While it’s no secret that any episode that looks closely at Killua’s soul is going to go to a very dark place, I was surprised by the way the remainder of the hunter exam’s final phase played out.
Illumi, and that there was bound to be a confrontation here – but it still impacted in a big way.
But there was other business to attend to first. I confess that after all the buildup we’ve seen, I was surprised when Satotz told Gon that the final phase was already over, and that the remainder of it would be told in flashback – and in less than an episode at that. As well as the episode did at portraying the events of Gon’s “lost day” I’m a bit disappointed at never being able to see all those possible permutations for the remaining candidates play out. I think Satotz’ pretty much nailed the essence of the matter when he told Gon that he had, in effect, bested Hanzo fair and square – “won him over” in Hanzo’s own words. Killiua’s puzzled reaction to that was quite in character, but I was glad to see Gon accept his license without a lot of time wasted on needless protestations – he earned it fair and square, and the follow-up matches only cemented that impression in my mind.
Why did Hisoka allow Kurapica to win? If the answer to that question is supposed to be obvious I’m not aware of it, nor am I certain the series plans to tell us (though it might). I think it’s safe to assume that Hisoka felt quite rightly that he could win a match any time he really wanted and pass the exam, but why concede to Kurapica specifically – and what did he whisper to him? Trying to guess why Hisoka might do anything is treacherous indeed, but he does seem obsessed with Gon and I wonder if that might be behind his actions. Perhaps he told Kurapica that he didn’t want to bother humiliating him unless Gon was around to see it, or that he wanted to use his life as a way of tormenting Gon later, who knows. Kurapica will probably spill sooner or later, and Hisoka ended up winning his match against Bodoro, a one-sided affair he ends by again whispering something in the opponent’s ear – and this time it’s the opponent who surrenders, and Bodoro is badly injured.
Hanzo has advanced, meanwhile, by getting Pokkle to surrender by merely threatening to do some of what he did to Gon. Pokkle is seemingly the weakest of the surviving candidates but even so, the gap between he and Gon is shocking – and yet, Pokkle advances too when Killua declines to fight him. This seems to back Killua’s assertion that he really doesn’t care about being a Hunter, and that the sport of the thing is all that matters. And when Leorio asks to have his match with Bodoro postponed so the older man has a chance to recover from the beating Hisoka put on him, the stage is set for the main event of the exam and “Gittrackur” reveals his true colors.
In a way, watching what Illumi did to Killua was as hard as watching what Hanzo did to Gon, and maybe harder. Though Illumi never laid a finger on Killiua, he completely unhinged him mentally, turning him into a frightened little boy. We know enough of Killua’s assassin background to know that his family situation is harrowing, to say the least. But Illumi shows no signs of anger – he merely dissects his otouto, slowly and thoroughly, perhaps showing just a hint of enjoyment through his impassive façade and harrowing eyes. Illumi knows all of Killua’s secrets and thus all of his fears, and systematically breaks down every illusion Killua has built around himself. And the really sad part is, most of what Illumi says is true at least in part – Killua really does think constantly about the thrill of the kill, and he’s terrified to face his brother. In the ultimate humiliation, Killua surrenders even after Illumi threatens to kill Gon (because he’s become Killua’s friend) after he’s defeated Killua – surrenders before Illumi can even touch him.
The one thing Illumi clearly got wrong was the fact that Gon and Killua could never be friends. Leorio never got the chance to redeem himself in battle (clearly, he’s the luckiest survivor) but he did have a fine moment in standing up for Killua verbally, and he was absolutely right that Gon already considered himself Killua’s friend. But Killua, while he was no doubt being honest about wanting to give up the assassin’s life and live a normal one as Gon’s friend, also likely feels he’s undeserving to be given a normal life – and never more than after his humiliating surrender with what he thought was Gon’s life on the line. Killua was clearly broken after this, but just why he ended up killing Bodoro – who seemingly had no connection to him whatsoever – is another one of those questions the episode doesn’t answer. Whatever mental pressure Killua was under, this wasn’t something he can be redeemed from easily – this was an act of cold, brutal murder against a (relatively) innocent man who appeared to bear him no ill will whatsoever. When it comes to Killua’s character journey, this is a dark ride, even by H x H standards – but this is a very bad place that Killua has gone to, and he has much work to do if he’s to earn another chance at what he desires.
Of course, going forward, it’s clearly Gon who’s going to have to try and bring Killua back from the darkness – which is going to be none too easy with Illumi around. Killua deserves to suffer for what he’s done, though I suspect his friends will be quick to forgive him. At the very least he’s the designated loser of the exam, disqualifying himself by killing Bodoro (and thus advancing Leorio unchallenged). On the whole, while I would have liked to have seen Gon’s lost day play out over a couple of episodes instead of just one, I was struck by how different in tone this was from the series to this point – even the BGM was a radical departure, a subdued orchestral soundtrack that matched the extremely somber tone of the episode. There was very little action here, but an overwhelming psychological brutality that was grimmer than all the blood and death we’ve seen to this point. Like everything else about this series, ending a massive arc in that way seems contrary to every shounen rule – in other words, perfectly in character for Hunter X Hunter.