I’m very, very reluctant to try and dig into the deeper meaning of what we saw… It will simply invite a flood of spoilers, some tagged, some disguised as jokes or hints, some just laid out for all to see. I have my own notions about all that, but I’m going to stick mostly to what we saw on screen and the symbolism of it.
And here we are.
It’s fair to say I pretty much expected Meruem to be alive. Let’s be honest – it doesn’t make a lot of sense to kill off the top boss ten episodes before the end of the story – even for a maverick like Togashi. And as much poetry and symbolism as there was in Chairman Netero’s actions (rife with contradictory moral and ethical implications to a staggering degree), that just didn’t feel like the way The King was going to go out. But wow – Togashi and Madhouse sure pulled out all the stops bringing him back. That was…. out there.
I hardly know whether to start with the implications of this development (both for the past and future) or the development itself. I suppose it makes sense to start with the latter. We’ve seen some pretty edgy stuff from Hunter X Hunter before, especially since the beginning of “Chimera Ant” – acts of unspeakable violence, children being terrorized and killed – but for outright ballsy outrageousness it would be hard to beat the first ten minutes of this episode.
In essence (no pun intended – I was going to say “in a nutshell” but that would have been even worse) what we saw was Shaiapouf and Menthruyoupi feed themselves to The King. But it was so much more than that – it was graphic, it was homoerotic, it was loud and long and absolutely unapologetic. The soundtrack of orgiastic moaning and screaming from the seiyuu alone (honestly, it’s almost impossible to believe this is really the normally comatose Hatano Wataru) must surely have made the scene even more impactful than it was in the manga. If there were any worries Madhouse was going to tone down anything in this arc, I would think this would put them to bed and turn out the lights.
Truthfully, I’m not sure if I believe it was absolutely necessary to take things quite this far – it speaks of a certain amount of mischievous defiance from Togashi and Koujina as much as anything. But the effect is undeniable – make no mistake about it, Meruem inspires absolute loyalty among his followers (the Royal Guard, in any case). Even as Meruem himself is moderating his views (more or less) we can see that for the R.G. this is effectively a cult of personality. The intense jealousy of Pouf and Youpi as they compete with each other to see who The King finds more delicious is testament to just how unreservedly and passionately his elites love him, and an ominous reminder of the lengths they (most obviously Pouf) will go to in order to jealously hoard his love.
All of this is contrasted with the increasingly Buddha-like imagery of Meruem himself as he ingests his followers, becomes shrouded in golden light and eventually begins to regain his strength. The Meruem that emerges is dramatically different from the one that fought the duel with Netero, in ways whose import we cannot yet begin to judge. He’s developed a taste for this food, delicious beyond all others – how will that play itself out? We’ve already seen the impact this has on Pouf and Youpi – presumably there’s a finite amount of themselves they can feed to Meruem. He’s lost much of his memory, though it seems as if that’s largely or entirely a temporary impact. And he’s come back even stronger than before, having survived humanity’s best shot, emerging from his charred cocoon with elements of both Youpi and Pouf’s powers, seemingly.
Let’s consider that one. The King was already so strong that he survived what was effectively a nuclear explosion – what in the world can the Hunters or anyone else throw at him now that he’s even more formidable? Not only that, but this turn of events seems, on appearances, to have rendered Netero’s last act of self-sacrifice futile – a sad legacy for the old man, if indeed that turns out to be the case. Netero threw the best Nen attacks humanity had to offer and when those failed, turned to the most powerful of its mundane weapons of destruction. Surely that’s not the ending Netero had in mind for himself, but I wonder if he engaged the possibility that even the miniature rose would fail. He was an incredibly clever , experienced and meticulous man – I wouldn’t doubt he had some sort of contingency plan that he left behind just in case, but one wonders if this is simply a greater enemy that Netero had in him to defeat.
Indeed, I see one weakness with Meruem and one only – Komugi. Pouf sees it too – now that he and Youpi are linked to The King they sense his confusion directly – though petty jealousy is as much guiding his actions as that concern when he decides to take advantage of The King’s loss of memory to send his clone to the palace to kill her before Mereum has a chance to remember her. “It’s a gamble” Pouf muses – ya think? Pouf has proved himself a rash and fearless wild card, capable of almost anything – but there may come a time when it’s not only he that realizes Komugi is Meruem’s greatest (only?) weak spot. What would the “good guys” – the Hunter’s party – do with that information, once they realized it?
Those answers, for now, remain a matter of conjecture. Pouf’s plan, if it succeeds, will not do so smoothly – when his clone arrives back at the palace “two or three minutes” ahead of Meruem, Komugi is missing – along with Neferpitou and Gon – and the clone is attacked by a cloaked Knuckle. He slaps a Hakoware on clone Pouf’s ass, which promptly causes Potclean to appear behind the Pouf clinging to The King’s tail. Not only that, Palm, because of the fact that she’s seen Pouf before and her Ants-formation, can use her “Wink Blue” ability to see Pitou – and his clones – wherever they are. That means she now knows that Mereum is not only alive, but returning to the Palace at high speed.
It seems hard to envision any scenario now where Meruem can be beaten with physical force. That means if he is to fall – or at least be stopped from world domination – it’s going to have to be for another reason entirely. Persuasion, compassion, deception, despair – through some combination of these or other like factors Meruem is going to have to be compelled to effectively stop himself, because it’s more clear than ever that he’s the only one strong enough to do so. And there’s not a shadow of doubt in my mind that Komugi is the key to all of that, practically and existentially.