「(ケッサイ × ト × カッサイ」 (Kessai × to × Kassai)
“Approval × And × Coalition”
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.
And then there were four…
Four is an ominous number in Japan, the on’yomi (Chinese pronunciation) of “shi” being the first syllable of the word for “death” (as a result Japanese generally use the kun’yomi of “yon” – the same principle applies to the number seven). But 4 is the number of the moment in Hunter X Hunter any way you slice it: four episodes left after today. Four candidates left in the Chairman election. Four months since Gon has appeared in a speaking role (OK, maybe the last one just feels that way).
Fortunately for fans of the series, the number of ways Hunter X Hunter can entertain and compel is much greater than four. It could theoretically be infinite, since episodes are seemingly like snowflakes in that no two are alike. There’s no question that Togashi-sensei has a serious geek component in his personality – when he latches onto a theme he loves to elaborate and backfill and exposit to the point of obsession. It’s no surprise that politics would be a subject fit for his limitless intellectual appetite, and it’s clear that he’s extensively studied how voting patterns work (and that he’s fixated on group dynamics has been apparent pretty much since the beginning of the series).
The thing with H x H is, there are almost always multiple scenarios playing out at the same time. And Togashi loves to cut away from one of them (usually whichever is the most important to the audience) just when it seems to be reaching a nexus point, which is exactly what he does here by devoting almost the entire episode’s material to the election. Of course if there’s anything good about the series being in its last month, we know he’ll have to return to Gon’s situation sooner rather than later. And with Killua and Alluka having arrived at Gon’s pop-up hospital room, we’re obviously close to the moment of truth. And as if to emphasize both the critical nature of what’s happening and the depth and breadth of Gon’s friendships, we see the honor guard around him made up of the best among his friends – Knuckle, Palm, Bisky, Octobro, Meleoron (glad to see everyone is OK there), Gorenieu, Melody and Hanzo (what an impression Gon made on him, all the way back then).
There are of course two friends (and one father) missing from that location, and one of those friends is missing from the narrative altogether. But the other is hip-deep in the other major plot thread even though he’d much rather be at Gon’s side, and as usual Togashi has a way of making the “supporting” dramas just as compelling as the main event. It starts with Ging being his usual cryptic and annoying self (honestly, I can see why pretty much everyone seems to be pissed off at him most of the time) and planning to bug out right after casting one last vote for Cheadle. I give her credit for confronting Ging and asking him flat-out to help her, because it takes a serious swallowing of pride to do that. She understands her own weaknesses – and in this instance, she understands that she’s no match for Pariston.
Ging is blunt when you want him to be diplomatic and cryptic when you want him to be direct, but there’s no denying he understands the essence of the matter. When he says Pariston is the only one who’s carrying on the will of Netero he’s basically right, because while Cheadle and Mizaistom are playing things straight and Leorio is concerned with his own priorities, Pariston – in glorious Netero tradition – is just enjoying fucking with everyone. That irritating freedom from principle makes him hard to predict, while to him both Mizaistom and Cheadle are basically an open book. And Ging’s also probably right that if he’d given Cheadle any advice earlier in the process, she would have done the opposite out of sheer pique and stubbornness. Now that desperation has forced her to come to him Ging does offer Cheadle a bit of direction, but he’s determined to force her to figure out the big stuff on her own.
When the time comes for the vote, there are some surprises in store, one of the must crucial being that no one will be allowed to leave until a new Chairman is elected (will a puff of white smoke be sent up when that happens, I wonder?). Who was responsible for that decision, which seemingly ensures that Ging’s predicted course of events (nothing being settled until the next Hunter exam) won’t play out? There are no real surprises in the concession remarks from the defeated quarterfinalists, with Botobai throwing his support to Cheadle and Ickshonpe saying “Your reality isn’t my reality, so do what you want” in Bob Dylan fashion. Ickshonpe adds a fascinating addendum – “Ging – don’t try and run while you’re ahead!! Get back here!!" That last message, coming from someone who’s a complete mystery, is a thing to ponder indeed.
Naturally, the logical course of action is for the anti-Pariston forces to throw their weight behind Cheadle, who’s in third-place and the highest-ranking Zodiac. Botobai is on-board, and so is Mizaistom. And it being so logical, it seems very likely that it’s what Pariston expects from opponents who always do what’s expected. But here he gets either his first or second major surprise of the day, depending on whether the imposition of Papal voting rules surprised him – Cheadle throws her support to Leorio. It’s really the first time we’ve seen Pariston actually betray surprise on his face, and it shows that Cheadle – in addition to having the humility to go to Ging for help – was actually listening to what he was trying to tell her.
Leorio is the real wild card here, the true “independent” candidate in the race who draws his support from no established group. And he wants no part of the election or the chairmanship – he just wants to be with Gon, even if he knows he can’t help him. But when he takes the podium and in his own words “draws a blank” about what to say, he ends up making by far the most memorable statement of the day by being completely honest. He tells everyone he’ll treat the Association as his personal property, and order everyone to help Gon. He describes his activities while Gon was fighting to save the world, which include surfing the net, drinking and “jerking off” (Togashi, you magnificent bastard). And he turns his “campaign” speech into a plea for help for Gon – any help at all, no idea too small or too outlandish. Finally he slumps over the podium, admits he’s said too much, and finishes with “Forget the part about jerking off.”
If there’s a character who does more with less screen time than Leorio has done in this arc I can’t remember them, and it’s really no surprise he impacts the voters like none of the others do – Tsezguerra starts the applause and it doesn’t die down quickly. Cheadle’s calculus was a smart one – Leorio is free of the baggage she and Mizaistom carry, and he can win a majority because there’s no faction outside Pariston’s core support (meaning the votes he personally controls) who have a reason to vote against him. And both Cheadle and Mizaistom genuinely care more about stopping Pariston than becoming Chairman themselves – there’s strong evidence that Pariston’s hands are very dirty, and Ging has revealed to Cheadle that Pariston is planning something big with 5000 cocoons from East Gorteau, containing Nen-using Chimera hybrids. And the blunt truth is, both Cheadle and Mizaistom surely figure they can control the inexperienced Leorio when push comes to shove.
The problem is Pariston knows all this too, naturally – he recongizes that the greatest threat to him is support coalescing around Leorio and putting him over the top in the next round And even if Ging is right that Pariston “doesn’t care” about winning (which in truth I’m not completely convinced of – I do think he cares enough to want to win in the end), he does care about having his fun come to an end. So he uses his own speech to back Mizaistom, knowing he can control enough votes to finish in the top two as long as he can deprive Leorio of a majority. And if he gets a one-on-one matchup against either Mizaistom or Cheadle, he has to figure there are enough anti-Zodiac votes to add to his total to put him over 50%.
What a tangled web, indeed. For Mizaistom and Cheadle this has now become a crusade, stop Pariston at any cost – and Cheadle at the very least realizes that neither of them can beat Pariston in a two-candidate vote. Whether he likes it or not Leorio has become an integral part of a very big fight, even as Gon’s crisis is surely at the very brink of resolving itself one way or the other. More than anything else, I think, “Election” has revealed itself to be a story of priorities – a story set off by the choices Gon and Netero made in the final stages of “Chimera Ant” based on their own priorities. For everyone from Killua through Ging and Leorio, Pariston and Cheadle and Mizaistom, “Election” is about characters deciding what’s most important to them, and what they’re willing to give up to see it to fruition.