I suppose the only surprise by now would be if Hunter X Hunter didn’t surprise me. So I guess this episode was unsurprising…
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 was very hard to bring myself to start this episode. I expected that, but when the time came it was even worse than I expected. The reason is obvious – watching brings me that much closer to Hunter X Hunter being over, and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around Hunter X Hunter being over. In a real sense, too, this episode strikes me as the finale rather than the literal one – I knew that going in even without having read the manga, but I feel more strongly than every after having watched it that I was right.
I’ll save the real summation stuff for next week – not that I could hope to do justice to three years of brilliance in a few clumsy paragraphs. There’s plenty to chew on in the episode itself, and for me at least it’s one that carries some bittersweet elements – not everything here was as I imagined it or wanted it to be. But Togashi has certainly earned the right to take this story where he thinks best, and he’s never been predictable in any respect.
Raise your hands, non-manga readers, if you expected the first third of the episode to focus on Koala. This is a classic Togashi misdirection – tease the hell out of a huge event in the series canon, then turn the camera on- what, a character from the fourth tier? Fifth? To even call Koala a major supporting character would be a stretch – he’s been absent for a year of episodes, and wasn’t even a high-ranking member of the Chimera hierarchy, just a foot soldier. A really interesting one, yes, but never one who gave reason to suspect he was going to have the moments he had this week.
Just as classically Togashi is that he made Koala’s part of the episode utterly compelling (though Horiuchi Kenyuu deserves a lot of credit too) – in fact, I would argue the best part of the episode (which is in itself bittersweet for me). In effect, what we have here is the de facto final episode of the “Chimera Ant” arc after the final episode of the “Election” arc. This feels right to me – that story was so huge and changed everything in Hunter X Hunter so fundamentally that it needed an additional epilogue. My initial thought was that Koala might have been Gyro all along, but no – he was an anonymous hitman likely working for him. And the picture he paints of the scenes we saw play out with his character changes their meaning substantially.
There were always strong Buddhist themes in “Chimera Ant”, but Koala lays them out far more literally than they had been before. He’s effectively confessing his sins, and doing so to a now startlingly grown-up Kaitou (now played by Satake Uki, the full-time idol who plays Q.T. on Space Dandy). It’s a reflection on the events of “Chimera Ant” but just as much a philosophical musing on life in general – on the meaning of individual identity, on the Buddhist notion of death and rebirth, on duty and courage. Koala’s judgment on himself is harsh, although he tried in his own way to act with compassion. Kaitou’s solution is for Koala to dedicate his life to her/him, to spend every day apologizing and making amends rather than run away and live out his days in self-recrimination.
The upshot of all this, of course, is the arrival of Gon on the scene. Apologies are certainly the theme of this episode, and Gon is doing as Ging ordered – apologizing to Kaitou for what he sees as his failures in battle. It’s clear here that Kaitou has retained the essential kindness he had as a human – for Gon there are no accusations or condemnations, merely forgiveness. Or rather, the declaration that Gon did nothing to Kaitou that needed forgiving. “It looks like we both needed more training” is Kaitou’s summation – and this applies to more than simply doing battle with Pitou. That in itself is a quintessentially Buddhist statement.
At this point I was starting to grow a bit uneasy that more time hadn’t been allotted to Gon and Killua’s reunion which, after all, could be argued to be the true climax of the entire series. I’m going to be honest here and say I wanted more out of this than I got. I’m not saying I’m right and Togashi is wrong, only that for me the final third of this episode left me somewhat unfulfilled – that’s on me, not him. We didn’t see Gon and Killua’s reunion – it happened off-screen. Gon’s apology was brief and more comic than anything (though that too could have happened out of sight, in addition to what we saw). The lighting, music and cinematography were perfect – Madhouse couldn’t possibly have done more than they did. But Togashi-sensei chose to make this a minimalist moment rather than a cathartic one.
In the end, I chalk this up to “boys will be boys”. Hunter X Hunter is a shounen like no other, but it still fundamentally acts as a deconstruction of pure shounen tropes. Gon and Killua are 12 year-old boys (or 13, or whatever they are in the story by now) and they handled this moment like young boys would. There was no hugging, there were no tears, not even a truly heartfelt moment of apology from Gon – that’s just not the guy way. Like most boys they would rather show their vulnerability to anyone rather than their best friend. But after seeing what Gon’s careless words had done to Killua, I thought this moment would transcend those rules – that much at least seemed to have been earned. One could argue that something more overtly emotional would have been out of character for both Gon and Killua, and I can’t say that would be wrong. But if there was ever a moment that justified going out of character, this would have been it.
There’s also the practical matter of where this leaves the story as far as Gon and Killua. Ging has unsurprisingly ditched Gon again, but this time he’s left a note – “Find me on top of the World Tree“. This is a massive tree, 1,784 meters tall – taller than any man-made structure – and Gon sets out to climb it and find his father one more time. That Killua should step aside here isn’t a surprise – at this point it’s clear than this moment has to be Gon and Ging’s alone. But for the two of them to truly go their separate ways – that, too, feels a little hollow after how much they’ve sacrificed in order to stay together. There’s no question they’ll meet again – Alluka says as much – but even if it’s a classic boyish front for Killua to tell Gon he’s now “second place” to Alluka, it’s sad to see the end of their arcs framed as Gon choosing Ging over Killua and Killua choosing Alluka over Gon. It clearly isn’t as simple as that, and family does matter – but for me at least it’s quite a melancholy way to end their journey together (and indeed, their faces reflect that they do too).
For the conclusion of the episode – and in many ways of the series itself – I have nothing but praise. This of course is anime-original, and perhaps that’s why it expresses so much more emotion than what came before – a photo montage of a few of the indelible images of the last three years set to the third (not the first, interestingly, though I think the correct choice) ED. And perhaps most importantly, the return of the traditional preview music and voice-overs by Gon and Killua for the first time since before everything became dark and terrible. There’s still the matter of next week’s final episode (how truly painful it is to type that), but for me I suspect that preview will always serve as the spiritual conclusion of Hunter X Hunter.
ED: “REASON” by YUZU