“Gon’s x True x Strength”
The latter stages of the “Hunter Exam” arc were definitely a peak for Hunter X Hunter – this was the first extended stretch of episodes where the series was really in top form non-stop. I could have picked any number of standout moments, but Gon’s fight with Hanzo in Episode 19 is another one of those character-defining snapshots in time that also happened to be massively entertaining.
I was rather shocked by the brutality of this episode, which showed Gon – for all his precocious strength and cunning still a kawaii 12 year-old – being brutalized by Hanzo as part of Netero’s twisted selection test by combat. As is so often the case with H x H implications are flying everywhere, and if you pay attention you can learn a lot about many characters. From the selection itself we see just what a devious and perverse old man Netero was. We learn much about Killua and Kurapika from their reactions to seeing what’s happening to Gon. And even Hanzo – a minor character by any definition – is fascinating to watch as he struggles to understand the mind of the strange boy whose body he’s subjecting to terrible violence, but whose spirit he’s unable to break.
As usual in this arc, it’s Gon about whom we learn the most. He gambled a lot on Hanzo having both a sense of practicality and decency – which thankfully he did – but that gamble is quintessentially Gon. This was a debutante party for Gon’s character, his statement of purpose for becoming a Hunter and the depth of his courage and self-belief. He realizes that Netero’s game isn’t a test of strength but a test of wills, and he believes supremely that his will is stronger than anyone else’s. And on this day at least, he’s right.