Hunter x Hunter – Episode 116

Apparently this is a fantastic episode of Hunter x Hunter, and someone asked if I could do a formal writeup for it, so here I am. The show certainly deserves it – it’s the best thing I’m currently watching, both the writing and technical execution are incredibly impressive, and this recent span of episodes in particular has basically been a continuous feast of gorgeously shot, incredibly tense highlights. And we’ve arrived at the key moment right here, too. Should I talk a little about that? I guess I should talk a little about that.

The thematic core of the Chimera Ant arc is identity and humanity – how do we define ourselves, and what does it mean to be human. The King has grappled with this challenge most visibly – though he started out as no more than a force of destruction (his first act was emotionlessly killing his mother, his first quest was for good food), his relationship with Komugi has changed him, and made him grow. Which was perhaps inevitable – the King starts his reign as a near-supreme being, but the King also starts his reign as a child, making him the perfect focus character for exploring how we construct our identity. Komugi knows exactly who she is – but the King only knows what he is, and eventually, what he wants. He is still moving towards an identity, though he now knows he wants to protect Komugi – his initial system of evaluation, where his actions were right by virtue of his will to enforce them, is incompatible with the affection and concern he feels for someone so much weaker than himself. Komugi is the King’s humanity, and with their attack on Pitou, Gon and Killua are attacking the beating heart that has made him more than a machine.

Meanwhile, as the King begins to discover his identity and humanity, Gon has been slowly but surely losing his. At the start of this arc, Killua is ready to leave Gon due to his own fear of betraying him – but Gon’s faith in their friendship steers him back, and makes him address his own failings. The needle Killua pulls from his brain is a pretty direct metaphor for the effect Gon has had on Killua – throughout the series, Gon has helped him discover his humanity, and been the light he needed. But ever since the start of this final mission, Gon’s light has been diminishing – his eyes hardening, his focus shifting from “protect the people I care about and find my father” to pure revenge. Gon is becoming the instrument Killua once thought he was, and the current Gon may no longer temper his actions with the generosity of spirit Killua once admired. Once the series’ bright heart, Gon is now a blade aimed at the King’s new one, and things will undoubtedly get worse before they get better.

The series has built to quite a confrontation here. Let’s see how it ends.

Episode 116

0:39 – Shit, they’re gonna give us a big recap? I guess that works for me, since then I can talk about all the brilliant little pieces we’ve got here.

Hunter x Hunter

So here’s conflict #1, possibly the most “traditional shounen” of the fights here. Youpi’s basically the big dumb dragon of the guards, which makes him the perfect first choice to get in a fight – he’s just gonna attack what’s in front of him, which provides much more running tension to cut back to while the other cast members go about their sneakier business. They also gracefully snuck Shoot’s character turn into this battle, resulting in an emotional kick at both the beginning (when the audience gets the satisfaction of seeing his defining flaw overcome) and the end (when Shoot ducks out and possibly dies, having accomplished his internal journey), as well as a very satisfying war between two new powers. And finally, the Shoot-Knuckle-Meleoron dynamic provided Knuckle with a challenge fit for his own greatest weakness – his compassion. Established as a joke with his initial dog-feeding, and expanded into a philosophy when he discussed the rabble-rousing actions of Killua, this conflict directly tested Knuckle’s inability to stand by and watch others get hurt. What’s great is that both Shoot’s ultimate rising above his failing and Knuckle’s inability to rise above his own both drove the narrative in interesting directions – this wasn’t a simple “everybody finds new strength within themselves” resolution, this was a pair of people who each responded differently to intense pressure, and for very different reasons.

Incidentally, I can’t talk about this conflict without mentioning this gorgeous visual effect from last week. Beautiful on its own, it’s also an incredibly sharp metaphor for Shoot’s heightened state of awareness as it crumbles under the tremendous damage his body’s suffered. One of so many visual gifts this arc has given us.

Hunter x Hunter

1:31 – “Every bit of damage counts.” Hunter x Hunter excels in one of the core variables that defines action and sports shows – executing on conflicts in ways that allow the audience to actually feel the weight, danger, and difficulty of everything happening. It’s basically the opposite of “beam spam” battling – in this show, when someone lands a hit, you know they earned that hit, and you know exactly what it was worth. Conflict the viewer can invest in requires strong, definable stakes and a clear set of rules and dangers, and the fact that Hunter x Hunter maintains this sense of grounded conflict in spite of juggling such a vast array of strange, unique powers is a remarkable thing

2:16 – Meleoron, one of many characters used to demonstrate the humanity of the ants. It seems almost trivial to mention this in the context of this show’s actual accomplishments, but this show gives everyone a personality, a creed, a set of goals and priorities. There aren’t good guys and bad guys – there are ambitious guys, and cold-hearted guys, and even agents of chaos, but everyone acts according to a well-defined personality

Hunter x Hunter

2:42 – And here’s our third conflict, with Wolfin, Morel, Gon/Killua, and the King still unaccounted for. Though the contrast between Gon and the King is undoubtedly the centerpiece, this show is currently juggling about fifteen to twenty core characters, and could switch to any of them without it seeming out of place.

