「ヒョウテキ × ト × モクテキ (Hyouteki × to × Mokuteki/i>)
“Formidable Enemy × And × Clear Objective
Author’s Note: Please be very careful to avoid divulging any information about upcoming events from the manga. When in doubt, don’t post it – and even if it’s remotely possible to view it as a minor spoiler, please spoiler-tag it. Thanks for your cooperation.
Every so often Killua reminds us of the first line of my post from way back at Episode 33…
This has been an amazing trip, this "Chimera Ant". I look back now and it’s been almost exactly a year since the journey started (Episode 76, to be precise) and to call it an "arc" seems almost to be a misnomer. "Chimera Ant" is already longer than 95% (at least) of all anime series, and while it’s undeniably the darkest of all Hunter X Hunter stories so far, over the course of the year it’s displayed an astonishing range of styles and tones. An enormous cast of new characters has arrived (and in some cases departed) and the story has taken H x H to places no other Shounen has gone before.
The upshot of all that is that it’s almost hard to believe it’s nearly over, but we only have six episodes left. I suspect that there would never come a point where whatever eps remained wouldn’t seem too short a time – how can you possibly give closure to a story this huge, deep and complex? It’s striking especially that the main character has been such a minor presence for so much of "Chimera Ant", and it’s now clear that his time in the spotlight (even if he were to monopolize it for the last six eps, which I’m certain he won’t) is going to be a short one. But it’s also testament to the brilliance of this story that it’s made me OK with that in a way "York Shin" was never able to – as great as that arc was, I was more put off by Gon (and Killua’s) absences there than I am now.
Now, at last, we’ve reached the time for reckonings and the big dogs can be ignored no longer. This week it’s Killua who claims his place at the center of the narrative, with Gon and Pitou still almost absent (likely for the last time, I would assume). If anything I would say this was one of the more "conventional" episodes of the recent run, but I don’t mean that in a remotely pejorative sense. Rather, it was a fairly linear episode in terms of narrative structure, with minimal narration and no playing around with the perspective of time. What was really on display here is the layer-upon-layer of strategy and deception driving the final phase of the story, and the result is an incredibly tense and fast-moving episode.
What’s also on display is the continued evolution of Meruem, who remains an antagonist like no other. As much as anything he’s a de facto main character in this arc, a kind of dark avatar for Gon himself – someone whose journey from unmitigated and terrifying villain to troubling and conflicted figure has mirrored Gon’s own journey from an opposed starting point, but to a similar destination. There’s still so much we don’t know about Meruem even this late in the game, and complicating all that is his confusion after Netero’s futile attempt on his life. We don’t know if it’s changed his outlook in any fundamental way, but the truth is we didn’t even really know him before – Mereum has been evolving and growing so quickly that it’s never been possible to feel comfortable that we knew who we were dealing with.
This Meruem seems, superficially, to be a pretty focused and controlled being. He quickly reasons from Youpi’s knowledge about Potclean that Youpi is keeping something from him, and demands an answer. But when Youpi admits he spared Knuckle and Morel because breaking his agreement "would have been an admission of defeat", Meruem betrays no anger whatsoever – "I only ordered you not to lie to me. I have no reason to punish those who speak the truth." Clearly Meruem has inherited some (or all) of the abilities of Youpi and Pouf, and seems to have formed a psychic link with them. In purely practical terms this makes him that much more effectively unbeatable in any kind of fight, but it also makes him an even more opaque presence.
Indeed, it’s Shaiapouf who has emerged as the true villain of the piece. He’s a dangerous combination of elements – an egomaniac with a fanatical devotion to a being he sees as the Messiah. The ultimate Consequentialist, someone who has no qualms about any action he sees as useful for his larger goals. And emotionally volatile to the point of psychopathy. I must again praise Hatano Wataru from the job he’s done bringing this madness to life, which so transcends any prior performance he’s given as to make it difficult to accept that it’s the same actor. In truth Pouf has been the prime mover of events for much of the last dozen or so episodes, and he’s the one driving most of what we see in this ep as well. While Meruem and Youpi believe they’re headed back to the palace to help The King regain his memory, Pouf is desperately arguing with himself (if any Nen ability ever reflected the personality of its owner perfectly, this one does) and trying to outmanoeuver the enemy in an attempt to kill Komugi before Meruem arrives back at the palace.
There are so many angles from which one could attack this psychologically, not least the question of why killing Komugi is so urgent a need for Pouf to start with. But the practicalities of the situation demand to be heard – The King is more indestructible than ever, and seems content with the elimination of the human species in order to give his own its apotheosis. Komugi is really the last great wild card in all this – that we know of, in any case. How will Meruem react when he sees her, and/or remembers her? This fear is no small part of the equation for Pouf, no doubt (though only a part). Knuckle’s attempts to bait Pouf’s clone into a battle fail, and Knuckle assumes (and Pouf assumes all of the Hunters assume) that he’s after Meleoron – both because he’s a traitor, and because his ability represents the seeming greatest threat to Meruem. And it’s this double-assumption that Pouf bases his attack plan (which is operating under the urgent threat of his real body arriving in Meruem’s company back at the palace) on.
And he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids! One meddling kid, to be precise, who sees something strange in clone-a-psycho’s actions and wants to make sure of what’s really going on. He forces Pouf to choose, go after Meleoron, or go after Komugi – or split your forces even further. As his time runs out Pouf desperately tries to decide on a course of action and Killua reveals his trump card – himself, with Komugi on his back. Pouf’s response is to attack the boy – who he sees is too fast and powerful for his clone to handle – via Komugi herself. From her perspective it’s easy to see why Pouf’s words would hold some sway, and he manages to get her to fight back against Killua enough to slow him down. But his attack fails to kill either of them – though it does knock Komugi unconscious. The worst result for Pouf.
By now, clever Killua has figured out the "what" – Pouf intends to kill Komugi" – if not the "why". The truth is that Killua was protecting Komugi all along and would have continued to do so, even without the strategic incentive Pouf’s actions provide him. He draws a line in the sand (literally) and shows Pouf’s clone the consequences for crossing it. This is Kil in pure, badass form ("Come on – I’ll whittle you down.") – he’s in his element here, thinking in the moment and relishing the opportunity to make a great contribution both to Gon’s success and that of the mission itself. As for Komugi, one can do nothing but feel for her here – she’s confused and terrified, and at no point during this entire ordeal has anyone ever simply told her the truth of where she was and what was happening to her. By her very nature she’s dependent on others, arguably helpless – but despite that, a case could be made that she’s already made more impact on the story than any other character (and remains the key to how it’s resolved).
Killua’s actions force Pouf to abandon hopes of killing Komugi for the nonce, especially when he realizes that the Gungi board remains in the remains of the throne room where Meruem is headed. Pouf is being pushed to increasingly desperate actions, and it’s fascinating and terrifying to ponder what he’ll do next as things go from bad to worse. Meanwhile things are finally reaching a head with Gon and Neferpitou as well – they’ve arrived back where what was once Kaitou awaits them, and Pitou must confront not just the truth of what he can and can’t do for him, but his own pledge to kill Gon before he can become the tiger that tears at The King’s throat. Of all the great unknowns of "Chimera Ant", Gon’s role in its resolution is the greatest of all. He’s become a dark and brooding shadow of the boy we (and Killua) thought we knew, though I would argue the differences aren’t as great as they might appear to be. For him this seems more than anything a personal struggle, and he’s existed in a storyline that seems very much separate from the rest of the arc. Now the two must surely rejoin, and just as surely that’s going to be fascinating to watch.