“Hostage x and x Hostage”
There are many different definitions of brutality – and sooner or later, Hunter X Hunter gets around to demonstrating most of them. But fundamentally this series is about psychological brutality more than any other kind, and that’s the heart of the unbelievably tense and suspenseful Episode 57.
What we have here, essentially, is a hostage standoff where both sides are the kidnappers. Kurapika on the one hand and the Phantom Troupe on the other put tremendous pressure on their enemy, but the greatest pressure is internal – each is faced with a terrible choice. Do the Spiders risk the Troupe itself in order to protect Chrollo’s life, or do they sacrifice it and destroy the mysterious chain user. And for Kurapika, the terrifying question – is he willing to sacrifice the lives of Gon and Killua in order to see his quest for revenge through to fruition? It’s a testament to how brilliant the writing of this arc is that we’re not entirely confident that we know the answer.
The great difference here, of course, is that Kurapika (as conflicted as he is) is one man, and the Spiders are a group – and we see their group dynamics start to splinter for the first time when staring down this terrible decision. That’s fascinating in its own right, but even more so is the fact that Pakunoda, confirmed mass murderer that she is, becomes the most sympathetic character in the scenario in many ways. It’s a great powder-keg of fearfully powerful people all pushed to the very edge, in a tense staredown with everyone’s lives on the line.
This being Togashi, you know there’s going to be a cherry on top – and as so often is the case, it’s Hisoka. He’s the ultimate wildcard as usual, and he makes his intrusion late in the game, as always keen to exploit the chaos to his own advantage. It’s like a five-way game between chess grandmasters with everyone’s life on the line – one of the most intricate and elegant pieces of construction in a series that’s full of them.
“Shota x vs. x Obaba”
Even if I didn’t love this episode so much on its own merits, I would have included it just for the moments when Killua responds to Bisky’s personal history with “She’s an old hag!”
In case you haven’t figured it out, I have a special affection for the episodes of Hunter X Hunter that are heavy on the fun side of the equation. “Greed Island” is plenty dark, and it’s got some pretty gruesome moments to say the least. But it also has as much of the unabashed love of adventure as any arc in Hunter X Hunter, and it gives Togashi-sensei a chance to indulge his geek side more than any.
While we’d met her previously, Episode 62 was the real arrival of Biscuit Krueger on the scene. We’d had female characters, and important ones especially in “York Shin”, but Bisky was the first true regular without a Y-chromosome. Her chemistry with the boys is amazing right off the bat, and it’s especially obvious that she and the eternally bratty Killua are baking soda and vinegar. Gon, by contrast, applies his usual straight-ahead worldview to the situation and sees no reason to turn down the opportunity to get stronger (though it’s not as if Bisky was giving the boys a choice).
This was also the episode where it started to become clear that Greed Island was a more dangerous place even than it first appeared, and just how deeply in over their heard Gon and Killua were. There’s also the matter of the Spiders – or rather two splinter groups of them – injecting themselves into the mix. It’s a brilliant scene-setting episode as well as one that’s fabulously entertaining in its own right.
“Love x and x Lust”
Ah, Episode 68 – I hardly know where to begin in describing your charms. This is Hunter X Hunter at its gloriously hilarious, disturbing best. This ep may pack more pound-for-pound laughs than any other single episode, but it’s the fact that so many of them are so completely wrong that makes it most memorable.
We start out with Razor setting up the epic event that’s the come – the sports competition that will pit Gon’s team against his – and Killua again showing how strategically gifted he is. It’s immediately clear to Killua that their group is nowhere near strong enough and needs allies anywhere they can find them, and after a riotous argument with Gon they end up using “Accompany” to find the person on their contact list calling themselves Chrollo Lucilfer. And this gives us one of the great entrances in anime history.
What a moment – Hisoka in all his unashamed glory emerging from the steam, the reactions of Gon and Killua (and Bisky) to how excited he is to see the boys again, and how they’ve grown. But that isn’t even Hisoka’s finest moment here – that’s surely as he pulls off one of the all-time creeper stunts in anime as he ogles Gon and Killua walking in front of him, the discernible reaction in his aura freaking them out so much they force him to walk in front. Hisoka, you glorious freak…
There’s still more great stuff here, starting with Togashi’s uproarious depiction of the “Love City of Aiai” – from great sight and sound gags to a series of ruthless send-ups of romance manga tropes, and even of his wife’s Sailor Moon (which is fitting, given who Bisky is modeled after). And then there’s the delicious sight of Killua trying to out-think Hisoka, and Hisoka’s delighted toying with him. Kil is so much the clever cat who’s gotten itself in trouble it’s not quite clever enough to get out of, and as smart a little fellow as Killua is, Hisoka has far too much experience and guile for him at this stage. Thank goodness Hisoka likes the boys (even if it’s in that way) because I’d hate to think what chance they’d have if he really wanted to do them harm.