Togashi. Koujina. Madhouse. Nothing else really need be said.
Author’s Note: Please be very careful to avoid divulging any information about upcoming events from the manga. When in doubt, don’t post it, even if it’s remotely possible to view it as a minor spoiler. Thanks for your cooperation.
That really isn’t fair, creating an episode like that and expecting me to say anything meaningful about it. Not after all the ink I’ve spilled over the previous 59 episodes of this glorious, difficult, contrarian and brilliant arc. Except that calling it an “arc” doesn’t really do “Chimera Ant” justice – on its own it’s longer than most anime and many shounen manga. It stands apart – not just from shounen and from anime/manga generally (Hunter X Hunter as a whole does that) but from Hunter X Hunter. It seems to me that “Chimera Ant” is the story which saw Togashi Yoshihiro take his own limiter off and take advantage of his status and track record to try everything he might have been hesitant to try earlier in the series, or his career. And thank goodness he did – and that we had Madhouse to bring it to the screen.
If I’m not mistaken (I might well be) this is the first episode of Hunter X Hunter 2011 to forgo the OP and ED themes. Given the emotional tenor of the episode and the intensity of the content it seems entirely appropriate (I only wish Koujina had also waived the usual preview music and irreverent content, which were rather jarring arriving when they did). I don’t know whether to call this the finale of “Chimera Ant” or whether that technically comes next week, but that’s clearly going to be a postscript (that all of the main cast should be a mere postscript says something about how unpredictable and unconventional this story was) – this was the true denouement of “Chimera Ant” and it’s only right that it shouldn’t be treated like other episodes. 60-episode storylines don’t come along every day, never mind ones this historically brilliant.
Above and beyond that, I sincerely don’t think there’s much point in my adding anything. In the end “Chimera Ant” turned out not to be about suspense but fate – not about action but quiet reflection. There was no question as to how this episode was going to play out – the die has been cast for a couple of weeks. It was indeed as Eliot said, “not with a bang but a whimper” (poor Shaipouf’s end was especially ignominious – both he and Menthruyoupi died off-camera, but Pouf’s was the more forlorn and wretched). But there was so much quiet power in that whimper, so much meaning and so much feeling and so much perspective. It’s so audacious of Togashi to choose this route – to make the arch-villain the emotional protagonist in the end. To conclude not with a titanic battle, but with the slow and tragic aftermath.
There are some larger themes I could touch on here, such as the extent to which Togashi uses “Chimera Ant” as an intentional subversion of shounen tropes, and the extent to which Meruem’s spiritual journey is meant to mirror that of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha). I don’t want to cheapen the emotional triumph by “dissecting gossamer” too much, but in my view both of those aspects are very real. There’s also the matter of “Chimera Ant” as a contemplation of the nature of humanity – one of the themes I’ve been feeling for the longest. And it’s really in Netero’s role that we see all three of these elements brought together.
We didn’t see much of Netero in this arc, and not at all over the last ten episodes for obvious reasons. But his presence is crucial, and he casts a big shadow – right up the finale, in which we see his final message and the impact it has on Beans. He underwent a spiritual journey of his own, of course, and it’s no coincidence that it was shown to us in such detail. And he climbed the shounen ladder in his battle with Meruem – bringing out every one of the Nen abilities that made him the strongest human in the world. And when that failed, resorting to sheer brutality – the worst that humanity could offer. But when the big punches and the bigger explosion couldn’t kill the big bad, Netero (and Togashi) didn’t take the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” storytelling approach typical of shounen. Netero’s plan had already worked – we just didn’t realize it, and neither did Meruem. He was right – Netero had him at checkmate all along.
In the final analysis Meruem simply wasn’t as good at being human as Netero. Netero was no idealist – he was fully aware of the depths of humanity’s capacity for cruelty and deception, and how it manifested in himself. Netero – he of the “mind like a plant” – had a lot more experience at this than Meruem. It was a very old and supremely clever man against a very young and supremely clever child, and Netero simply saw around more corners than Meruem did. I wouldn’t say Netero was proud of what he did, but neither would he be ashamed – he knows he’s the same man who relished the chance to finally go all-out and try to kill someone after holding himself back all those decades. He recognized that in himself, and acknowledged it. And he did what he thought had to be done for humanity, because he knew there was no one else who could do it.
