「ムシ×ダケド×カシ」 (Mushi x Dakedo x Kashi)
“An x Indebted x Insect”
It’s not that often I can say this with anime, but I’ve truly never seen anything like what Hunter X Hunter is doing right now.
By my calculations something in the neighborhood of 20-25 seconds passed during the course of this episode. That means, in the last three, we’ve seen probably under two minutes of real-time covered if you don’t count the 60-year flashback in episode 111. I don’t think audacious even begins to cover this – it was audacious when Togashi tried it in the manga. For Koujina-sensei to adapt it in the same style for the anime is insane. And yet, somehow, it works.
I can easily see where this turn could be divisive among the fanbase. We’ve had copious amounts of narration and slowed time down almost to a stop. As a result of that there’s been very little in terms of the titanic clash we all know is coming, and we can go an entire episode (apart from a key few seconds at the end) without even seeing the characters who seemed most prominent at the end of the last one – The King, Komugi, Neferpitou, Netero and Zeno. And yet I don’t know that I would change anything, because this bizarre narrative device is really working – at least for me.
I think the most contentious part of all this is probably the narration – it’s certainly referenced often enough by fans of the manga. The reason this narration is so prevalent, I think, is because Togashi has twisted this story into a funhouse mirror of perspectives. We keep seeing the same moment – in truth, the same couple of seconds – play out in the minds’ eye of a large number of characters, and the narration provides what I see as a necessary anchor. Because of its presence rather than seeming repetitive or utterly chaotic, these perspective shifts are like planets orbiting around the narrator’s Sun. Effectively this part of the arc is an experiment – I suspect Togashi was conscious of the fact that he was in uncharted waters here, and fell back on the Narrator’s significant presence as a way to keep everything coherent.
A couple of things stand out for me in the situation on the ground. First, Killua could hardly have been proved more right by the way events have played out – you just can’t assume anything is going to go according to plan. Pretty much nothing has up to this point – but despite being the most adamant about expecting the unexpected, Killua still strays away from his own advice and wings it when he sees two soldier ants standing in Ikalgo’s planned path (it’s clear now what Ikalgo’s role in the plan is – or was). For Killua to actually leave Gon’s side at that moment was a bit shocking, even to Killua himself (having that moment play out in slow motion brilliantly conveys how surreal it feels to him), but it all ties back into the fact that Killua overthinks everything. When chaos breaks out I continue to believe Gon is the one who thinks most clearly, because he’s always sure of his purpose. Killua is always plagued by self-doubt, and it always intrudes when events force him to react in the moment.
Meanwhile Shoot seems to have been given a certain clarity of purpose himself by Gon’s display of clear-headed courage last week. Menthuthuyoupi has basically transformed into one of the Old Gods, and his massive attack destroys the main staircase and completely shuffles the deck. Shoot is badly injured, but never more sure of himself. Knuckle and Meleoron get in another attack on Youpi but his aura is so immense that Potclean has barely made a dent. Shoot’s fierce attack manages to buy time and get Morel his weapon back, allowing him to take the fight to Shaiapouf (more on him shortly). Cheethu and Brovada respond to the alarm that the two soldier ants raised before Killua eliminated them, and Welfin silently observes – aware that something isn’t right.
The battle has splintered into so many fronts now that I honestly feel that if Togashi had structured this traditionally it would be hopelessly confusing to keep track of. My suspicion is that Welfin’s nature – self-serving and secretive – will work to Ikalgo’s benefit here. Rather than act immediately on his (correct) suspicions, he’ll sit on the information and see how he can use it to his advantage. Meanwhile Togashi has deftly (once again) flipped expectations on their heads (poor Killua – nothing ever goes as planned for the boy who loves to be in control) by effectively taking Pitou out of the game and putting him on medical duty, and turning the drama queen Shaiapouf into the dangerous berserker. Pouf has, in a word, flipped out (OK, that was two). He’s consumed by self-loathing at having failed the King, he’s enraged at Komugi for having stolen the King’s attention, at the King for having allowed her to, and at himself for allowing his anger about it to cloud his judgment. I wouldn’t care to predict what Pouf will do now – as the Narrator tells us, Pouf’s emotions are both a source of great strength and great weakness (as he also said about Youpi’s magical origins).
Given all that, it seems to me that Morel is the best – or worst – possible opponent for Pouf at the moment. No one in the cast excels at head games the way Morel does, and he’s currently captured Pouf inside a prison of Deep Purple’s smoke. Pouf is desperate to get back to the King and has become completely unbalanced, and if Morel can survive the raw power Pouf’s anger and desperation will call up, his impatience will likely be Morel’s greatest weapon. But I don’t think that’s going to be easy, and if Togashi were a more conventional writer I might suspect that Morel and Shoot both raised death flags this week. The next moments are going to be key for Morel – the longer the fight with Pouf drags on, the more the balance should shift in Morel’s favor.
My favorite part of the episode, though, is the last minute-and-a-half (which depicts about five seconds of actual time). Gon has arrived (Killua has fallen behind as a result of his deviation from the plan, and whether he catches up to Gon in time is an open question) at the second-floor balcony from which he planned to jump to the third floor. But the “idiot” is as usual thinking with perfect clarity, and deduces from the location of Morel’s smoke cloud that his target isn’t on the third floor. The scene from here is nothing more than Gon’s face as he sees the King appear on the opposite balcony, and Netero’s when he too appears and notices Gon staring at him. No words (or narration) are needed – the two faces tell everything. Gon’s initial shock, Netero’s GAR smile as he gives Gon a thumb to tell him where Pitou is, and the pure rage that suffuses Gon’s eyes at that instant. That look in Gon’s eyes is what this arc has been building towards, and while it may be a while yet before we see him unleash it, the full measure of what Gon has become and the extent to which his feelings can fuel his power are about to be put to the test. It’s the ultimate shounen moment in a story that subverts every shounen trope in the book, but that’s the nature of Togashi’s genius.