「ノウリョク×ト×タイキョク」 (Nouryoku × to × Taikixyoku)
“Power × And × Games”
If I were to slap an idiom on that episode, it would be “Still Waters Run Deep”.
Lest anyone think I’m unnecessarily bashing, let me re-state for the nth time – I like Shingeki no Kyoujin, and rather a lot too. Not only that but I think it’s rather good for anime, as a show that’s finding commercial success inside and outside the usual buying public without overtly pandering (much) to either of the two groups that probably 80% of the anime out there (and 95% of the ones that sell big) do.
So why even bring it up in a Hunter X Hunter post? I once said of Shingeki that it was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. To be fair that was during the endless “Trost” loop, but in a larger sense I really think, in watching this episode, that H x H is something of a polar opposite of AoT. When you take away the shock and awe, there just isn’t much left with Shingeki. Togashi, by contrast, can write an entire episode worth of material that’s nothing (apart from one brief off-screen execution) but people talking calmly to one another and still have it not just resonate with humor and menace, but pack it full of enormously important implications of what’s to come in the story. There wasn’t much sound or fury, but significance to spare.
The other important thing to note here is that Madhouse and Koujina-sensei have the faith in the story to give us an entire episode like that (and perhaps Isayama-sensei wasn’t always so lucky). The bulk of the episode was spent observing a conversation between Gon and Meleoron – who, by the way, cemented his status as my favorite chimera ant. Meleoron marks yet anything fascinating counterpoint for Gon to play off of, a chain-smoking chameleon who mourns that Gon and he “can never be friends” because Gon is no fun. There’s a light tone to much of their banter, especially in Meleoron’s reactions to Gon’s unusual character manifesting itself, but there’s a lot of serious stuff swirling just beneath the surface.
I definitely like the chemistry between Gon and Meleoron – I could see them sharing an apartment in a sitcom (“Meleoron – you’ve been smoking in the bathroom again! Jan…Ken…” “Uh-oh… Perfect Plan!”) – but there are a couple of hugely important reveals here. First, the nature of Meleoron’s power – which is quite different than he initially let on. Yes, he can become invisible, a sort of natural extension of his chameleon genes – and as far as his former allies (and everyone else on the world with one exception) know, that’s it. But he can actually do something much more powerful – using his “Perfect Plan” ability (his abilities are no unusual that I can only guess he’s a Specialist) he can make his presence completely indiscernible to others, even using En, even if he’s touching them (it seems to require holding his breath, which makes his lung capacity-reducing habit a bit puzzling). Meleoron, in his casual way, compares it to the guy at the restaurant the waiter always forgets to bring water to – but there is a sneaky-strong ability, with many ramifications.
Meleoron is a very different sort of chimera ant, by his own admission as weak as a foot soldier in terms of pure fighting ability. But he’s extremely smart, and by using his invisibility as cover he’s managed to make himself seem like a bit player, not much of a threat. And in telling Gon the truth, he’s made a powerful gesture of trust – because his ability is only powerful is the opponent doesn’t know about it. That’s important, because he needs Gon’s help to further his real aim – to take revenge on the King. That’s where his other ability comes in – “God’s Accomplice“, via which he can share his Perfect Plan with anyone touching him. They make a perfect team – the massively powerful Enforcer attack and the ultimate camouflage.
But the real bombshell here comes when Meleoron reveals his reasons for turning his coat and seeking revenge. It’s because the King murdered Peggy, and Meleoron has remembered that Peggy was the man who raised him as a human. We’ve seen hints of of this with Colt, but now we have hard proof that chimera ants can – and are – remembering their human lives in detail. This changes the nature of “Chimera Ant” in every way, and the conflict takes on a considerably more grey tone than it had before. If Meleoron is remembering there’s a good chance other ants are too, and might follow his (and Colt’s) lead in seeking to stop the King’s plans. Can they be slaughtered with impunity, knowing their humanity still resides within at least some of them?
Meleoron and Gon may be different but they do share strong instincts and the nerve to trust them – Meleoron sees in Gon the “deadly beast” that can help him achieve his goal, and Gon sees the humanity in Meleoron, more so than in any other chimera ant. In fact Gon suggests that he knows someone stronger even than himself – Knuckle (incidentally, I can’t believe I didn’t get this before but “Knuckle” and “Shoot” are both pitches in Japanese baseball, no doubt the source of their names – Palm and Gyro too) but Meleoron initially refuses to extend his trust of Gon to those Gon trusts. It’d already occurred to me that Knuckle and Meleoron are ideally matched – they’re both bros – and Gon’s offer to let Meleoron size Knuckle up from the safety of his anonymity will give Meleoron a chance to see that for himself.
Meanwhile, Meruem is finally finding an enemy he can’t easily defeat – boredom (ironically, a very human quality). This means having East Gorteau’s finest Shogi and Go players brought to the palace so he can master the games – which takes a distressingly short time, and seems to end predictably for the human opponents. Shaiapouf (who seems to be lead researcher) suggests Meruem turn his attention to Gungi, a sort of 3D hybrid of Chess and Go (I think) invented in the country, and Menthuthuyoupi fetches in the five-time defending World Champion – the mystery girl from the ED, who appears to be blind. While Meruem is clearly as much of a psychopath as ever, it seems he’s begun a process of growing as his intellect develops, and while I can’t say with confidence what impact the blind girl Komugi will have on him, I’m fully confident it will be significant – she’s here for a reason.
As for Killua, we’re left hanging there, though it’s tough to imagine that Ikalgo’s efforts to save his life won’t be successful. He’s not picking up his phone, but Gon and Knuckle have agreed to meet in Mandai City, halfway between them, to make a very important decision – do they go after the Royal Guard themselves, or call for help? It seems as if the junior members of the Hunter team have all come to the same conclusion – letting 5 million die to achieve the larger goal is an unacceptable sacrifice. That’s an act of defiance against Netero, in truth, but the course has been laid in – and Knov and Morel are spending all their energies disrupting Neferpitou’s operations. That means it’s left to the four apprentices to take the battle to the Royal Guard, if they so choose – and I suspect they will, with so many lives on the line – while the Chairman continues to marshall his strength for the ultimate battle with the ultimate foe.