Among the nearly innumerable things I love about Hunter X Hunter is the glimpse it provides into the mind of its creator.
Of course it’s not just that Togashi throws these concepts at us, but that he does so in fully realized form – as if the complete story behind them had already been written and he was just getting around to sharing it. Salieri supposedly said of Mozart that rather than writing symphonies, they were already completed in his mind before he ever started the notation – as if he were “taking dictation from God”. When I see Gon and Killua enter a new phase of their story that’s incredibly rich in detail and color, it doesn’t feel as it Togashi threw it together to use in his story – it feels as if all this wonderful background already existed, and was just waiting for the right moment to be used.
Of course the focus of the story shifts back to Gon and Killua (and to a lesser extent Leorio) this week, and it really is a completely different series. It looks different (bathed in sunshine) and sounds different (the funereal BGM giving way to bright martial strains). H x H is many things when focused on Kurapika but it isn’t actually that much fun, and there’s always a sense of fun when Gon and Kil are involved. Their quest remains the same – find enough money to bid on Greed Island – and while their focus initially shifted to the Spider hunt, that proved pretty much a dead end, leaving them to turn their attention back to the auction itself. In order to raise seed money Gon actually pawns his Hunter license, though he doesn’t seem too worried about it – brimming with confidence that he’ll easily earn enough to win it back, and in the process enough to buy information about the Spiders by offering a substantial reward.
Things start out innocently enough when Gon spots a “Ben’s Blade” at the street market, but this simple exchange tells us volumes about Gon and Killiua and how their strengths are so different (and often complimentary). Gon has no idea what the odd knife is but his instinct tells him it’s valuable. Killua recognizes it after Gon points it out, as a blade crafted by a famous serial killer (don’t you ever give it a rest, Togashi-san?) a century earlier – but he recognizes it because of his knowledge of weaponry. Gon’s instinct sets off Kil’s craftiness, and a plan hatches to use their keen eye to spot Nen-infused items to bid on and resell at a profit. The intricacies of the auction system start to become clear here, as this phase is a kind of silent auction where everyone writes down the maximum they’re willing to pay. And Gon and Killua run afoul of another bidder who seems to spot the same items they do – and manages to outbid them for one of them.
Another element of H x H that stands out is the seemingly endless array of good supporting characters, and Zepile is no exception (interestingly he’s played by Masami Kikuchi, who played Wing in the 1999 series). He swoops in just as the boys are about to be swindled by a local dealer when selling one of the items they won – something called a “wooden trove”, a 300 year-old statue that was used by the wealthy of the time to stash their valuables inside. Zepile opens the boys’ (and our) eyes to a fascinating world of hoodwinks, double-dips, welds and side-stepping – yet another fully realized universe within the H x H universe that has its own set of rules and cast of characters (including Togashi’s alter-ego), and one that’s hugely entertaining to spend time in. When Gon tells Zepile “You live in an incredible world!” that sums up the feeling of watching the series every time it opens up another one of those worlds to the viewer.
I think the scene where the boys buy Zepile lunch in return for his help (the best offer the frugal Killua was willing to make) is quietly spectacular. I love the interplay between the two sides, the gentle sparring that eventually leads to a series of questions, each side probing the other about who they are and what they’re after. The dialogue in great but the reaction shots are equally well-done, with Zepile becoming increasingly hooked into the story as the boys somewhat pensively suck down their sodas while listening to his answers. There’s a real mutual respect in this meeting – both sides can sense that the one(s) across the table are people of quality, and someone worth listening to. Zepile may be a simple appraiser, but he’s also an artist himself who appreciates quality on a gut level – and his appraisal skills tell him that Gon in a remarkable individual. “His reaction was very simple – innocent curiosity. He opens his mind to everything that impresses him, right or wrong. Which means that he’s dangerous… Someone that can never be appraised.” Honestly, this assessment of Gon is so spot-on perfect that it almost amounts to showing off for Togashi to use it this way – but if anyone has earned the right to show off, he has.
Of course it’s Killua who’s the one who correctly spots the scam that Zepile is quizzing the boys about – as always, filling in the blanks where Gon’s instinct needs a little push from canny street smarts. And when Gon and Kil were playing with Zepile, Leorio was busy on the interwebs using Gon’s seed money to buy info on two Spiders, seemingly Nobunaga and Machi, so the long-awaited meeting between Gon, Killua, Leorio and the Phantom Troupe is upon us at last. And the preview indicates even more Spiders will be involved, so it’s sure to go into epic territory. But you know, as much as I love the epic episodes – no series does them as well as H x H – what I really love about this show is that it can make this episode every bit as entertaining. So from my POV if you're going to complain that this ep was too slow, or “setup” or filler, you’re really missing out on what makes Togashi such a preposterously great writer. I’ll take as many of these intellectual-psychological diversions as he cares to give up – they’re totally unique and capture the magic of H x H every bit as well as the more flashy battle episodes. They're two sides of the same coin, and equally indispensable to what makes H x H what it is.
Gon & Killua’s Hunterpedia: “Shizuku”