"Survival x and x Deadline"
Leave it to Togashi Yoshihiro to put me in mind of T.S. Eliot and Indiana Jones in the same episode.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.
– T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"
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.
I’ve seen a couple of websites report that The Hunter X Hunter "E*******" arc would be starting with Episode 137 – which, of course, contradicts the original buzz that "Chimera Ant" would be ending at Episode 135. I don’t know the truth but I really hope this info is true, because even if the shape of the final act began to reveal itself this week, it’s still hard to imagine this story wrapping up in two episodes. It’s so massive – 60 weeks by the time it ends – that it’s almost unimaginable that Togashi and Koujina-sensei would end it without some sort of postscript.
Whether it’s two episodes or three remaining, it’s an inescapable fact that Gon and to a lesser extent Killua have had an astonishingly small role in this arc. They’ve certainly been involved in most of the most overtly dramatic moments, but it’s a measure of how good this series is that it can pull this disappearing act off without losing the audience – certainly without losing me, who’s always liked H x H best when those two are at its center. In truth, most of the final cour of "Chimera Ant" has taken place with entirely new characters as its focus – and not even the entirely new characters who seemed destined for starring roles. I suppose this sort of thing would only be possible when an arc is this absurdly long – longer than many entire series – because it really allows time to make these new characters indelible. But it wouldn’t matter how much time the story had if the writing wasn’t up to the task of making us care deeply about those people.
One of the signatures of "Chimera Ant" is that it ranges from huge emotional crescendos like the breakdowns of Gon and Killua, to phenomenal action sequences like the Netero vs. Meruem fight in Episode 126, to equally memorable moments brought off in the unlikeliest of ways, by the unlikeliest of characters. One of the quietly great episodes of this arc was #123, the duel between Welfin and Ikalgo. It was positively Shakespearean, and Welfin delivered some of the most striking moments in the entire arc. "Chimera Ant" is full of overlooked gems like that one, and it seems only fitting that it should be revisited now, in an episode that acts more or less as a sequel to it as well as the place-setter for the final act of the arc as a whole.
We continue to see Pouf’s hastily-constructed house of lies begin to crumble around him. Pitou’s puppets have had their strings cut – of course Pouf doesn’t know why, and I suspect he refuses to allow himself to believe what he suspects – but that makes his job of subjugating the masses gathered outside the palace that much harder. He’s already given "6/7" of his body to the King so his scales are less effective, and what he doesn’t realize is that Komugi is much farther away than he believes. Pouf’s world is disintegrating around him and his already manic mien is taking on an increasingly desperate color.
Meanwhile, Octobro and Palm are moving forward with their plan to exchange Komugi for Knuckle and Meleoron – or at least to suggest that they’re willing to (Killua must have really done a number on Komugi – she’s still out cold). To accomplish this they employ Welfin as a messenger, and Palm naturally enough doesn’t trust him – but Ikalgo stops her from using one of her Wink Blue slots on Welfin to make sure he follows through with his orders. Welfin is already planning to bolt as soon as he’s out of sight – not willing to take the chance of having Meruem turn on him in "shoot the messenger" fashion – but Ikalgo stops him in this tracks with one simple sentence: "After you give them the message, you’re free – so go see Gyro."
I’ve said this before, but I love Welfin’s character arc. He’s fundamentally driven by self-interest, calculating at all times, and unwilling to trust. But here, at the last, Octobro appeals to the humanity in him – and it works. He’s remembered that he and Weflin were friends as humans, and even Welfin’s former name – Zaikahal – and remembered their shared loyalty to Gyro. As such he presents Welfin with the inescapable fact that the Chimera Ants are the enemy, because they’re the enemy of the NGL, their home, however dysfunctional and horrid it was. And Welfin, at last, is compelled to do something not as a means to advance his own interests, but as part of a larger cause. It can certainly be said that anyone who did Gyro’s bidding was anything but noble, but both Ikalgo and Welfin have achieved a certain nobility as Chimera Ants that they never did as humans – no small irony, and one of many at play in this episode and this arc.
