When literalism fails you, a writer must look elsewhere for means to get their point across. Togashi-sensei, Koujina and Madhouse keep pushing me, forcing the linguistic equivalent of Chimera-paced evolution in the effort to communicate how mind-bogglingly good this series is. And since Togashi himself turned to baseball for help back in Episode 89 (not to mention naming a bunch of the “Chimera Ant” cast after pitches) why not follow his example?
Here’s my reaction to this episode – an episode which, by the way, I’m certain will be met with a fair share of complaints from some viewers. Togashi is like a pitcher with a 100 MPH fastball. There are quite a few pitchers with great velocity, but not all of them are great or even good pitchers. What makes the great ones is the ability to mix it up – the keep the hitter guessing with a variety of pitches. There are a lot of hitters who can get the timing down even on a 100 MPH fastball if they know it’s coming, but when a pitcher is good enough to use that pitch only as a knockout blow, it’s that much more devastating.
Well, last week’s episode was definitely a 100 MPH fastball (curiously, the eps ending in “6” seem disproportionately to be the blockbusters). I don’t deny that would have been a great ep under any circumstances, but it’s Togashi’s versatility and ability to constantly keep the reader/viewer guessing that made it the all-time classic it was. And as always, Togashi backs up one pitch with a completely different one. He gives us a knee-buckling offspeed pitch to follow up the heat – a subtle and dark psychological musing that challenges our preconceptions about not just Hunter X Hunter, but storytelling itself. I know I’ll be in the minority in saying so, but I think I actually loved it just a hair more than last week’s.
For starters, we get a dose of the political satire that Togashi has slyly inserted into this arc numerous times. He paints a dark picture of “seeds” ready to bloom throughout the world because 80% of nations refused to destroy their existing stocks of the “Miniature Rose”, and tells us of terrorist attacks killing 100,000 people and 5.12 million lives having been lost to the device. This is here for its own sake, no doubt, but make no mistake – it’s also an important part of the larger, narratively insurgent theme of “Chimera Ant”. This is in part what Netero’s final words to the King were all about, and part of a larger assault by Togashi that demands we re-examine our assumptions about this story both on the small and large scale.
The scene then turns back to the ruined palace, where Gon continues his staredown with Pitou and the other members of the Hunter party are coalescing. There’s a brief encounter between Knuckle and Pouf’s clone, the import of which is simple – whatever hope their was for a non-violent conclusion was destroyed with the blooming of Netero’s rose. That was part of the choice Netero made, and even Knuckle – surely the most conciliatory of all the Hunters party – can see that there’s no longer any chance to talk things out, even if he doesn’t know exactly what’s happened. Out in the wastelands, Pouf and Youpi have seen what’s happened, and immediately understood its import.
No moment in this arc is wasted – that should be clear now – and the critical callback here is to the conversation between Morel and Killua in Episode 85. That was a fascinating scene in so many ways, the introduction of Morel and Knov. Knov’s own words are foreshadowing to his future mental breakdown, making him sound hollow and arrogant (though I only realize this now) and Morel’s lecturing to Killua was quite controversial with viewers. But in light of events this week, I think they should be recounted in full, because they ring eerily true:
“Bozu… The minute you start talking about who can win in a Nen fight, you’re wrong… You can’t make assumptions based on the amount of aura displayed. The battle can turn at any time – that’s what fighting with Nen means. But regardless – you must always fight 100% certain of victory! That is a Nen user’s spirit. The moment you were overwhelmed by the opponent’s aura and fled, you were disqualified.“
There’s irony here simply in the fact that at the time, Morel seemed arrogant and Knov reasonable – but in hindsight it was Knov who was speaking vainly, and Morel simply telling Killua the hard truth. Would a 13 year-old Morel have been able to understand that lesson? No – but that’s a side issue, the main one being just how right he was. The scene between Gon and Pitou is the living, breathing proof of Morel’s words. Pitou’s aura may – hell, there’s no may about it – be stronger than Gon’s. But can anyone question that Gon is completely in control of the situation? He’s dominating Pitou in every way, dictating everything that happens – because of his absolute, unshakeable belief in himself and what he intends to do. He sees through every deception, he’s many moves ahead on the board – and despite Pitou’s advantage in Nen, he’s unable to change the dynamic. Gon owns him, despite being weaker in terms of pure power.
