Hunter X Hunter – 393-395

I started out this reboot with the intent, at least tentatively, of covering two chapters at a time.  But I’ll be honest – after 393 and 394 it would have been virtually impossible for me to do a write-up.  I love Togashi-sensei unreservedly as a creator, but I had nothing – I was exhausted just reading them.  They were Togashi at his most esoteric and unflinchingly verbose.  If you want more analysis, I refer you here.

In truth, then, this is about Chapter 395.  It’s one that irrefutably stands as one of the milestone chapters in HxH for what it depicts, and it’s infinitely more relatable (and frankly, interesting) than the previous two.  There’s a strong body of circumstantial evidence suggesting 394 was the last chapter Togashi had more or less completed before his four year-plus hiatus, and it’s easy to believe that now – 395 has an immediacy and intimacy that marks a complete 180, in addition to being a major turn in the plot.  It reads like a chapter Togashi spent a long time thinking about.

Getting a true origin story for the Spiders is pure fanservice of course, but Togashi so rarely indulges in that way that I’m not remotely complaining.  The chapter is literally a followup to the prior one, as the Troupe members pursue the Heil-Ly hideout angle and wade into the gang war they’ve become a part of.  But that quickly gives way after a brief exchange between Phinks and Nobunaga, and with a few simple words Nobunaga sets the narrative on a trip down memory lane that to some extent at least looks certain to be a game changer.

It’s no coincidence that it’s these two having the conversation.  Among the “core” Spiders – the ones present when the story first introduced the Troupe – they’ve always been polar opposites.  Nobunaga is the most sentimental and idealistic and pure “old school” Phantom Troupe, and Phinks the most venal and ruthless.  Honestly he always acts like the outsider he is – the “which one of these is not like the others” Spider.  In effect, then, Nobu is lecturing Phinks on what things were like before he got there.

There are a lot of headlines here to be sure, but Togashi tying in the Kurapika one-shot prequel he wrote as a tie in for the “Phantom Rouge” movie is a huge WTF moment – pure Togashi ballsiness.  This has seriously wide breadth but there are two main points I see here, one very obvious and one less so.  The obvious one is – obviously – Sheila.  How is it that she was present both in the Kurta village in Kurapika’s childhood and in Meteor City for the Troupe’s?  There are already some wild fan conspiracies about this – about the most popular seems to be that she’s actually Pariston.  All these theories sound like BS to me, including that one.  The really interesting part of her presence for me is the implication that she was the one who led the Spiders to Kurapika’s village and caused their destruction.

The less obvious but equally interesting connection is that the young Chrollo bears an unmistakable similarity to the young Kurapika.  No way this is a coincidence – Togashi doesn’t roll that way.  We’re seeing the Spiders before everything went really dark – within the context of Meteor City being a Hell on Earth, their existence seems almost idyllic.  They happily play, they have a kindly adult mentor (a priest in the “All Faith Church”).  And Chrollo specifically is a whip-smart, curious boy who loves to read and learn things, just like Kurapika (he even arranges a dub session for an anime on VHS).  He’s pointedly not the “leader” at this stage – he’s small for his age and if anything is good-naturedly bullied by the others (who are a bit in awe of his intelligence).

Just the reveal that most of the Phantom Troupe were childhood friends is news, though it’s confirmation more than true revelation.  The question invited here is, what happened to turn them into the murderous menace they became?  Did Sheila groom them, in service to some master plan she had that involved Kurapika and the Kurta too?  It’s obvious that the kidnapping and murder of Meteor City children will have a role to play in this – someone close to Chrollo’s heart is probably about to fall victim to that, and at that even will at least in part change him (and the others).    But the details will be fascinating to see.

I’m not a Phantom Troupe fanboy as so many are (including the guy who finds Hisoka in the cineplex).  To me they’re a fascinating and crucial strand in Hunter X Hunter’s endlessly intricate web, no more and no less.  Nevertheless this is an interesting and frankly very welcome turn for the “Dark Continent” arc, which frankly was kind of adrift as far as I’m concerned.  It desperately needed an anchor and now it has one – the question is what Togashi will do with it.  It seems certain we’re going to get at least two volumes worth of material this time (Togashi is tweeting about 404-405 at the moment) so there’s plenty of time for this game-changing plot twist to unravel.  As Kramer would say, “Giddy-up”.