Ikalgo sends Welfin to the surface with the four remaining sex slaves (Welfin releases them, telling them to take a truck and flee) and Brovoda in tow, and Welfin runs into chibi-Youpi as soon as he’s outside. Initially he carries out his orders, but he can’t help himself – Welfin is at the point now where he wants answers more than he wants safety. It’s doubtful, true, that he would have confronted the old Youpi, but this one is clearly a shell of his former self – massively reduced in every way by his gesture to Meruem, and exhibiting a mysterious blood-tinged cough. It seems Welfin didn’t get the answers he wanted, and so Youpi’s world ends – struck down by an underling he could have dispatched without an effort a few hours earlier. And with him two-thirds of the Royal Guard are gone, with Pouf’s life dangling by a hair thanks to the deception he’s perpetrated against the King.
Youpi isn’t the only one exhibiting strange symptoms. Meruem is too – blood is dripping from his nose, though he’s so consumed by the obsessive search for the memory that’s eluding him that he seems not to notice. Even as he finds a Gungi piece and some (but crucially not all) of the truth comes back to him, it’s Palm who puts all the pieces together – both for herself and Ikalgo and for the audience. At the moment she sees Pouf discover Youpi’s body it becomes clear to her just how correct Killua was – Komugi was indeed someone precious to the King. Komugi is a "double-edged sword" – the best weapon (actually, second-best) they have in the fight against the King. And Palm also reiterates what may be the single most prominent theme in "Chimera Ant" – it was that moment when the ant soldiers first discovered human prey that their fate was likely sealed. Their species was changed forever in that moment – this is why the Royal Guard can bicker over Komugi, and when she and Ikalgo can stand there as declared and devoted opponents to Meruem’s plans for world domination.
That’s not all Palm makes clear, though. She knows something Ikalgo doesn’t, and it’s why she says "We’re all right, now." Octobro is naturally puzzled, but Palm is certain – the King is going to die, within "a few hours". All they need to do is use Komugi’s presence to buy time until that happens – and that means crating her up and hiding her even deeper underground (if anyone asks I’m sure they’ll be told "We have top men working on it right now.") The intent here is clear – if Komugi is in a place that only she and Ikalgo know, she and Ikalgo must be kept alive even if Meruem is able to locate them in the love shack. It is indeed cruel, as Palm says, but a cruel deed that must be done – and just how deep and wide Netero’s vision was is becoming more and more clear with each passing moment.
It seems, then, that Togashi has not only trumped shounen convention by using a bomb as the means of taking out the top boss, but he’s double-bluffed us into believing it had failed. "Humanity’s infinite capacity for evolution (or malice)" indeed – Netero’s hand has reached from beyond the grave and, apparently, signed Meruem’s death warrant. The full scope of his plan only now becomes clear – the importance of taking Meruem to a weapons testing site in order to minimize collateral damage was not about the explosion, but the aftermath. This is the true blooming of the Miniature Rose, its sharpest thorn – and in going to Meruem’s rescue Menthruyoupi and Shaiapouf were pricked (we see that Pouf, too, is exhibiting the signs of radiation sickness).
For all the darkness and moral ambiguity of this, the darkest and most troubling work from a writer who specializes in those qualities, to have the downfall of the King seemingly come down to this is genuinely stunning. It shows a real contempt for convention and a disdain for traditional storytelling, but if indeed this is how "Chimera Ant" is to be resolved it seems wholly appropriate. How else can this story end but for this horror, surely among the most hideous examples of human foolishness and craven cruelty, to be its salvation? It’s hard and cold, even by Togashi’s standards, but that could be said of the arc as a whole. I don’t know exactly how things will play out but I think it would be foolish to look for righteous triumph or euphoria in the concluding episodes – at most, we might see a few moments of quiet redemption, as likely for the King himself as for any of his enemies. This isn’t the sort of story that should end by celebrating victories, but rather by mourning what’s been lost – and perhaps being quietly thankful that it won’t be everything.