Oh, Ikalgo? Well, he’s the Killua to Killua’s new Gon, right? Everything that Gon taught Killua has now brought another to their group – humanity begets humanity.

3:08 – Isn’t Morel just fun to watch fight? His battle with Cheetoh has to be one of my favorites so far. Unlike many shows, where experience is portrayed as strength, with Morel, experience is experience. He knows his own strengths, he knows the danger of haste, he knows staying calm is key to victory. His “battle intelligence” is portrayed as an ability to seize on useful information without overplaying his hand – he’s a chessmaster that actually makes you feel smarter for watching him.

Hunter x Hunter

3:23 – Oh god I’ve only reached the OP

4:46 – There it is. The contrast they’ve been setting up all along

5:24 – The innocent. They couldn’t have picked a much better fulcrum than a egoless blind girl who finds playing at war trivially easy

5:44 – God, that tension. This music. Everything

Hunter x Hunter

6:13 – This show knows the power of silence. All that building music, and then – nothing. Just like when Gon fought Hisoka at Heaven’s Arena, sometimes silence is more deafening than any music

6:30 – Crushing. All this time he’s been building to this moment, but to Pitou this is just another piece on the board. Another reflection of the clashing personalities and priorities – they don’t all play by each other’s rules

6:53 – Gon’s too far removed in his quest for revenge. Killua must be his moral center now

7:33 – I love Killua’s usual systems. Though this show can obviously pull off a well-animated spectacle when it wants to, it’s all grounded in this – setting up the variables, setting up the stakes, breaking down “battle intelligence” into its component parts

7:58 – A great shot. There’ve been all sorts of great ones recently

Hunter x Hunter

8:38 – That is some awful body-horror stuff. And of course that scraping, mechanical sound in the background just makes it worse

9:01 – Yeah, the worst possible misunderstanding. And Gon’s voice actor is killing it here

10:07 – Pitou’s an interesting one. Up until recently, she’s been the “agent of chaos” Guard – the one who does what’s fun or interesting. But seeing Komugi in the King’s arms was clearly a shock to her, and may have sparked a change of its own

Incidentally, it’s really Killua that’s failing in his arc here – Gon’s clearly too far gone, and for the last few episodes Killua has known this. But his position is understandable – he’s too afraid of losing Gon as a friend to risk trying to save him from himself

10:25 – Fantastic acting, gorgeous facial animation. You never get detail like this, and it’s the perfect place for it – this is Gon’s fall, the core of his journey

Hunter x Hunter

11:39 – Using what I have, see what I can deduce… This stuff’s great. Hunter x Hunter’s pretty much a continuous lesson in “battle manga doesn’t have to mean fists” – from the Hunter exam onward, it’s strove to find new and interesting ways to pit the characters against the world around them

12:28 – More great expressions, more wonderful acting. Completely new emotions from Pitou. Everyone has their own strength, everyone has their own vulnerability

12:57 – Oh jeez

13:07 – OH JEEZ

Hunter x Hunter

13:47 – Brilliant. We know this, though it’s nice the show is laying it out at this pivotal moment, to really bring the stakes home. But the important thing is Pitou knows this – she’s not just following the King’s orders, she is protecting the person who has made him whole. Humany begets humanity, and Komugi’s gift to the King has brought Pitou to humanity as well

13:56 – Didn’t you once feel similarly, Gon?

14:34 – Silence again. Awful silence

14:51 – This shooow

Hunter x Hunter

14:59 – He wanted things to be simpler than this. He wanted a villain, but the show won’t give him one. All this anger has to have a purpose, right? It has to be someone’s fault. It has to be

15:43 – Man, could this Gon be any further from the character we started with? Darth Vader ain’t got nothin’ on this

16:05 – What Killua was most afraid of. More gorgeous animation. Not just evocative, but so purposeful. This isn’t just “great animation,” this is what animation can do

16:40 – God, such expressive faces

Hunter x Hunter

17:17 – My god, look at that expression. So much anger still, but now he sees she’s not lying, that she’s been telling the truth all along – and that he should have seen it. And he doesn’t recognize himself. My god, what a scene

18:18 – This shot is basically too good for words. Framing Gon’s stagger back from the brink of lost humanity as a fall onto the pebbles that gave the King his. Beautiful

19:22 – Goddamn, Gon

20:07 – But he isn’t. Maybe the rage is gone, but he is not Killua’s friend

20:11 – Highlight the distance…

Hunter x Hunter

20:17 – Because you’ve lost him

21:42 – And again, silence

And Done

Wow. That was probably the best episode this series has ever had, and this series has had a ton of fantastic episodes. Really just stunned by that one – a perfect expression of Gon’s absolute lowest point. And what a brutal episode for Killua – everything he feared came to pass in the most painful, hurtful way possible. He’s not out, though – Gon’s saved him too many times for him to not return the favor. But trying to soften his criticism only pushed Gon away, so he’s going to have to get over that fear if he wants to be the true friend he needs to be. And man, both Gon and Pitou’s expressions and voice acting… and the sound design… and that incredible animation, and those tense shots…

Hunter x Hunter is a very good show, you guys. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

26 thoughts on “Hunter x Hunter – Episode 116

  1. Effing eff, to the eff degree YES! This episode was impossible to tear my eyes away from. After finishing this episode I turned the first episode on and watched Gon happily catch that fish and say a ridiculously adorable goodbye to his mother to set off on his journey. Then I flipped it back to this. Gon is….unrecognizable, yet not in any unrealistic way. I understand how he came to be in such stark contrast with his first-episode-self, and that’s all credit to this brilliant show.

