“Coming x of x Age”
We’re getting close to the present timeline now, so these reminiscences are inevitably becoming shorter in proportion to the elapsed time. Episode 131 is going to stand as one of the most memorable and controversial in Hunter X Hunter history though, and with good reason. It’s a tough one in every respect, maybe one of the most difficult and least satisfying in the series, but not to call it a milestone seems patently absurd.
I’ll just say this: I think some of the criticism of the development Togashi executed here is misplaced. Throughout this series Togashi has systematically deconstructed and transcended shounen as a genre. And in the introduction of Gon-san, he’s basically taken one of the most archetype (archetropal?) shounen tropes of all and recast it as an existentially brutal horror. Gon throws away his entire future to become a grotesque vision of what that future could be, in order to exact revenge. “I have to become strong!” indeed.
What Gon did here was, sadly, totally in-character. “Chimera Ant” proved too much for his resolutely steadfast and idealistic worldview to take – and it revealed the selfish side of that worldview as never before. Gon is ruined, Killua is devastated, despair reigns – yes, Pitou is defeated but in this world, there’s a sort of equivalent exchange just as there is in Fullmetal Alchemist. The foreshadowing of Gon’s downfall was in “Chimera Ant’s” spiritual predecessor “York Shin”, and the destructive impact Kurapika’s obsession with revenge had on him. But in every respect both this arc and Gon’s arc transcend that one, and this is a more terrible and desolate way for his part in the story to end.
“House x of x Lies”
It was clear by Episode 133 that the once so seemingly unstoppable colossus the Chimera Ants had built was crumbling all around them. Pouf’s elaborate construction of lies was in tatters; much had transpired that he wasn’t aware of (like Pitou’s death), much of of his power was lost in his sacrifice to save Meruem’s life (temporarily). It was already possible to feel sympathy for some of the Chimera, though not for Pouf in my case – he reminded me too much of too many despicable humans I know.
Welfin, by contrast, was already a figure swimming in pathos – in many ways, the real unsung hero of the “Chimera Ant” cast. The line between the humans they were and the creatures they are has been wearing thinner and thinner for many of the ants – for Ikalgo it doesn’t even really exist anymore, apart from appearances, and he finally breaks the last wall of resistance in Welfin by appealing to his humanity. In a sense Welfin seems liberated here, finally free of the terrible burden of desperately trying to be something he didn’t truly believe he was.
For the Chimera Ants, this is truly the end – though they don’t realize it yet. Youpi is dying from the mysterious illness that’s started to impact Meruem, and Palm is the first to realize the truth of what’s happening. She also recognizes that the moment the ants’ fate was sealed was not in chaos when the Miniature Rose detonated, but the quiet moment – that seed Togashi planet so long ago – when the captains took names for themselves. And now he’s double-bluffed us with the bomb, making us believe it had failed, only to reveal that Netero’s icy hand of death has reached from beyond the grave and touched the King and his Royal Guard. Never has it been more clear that “Chimera Ant” is a tragedy, one which leaves victims everywhere and forever changes the lives of those that survive it. But even in tragedy, there can be moments of redemption…
“Meruem x and x Komugi”
This had to have been one of the unlikeliest episodes in anime history. If you’d asked me a few months earlier to bet that “Chimera Ant” would effectively come to an end with the events depicted in Episode 135, I would have taken any odds you wanted to offer. This huge, intricate and brutally violent story ended not with a bang but a whimper. And an elegiac one at that.
For a character that died with some 20 episodes remaining in the series, Netero cast a huge shadow over everything that came after. His impact on the “Election” arc is self-apparent, and it was he who brought “Chimera Ant” to its end even if he didn’t live to see it. Netero was simply better at being human than Meruem was – this was a very clever old man against a very clever being who was, effectively, a child. The Chimera Ants were all children, really, and it was only those few that retained memories of their human lives that managed to transcend that limitation and see the situation with some sort of larger perspective.
Like Siddhartha, whose journey is very much a model, Meruem died with no anger towards the person who poisoned him. He’d reached enlightenment, ironically rendering moot the threat he posed to humanity, which justified Netero doing what he did. And Komugi chose to leave this world at his side – arguably the unlikeliest love story in manga, this was nevertheless one that felt heartbreakingly true in the end. As Palm watches their final moments play out (which is a fascinating psychological thing in its own right) Meruem and Komugi share the game that brought them together, and comfort each other. It’s a moment of beautiful, terrible sadness that would have seemed impossible a few episodes earlier – something completely unique in anime or manga.