「コムギ × ノ × グンギ」 (Komugi × no × Gungi)
“Komugi’s x Gungi”
This is a dangerous post for me to write.
I’m at the point now where I’m harboring serious thoughts that no series should be as good as Hunter X Hunter for as long as this one has. I mean – it must be unfair or a sign of the apocalypse or something, right? No one should be able to hoard this much awesome in one series – the world just doesn’t work that way. I’ve already written the "I can’t believe it’s still this good" post about H x H, and more than once too – but WTF else can I do? It’s just so goddam good. It keeps delivering, over and over – finding new places to go and new emotions to tap and new ways to amaze and astound. I hate to write effusively praising posts, never mind repeat them – but what the hell else can I do in the face of the overwhelming evidence?
I think any analysis of this TV anime and why it’s so remarkable has to follow two tracks – one focused on Madhouse’s adaptation, and one on Togashi’s writing. We’re now two months into the switch to late-night and I can’t really see any dip in the production values – or at least one of any meaningful degree. If it isn’t unprecedented for an anime to be this consistently good for this long in terms of the actual production – animation, art, pacing, voice work, cinematography and direction – it’s pretty damn close. I read the manga "behind" the anime, just to see what changes Koujina-sensei is making, and the inescapable conclusion is that he’s capturing the intelligence and substance of the manga almost flawlessly, and that the structural changes he’s making are almost minor, and almost always manage to actually improve the presentation and flow of the story. They should really teach this series as a graduate-level course for young directors (and old studio executives) on how to adapt a great and long-running manga. This one pretty much re-defines the standard.
And then there’s Togashi, who really is a straight-up freak of nature. Maybe this is where the first part of the post comes in – whatever it is that makes it so hard for Togashi to write this series (and no matter what they claim, no one but he, his family and his editor and publisher likely know) without long and repeated hiatuses is nature’s way of leveling the playing field. He just keeps topping himself – adding new characters, developing the old ones in spectacular fashion, defying expectations and breaking all the rules of both the genre and the medium even as he plays with their structure. There are times when I really wonder just how deep and dark Togashi can (and will) go in his ruthless examination of the human psyche – if there are limits, we really haven’t hit them yet. How is it that this man is so incisive about the human mind – how did he come to know and understand so much? Is it a gift he was born with, or is he a relentless student of human nature (as he certainly seems to be a relentless – some would say obsessive – student of so much else)?
It would be hard to overstate how much I like Gon and Killua as main characters – and thus, hard to overstate how remarkable it is that Togashi can continually take the narrative in other directions without annoying me or making my interest wane a bit. He can build a mini-arc around anyone in the cast – no matter how deep – and make it utterly compelling. And it would be hard to overstate just how fascinating and gut-wrenching and tense and emotional it was watching The King and Komugi in this episode. Who are these characters, to be so riveting despite their role in the story? It’s never simple with Togashi – everything happens for a reason, and everyone has a reason for what they do. You might not agree with those reasons but it’s part of Togashi’s genius that he can always make you understand them – and that’s why every character in this series is interesting to watch and not just a name and a plot-driver.
I’ve sensed for a long time that names are a big part of the philosophical underpinning of the entire "Chimera Ant" arc. I think Togashi is fascinated with the questions of identity and humanity, and this is one of the means he’s chosen to explore them. It was a crucial moment when the captains asked The Queen if they might have names, and when that memorable exchange between The King (I guess I should avoid using his name until he does, though it’s no secret) and Komugi happened, it felt like the world sort of stopped. That he would ask her for her name is a huge moment in itself – an admission that he’s come to recognize her as an individual and yes, even to care about her. And if anything, when she asked him for his name it was even more crucial – because it brought it home for The King that he’s lacking in a fundamental respect that he can’t quite understand. When Pouf tells him his name is "King", the response is "That’s not a name, that’s a title – and titles can be bestowed." Even if he doesn’t know why he knows – and why he cares – The King knows that this is a crucial distinction.
This is all so beautifully written, and beautifully portrayed – Shaiapouf’s agonizing over what’s happening to The King, the lightning-fast changes in The King’s perception that even he can’t understand. Shaipouf really is a drama queen – even Menthuthuyoupi tells him his problem is that he thinks too much. What Shaiapouf feels for The King can only be called love, but The King seems to feel nothing for any of his Royal Guard above a certain amount of trust. It’s only Komugi for whom he feels anything – and this galls him, because – again – it’s something about himself he cannot understand. When he sees her undergoing her Nen awakening – an awakening caused by him pushing her farther than anyone ever has – it’s no stretch to say he feels pride. Both in Komugi, and in himself for having been the one to bring her to this point.
I think the entire sequence scene where The King grills his Royal Guard on the terrace is brilliant, but I also think it involves a wonderful misdirection by Togashi. Not the one that fooled Pouf into thinking The King might be about to admit regret for things he’d done – though that was a gripping moment – but the King’s seeming renouncement of conscience and regret. I think what’s revealed here is that The King is in fact, developing a conscience, and he’s desperate to suppress it as violently as he can – and I think this actually makes him even more dangerous than he was before. He fools Shaiapouf, but I don’t think he fools himself – he’s coming to understand that no matter how powerful he is there are things he cannot control – other types of power, and his own mind.
There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
How is it that this strange, self-loathing blind girl has completely shaken the foundations of the most powerful being on the planet to their very core – caused an introspection in him that’s made him question the nature of his power and very existence? It’s not just beating Komugi at Gungi (and fair and square, too) that he’s become obsessed with – it’s Komugi herself. No, I don’t know why that eagle chose to attack Komugi at that very moment – driven mad by The King’s Nen, perhaps – but it’s a startling and revealing development. The King even goes so far as to call Komugi a "guest" as he scolds her for not screaming for help – which she can only justify by saying "I didn’t want to be a bother". Taken unawares with his guard down, The King reveals that he actually cares about Komugi and yes, even feels affection for her. Whether this will prove to be the seed of his unmaking remains to be seen, but neither he or his vision of the world he seeks to dominate will ever be the same.
Meanwhile, the heroes do make an appearance in this episode. In it we get the details of the plan they intend to use to get to The King, and see the fault-lines as they exist in their little group. Killua and Shoot are the hard-headed rationalists (in truth just better at hiding their sentimentality), dismissing Gon’s worry for Palm as a luxury they can’t afford. Knuckle and Meleoron are like Gon – they care too much, to the point where it perhaps makes them less hard than they should be in moments like this. Yet it’s that quality in Gon that makes Killua so loyal to him, and in Knuckle that made Meleoron trust him. Only one more day remains before the selection, Killua has a sense that something is "off" (and anyone would be foolish to ignore his instincts) and there’s no word from Palm. The hard truth is that her death is far from the worst-case scenario – that would be if she was made by Pitou to reveal the details of the plan, but if that’s happened the Royal Guard didn’t tip their hand (indeed, Pitou seems to think Morel is acting alone). I don’t know what’s happened to Palm but I find it very unnerving that the camera kept settling on that large vase outside the throne room. And I love Gon all the more (and I suspect Killua does to, though he’d never admit it) because in the face of the most dangerous thing he’s every done, and with the fate of the world possibly at stake, he still finds room in his heart to worry for her. It’s that part of Gon that gives Hunter X Hunter it’s core of hopefulness in the face of darkest despair.