thinking of Gon first – there are times when I think he gives Gon too little credit and is too protective of him (and this may be one), but that it comes from love is undeniable. While it isn’t especially brutal this is one of the toughest fights of the arc to watch, because it’s so clear from the beginning that Kil is unsettled and off his game. His heart isn’t in fighting Palm because that means being prepared to kill her, and he knows that even if she is now an enemy her death would be a terrible blow to Gon. With her new Black Widow ability she’s got him overmatched in his current state, and Killua is reduced to stalling for time in an effort to keep himself standing and Palm occupied, rather than free to hunt for Gon.
There’s a lot that can taken from the moments that follow, which amount to a complete submission from Killua – to Palm’s mercy, and to his own vulnerability. It must be said that while Ise Mariya is very good here as Killua (and Inoue Kikuko is – as usual – superb as Palm), watching it more than anything made me appreciate how great Han Megumi was in portraying Gon’s emotional crisis in Episode 116 – there’s just no comparing the two performances in terms of intensity and emotional depth. That said, this scene is is still a powerhouse, and if you feel nothing for Killua here you likely never will for anyone in this series. What starts out as an act to stall for time becomes a helpless plea from a boy who feels helpless to do anything to help his friend except plead for help from someone who can – even knowing that other person could be an enemy that will kill him right then and there. It’s an act of pure loyalty and friendship, and also the act of someone who’s grown exhausted with the burdens he’s had to carry.
This is harsh stuff, I’ll tell you. We’ve seen Killua break down before, but never so openly admit his own weakness. He’s just a child who just wants someone to help him for once – and the help he wants is for his friend, not himself. For Palm’s part, she was unstable even before Pitou and Pouf got their hands on her so really, you’d have to expect her to be a mess now. The details of their experiment are ugly but not entirely unexpected – to create super-soldiers who retain their memories of their humanity, but not their emotions. It fits the developments of “Chimera Ant” perfectly, because a central theme of this story has always been the way the humanity that survives in the chimera ants is both a strength and a weakness, and how it’s changed their species in incalculable ways.
That Pouf and Pitou would want to try and mine the benefits of the human connection without the baggage is unsurprising, but it’s no less so that it fails. Humans are simply too complex – maybe this would have worked on a less complicated human (maybe it already did in a sense, as we learn that Leol and Cheethu were earlier attempts) but I doubt it. In the moment Palm literally has Pouf in his chibi embodiment on her shoulder, urging her to kill Kil (he refers to her as “Number One”) but Killua’s heart-wrenching sadness breaches the wall Pitou’s Doctor Blythe built in her mind. It’s vindication too for those of us (and I put Gon in this category as well as myself) who felt all along that in spite of her treacherous instability, Palm was a good person at heart. And now she throws off Pouf’s avatar and declares her independence from his control, and tells Killua that she’ll do all she can to help – but that in the end, Killua is the one that really matters most to Gon. Killua knows this already, of course – but it’s clear that after the ugliness of the last time he and Gon were together, he needed a reminder.
What a fascinating scenario we’re left with now, and while eleven episodes is a long time it feels like a heartbeat in which to give closure to this immense powerhouse of an arc. Palm will, presumably, go to Gon and try to reach him in his dark place. Meanwhile, things have played out to the point where virtually all of the chimera ants – even Neferpitou – have become sympathetic in some way, except Shaiapouf. The one who was once the most innocuous of the bunch seems to be revealed as a venal and vindictive psychopath who’s willing to do anything to build a paradise to share with his King – and now that seems not even to include the other Royal Guards, who he’s decided (not without good reason, from his perspective) are untrustworthy. This never seemed like a simple, straightforward fight – but it’s developed into one of the most morally ambiguous and nuanced in shounen history.