Hunter X Hunter 2011 – 130

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I just had to let that one sink in for a bit.

Normally the longer the buildup, the more likely the payoff is to be a letdown.  It’s an inevitable part of fiction of every stripe, anime not least.  But when you’re talking about Hunter X Hunter the normal rules just don’t seem to apply.  They don’t apply to Togashi’s writing choices, and they don’t apply to the execution of the series itself.  There really aren’t any standards to apply to H x H as far as shounen manga adaptations go anymore – none, that is, except for the ones it sets itself every week.

Every year since I started blogging I’ve given out a “Best Lead Actor” award for both genders, and although the year isn’t even half-over yet I can you it’s going to be hard for anyone to beat out Megumi Han in 2014.  It’s ironic in that Gon has actually been less involved than ever in terms of screen time, but Han (who’s been an honorable mention already) has taken her game to a new level.  This is career-making stuff – possibly yet another standard set by this adaptation, for female actors playing male roles in anime.  Between Episode 116 and this one, Han-san has shown incredible range, intensity and emotional honesty.  Not for the first or last time with this show, I’m sincerely in awe.

That episode – which would be on a very short list of best episodes in this series – is very much a bookend with this one, a spiritual twin.  That it’s taken 14 weeks to reach this point from that beginning (which was itself almost 40 episodes into “Chimera Ant”) is a sheer testament to how broad and deep this arc is, both in terms of story and character.  In effect Hunter X Hunter has taken the main character after his most intentional emotional moment in the series and left him for more than three months, with only very short and intermittent look-ins.  It’s ridiculously audacious and it creates an enormous amount of anticipation for the moment when he – and this plotline – finally re-take control of the narrative.

There is a bit more to the episode than that, although it’s the spectre of events in Peijing that dominates even the events hundreds of miles away.  Knuckle and Meleoron have lost themselves in the crowd outside the palace, watching Meruem’s return.  Ikalgo has gone back underground, looking for a recently deceased chimera ant to use as part of a plan whose details haven’t been revealed.  Killua and Palm (I’ve since read the chapter in question and indeed, the manga makes it pretty clear that he – wisely – knocked out Komugi himself) have turned back towards the palace with the intention of joining the crowd themselves, even as Pouf’s clones desperately search for the Gungi board and pieces in an attempt to hide them before The King sees them.

It should be noted that the background music for the return of The King is a new piece, and a great one – a really ominous mood-setter.  But what stands out here are the quiet moments between Killua and Palm.  Killua, it seems, has reached a better place of sorts – he’s found a sort of peace with himself, and it allows him to (albeit in a coltishly tsundere way) thank Palm and officially acknowledge her as a friend.  Palm, really, has seen more of Killua’s true self – the kindness, and the child’s vulnerability – than anyone else in the cast, even Gon (though he really doesn’t need to see it to know it’s there).  Palm seems so caught up in the moment that she momentarily loses focus on watching Gon and Pitou (who she’s following as part of her maximum three targets, as well as Killua and Pouf – and those accompanying them, including herself).  There’s also an interesting strategic debate here over whether Pouf’s unique nature makes him a good target for her to spy on, or a bad one.

Shaiapouf remains very much in his role of master manipulator, always hovering on the verge of panic but limitless in his ambition to control events and bend them to his will.  Having managed to secure and remove the evidence of Komugi’s presence he turns part of his attention to another matter – freeing Pitou from the “curse” of Komugi’s status as a hostage.  Using Welfin to make the call, he contacts Pitou (I confess a certain surprise that Gon didn’t detect the vibration of Pitou’s phone) pretending to be Komugi – a Komugi that’s been rescued by Welfin and Brovada and is now safe and sound.  This, in theory, frees up Neferpitou to betray Gon and kill him without fear of what might happen to the girl.

Much of what happens when Gon and Pitou reach the Peijing mansion where Kaitou is hidden is subject to a sizeable degree of interpretation, I think.  I think most of us suspected that whether Pitou desired to or not, there was probably nothing he could do for Kaitou – dead is dead.  Gon doesn’t know everything that we know (the head being removed, and such) but I suspect on some level he even knew this himself.  Is it respect that Pitou shows Gon in the way he asks the boy’s name, and breaks the news to him?  Is it pity, or gratitude for having allowed Pitou to heal Komugi and honored his vow?  Or is it merely a mocking kindness behind those words: “You listened to my request, so I will be honest with you.  He is… already dead.  His soul is no longer here – I am sorry.”

