「カンパイ × ト × サイカイ」 (Kanpai × to × Saikai)
“Defeat × And × Reunion”
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 wonder if anyone recognized Han Megumi when she showed up to the recording studio to dub this episode…
With almost unerring accuracy, you could predict that any episode of Hunter X Hunter that ends in “5” is going to be a blockbuster. It’s cherry-picking when the vast majority of H x H eps have ranged between great and jaw-dropping, but we’ve seen so many milestones on that number – so much emotion, so much GAR, so much pain, so much joy. And to think this is the last one is a major punch to the gut – there’ll be no #155 to amaze and astound us.
This is definitely one of those episodes I’ll watch again (well, I plan to watch all of them again sequentially as soon as the run is over, but…), and parts of it multiple times. There were so many big moments here – so many crucial milestones that the series has been building towards, some of them literally since the first episode – that it’s hard to know where to begin to assess it. It does feel like sensory overload in a way, yet each of those moments in the moment was clear and distinct, and made tremendous impact. It’s only in looking back on it that one realizes just how many crucial watershed events were packed into 22 amazing minutes.
I’m struck by a lot of things here, but it really has to start and end with Gon. He’s the main character, my favorite character, probably the most contradictory and indecipherable character, and he’s been missing since Episode 131. While his presence has still been the primary plot driver, we haven’t heard from Gon in more than three months (I guess my little joke last week wasn’t such an exaggeration after all) and as great as those intervening eps have been, that feels like a very long time. There was never any question that Togashi and Madhouse would make his return live up to the buildup, because they nail all the big moments. But I think it’s impossible to have a protagonist be gone for that long and then reappear in an emotional crescendo without changing the way we look at the character.
First off, Gon truly has wonderful friends. To see what Killua has suffered – and continues to – for him is a reminder of just how loyal he is. The moment when Killua saw what Gon’s withered arm looked like was dramatically perfect – horrifying and heartbreaking. You could see the hesitation in him when Nanika asked for Gon’s hand, the fear of what he would see – and the reality was worse than he could have imagined. Killua’s heart broke yet again, for probably the hundredth time – yet he bears it, because he loves Gon with all that heart and would do anything for him. Tsubone – who perhaps knows Killua better than anyone, it seems – recognizes just how vulnerable Killua is, what his empathetic soul does to him. Poor Killua – he really was born into the wrong life.
It isn’t just Killua, though. The depth of Leorio’s loyalty is off the charts, and if he hasn’t suffered for Gon’s sake like Killua has, he’s certainly punished himself because of that fact. And the entire storyline is filled with characters swept into Gon’s orbit. And this is an important point, I think – Gon is certainly lucky to have an army of devoted compatriots, but doesn’t he deserve some credit for the fact that he’s been able to inspire so much affection, so much dedication? Most of those people (not excepting Killua by any means) dismissed Gon at first, which is perhaps not a bad analog for the people who dismiss Hunter X Hunter because of how the main characters look. It was only when they came to know Gon and were changed by him that these strangers became the blood brothers and sisters they did.
My reaction in seeing Morel flash Leorio that thumbs-up and Gon appear in the doorway at the Hunters Association was a complicated one. Fittingly, Gon wears a big smile as if nothing has happened, because Gon’s smile is a force of nature in Hunter X Hunter. That sight exemplifies everything that’s infuriating, perplexing and irresistibly loveable about Gon. There can be no doubt that he’s an incredibly selfish boy, and it’s hard to imagine that in that moment he’s thinking about all the worry and consternation he’s caused for those who love him. But he’s also completely pure, a kind of shounen archetype taken to a theoretical extreme. He sees the world with crystal clarity (even if sometimes not with accuracy) and is possessed of limitless courage. He too is ferociously loyal to his friends, but ultimately Gon is a totally self-driven person – someone who need never reach outside his own sense of justice for the motivation to act in life. He’s an enigma, a unique creation by Togashi, and he’s too easily dismissed by too many fans who don’t seem to appreciate that about him.
