Hunter x Hunter is a series that has continued to defy belief, expectation, and prediction. Weaving storyline with an expanding and dynamic cast, the show has been in a tumultuous phase for the past forty episodes – almost a year – with answers still building, characters still growing, and resolution still awaiting. Because of this, some call it the messiest arc of the series, pointing fingers at the pacing and style. Others think it’s engrossing and mesmerizing, creating some of the best moments of shonen in anime history. At the heart of these polarizing opinions however, lies a particular structure: a powerful narrator that unites discourse, consequence, and duality into a singular entity.
Spoilers up to Episode 116 follow!
The narrative construction of Hunter x Hunter for the Chimera Ant arc is unique in that it extends itself from the usual framework that makes up the rest of the series. One would think that due to the length of the Chimera Ant arc, pacing would be breakneck; fights would break out every few episodes with a building intensity that explodes at the end. Luckily for the audience, the clues have been scattered beforehand; we can see from previous arcs that Togashi prefers the slow build, taking time to develop the situation at hand and the newest of characters, as seen with the Yorkshin arc and Greed Island arc. The Chimera Ant arc is not different, but it exaggerates these features to emphasize distinct points.
The first thing about the Chimera Ant arc’s narrative is that it is increasingly non-linear. Stories are dissected into parts, rotating from one character to the next at a certain pace that allows us to remember new characters and the latest developments. Uniting this fragmented storytelling is an omnipotent narrator, who not only seems to control the pacing by slowing down moments and extending them into long stretches of time, but also can speak on behalf of each character’s motive and their actions. And yet, this sort of style does not come into being until the last half of the arc. The first half of the Chimera Ant arc starts off with a cohesive fluidity, going back and forth from one side’s story to the next. Each action the Hunters take plays off in contrast to the Ants. With only two sides to explore, the narrator plays a diminished role here, allowing for the character dialogue and silent presentation to take the forefront of the story. Exposition is the priority, and thus the story does not initiate discussion. Instead, it replaces it with straightforward actions and direction (we know that the King’s birth will happen; the training arc of Gon and Killua will ultimately reach fulfillment).
Only when the Hunters invade the Palace does the story become splintered as each character routes their own individual mission. And as such, the narrator, whose presence in the first half was minuscule, suddenly rises and powers the entire narrative of the second half. Hunter x Hunter thus transitions from narrative to discourse, allowing for interpretation and showing the limitations of narration. Whereas narrative is semiotic – composed of a story and discernible, transforming subjects – discourse is the manifestation and transmission of narrative. It is how the narrator narrates. The form the narration takes in the latter half of the Chimera arc is stylistically different than that of the former half. Not only does the narrator warp the time-space of the storyline, extending moments and compressing them with ease, but also dictates every respective character’s moment in the battles. We as the audience, are forced to listen and interpret the narrator’s words as he gives us a full explanation of the characters’ motives and actions, which forces us to think about the larger picture as well as the small details. The narrator also shifts from point of view to point of view for each character, so we understand everyone’s thoughts. Even the type of narration differs, as seen in Episode 111, when the omnipotent narrator vanishes and we are introduced to a sort of interview-based discussion between the audience and Zoldyck, who goes on to give Netero’s history and background. Through this evolving narration, we gain an understanding of almost everything going on in the show.
Yet, there is a certain proof to go against the claim that the narrator tells all but shows little. The narrator lures us into creating these characters as distinguishable components of a story through giving us multiple points of views. We know what the enemy is thinking and what the heroes are thinking, putting them on equal levels and making them sympathetic. However, the narrator then breaks the mold of “tell not show” through character action and restricted narration. Yes, he bestows us, the audience, with the power of knowledge. But despite this, the characters still continue to surprise us. They do the unexpected; the uncalculated. This is because the narrator can enter the mind of these characters frequently, but not exercise them constantly. For example, in episode 116, we are given the ability to deduce Pitou’s situation from Killua’s eyes as he figures out why they are protecting Komugi (despite us already knowing), but the narrator also withdraws from the scene when it comes to Gon. Why? The narrator has no need to speak of Gon’s ideas or thoughts. The combined silence only heightens Gon’s irrationality in his decisions and the power of his emotions, surprising the audience.
