Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gon's Dark Version of Redemption

I watched episode 131 of Hunter x Hunter. Then I turned the lights off and watched it again. Everything about this episode, from visuals to music to script, was crafted for the optimum emotional punch, to both characters and audience. As I started writing this blog post and sorting through screenshots, I found even more details and connections I'd missed. Finally, near the end, I reached the heart of the matter: Gon's need for redemption.


Spoilers obviously lie ahead, once I find the words to express why this episode affected me—and other fans—so much.

For several months, we've watched Gon transform into a much darker version of himself. In this episode, the transformation becomes even more tagible.

Near the beginning, I get excited because Killua is ready for action. I forget that Hunter x Hunter won't let me have fun watching battles right now. Lives—souls, even—are on the line. I don't get to squeal and clap and grin, cheering on my favorite characters.

Instead, my forehead wrinkles and my eyes widen. I gasp, and I alternate between covering my mouth and letting it hang open.

Gon at the beginning of ep 131, after Pitou tells him Kite is dead.
His eyes show his mind's inability to process data, even while the
tears flow.
Gon, I murmur, watching as he slowly absorbs the reality of Kite's death and Pitou's intentions. Please, Kiddo.

The visuals in this show impress me almost constantly, largely because of the facial expressions. Look at the screenshot above. His face is well-lit, untouched by hatred—for the moment, he can't even process anger. He is vulnerable, childlike, as his blank eyes overflow with tears.

There is no music as Pitou heals her arm, preparing for battle. The absence of extra sound reinforces Gon's blank state.

Then, change. Darkness, wind, and aura gather, and audio effects gather with them. The wind snuffs out candles, and a supernatural feeling grows. The first time I watch, I wonder if I should turn my bedroom lights off, to match what I'm seeing. The second time I watch, the lights are already off, enhancing the already-strong visuals that follow.

"I don't care if this is the end," Gon says quietly. "So I'll use
I write down Gon's haunting words. If the last few dozen episodes didn't build up to this so well, I wouldn't be able to believe it. As it is, his intense emotions make me think. For some reason, I never felt very attached to Kite, and I remember his death a lot better than his life. Perhaps I should re-watch some older episodes, because I have a hard time empathizing with Gon.

Still, my emotions are not completely detached. No other anime has worried me so much by giving power to the main character.

Gon mid-transformation is scary. Reminds me of a partially-manifested
Nine Tails from Naruto. The comparison to that fox demon seems
especially apt in this scenario.
I'm not the only one worried. Pitou watches, terrified. As she sensed would happen, "His power is now equal to that of the King!"

Her words surprise me. The King's nearly divine qualities convinced me that none of the main characters could touch him—at least, not for another hundred episodes. These young'uns aren't strong enough, and the adult with the most promise died.

I wasn't completely wrong in my summation of Gon's strength—he just grew in an unnatural way. Pitou says his sudden power should come from many years of training, and his transformed body matches her words. He suddenly looks much, much older. He already had more muscles than most 12- to 13-year-olds, but now his muscles are ridiculous, he's as tall as an adult, and he has as much hair as Rapunzel.

I'm not sure I like this transformation as part of the overall presentation, and I definitely don't like what it means for Gon. But neither Gon nor Togashi Yoshihiro (the original mangaka) care how I feel about this, so I'm forced to set aside any discontent and focus on what comes next.

Thankfully, Pitou's not so scared that she can't think. We're privy to her thoughts as she processes what's happening, and her thoughts reinforce my ever-present concern for Gon: "This power could only be achieved through the sacrifice of his own life energy. He is prepared to never us Nen again. That was the resolve required to perform this feat."

It's surreal to hear Gon say, "First comes rock" in this form.
Also, I think this frame is beautiful. The light is wonderfully
done, especially as it reflects from the leaves.
Pitou is glad that she, not the King, is Gon's target. I, on the other hand, wish he would stop. Hatred is a terrible reason to battle, and there is nothing noble about sacrificing one's self solely for vengeance. A few months ago, I looked forward to seeing Gon power up and fight Pitou. Now that I've seen the reality, I wish he'd never met her. There is nothing satisfying about her death, not for me. He continues punching her after she's down . . . I don't think I've seen him that murderous before.

Killua finally arrives, but he's too late. He can't protect Gon from himself, although he tries. Killua can hardly even recognize him at first.

In the next segment, the graphics are stripped down to black, white, and, contrasted against it, red blood. It reminds me of Kurapika's confrontation with the Spiders in episode 47. Very similar visual effects were used for his moment of vengeance. It presents a stark picture, stripped of beauty and glory. There's a disconnect between the characters' psychological states and the horror of the gore around them. This is even more true now, with Gon, than it was with Kurapika.

In this episode, the nearly monochrome part starts after Gon kills Pitou. He stands there, covered in Chimera Ant blood and staring at his hands. Tears trickle from his eyes. He's still thinking of his dead friend, and his mind can't yet consider the full implications of what he's done.

Gon doesn't notice when Pitou's body moves. Even I don't fully register what happens, partially because I'm so sucked into the psychological conflict. Only Killua sees, and he bolts forward.