This is a very important part of the story in “Chimera Ant”, I think. Netero wasn’t wrong in what he did – in fact, if he hadn’t done it there’s no reason to think Meruem wouldn’t have enslaved and consumed humanity for his own purposes. Meruem was simply acting for the advancement and propagation of his own species, but that ideal was incompatible with the future of humanity and Netero knew it. But once Meruem discovered the truth, there was no anger or judgment in him – only acceptance, and a desire to spend his last moments with the being he now realized he loved. Komugi was certainly responsible in-part for Meruem’s transformation – but Netero no less so. And the Royal Guard, too, as Meruem came to understand the meaning of loyalty and love. Without any of it, he would not have died as the enlightened being he was.
Siddhartha too was poisoned, and he too felt no anger towards his (accidental) poisoner. Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who lived a life of luxury where the world was at his beck and call, and seeing the suffering and pain that existed in the world changed him fundamentally. Empathy and humility are awesomely powerful agents of change, and the final moments of Meruem’s story are a study in their effects. He came to believe that his entire life’s purpose was to sit across that crate from Komugi and play Gungi – that this one moment of enlightenment was more meaningful that world domination could ever be.
Of course, staying with Meruem to the end was in effect an act of suicide for Komugi. I was curious as to whether Meruem was going to tell her this or not, but he did give her the opportunity to leave – albeit halfheartedly, as I think he knew she would never do so. There’s so much irony here – this most humble and meek of the humans he encountered changed Meruem so much, and this monster who saw Komugi only as his next disposable source of entertainment was the one who finally brought meaning and joy to her loveless and lonely existence. “Chimera Ant” turned out to be a love story in the end, on top of everything else – a musing on the power of love to assert itself even in the most hostile and unlikely places.
I don’t want to sully those final moments between Meruem and Komugi with too much analysis – they speak for themselves. That so much emotion could be generated from these characters is a testament to how “Chimera Ant” defies all convention and predictability. The first moment that really hit me hard was when Komugi said she wanted to thank the Royal Guard for saving her after Meruem deferred credit to them, and he replied “I’ll relay the message – I’ll be seeing them soon.” Her use of “Kokoriko” is a tribute to Meruem, though he’s not aware of it at first and even displays a bit of his old imperiousness. He never does beat her at Gungi, but that was never really the point. In the end their love story is one of acceptance – of the flaws in others, and of fate. It’s as purely Buddhist a moment as I’ve seen in any anime, or film for that matter – including ones about the Buddha himself. It’s a beautiful, terrible sadness – exquisitely truthful in the writing and brought to life with great care and skill.
Another interesting element in all this was Palm’s role. She knew the truth from the moment Meruem found her in Bizeff’s bunker, and he as soon as he’d seen it in her Nen. Yet she resisted, and when Meruem went to take a knee and beg her to bring him to Komugi, she tried to stop him. Why? Because part of her was now a chimera ant, and that part of her couldn’t bear to see Meruem reduced to that. It’s an acknowledgement of the trials Palm has already and will continue to endure – she’s been changed forever, and even as Meruem marvels at the beauty of her aura it’s impossible to ignore the prospect of great difficulties in her future. When she accedes, Palm has only one request – she wishes to see Meruem and Komugi’s final moments. Why? There’s the strategic reason of course – as a representative of the Hunter Association she needs to verify that Meruem has died. But the real reason is deeper and more sentimental, and it’s perfectly consistent with the Palm we’ve seen from the beginning – a beautiful soul that’s riven with instability and anger.
Well, there I’ve rambled on again as I always do with this series – my apologies, I really did mean for it to be different this time. This story isn’t over, of course, and whether you view the next episode as the end of “Chimera Ant”, an epilogue or the start of the next arc, it has a lot of ground to cover. The world of humans has been saved, but many chimera ants remain – creatures who surely have the right to make some sort of lives for themselves. And Gon has been left in a terrible state, bereft and full of self-loathing that’s so unlike him, perhaps powerless. Meruem has found peace in the end, but Gon (and Killua) must live on, and carry with them all the pain and regret they’ve accumulated on this dark journey. Even if “Chimera Ant” has often turned its gaze elsewhere it’s that journey that remains the eternal spine of Hunter X Hunter, and it too has ventured to a place where no shounen series has ever gone. On top of everything else “Chimera Ant” is the tale of the end of childhood for Gon and Killua – and as it ends, Hunter X Hunter becomes a tale of the difficult road that lies ahead for them.
ED8: “Understanding” by Hirano Yoshihisa