Again, this is a very strange place to take the main character at the moment of his greatest confrontation.  The Gon we see here is vulnerable in every sense of the word, truly devastated by what Pitou tells him.  Not only is this man he came to love dead, but Gon (at least a very large part of Gon) blames himself.  When the moment of his greatest conflict is seemingly upon us, Togashi chooses to remind us that Gon (like Killua) is still, for all his accomplishments, a child.  And what does Gon do when he learns of Kaitou’s true fate?  He pleads for help – from someone, anyone.  There are limits to what a child can endure without breaking down, and only a writer of Togashi’s fearless nature would highlight them in moments such as these.  He did it with Killua in his confrontation with Palm, and even more heartbreakingly with Gon here.

The execution of this scene is once again stunning, largely but not only thanks to Han Megumi’s performance (Fujimura Ayumi is also great here).  There’s minimal decoration in terms of music or effects – mostly we’re left to agonize as Gon does, and to witness the internal war raging between his two great impulses of the moment – despair and anger.  Despair is certainly the dominant emotion, and it brings with it a gut-wrenchingly innocent hope that somehow, some way, Kaitou could still be saved.  When Pitou brings out Doctor Blythe Gon desperately wants to believe that Kaitou is going to be healed after all, although he surely understands that Pitou has no such intention even before he starts healing his own arm instead.

This is a fascinating moment, among the most fascinating in a series full of them.  Wounded arm or not, it seems to me that Pitou – had he so chosen – could have ended Gon the moment he broke the truth to him.  Gon seemed utterly helpless in every sense, and while his instincts would surely have kicked in had Pitou attacked we’ve seen just what Neferpitou is capable of in combat mode.  That’s purely my opinion, of course, but Pitou has already surprised us in his response to Meruem’s plea to heal Komugi.  The endgame isn’t in doubt – Gon is a threat to The King and must be eliminated.  But as with everything in “Chimera Ant” nothing is simple or straightforward, including both what’s just occurred and what will happen next.  Just as the confrontation between Netero and Meruem was, that this strange dance between Gon and Pitou would lead us here has been inevitable – and utterly compelling.  And in the process, it’s taken the story and the hero to places no shounen has ever gone.

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28 comments

  1. G

    Narrator: "Even with all the noise echoing in the old castle…"

    gives a pretty believable reason to why Gon didn't hear the phone vibrating

  2. D

    I also like to believe that Gon isn't as focused anymore. You know when you wait for something for so, so long? the last few moments are the hardest. The emotions of whatever you're feeling for what's ahead with the anticipation makes the focused mind clouded.
    And if Gon, like Enzo said, is already, deep down questioning if Kaito can even be "restored", I can only imagine the state he's in walking inside towards that chamber.

  3. Both are valid points, and I think Dee's is the more persuasive of the two for me. Not a big deal either way, just something that struck me in the moment.

    Of course if Dee is right, that makes my supposition at the start of the final paragraph that much more likely to be correct.

  4. G

    Its ridiculous that Pitou would just stand there watching while Gon bawled his eyes out. If ever there would be a moment to one shot Gon and end it that was it.

  5. Unless Pitou has evolved to such an extent that he didn't want to do that, for any one of a number of possible reasons…

  6. m

    Well, given that Pitou already believed Komugi to be safe after the phone call, he could have even ended it before they enter the room. The fact that Pitou had the decency to let Gon see the truth with his own eyes, I believe, is some sort of humanity that he's gotten over this arc. Just like how Youpi has evolved in his character.

  7. m

    I agree to an extent that Pitou's decency made him(how is pitou a male?) want to be honest with Gon and fight him fairly, but he def would never act on it while he thinks of Gon as a threat. We saw how Youpi responded to seeing the king trapped in the rose. He is healing himself bc, for the same reason Kaito lost to Pitou, without his arm he's at a serious disadvantage and he can't afford (in his own mind) to let a potential threat to the king survive. He might have been able to catch Gon off guard, but he doesn't want to take the risk. Gon has already scared Pitou in a way no other human has ever done before, and he likely is playing it safe bc of that. If he's willing to betray the deal he made with Gon, he isn't going to care about fighting him fairly.
    Note that nothing I said is based off of anything yet to come. It's purely my thoughts on his character to this point.