But this being Hunter X Hunter, even as fascinating as all that is, it’s not everything. For this Gon, dominating Pitou with the pure strength of his will, is a pretty terrifying figure. He betrays not an ounce of sentiment even as Komugi – who’s clearly a human, blind and terrified – wakes. Gon sees through Pitou’s stalling and orders a halt to Doctor Blythe immediately. When Pitou starts to request time for “after-care” Gon interrupts with a simple “The next time you try to delay me, I’ll kill her.” And whatever thoughts of betrayal run through Pitou’s mind, they’re immediately overwritten by the impulse to just do what the boy says.
There’s a question hanging over everything, of course, and it’s a remarkable one: would Gon truly kill Komugi if Pitou crossed him? It’s easy to say no, and that’s my instinctive answer – but Pitou certainly believes otherwise. And really, can we be sure? This is a main character like no other in an arc like no other in a series like no other, and even the uncertainty is a shocking thing. It’s a very strange scene, when Pitou finally relents and joins Gon to race towards Peijing and the waiting Kaitou. By this time the remaining members of the team have gathered and are watching (with Meleoron being cautiously held back in reserve), somewhat taken aback. Gon declines Knuckle’s offer to apply Hakoware to Pitou with a chilling “I trust Pitou…” and an order to “keep watch” on Komugi until he and Pitou return. Effectively, he orders that Komugi be taken hostage in order to keep Pitou in line. His final words: “I’m sure Pitou trusts me…”
This is some seriously dark stuff going down here. When Ikalgo asks Killua if he’s really OK with not following them, Killua replies “It’s OK – that was the plan all along. If I were to get captured, it would give Pitou the option of demanding a hostage exchange.” There have been many memorable lines of dialogue in this arc, but few more so than Knuckle’s internal monologue here: “Seriously… What have they been through, for their minds to work this way?” It sums up the situation and the series itself so perfectly – it tells us exactly who Knuckle is and why he’ll always be different from Gon and Killua, and it tells us just how atypical as “heroes” Killua and especially Gon are (and how Togashi has brilliantly flipped the impressions we’ve built of both of them on their heads). Again, it’s fascinating to try and decide how to view this situation. Is Komugi truly a hostage – would any of the others harm her, if Pitou betrayed Gon? Would Killua, most especially? It’s a disturbing, disquieting scene – Komugi, surrounded by the “good guys” in the cast who should be her rescuers, shivering in terror of them as she wishes only for the company of the Chimera Ant King.
Togashi and Koujina have one more curveball in the arsenal, one more assault on our emotions. Youpi and Pouf rush to the scene of the explosion – now a crater full of molten rock belching toxic smoke. Pouf is breaking down badly but Youpi is focused, enraged. He takes command, ordering Youpi to search the surrounding area as he descends into that very embodiment of Hell to search for the King’s body. And he finds it – a blackened, fossilized mass that looks curiously like an ancient Buddha statue. I’m not going to speculate about whether the King is as dead as he looks, but what stands out in the moment is the raw, terrible grief of Youpi and Pouf. Such is the nature of this arc that whatever has come before, we cannot possibly deny the sincerity of it – this is genuine, heartfelt mourning over someone these two strange and terrible creatures loved unconditionally. And that grief will now, surely, turn to rage and a desire for vengeance. The wisdom of Chairman Netero’s plan cannot possibly be judged yet – on every level it’s still being tested. Morally, ethically and strategically this arc offers us no easy answers, but a seemingly endless banquet of food for thought.