There are weighty implications flying everywhere in this episode. As Alluka becomes aware of what Killua wants, there’s a moment of hesitation, of jealousy – but Killua promises that there’s no going back to the bad old days of being a prisoner in the Zoldyck dungeons. Killua understands full well what he’s asking of Alluka but the stakes are simply too high for him to hesitate. And as Nanika takes over, everyone in the family watches courtesy of Tsubone’s Nen camera -with Illumi’s reaction especially telling. He recognizes the full potential of Alluka’s power, even if he doesn’t fully understand how Killua interacts with it – and he desires that power for himself. But Killua dreams of making that power go away forever, of never asking Alluka to make Nanika appear again.
Inside the Association, everyone of consequence (except the blissfully unaware Leorio, it seems) is also fully cognizant that something very big is happening at the hospital. The eighth ballot has placed Leorio in first place, but with only 44.4% of the vote and eliminated Mizaistom and Cheadle (who’s a distant fourth). Leorio’s victory seems a fait accompli at this point, but Pariston chooses to delay matters by invoking the 8th and 9th Commandments, and demanding an emergency meeting to vote on reforming the commandments and the rules for the Hunter exam. When the shock wave of Nanika’s truly massive power hits, though, Pariston realizes that he’s effectively won the war – the rules of the game have been utterly changed. And it’s not as though Leorio cares one way or the other – if Pariston’s ambivalence about winning or losing gives him the power to troll without fear, Leorio really doesn’t give a damn. He just wants Gon to get better, one way or the other – and if he doesn’t need to become Chairman so he can order people to help, that’s just fine with him.
The degree to which Pariston has been playing the others has never been more clear, and it’s Cheadle (as always) who’s most agonized by that. I think Togashi is practicing a kind of equivalent exchange here – he’s giving us one victory with the return of Gon, but the price is the seeming ascendancy of Pariston to the chairmanship. I’m not absolutely convinced that’s a bad thing, and it may in the end be true that Pariston finds the idea of being Chairman and actually being responsible for everything more trouble than it’s worth. And indeed, he explains to Cheadle (in what seems like a moment where he actually takes pity on her) his initial vision was that Ging would end up winning the election, and he seems fine with that. But when Ging removed himself from consideration, Pariston understood that there was a cure out there for Gon – and that in the end, that would make Leorio’s candidacy irrelevant. It was only a question of stretching things out long enough – and happily for Pariston, that also happens to be an enormous amount of fun for him.
Finally, this episode is the story of reunions – the one we see, the one we don’t see, and the one that’s impending. Gon and Leorio’s is a rarity in anime, a truly and unapologetically emotional meeting complete with a bear hug and tears. It’s a great payoff, and one well-earned both by Leorio and the audience. What a true and profound friend Leorio is, and what a great spirit Gon is to be so full of sunshine after everything that’s happened. But there’s someone absent here, of course, and that’s Killua – that’s a reunion we don’t see, the person who’s been closest to Gon since the story began, and indeed we’re left to wonder if Killua recused himself before Gon even woke up and the reunion hasn’t happened yet. For all the courage he’s shown it’s clear that this ordeal has emotionally wrecked Killua, and he may simply not have been ready to face that moment without collecting himself. And Morel orders Leorio not to tell Gon that it was Killua who saved him – there are obvious reasons why that would be so important to Killua, but I suspect that’s a subject that’s going to addressed directly in the weeks ahead.
Last and most certainly not least, there’s the ultimate shounen moment, the one that set Hunter X Hunter in motion 145 episodes ago – the boy has found his father at last. It’s a happy time for Gon as the audience (led cynically by Pariston) cheers his return, many playfully (or not) urging him to run for Chairman and promising their votes. But when List catches Gon’s attention and points to Ging, the atmosphere changes on a dime. It’s impossible to try and capture the complicated emotions that go into this moment in a few sentences – it’s 145 episodes and 330+ chapters worth of existential drama coming to a head. I can only sit back and wait for it to play out, suspecting that this is going to show us a side of Gon we’ve never seen before (and perhaps Ging too, though I think that’s less likely). After this nothing can ever be the same, and even in an episode and indeed a series overflowing with epic moments, this one truly stands out as unique and exceptional.