  8. G

    Him healing his arm is still fighting fairly. No one said that he should be fighting Gon with a handicap. He may have some humanity but killing Gon has nothing to do with it cos Gon is an enemy, no matter what (:

  9. I would argue that Youpi has already acted in a way that was contrary to the pure, abstract interests of Meruem by cutting the deal with Knuckle and honoring it. It's not impossible to me that Pitou (who wasn't a part of the experience that Youpi and Pouf later shared) could do the same.

    My gut feeling is that Pitou could have taken Gon out immediately after telling him the truth. I don't agree that Gon's defenses were down earlier – he was on-edge, but every sense was electrically charged and I think he was ready for Pitou to try something. It was every being told the truth that I think he was most vulnerable.

  10. m

    Youpi did act that way, until the he thought the king was killed by the bomb. Then he completely tossed that away as a huge mistake, one that he won't make again. So with the potential of Gon as a future threat to the Merueum's life, Pitou would be willing to toss out any sense of honor or duty towards his promise with Gon. It was more in response to Gary who said "it's ridiculous that Pitou would stand there while Gon bawled his eyes out". I think that was him being careful, with the thought process of "I can 100% defeat him if I'm at my strongest". So instead of taking advantage of his crying to attack and risking him being able to react, he instead used that as a time to heal himself without fear of being attacked. So he is essentially taking advantage of Gon crying and being out of it.

  11. m

    I think Pitou acknowledges that he owes Gon something, feels remorse over having broken his promise, and is conflicted about "having" to kill Gon to protect the king after Gon kept his word. But none of those being enough to hold him back even for a millisecond, or make him show Gon any mercy. Just more of a "I'll feel a little bad about this after" sort of thing.

  12. R

    The soundtrack when Gon starts arguing about whether to blame himself or to blame Pitou really hit it home with me. It was the same one used in Welfin's little epiphany, but it is such a good soundtrack in terms of these "remembering the past"-esque sequences.

    I can't believe the Chimera Ant ride is almost over. After waiting so long to see it all animated, I can say I'm definitely pleased beyond imagine with everything MadHouse has been able to accomplish. Props to them and definite, definite props to Han for being able to revisit such a dark place over and over to give us such a believable Gon.

  13. w

    I think that Pitou really did empathise with Gon on some level here. He definitely understands just how important Kaitou was to him. I half expected him to ask Gon something along the lines of "Was he your king?"

    Also of note, while Pitou is healing himself and Gon's mind is pleading for Kaitou to be saved, Gon says "Please help him. After you're finished with yourself." Really adds to that desparation and shows just how little control over the situation he's exerting now. My heart breaks for you Gon, please be okay.

  14. n

    Well, they certainly saved the budget for this week. Dear madhouse please use all your budget for the scene that I am waiting so early for.

  15. B

    Tomoko Mori next episode, same team that did 116.

  16. s

    See, this is exactly the reason why i stated weeks before that Pitou is the "main boss" in my opinion regardless of the fact that Meruem is the main antagonist of this arc. This kind of gravitas, the culmination of the themes in arc, the main character's strife in an almost helpless situation. This is what makes the apex of a story folks. Both Gon and Meruem through this arc have shown their capacity to be human. Some say that Gon has become more "ant-like" throughout his pain as a way of reflecting meruem's evolution for human compassion but i dont think that the point was to say that Gon's fury had made him more ant-like, rather that he is more human than ever (as dark and negative of a view of humans as that may be) with the big hint being in Netero's saying that the potential for human evolution (or malice) cannot be guaged.

    Gon's rage and descent into darkness didnt make him more ant-like, it made him more human, someone who was desperate to do whatever it takes to save a person who meant a great deal to him. This all culminates in this week's scene where we do see Gon plead for help. We see a helpless human child experiencing very human emotions regarding the dark reality unwrapping itself before him. Gon and Meruem throughout this arc truly have been shadows of each other, because both reflect the potential for human emotion; we see Meruem start to embody the more positive aspects of humanity through his evolution while Gon embodies the negative parts of his own nature. At the end of it all, we see that Gon is still just a child, and arguably, we've always known this even with his descent into the darker parts of his heart, as his actions with Pitou so far could be viewed as angry child with power unwilling to accept reality that the world has laid before him, a reality that was apparently accepted by Kilua a while back. But yes, this ep illustrates why i feel that Pitou is the main boss; not the main antagonist (to which i made careful even in my last discussion about this to never call Pitou the main antagonist), but the "main boss" of the chimera ant arc.

  17. x

    "Is it respect that Pitou shows Gon in the way he asks the boy's name, and breaks the news to him? Is it pity, or gratitude for having allowed Pitou to heal Komugi and honored his vow? Or is it merely a mocking kindness"

    With that act of…kindness/cruelty/respect(however one wishes to see it, though my personal interpretation would be respect), I feel Pitou has sealed his own fate.

