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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
14:34 – Silence again. Awful silence
14:51 – This shooow
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
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…
20:17 – Because you’ve lost him
21:42 – And again, silence
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.