“King x and Prisoner”
Let’s face it, when it comes to “Chimera Ant” it’s really almost harder to decide what episodes not to call milestones – but I can’t include them all. I picked this one for a number of reasons, but probably most of all because it’s a showcase of how incredible Togashi is at doing something we see a lot of in this arc – telling an utterly gripping story centered entirely around secondary characters.
There are really two battles at the heart of this episode. One is a battle of Nen between Morel and Cheethu, and it’s part of a growing trend where it’s not so hard to feel sympathy for the Chimera Ant – in this case because he’s so utterly overmatched in every way. We see here that the Chimera are really children when it comes to the use of Nen, and it’s especially obvious with one like Cheethu who’s basically an overpowered child in terms of personality and intellect. Morel is too much for him on every level. Even Cheethu’s ability seemed mismatched to his nature – but it reveals that Shaiapouf has the ability to bestow Nen abilities on his underlings.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing really for the first time the stirrings of something changing in the King. He’s nowhere near what I’d call enlightenment, but he’s been infected with intellectual curiosity – conquest for its own sake has already begun to bore him. To that end he’s sought out (and disposed of) the best and brightest in various games of skill, and finally is down to Gungi – and facing off against the blind, sniveling girl who’s its undisputed champion, Komugi.
This we now know, of course, was the start of a huge part of “Chimera Ant” – something strange, sad and yet very beautiful. It’s a bizarre dynamic right from the beginning, with the socially inept Komugi clearly not remotely threatened by the omnipotent ant King before her in terms of Gungi, but quite unsure of what to make of him as a person. Preparations for the coming apocalypse are well under way on both sides, but the key player sits and stares at a board – puzzling how this weak and seemingly dim-witted human can foil him utterly. Wherever we go in “Chimera Ant”, humanity intrudes itself on the nature of the Chimera – and the results are always unpredictable and fascinating.
“Title x and x Name”
Episode 108 is another episode focused on the King and Komugi, another where Gon and Killua are minor players – yet here it is. Togashi’s ability to make me care so deeply about the nominal villains and supporting players is truly remarkable, but by this point it was starting to become apparent that the King was every bit as much a main character in “Chimera Ant” as Gon or anyone else.
One of the crucial truths about Hunter X Hunter is that everything happens for a reason. And the series can always make us understand why characters do things, so that even if we don’t agree with the reasons we still relate to what that character is feeling. This episode ties us right back to the moment when Turtle asked if he and his comrades might have names, because here it’s the King and Komugi asking the other for their name – and each is hugely significant, for different reasons. We see the King for the first time recognizing a human as an individual, someone worth acknowledging as a rival. And when Komugi flips his question back at him, he realizes something that’s missing from his existence. And his response to sycophantic Shaiapouf’s answer that his name is “King” is telling: “That is a title, not a name. And titles can be bestowed.” Shaipouf senses that this is a crucial moment, and that Komugi represents an existential threat – and is deeply unsettled by it.
This is a glorious, apotheosis of a sequence in so many ways – Komugi’s Nen awakening, the misdirection by Togashi where he makes us believe the King is going to admit to moral conflict, only to reject it. But in doing so, he reveals that he actually is developing a conscience, and is increasingly desperate to subvert it. The strange and disturbing attack by the eagle. It’s a chain of events quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen in anime, much less shounen.
Meanwhile, the heroes play only a minor part in events here, but it’s an important one. They’re on the eve of the most dangerous mission they’ve ever attempted, Killua is convinced that something isn’t right, and in the midst of all this Gon is most worried about the fate of Palm. He’s managed to retain so much of who he is, but as we know, his trials have hardly even begun.
“Seconds x and x Lifetimes”
I don’t know how this worked, but it did. The bulk of Episode 112 takes up only about 15 seconds in real-time (and the previous ep wasn’t much more), and much of the exposition comes from the narrator. People complained about this in the manga – I knew this by reputation – and some did when the anime mostly kept that element intact. For me, the criticism leveled against this arc and this part of it specifically is truly inexplicable, because for me this is storytelling of stunning brilliance no matter the medium. It’s a tour de force of writing, and a tour de force of animation.
There’s an almost Rashomon-like quality to this chain of events, as we see the moment of utter chaos when Zeno Zoldyck’s “Dragon Dive” hits and the Hunter assault on the palace begins from many different perspectives. And as is so often the case in moments of chaos, it’s Gon whose instincts are truest – he’s yet to be plagued with the self-doubt that tortures the likes of Shoot and Killua and makes them hesitate. Gon realizes that if Meleloron and Knuckle – currently invisible – are taken out by the lightning bolts, the others would never know. And that they therefore must assume the task of those two, to take out Menthuyoupi. And in this moment Shoot is struck by a flash of gratitude for Gon, whose unrelenting sense of purpose has given Shoot the courage to overcome his own fears and do what must be done, even if it means laying down his life.
Youpi, however is no pushover. He’s been hit by Knuckle’s Hakoware but Knuckle realizes that the enemy is so powerful in aura that Potclean might never finish its job. Youpi then undergoes a horrifying Lovecraftian transformation. But elsewhere another strange drama is playing out, as Komugi has been gravely wounded in Zeno’s attack. Rather than pounce at this moment when the King is overcome by a grief so profound that even Pitou is moved to tears, Netero waits – he chooses to allow the King to address the crisis at-hand rather than seize the moment. In that moment it feels as if Netero has ceded a great advantage and Zeno seems quite unsettled by this – but of course, Netero (he with the “mind of a plant”) has other reasons for being amenable that we’re not yet aware of. Not for the first time in “Chimera Ant” and certainly not for the last, Hunter X Hunter is asking the audience some very challenging questions about what’s right and what’s wrong.