So, I sat staring at a blank screen for a while (well, truthfully I surfed away on more than one occasion) before finally starting to type this piece. How does one start a Hunter X Hunter manga post these days, especially this one – when the series has been away for almost exactly a year? There’s so much stuff to talk about, but most of it has little to do with what’s actually happening on the page. There’s so much legend, so much history, so much positive and negative energy attached to Hunter X Hunter and Togashi Yoshihiro at this point that the story itself seems almost incidental.
That’s the risk, anyway.
There were a couple approaches I could have taken here, one of them being to ignore all the extracurricular stuff and just focus on the chapter, as if Hunter X Hunter were any other manga. I could have done that – it’s a tempting path. But int he end I think that would be denial. The story of H x H is, in part, the story of Togashi-sensei’s health issues, the serial hiatuses they necessitate, and the love-hate relationship they elicit from his “fans”. I’ve talked in the past about all the criticism (really vicious stuff) Togashi has received over the years, and for that reason, while it’s a fascinating topic I will at least refrain from dwelling heavily on that. You know what I think of the “Dragon Quest” crowd, and they don’t deserve any more attention than they already get.
That being said, though, from the perspective of someone who believes these hiatuses are unavoidable (having severe back issues myself, how can I not empathize?), they still make the experience of reading Hunter X Hunter much more difficult. I’ll be honest – even by Togashi standards, the “Dark Continent” arc is dense. Togashi is introducing so many new characters and new concepts, and they’re bart of a truly Byzantine plot that seems larger in scope even than “Chimera Ant”. Even if “Dark Continent” were being released at a chapter (or even better, an episode) a week it would still require intense and single-minded attention. At a year between chapters? Oy.
I did go ahead and re-read the last couple of released chapters (of course), and my own reviews of them. But even so, it was hard to get past the level of thinking about what was happening on-page and just immerse myself in it. Truthfully, for what Togashi seems able to do these days in terms of output, the Hisoka-Chrollo showdown was far better subject material. It was intense, it was visceral, and it was familiar. Complicated as the strategy was, it was easier to get a handle on it (and to be enraptured even if you didn’t grasp every element). “Dark Continent” with year-long hiatuses is a big ask. I respect that Togashi-sensei is unwilling to lower his level of ambition with this story, because it’s that quality which makes Hunter X Hunter shounen’s greatest masterpiece. But I honestly wonder if it can still work that way. I miss Gon and Killua – their story is quite unfinished – and the idea that we’re looking at an arc which could take Togashi a decade to finish (if indeed he does at all) is a bit depressing on some level.
But here we are. I’m glad Togashi at least threw us the bone of Kurapika as the main character, because he’s a desperately needed emotional tether to the Hunter X Hunter we know. And of course, we know he can carry an arc as its protagonist – he did so in “York Shin”. Kurapika has certainly changed since then – he’s less consumed by his emotions, more in control, more experienced – but his is still a very dark ride. My favorite part of this chapter, in fact, was Togashi’s flashback to Kurapika’s Nen training with Izunavi (which kind of got short shrift when it actually happened). Izunavi can see, even then, Kurapika’s instincts to be a lone wolf – to chart his own path of destruction without involving others. And while his time with Gon, Killua and Leorio certainly was an education as to the meaning of true allies (and friends) I’m not sure Kurapika has changed much in that sense. I think the boys and Leorio are more one-offs than anything else, and pretty much everyone else (Melody possibly excepted) still falls into the “disposable tools” category for Kurapika.
The big reveal here is Kurapika’s last “finger” ability (index) – “Steal Chain“. With it he can steal anyone’s Nen ability, but once he uses it, it returns to the original owner. As part of Kurapika’s vast Conjurer/Specialist arsenal it’s a supremely useful hack (he may be the most versatile Nen user in Hunter x Hunter), though its certainly limited next to the one it begs obvious comparison against, Chrollo’s ability. He uses it here (via what looks like a syringe) to suck out the ability of the bodyguard who’s succumbed to the control of one of the Nen parasites and killed three of his fellows. Now only two of the original bodyguards of Queen Oito and Prince Woble are left.
The other major development is that Prince Halkenberg has decided to opt out of the succession war. Halkenberg seemed very much like the odd man out, a rogue – as such, I thought he might be a potential ally for Kurapika down the road. I suspect his father isn’t going to look kindly on voluntary withdrawals, though, so this is probably the end of the line for Halkenberg. The body count in “Dark Continent” is already impressive, and I expect it’s going to keep growing at a staggering rate for the foreseeable future.