      • Also, just want to say thanks for this, cause I totally didn’t catch the pieces in 18:18 (might’ve just been too immersed in the voice acting and facial expressions to notice lol) and this makes me even more eager to see what you have to say about Utena’s visual cues.

  2. Oh, you actually did it. Cool, thanks.

    …I feel like I should have more to say, but you covered basically everything. I can’t wait to see the King’s mirrored version of this scene. Or maybe we already have? Double mirror!

  3. Great writeup; pretty much hit all the highlights I could have wanted to talk about myself.

    I was hoping for and expecting a great episode as it was (so much foreshadowing to this particular confrontation), but I would’ve never predicted it to be at this level.

    HxH seems to never fail to surprise and spoil us this arc. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  4. The ending is perfect in this episode. Just the visual of Killua not at the place where is always is, was heartbreaking. At this point it doesn’t matter if Hunter x Hunter is Shonen, it’s just damn good.

  5. I just realized the link between Gon now and Kurapika in the Phantom Brigade Arc.
    I think it was Gon who helped him realized the Phantom Brigade weren’t only soulless monster.

    …Except Kurapika still thought helping his friends was at least as important (or maybe even more) than revenge.
    I doubt Gon can think that far ahead.

    Anyway, all the thanks for this review !

    • Yeah, Kurapika had most of a lifetime to plot revenge, so his anger was pretty cold. Gon’s never been like this before, and he’s saying things he’ll definitely regret.

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Megumi Han stole the show for me.

    My compliments to Mariya Ise for her continued impeccable performance of Killua and to Ayumi Fujimura for giving a new human dimension to Pitou but wow did Megumi steal the spotlight in this episode. I still remember when she was first cast she was still a newbie. How far she’s come. To display such a variety of emotion for Gon. Bravo, standing ovation.

    My favorite episode of Hunter x Hunter.

    • It’s definitely among the best VA performances in the series; hell, you could probably argue overall. I’ve taken Megumi for granted because there aren’t too many cases where Gon’s voicework is in the spotlight, but she not only delivered, she went far beyond that. Nice to see I can spread the praise a little other than to Pitou’s VA (who before this, I think has done the best job in this arc).

    • So much emotion. Her intensity, both in his quiet fury and when he explodes, and how he sounds both in command and out of control the whole episode… and how that plays against Fujimura’s vulnerability and humanity… man. I’m not gonna forget this one.

  7. The few episodes before this one were a drag for me.. The narrator took the spotlight and almost every scenes were displayed in extremely dramatic lights with overexpostion and explanations has well has a slowed pace. In fact gaining time seemed to be the true focus here. Even thought they are creative about it. ( I was a bit baffled when they actually did a full episode on Nereto’s only attack on Pitou).

    This episode though was impressive mostly due to the excellent camera shoots and those animations. Seriously there was a major boost this episode (above anything done in the series before). They really portrayed Gon’s emotions in a magnificent way. And seeing Pitou reacting that way was interesting.

    • HxH actually has some pretty regularly stellar animation, it’s just in short bursts here and there – Morel fighting Cheetoh on the highway, Pouf racing back to the palace, etc. But it’s very, very rarely used purely to express internal conflict like this, and I think it was a fantastic choice.

  8. For me part of this episode with the most impact was not Gon’s complete fall into darkness or his struggle, but actually Pitou’s emotion in her pleas. Her VA really did an amazing job. Gon’s did too of course, but something about Pitou’s really struck a chord with me. Her helplessness in the situation really came across and was an excellent contrast to Gon’s heartlessness.

    • Yeah, it was a great performance. I think it partially came as a shock just because this was the first time we’d heard any of those tones – the Pitou we’ve known until now has been alternately curious, excited, or bored, but never vulnerable. It’s like the audience was actually hearing her humanity for the first time.

  9. DUUUUDE. Amazing review. You recommended this show a while back and because of it I picked it up. That being said it has become one of my favorite anime shows ever. Period. Furthermore, this was one of the best anime episodes I’ve ever seen. In any case just wanted to give you a shout out because your reviews are amazing, you recommend fabulous anime, and I really appreciate the time you put into this blog. Keep it up because I’ll always be reading!!!

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  13. I haven’t seen or heard, and practically forgot about HxH for weeks, and having read this and the Chimera Ant essay, I could remember the chills and literally felt it as I read this whole thing. I vividly remember that, both, eerily great and mysterious mirrors you’ve kept saying. Yet, here I am, after having appreciated HxH months ago, I can’t believe your words suddenly ignited this fire HxH had only made me feel. Amazing breakdown!

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