By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
What the hell is a Chimera Ant?
The shounen genre of anime and manga has its all-time classics: the Frieza Saga of Dragon Ball Z, the Chunin Exams of Naruto, the Dark Tournament of Yu Yu Hakusho, the Marineford War of One Piece? All certified, stone-cold classics. For anime fans, these stretches of episodes/chapters are often considered powerful depictions of emotion, creativity, combat, and even philosophical discussion. Nothing really beats a classic shounen arc…but what if a particular author flipped the idea of a “classic” arc into something much more layered, lengthy, and even experimental?
Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. For many, the Chimera Ant Arc is the pivotal storyline of the acclaimed Hunter x Hunter series, published first as a 1998 manga by the legendary manga author Yoshihiro Togashi and further popularized by the 2011 adaptation of the same name. Hunter x Hunter, for those reading that may not have watched the series, is considered one of anime’s shining darlings. Deservedly so, the story being loaded with memorable characters, surprising twists on the typical battle anime formula, and a plot that makes tremendous efforts to subvert your expectations. From my own experience, everyone can at least find something to enjoy from the show’s story on a lovable, headstrong kid looking for his dad.
But oh, it is so much more than just that wholesome description.
I feel like for a blog series such as this, it’s impossible to discuss one of the most infamous storylines in anime history without some context…so for those who want a tad bit of that context, I will summarize the plot as such:
Gon Freeccs is an 11-year old boy whose ultimate goal in life is to find his father, who abandoned him when he was a baby. His dad is a Hunter, one of the world’s most powerful professions, one which gives you the freedom to do almost anything you want: chase criminals, have access to classified government documents, even have a license to kill. After becoming a Hunter himself, Gon befriends many characters on his adventures, including Killua Zoldyck, a powerful and surprisingly kind assassin who has never had a friend before Gon. After many adventures to find his father, Gon is led to one of his father’s students, Kite, whom he elects to follow in order to further improve his strength and maybe even find his father. In the background, however, a horrifying force of nature, the Chimera Ants, are multiplying in number and power, threatening the human world itself.
Now, to be brutally honest, I will definitely be adding in much more specific context in my analysis and review of this classic arc. There’s no way that I can throw in stuff like Nen, the Phantom Troupe, and even key arcs like Yorknew City in the above synopsis that leads us to the Chimera Ant Arc. My first recommendation will always be for the reader to check out the series itself and come to their own conclusions, but since I know a lot of people have watched Hunter X Hunter, I will try to maintain a balance of specifics and generalization on certain elements.
But with all of the preemptive elements out of the way, let’s talk about the arc as a whole. This will be a four, maybe even five part series on the storyline…only because it provides that much content for someone to talk about it. I firmly believe that it’s a perfect example of a story that packs so much content and detail that one can discuss it for days upon days on end.
For better and worse.
I’ll be up front: this arc is easily the most fascinating among Hunter x Hunter’s various storylines, but I do not consider it the best. The arc’s content supplies a lot of amazing, genuinely brilliant moments of character writing, artistic ability, and theming, but there are some major problems I have with it as well. I can’t elaborate upon it in detail at the moment, but the key word here is pacing. Despite some very poor pacing around the middle, however, the highs that this arc reaches are astronomical, perfect examples of why Togashi is an incredible writer. The beginning and ending of this arc, to me, are absolutely perfect as subversions of the shounen genre, as well as being emotional stories in their own right. It is in this arc that Togashi flexes what I believe his three greatest strengths as a writer:
- Character relationships
- Antagonist development
- Consequences Mattering
Now, for this arc, the cast has expanded to an insane degree. Prior to this arc, HxH was continually expanding its cast of named, relevant characters, each having unique and important relationships with either main or side characters. In this arc, however, the cast downright exploded: a whole gaggle of new antagonists with unique goals, powers, personalities, and character traits were introduced in the form of the Chimera Ants, a faction of intelligent and terrifying creatures evolved to take on the traits of those who were eaten prior to their birth. New heroes and protagonists were introduced to solve the Ant problem, including godlike Hunters and fringe bystanders that supplied their own direct impact on this grand plot. Many fan favorite characters were introduced and even axed-off during this arc, some of which have some of the entire series’ most impactful moments: the blind Komugi tugged at viewer’s heartstrings, the overly-protective Colt was one of the few Ants considered “good,” Morel carried scenes entirely off his charisma alone, and Meruem rewrote what it meant to be a villain.
The character work isn’t just reserved for new characters: Gon and Killua, are almost secondary in this overall plot, sure, but the way this plot breaks their current mindsets hurts. They’re in way over their heads about twenty chapters in, only leading to greater struggle that damn near undoes their tight friendship and prior development by the story’s end. The arc is brutal, yes: people die, the action is harrowing and disturbing at points, but this doesn’t even match up to the mental anguish some characters feel when fighting the Chimera Ants. Every character relationship, from “hero” to “villain” is fleshed out to the absolute max…and there are some truly fascinating roads that Togashi takes these characters down.
You may have noticed that I hinted at the Chimera Ants being “villains,” but that word is reductive. One of HxH’s greatest strengths is making every character, regardless of how psychotic and downright evil they may be, seem somewhat relatable or entertaining. This strength is put to the max on this arc, exemplified by the Ants themselves. At first, they seem like a one-dimensional species of man-eating insects, but as the story goes on they develop feelings, relationships, the ability to speak and even ponder their existence. I genuinely believe that the best villains are those that act like real people, and by God the character work with certain Ant and human characters paints them as equally good and bad, crescendoing in a disturbing look at the human condition and what it means to be just. I will go into more detail in the future, but just know that the relationship between the Ants, their King and his Royal Guard is genuinely one of the most incredible things I’ve read.
Lastly, let’s talk about the aspect of consequences: one of the largest criticisms for shounen in general is that despite the high-stakes touted behind certain battles or conflicts, there are ultimately no consequences because someone will get revived, the power of friendship will prevail, etc etc. That isn’t present here. If a character is too weak for an encounter, they’re good as dead. If someone lets their emotions get in the way, something bad will happen. This arc is all about consequences, and what steps people will take to get the absolute worst of them, either on accident or on purpose. In short, the whole storyline is an exploration of “good” characters and their flaws, which are then projected onto their enemies and thrust back into their faces.
Spanning over 100 chapters of manga and 60 episodes of anime, this arc is ripe for discussion…and that will lead to a consequence of me dissecting this incredible arc over the next few weeks. I hope y;all will enjoy this prelude as I go into more intimate detail with this arc, as I go over its opening moments and how they create false expectations. See you there!