Limited narration also leads to consequence, which plays a more fundamental role in the Chimera Ant arc than any of the other arcs. If the Yorkshin arc was about redemption through consequence, and the Greed Island arc was about atoning from consequences, then the Chimera Ant arc asks the final question: what happens to consequence when it can’t be forgiven or forgotten?
The literary plane of Hunter x Hunter answers this question. As said before, the narrator plays a more fundamental role in the second half of the arc. While limited in power, the narrator slows down minutes to take up entire episodes, and as a result, this hyper decompressed pacing gives us a singular focus on the consequences of actions. Take for instance, Episode 111 again, whose events realistically happen in the matter of mere seconds. The plot could be summarized as such: the Hunters intrude upon the palace through Knov’s teleportation abilities, and Netero’s form of Dragon Dive; Netero encounters Pitou, who tries to defend the King and attack Netero, but is pushed back by one of Netero’s abilities. However, the course of these events take up an entire episode. Why is this?
The narrator, while omnipresent, has a limited omnipotence; he can go from one scene to the next to tell us what is happening, the why and how something is happening, but not what is happening next. This is what creates consequence. We acknowledge the past and the present, but the future remains murky, and thus we remain anxious and understand that favorable fights can turn unfavorable in a matter of seconds. And it is because these fights are so uncertain and can change within seconds that these moments are crucial and thus extended. Hence, Netero’s attacks against Pitou are explained, but in being explained, they are also given significance and weight. The words hold as much power as the action itself. And what was one second of Pitou being able to overcome the odds of Dragon Drive turns into a second where they are overpowered and forced out of the arena. If not narrated, these moments would have been fleeting and of no consequence. They would also have been confusing, simply because each character’s train of thought varies when it comes to strategy and instinct. But by extending these moments, the narrator not only invites discourse, but also invites the idea that the story is fluid and not in his hands all the time. This too, is a consequence, and it’s frequently shown in the battles of the Chimera Ant arc.
With a revolving point of view, a constant change of pace, and the imposing consequences of actions that serve to break up an already fragmented narrative, what holds it all together? In most cases of Hunter x Hunter, the audience’s investment ties the chaos together. However, in the Chimera arc, the glue is not only empathy, but also categorization, or duality. Things are split up into parts and counterparts. Because the first half of the Chimera Ant arc focused on developing the humanistic characteristics of the Ants, the second half pits them on almost equal footing with the Hunters (I say almost considering how certain Hunters – Gon and Killua – are far more developed than others since they are the main characters).
This is thus where duality comes in. We not only know and understand what both sides are capable of, but understand that there is capacity for good and evil altogether. The Royal Guard are steadfast in their devotion to the King, even willing to sacrifice their own bodies and souls to him if need be. On the other hand, the Hunters are also devoted to their mission, to the point where they would give up their lives to ensure success. At the heart of this conflict is the King and his story, as he becomes progressively shaken and humanized by the weakest human being in the entire building – a girl who, despite this, manages to change the game for everyone. And lastly, the role of redemption and despair is finally switched as Gon falls from being the hero and becomes the tragic anti-hero instead, while Killua progresses and shifts into the tragic hero. By creating a dichotomy of thematic messages, motifs, and symbols, Hunter x Hunter‘s Chimera Arc, in all of its scattered form and transforming narrative, becomes easier to digest and parse*.
A complex structure of course, can only go so far. What makes Hunter x Hunter‘s Chimera Ant arc – and by extension, the rest of its arcs – compelling is also what can make it detract from an audience that seeks something a little more organic. Thus is the overlying problem: at what point can a story condense so much material and still be captivating to an audience? For some, the answer is harder to find in Hunter x Hunter, and for others, it may be much more easier than originally thought. Nevertheless, the idea is a fascinating one, and it’s something I personally believe the show tackles well without managing to come out as either pretentious or overbearing, and I continue to look forward to how this show catches my breath and evolves every week.
*Of course, the idea of what it means to be human has been a constant message from Episode 1 of the show, but it takes a particular emphasis in this arc.