An arm flies. At first, I think it's Pitou's. Then I hear Gon's whisper to Killua: "It's okay. It doesn't hurt. I'm not trying to be tough. I'm kind of happy. I finally get to be the same as Kite was back then." He's referring to how Pitou took Kite's arm (ep 85).

As all this is happening, a quiet, melancholy, piano variation
of the ending theme plays in the background, adding even
more dimension.
Killua's expression is heartbreaking. "Gon," he says softly.

"I feel like I've been redeemed some."

At this moment, I realize that Gon's thinking is even more twisted than I thought. We glimpsed some of this in last week's episode, as he alternately blamed the Chimera Ant and himself. Pitou isn't the only target of Gon's vengeful anger, and he isn't just sacrificing himself; there's an element of self-punishment to this, too. That's why he's willing to kill Pitou at the expense of his own life.

When he loses his arm, like Kite did protecting them, Gon believes he's partially paid the price for his part in Kite's death. That's what "redeem" means: to compensate or to buy. I'm trusting that the translators picked the right word here, since I can only work with the English.

If his arm "redeems" him a little, than what will redeem him completely? Only one payment comes to my mind, and I'm sure it's in Gon's mind as well: he owes his life, and he's willing to pay it through death. Even if he only loses all Nen ability, he considers it part of the payment he owes.

He's not thinking of the future, of the people he can help and the good he can do. He's stuck in his tragedy. And he places his hopes for redemption in death, starting with Pitou. But there is no hope or redemption in death.

I expect to see Gon and Killua alive in the next episode, and for many episodes to come. But the physical and psychological damage will be severe, and it will be interesting to see how Gon heals. (And he'd better heal. I don't care if it takes a hundred episodes, and I understand that he'll never be the same. But he'd better heal.)
As his Nen manifests, Gon looks back at Killua one last time, then
delivers the final, explosive blow to Pitou and her death-transcending
Nen ability. Click to enlarge. There are tears in his eyes.
I don't know how to help Gon, although I suspect friendship will have a lot to do with it. If he were real, and not just an anime character, I'd know what to hope.

In real life, I know the way to redemption. Jesus' blood paid the price for all our sins. It's a price that none of us could afford. His sacrifice redeemed me—and all of us—from sin and death. But that was only part of his plan.

Jesus came back to life, giving us hope. Without the Resurrection, his death would mean nothing. He didn't just save us from death. He saved us to life. That's why I have such a hard time watching anyone—real or fictional—look to death and enslavement for redemption.

I realize that, as a secular anime character, Gon has no access to the hope I've found. If he's to be saved, it will be by a substitute hope, provided by his mangaka. Still, I want to tell him, "Wake up! This is not what Kite saved you for! If you want to be like him, to honor him, then give him your life, not your death. Your arm will do more good attached to your body than driven through that ant's chest. Don't follow your hero to the grave. You can't earn your own redemption, Gon, and you definitely can't earn it like this. I wish you lived in reality, where my hero could become your hero, and you could follow him to life!"

Gon can't earn his own redemption anymore than I can. When he tries to earn it by making himself powerful in an unnatural, life-draining way, he gets no closer to real hope.

I gave up trying to earn my own way long ago. It's as much my fault as anyone else's that Jesus was crucified. Human nature is sinful, has been since the Fall, and I was too weak to resist actively sinning each day, too weak to rescue myself. That's why Jesus died: Only he could make things right between us and God. How am I supposed to react? Am I supposed to feel so guilty, I surrender myself to death? No! That would be ludicrous. I'm supposed to accept God's gift of redemption thankfully and surrender myself to life—true, abundant life following my Lord.

Since Gon, being fictional, can't embrace the freedom Jesus offers, I'll settle for whatever substitute Togashi comes up with. But will Gon be open to it? He has a dark, twisted view of redemption, tangled with vengeance and anger. He needs to understand that his line of thinking is fruitless, and he must soften his heart, let others help him. I think that will happen someday.

And so I wait, hopefully, eagerly, for the day he smiles again.


  1. This was a great read. But jesus and god are a shared hallucination/delusion. Dont ruin good writing like that.

    1. Thank you for reading! I'm glad you liked at least part of it.

      I'm sorry you think Jesus is a mere hallucination or delusion. I can't prove you wrong conclusively, not with my own power (and certainly not in a comment!). But if you give Christianity a fair chance, you'll find decent evidence that Jesus walked the earth, and that the New Testament writers had no reason to lie about him. At the very least, he wasn't a hallucination. As for delusion... if I'm deluded, I would not recognize it, would I? In fact, from my perspective, those who deny God are the ones under a dangerous delusion. My own studies consistently point me back to God (and yes, I've looked at some non-Christian sources).

      Think of it from my perspective: if God created me, then my writing is only possible because of him. In fact, anime is only possible because he made the minds and fingers behind it. It's only fitting to include him in my writing. If I were to leave him out of everything I wrote... well, that would be ungrateful.

  2. Just came here for Gon's scary face.


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