It’s easy to see who the real master manipulator is here, and his initials are “T.Y.”.
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.
It’s pretty much a given that when Madhouse trots out the great Abiru Takihiko as Animation Director, you’re going to get at least one showcase fight scene and a great-looking episode. And this was certainly no exception, though it came with a considerable amount of sadness – and the real headline (as usual) is the plot machinations and character intricacies which make this series so remarkable. It’s not surprising (though certainly gratifying) that last week Hunter X Hunter became the first late-night anime in over three years to break into the Top 10 in TV ratings in Japan.
It struck me watching the last few minutes of this episode that Togashi Yoshihiro might just identify with Illumi Zoldyck more than any character in this series. Using pens instead of needles, he manipulates his characters with remarkable precision – he’s the puppet-master. Either he’s as good at long-term planning as any mangaka we’ve seen, or a remarkable improviser – it really does seem as if the seeds for everything that happens are planted long, long before they sprout, and in many ways the “Election” arc is shaping up as the true conclusion of the “Zoldyck Family” arc.
I won’t say there was a lot of suspense in the headline bout that started off the episode, because when Hisoka starts off a fight with killing intent it’s pretty much a given that his opponent is going to die. It’s always a charge to see Hisoka go full-out, but that’s tempered with the fact that Gotou was a heck of a likeable guy and a true friend to Killua-bochan. After the character has been somewhat softened by recent events, this is a good reminder that as charming as Hisoka is, he’s like a dangerous wild animal that you don’t want to start treating like a pet – this is a wicked and ruthless man, make no mistake. It’s easy to understand Hisoka’s desire to fight someone strong because the truth is, we haven’t really seen anyone give him much of a challenge yet. Just how strong is he? We really have no idea – and the only way to find out would be to see him face off against someone who forced him to test his own limits. It makes you wonder how he would have reacted if he’d had the chance to see Gon-san live and in-person…
Even within the Zoldyck family, there are so many competing forces and permutations that it’s a challenge to keep them all straight. I’m struck by how many close-ups of Canaria’s face we see every time Illumi’s name is mentioned, especially knowing (or at least having been told) that there’s a mole somewhere inside Killua’s retinue right now. There are only so many possibilities for who that might be, and it’s interesting that Canaria seems to be a step ahead of Amane (who gets some serious moefication for her struggles this week) all the time, given that Amane is the flesh-and-blood of the unquestioned leader amongst the butler corps.
Speaking of Tsubone, she’s forced to reveal one of her abilities when Killua’s full-power Godspeed proves too fast even for her. She converts into a Nen motorcycle, which Amane and Canaria “ride” and bolster with their own aura. This forces Killua to go off-road, but Tsubone (and Canaria – though not Amane) have figured out where he’s headed. That’s the airport from which he intends to take an airship to the vicinity of the hospital, but Tsubone and her charges beat him there. Here we see Canaria use her wiles to once again outsmart Amane, distracting her and allowing Killua and Alluka to escape. In the end all of them are at least nominally working together here to evade Illumi, but in the Byzantine power structure of this strange family, alliances are conditional and temporary even if certain rules are sacrosanct.
An interesting parallel is being drawn by Togashi here between the Zoldyck Clan and their complex hierarchy and rules and the Hunter Association (and one could easily extend that to the Phantom Troupe, too). And indeed, the coup de grace of his storytelling here is the way he slyly reveals that in fact, the election and the Zoldyck/Gon story are the same storyline. Killua’s choice is to turn this into an all-out war with his brother – to use the power of the Association to battle Illumi (who’s a member) and to take him down once and for all.
Illumi’s response to Killua’s plan of sending off a fleet of decoy blimps is to create an army of “Needlemen” to go after them – which Killua was fully expecting him to do. Killua’s makes the case to Morel that Illumi’s actions are in such gross violation of Hunter protocol that they justify treating him as a criminal and fugitive – that in effect, he no longer “family” either to him or the Association. Morel is a bit shocked that Killua would “sell out” his brother, but Killua responds that he “won’t forgive anyone who tries to hurt Alluka”. This conversation is a fascinating one, not least because it further deepens the intentional confusion Togashi is sowing around Alluka’s identity – Morel specifically refers to Alluka as Killua’s “younger brother” (otouto). Of course he could only have heard that from Killua himself, which means that in speaking with Morel Killua referred to Alluka as a boy – yet in speaking with his own family, he refers to Alluka as a girl. There’s another implication to this conversation, too, and that’s the possibility that Killua has decided that Illumi – with his complete lack of restraint in piling up innocent victims among the general public – is the greater threat to the Zoldyck family that Alluka or anything else. It seems possible to me that the likes of M***, Zeno and Silva could be persuaded of this too, in time.
And so it all comes together, in breathtaking Togashi form. The Zoldyck conflict finally brings clarity to the Chairman election, and the true opposition to Pariston emerges as Morel mobilizes to fight Illumi’s needlemen. The leader is Teradein Neutral, the 7th-place finisher in the last voting and “reformer”. He’s aided by co-13th-place Bushidora Ambitious, the disciplinary officer, and the man tied with him, Loupe Highland (who’s played by Narrator Futamata Issei, adding to his many roles in this series) who’s searching for the missing Hunters. This “Anti-Chairman Faction” and Morel have a mutual interest in cooperating here – Illumi is a perfect test case for them to argue their message about reforming the Hunter Commandments and changing the rules for admission to the association (and trying to win the election for Teradein). And they’re the shock troops Morel needs to fight off Illumi’s zombie army before they can help Illumi kill Alluka and foil Killua’s attempt to save Gon.
This is classic Togashi. While the Zoldyck Family arc provides much of the context, the sense of great forces about to collide calls to mind the epicness of York Shin. We have a brewing political struggle with the Teradein faction casting themselves as Netero’s spiritual heirs and urging all their support to be thrown to their leader, and pledging to re-create the “Seirin Group” – which is a name I believe we’re hearing for the first time – a legendary team of Hunters to which Netero once belonged. And we have Killua and Illumi effectively declaring all-out war on each other, with the lives of Gon and Alluka – and perhaps the future of the Zoldyck family – hanging in the balance. Two great struggles, intertwined, with each being used as a weapon in the other while the hero of the series lies unconscious and near death – with Hisoka lurking out there, giving us the tantalizing mystery of just which way his ultimate loyalties will fall. Is it next Wednesday yet?