Thursday, August 23, 2018

Battle Breakdown (Hunter x Hunter): Netero vs. Chimera Ant King


Fight scenes are awesome, and some are just so awesome that they deserve a heavy examination to look at what makes them so truly great. One such fight, the one that'll kick off this new series of mine, comes from the 2011 adaptation, Hunter x Hunter, wherein the Chimera Ant King faces off against the 13th Chairman of the Hunter Association, Isaac Netero. If you've never seen the series or read the manga, please stay away. HEAVY SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!

Watch the fight here! 

All of the best fights shown in any story are meant to, in some way, progress the narrative or the growth of the main character (be it the main character of the fight or of the series). Simply fighting for the sake of fighting is fun to watch but is ultimately insubstantial. In the case of Netero versus the Chimera Ant King, we see that narrative of the King is moved forward as well as the emotional thrust of the arc moving forward.

Up until this point, one of the down-played attributes of the Chimera Ant Arc in Hunter x Hunter has been the blurring line between humans and Chimera Ants. As Ants were born of humans, how much of humanity carried over to them, and how much of them did not? For the longest time we're left to believe that the Chimera Ant King, the only Ant to go on without knowing his proper name until this point, is the ultimate Chimera Ant, that his humanity is nonexistent and that he will, inevitably, conquer the world through sheer superiority.

What this battle between Netero and the King displays is that despite all of that raw power that the King has, he is still, ultimately, not a human. But, then the question becomes: who is the real monster? The Ant that wants to sit and discuss what the purpose of the fight would be, or the human who has to resort to underhanded tactics just to ensure the survival of his race?

On top of all of that there is a thrilling, well-thought and choreographed battle on our hands today. It would have been just as interesting to see the two entities speak but to have them both speak and exchange blows in the hopes of discovering more about themselves and their opponents is clearly the better option.

The fight can be broken down like a regular story: into three acts, or parts. You have the:

Rising Action - Netero striking the deal with the Chimera Ant King

Action - The fight, the strategy

Descending Action - Chimera Ant King proving his superior strength, not intellect.

Each of these three things contains themes in them, too. The theme of contradiction and duality is the strongest in this battle, as it should be. Any battle is going to rise when ideals are clashing, but the interesting way that this fight is conceived is in the contradiction of who bears what with them. Let's examine the fight in these three stages to go a little more in-depth with these three themes:

Rising Action

The Chimera Ant King refuses to fight until Netero reveals his true name and forces the King into combat. Then, Netero seemingly gains the upper hand by activating 100-Type Guanyin Bodhisattva, his Nen technique. The fight then changes playing fields, both physically and emotionally.

Immediately, things are not on their right footing, and the roles of the characters are reversed. The Chimera Ant King is the one willing to sit and talk, while the human is the one being invasive and dangerous. Already it's evident that there has been some sort of shift in the dynamic of this story, since before it was the Chimera Ants who were the invasive species. Netero even makes a point that the Chimera Ant King is gaining too much of his humanity, and if that happens, he'll have to feel guilty about killing the King. 

Netero presents himself, from the outset, as the bad guy, as the one who is provoking the fight. In any other story, we'd probably be willing to side with the King but the problem there is that the King is unmoving on his position with going through with murdering five million people. Thus, the fight levels the playing field by establishing that both of these men are absolute monsters, since Netero doesn't really care about what's going on at the palace so long as he defeats the King, and the King only wants to talk to Netero so he can understand more about humanity for his coming conquest. 

Then, the fight proper begins. We'd already seen and gotten the backstory on the Bodhisattva but hadn't seen it to its full extent, since it was only used briefly to take down Neferpitou. This time, Netero's expression is far more serious, though he doesn't appear to be putting in that much effort. 

It's worth noting, too, that the giant entity that appears behind Netero may not be entirely visible without the use of the Nen ability Gyo. We only ever see the King attacking Netero and getting swept to the side, not necessarily that he can see the attacks coming (this is something we'll get to later, but it's worth noting now).

Another theme that makes its entrance here is the theme of self, that of gratitude and understanding of one's self. Netero only attained this power through prayer and saying thanks, while the King gained his power through birth, without knowing who he really is. As such, the man who has a firm grasp of his identity immediately gets the upper hand over the being that does not know what it is or what it truly wants to be in life beyond what it was pre-destined to do.  

Major Action

Now the fight proper begins, and both are at a seemingly level playing field. From just the perspective of this being a raw fight filled with spectacle, it's truly amazing, definitely the best of the series. The animation is crisp, the music is excellent, and it's a well-paced battle that never loses perspective. We know that Netero is capable of launching one of these fists much faster than even an experienced Nen-user can see, so each attack is coming in less than a second. Obviously, soon, we'll see it at a much faster pace, but this middle section of the battle establishes all-too-well what Netero is capable of. 

Not to mention that this is the first time since the Gungi matches with Komugi that the King is being blocked so well without any real effort from his opponent. There are some incredible moments where it seems that the King is going to be able to obliterate Netero, but Netero blocks it just in time. 

And here is where those themes start to come back. Now we have a clash between two themes: that of self, and that of humanity versus ant. Netero's absolute mastery of self is the only thing keeping him alive at this point; he can barely go on the offensive because the King is moving too fast. But, on the flip-side of things, the King is beginning to find holes in the attacks from the adaptive intellect he's gained on behalf of his Gungi games with Komugi, but attacks with the ferocity of a Chimera Ant. Still, his identity is unclear, and he cannot get a strike in against Netero. 