    Could he have killed Gon the moment he got the call from Pouf? Undoubtedly. Gon was emotionally unstable to the highest degree, holding on to the impossible hope that Kite may somehow still be saved, that everything would work out. As the phone call already demonstrated(the fact that Gon didn't pick up on both the vibrating phone and the entire conversation…even the background noise can only account for so much) , Gon's concentration was also faltering at that point.

    Can he still kill Gon now? No, he's missed his chance. Gon has nothing to lose now. He's hovering between blind rage at Pitou and despair over Kite's death(for which he blames himself) and even though he's leaning more towards despair right now, the second Pitou decides to attack him(which he will, as he already made more than obvious), it's gonna be all rage. On a level that we haven't seen before from Gon.

    There are two things that this ties into and I feel that combined together they will spell Pitou's doom in a fight against Gon.

    1. Nen is strongly influenced by the user's emotions and desires:
    Remember ep 95, where Morel told Gon to hit him as if he was responsible for Kite(when Gon could still allow himself to cling to the hope that Kite could still be saved)? He would have been killed with that single Jajanken had Gon actually gone through with it(though more likely, he would have chickened out and dodged, as he was clearly able to tell that he couldn't afford to take that one).

    2. Nen vows can immesurably increase your strength in relation to their conditions and risks:
    There's also ep 59, where Gon and Killua contemplate the fact that while Kurapika had only been learning Nen for roughly the same time as them, he was able to fight and win against Ryodan members, whereas they had no chance whatsoever. They agree that Kurapika's way(a huge sacrifice/limitation to gain overwhelming strength against a narrow target group) isn't what they want, opting for developing more reasonable low risk abilities.
    Gon's last words from the next episode preview are:
    "I don't care if this is the end…I'll kill you Pitou."
    He clearly doesn't give a crap about risks anymore.

  18. w

    Of course the real question we can gleam from this is "Why did Pitou have a phone in the first place?" And how often did he ring Pouf for him to have Pitou's number memorised? It just sort of builds from there; Do they send each other Snapchats? Does Pitou play candy crush while on guard duty?

  19. G

    Pitou had a phone to give orders to leol and other division commander ants who were trying to earn the kings and royal guards trusts. Since the royal guards and king cannot use telepathy unlike the ealier generation ants.

    She was seen using the phone in ep 100 irc

  20. Yeah, he's had that phone for a while. A nice bit of plot detail by Togashi, actually, to use a mundane modern tool to cover a gap in the Royal Guards' abilities.

  21. w

    Interesting observation, ties in nicely with him using a mundane (though that's not really the right word) modern weapon to exploit a weakness in Meryuem's abilities.

    Togashi really has this planned to the letter, hasn't he? I'm actually a little disappointed though, I kinda liked the image I have of Pitou constantly ringing Pouf to ask him about his day.

  22. S

    A Royal Guard does not put his King in danger by distracting his mind with frivolous games while guarding him! The only game that he's allowed to play is Puny Humans Crush!

  23. And this explains Youpi's actions how?

  24. G
  25. N

    This is Gon's first real failure at anything. So far he triumphed over every obstacle by sheer unshakable belief in himself. And so it is heartbreaking to see him sobbing for help like this, because this is the second hardest lesson a person can ever learn – that no matter how much you want something, no matter how much you're willing to give for it, some things are simply beyond what you are capable of. And it is even more terrible because the hardest lesson is yet to come – that some things are beyond the ability of anyone, and asking for help will not change that.

  26. u

    Enzo, I was wondering, do you plan on re-watching the series or rather this arc in particular at any point? I've re-watched from the beginning of Chimera Ant up to this point and I think it's even better that way. Togashi does a fantastic job of having earlier scenes pay off later down the road. Such as Gon's optimism at the end of 85 crashing down in this episode.

  27. Yes, I would certainly plan to rewatch the whole thing at some point, after the run ends. But that's going to be something like a 60-hour commitment so it may be (and take, once it starts) a while.

  28. K

    As a manga reader, the padding at the end was a bit hard to swallow at times (especially since the flashback selection was poor imo. Would've better illustrated Gon's mindset if they showed when Kite saved him from the multi-armed Chimera Ant rather than when they were just fighting them) but the ending scene, especially with Megumi Han's performance, was still heartbreaking though to see.

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