Absolute mountains-worth of material has been written on Hunter x Hunter and its status as the ‘deconstruction’ de jour of the Shonen genre. I’ve seen countless videos on YouTube dissecting various aspects of the series what exactly constitutes that tricky issue of what exactly a ‘deconstruction’ even represents.
But one aspect that, for me, absolutely nailed the apex of everything Hunter x Hunter has come to represent is the way – during a very precise point in the Chimera Ant arc – it completely toys and flips with our expectations as a viewer and makes us feel hate or disgust for the hero.
This, logic suggests, should run counter to everything a Shonen series stands for. Gon – like so many other Shonen protagonists – is the epitome of male teenage energy, enthusiasm and innocence. But during the Chimera Ant arc, he effectively ‘breaks’ – entering ‘beast mode’ and tearing the absolute shite out of Pitou, in one of the series most shockingly gruesome moments.
In the preceding episodes, we have seen both Pitou and Meruem immensely humanised as characters, full of love, loyalty and caring. Ostensibly ‘monsters’ – the ants have in many ways become more human than the humans themselves. And this is symbolised perfectly in the moment in which Gon – unable to reconcile his feelings of rage and desire for revenge of Kite’s death – flips out and destroys Pitou.
Here, Hunter x Hunter lays forth one of its most powerful moral dilemmas – at this stage, Gon could have arguably walked away and let Pitou be, if only he could let go of his rage. Killing Pitou will not bring Kite back – but yet he feels he must destroy her all the same. Is this the beast speaking? The base animal instinct that tells us to destroy?
Here – the tables are flipped masterfully – we end up rooting for Pitou instead of Gon, wishing for her to survive and Gon to fail or reconsider. But in excruciating detail, we see him give in and unleash his rage – human destruction let rip on the ‘natural’ world of the animals. Gon – momentarily – becomes the villain, and everything we are told to feel about Shonen protagonists is thrown into chaos.
Accompanying the striking thematic elements, we’re also greeted with a visual element that I’ve always found fascinating too – When Gon gives in to his ‘beast mode’, he essentially undergoes a kind of accelerated aging; the series explaining it as a kind of supreme desire to overcome his obstacles that essentially ‘forces’ his body to prematurely ‘grow up’ to enable his physical prowess to match his mental desire.
Now, Gon is a long-haired dark-adonis; a supreme spectacle of humanity, all ripped muscle and angular limbs. In a series that has always been prided on its ‘darkness’, Gon is the apotheosis of the ‘dark’ side of humanity – what we can inherently become if we cast aside that self-same humanity. In the dark forest-scape in which Gon and Pitou battle, Gon is now ‘king of the jungle’, a supreme predator that stands as a living testament to ‘survival of the fittest’.
This sequence in the Chimera Ant arc has always filled me with a supreme terror at what Gon both visually and thematically represents in this point in the story – further amplified when we see the hollowed out, desiccated husk he becomes after the ‘beast mode’ wears off. In all of Hunter x Hunter’s intense moralistic brooding – for me, this part has always been its very own heart of darkness.
(For the record, my favourite Hunter x Hunter arc is the York New arc. While in almost every aspect I prefer the Chimera Ant arc, I feel York New is able to convey its message effectively in fewer episodes, and in many ways has more impact as it is the first time we’ve been exposed to the really ‘dark’ stuff in HxH. Plus, the Phantom Troupe are some of the best villains out there)