So, which is stronger? As the fight progresses, the question of how far human willpower can take someone begins to sink its teeth in. The King fights and fights and Netero does not relent; these two are an immovable object and an unstoppable force. 

Or so it seems. 

The fight never makes it seem like one character is definitively going to get the win over the other. It never gives a hint, it never wants the viewer to know which way it can possibly go. These are the two strongest beings in the world, that we know of. This is the final battle; whoever wins here, it seems, will have their goal achieved. Gon, Killua, Morel, Shoot, Knuckle, Palm; none of them stand a chance against the King. Maybe not even Zeno Zoldyck. 

What's also interesting to note is that Netero's powers derive from gratitude, a very Buddhist mentality. It's interesting to note that this mentality stems from believing that all human life is something to be gracious of, something to be thankful for, yet Netero never thinks of the King as a human. He only ever sees him as an ant. 

And it's only after this that the King begins to catch Netero's rhythm, his subconscious training with Komugi begins to kick in. It becomes clear that, since Netero did not fight the King as a human and only as an Ant, the King can get an advantage. 

And so it does. The levee breaks and in an incredibly shocking, heart-stopping moment, the King takes Netero's right leg and tells him to stop fighting and just reveal his name already, since he can't continue on. But in an even better move, Netero stops the blood from flowing and beckons the King forward. Thus, we move into the final part of the fight...

Falling Action

The fight reaches its most breathtaking moment, the one that blows away almost any physical confrontation in the series, one that shows it may be a long time before we see anything of its scale: 


"The ensuing fight...did not even last a minute." 

Thousands of punches! Hundreds of different combinations, a furious flurry of blows the likes of which none on Earth have ever seen! 

It's an incredible display of animation that shows just how stronger and capable these two are...and just how out of his league Netero was all along. 

It takes just the slightest flicker, just the slightest understanding of Netero's rhythm, for the King to slip past Netero's defenses and take off his left arm, as he promised. It's the moment in the fight that would expectedly be the climax, as the King falls into the position he had when he started the fight. Everything, it seems has come full-circle, only that his not nearly close to the truth at all. 

The common theme of this part of the fight is the King's inherent lack of human will to triumph, and this comes in both a beautiful and horrifying image. The first time the King underestimates humanity, Netero activates his Zero Hand and it's an absolutely gorgeous attack that would've killed anyone else that took the hit. It drains Netero and leaves him defenseless. He has no aura left and is missing two of his appendages. He is done. 

And it's at this moment that the audience realizes what the narrative and thematic point of the King is. Before, he seemed like an unstoppable tentpole that would show just how far Gon and Killua had to get if they were ever to reach Netero's power. He was the ultimate evolution of evil, a being whose malice and power knew no bounds, but he would ultimately be defeated by a being fueled by love and gratitude. Except, this does not happen. It is not love and gratitude that defeats the King. It is not the side of humanity that the King has embraced, the side that has shone its brighter sides of late. 

No. Not at all. It's the true horrors of humanity that are his undoing. 

Thus there is the second instance where the King underestimates humanity: their infinite potential for humanity...and malice.

It's at this point in the story that the audience is meant to understand that, yes, the Chimera Ants are the evolutionary superior to humanity. They are the step up on the food chain, they are the thing that will ultimately defeat us...if we were incapable of coming up with entirely different ways of destruction.

As has been stated throughout the arc, the Chimera Ants hate humanity for their individualism, for their senses of self and for not understanding how the world supposedly works. But it's this individualism that ultimately overthrows the Chimera Ant King, albeit in a way that was paved only by destruction and distrust of one another.

It's at the final moments of Netero's life, when he reveals the Chimera Ant King's name and finally gives him an identity and sense of self that Netero reveals who he truly is as well. And it is this:


A monster who smiles in the face of death, one who does not care for other lives. He only cared if Meruem gained his humanity or not because it would make killing him just a smidge more complicated, but in the end, Meruem was going to die. He just wants to get a fight out of it.

So we come back to our overarching question: what is the true difference between human and ant? Who is the superior? Who is the one that will ultimately win out? Ultimately, we have our question: humanity.

Meruem won the physical battle due to his incredible intellect and adaptability, something he claims comes at the apex of his Chimera Ant evolution though it's clear that it comes only after his time with the young human girl, Komugi. However, Netero wins the fight because of, as he stated, humanity's potential for malice, one that can never be topped. Humanity will always win because they will do whatever they can do win.

The Miniature Rose goes off and we get the haunting final line of Meruem in the fight: "You had me at checkmate...from the beginning."

Conclusion

Netero vs. Meruem is a battle of themes and of men. We see the brilliant clashing of identities and what it truly means to be human or ant. This would later be brought up in the climactic battle that Gon is featured in, but feels more explored and brought to light here. This incredible bout also displayed the extent of Meruem's infinite potential for power, something that has raised many questions by the fans, like if we'll ever see a being as powerful as Meruem again.

It would be safe to assume no, otherwise, this fight is rendered practically pointless. We were meant to know from this fight that Meruem could only be defeated through a last-ditch display of raw evil, a complete inversion of how the fight was supposed to go.

Hunter x Hunter is replete with incredible fight scenes, and this is the best of the bunch. It is the strongest thematically and is arguably the best looking fight of the entire series. While other fights come at heavy emotoinal weight, this one is a far more complete package and therefore allows for a much deeper dive into it. In essence, this fight is the Chimera Ant arc wrapped up for us, exploring the duality of two men in their journeys to reach the pinnacle and fulfillment of their lives, and the surprising, destructive ending that they reach.


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