By Yoshihiro Togashi
This arc of Hunter X Hunter feels like something out of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Not in terms of the politicized game of wits, which is pure Togashi. Rather, it’s the presence of the nen beasts accompanying each of the Kakin princes, who are blissfully unaware of them, that really stick out. They’re really reminiscent of stands, and while their powers may differ in execution, it’s a fun comparison. These designs are pure Togashi weirdness, with one of the prince’s familiars looking like a weird spiked frog-like car or another resembling a bizarre centaur with a long neck and sharp claws, and wearing stilettos for some reason. Togashi really has fun with his monster designs, and can masterfully create weird and ominously dangerous looking creatures. It’s too bad that the spirit beasts can’t directly fight each other, because I really want to see what these monsters can do.
That’s the brilliance of the battle between the Princes. They have these horrifying, intimidating monsters at their disposal, but they can’t see or command them. Even if they could, they can’t simply use them to slaughter their enemies. They have to think tactically and pursue indirect but effective means of assassinating their rival siblings. The princes are playing a deadly game of chess with many pawns to spare, and only those who can see the long game and can plan accordingly will checkmate and be crowned king.
Togashi seems to be priming the five eldest princes to be the main players in the succession battle, with the others being supporting players or potential wild cards. The eldest three have been set up as the most dangerous and despicable of the lot, while the fourth and fifth eldest siblings Tserriednich and Tubeppa may potentially be the main obstacles to Kurapika. Tserriednich in particular was originally positioned as Kurapika’s main foil for this arc, being the possessor of the remaining scarlet eyes, and this chapter welcomely reestablishes his threat. While he doesn’t do anything particularly villainous in this chapter, the fear exhibited by his own men while discussing him is enough to characterize his dangerousness.
Togashi is adept at crafting internal and external conflicts between multiple factions. With this chapter he introduces the idea that Tserried’s bodyguards don’t want him to learn nen, fearing what he might do if he were to harness it. Togashi introduces a ticking clock in the effort to prevent Tserried from awakening his nen powers, and cements his threat simply through how unsettling his nen beast, a monster within a monster, looks when it’s not even doing anything. Tserried is a scary dude just being who he is, and it really exacerbates the tension and intrigue of what he could be capable of with an unlimited power at his disposal. The decision of Theta to teach Tserried nen before he can learn it from anyone else, and thus control and limit what he can do with it, is an interesting turn of events that will no doubt go wrong, but allows for a short-term check of his capabilities before the inevitable power-escalation. This is a smart way to limit an antagonist’s power in a way that makes sense, which stands out compared to more standard multi-form transforming baddies with artificial conditions placed on how strong they can be.
The Succession arc only gets more complicated and intriguing with every chapter. There are so many characters, factions, and rules involved it’s almost overwhelming to keep track of. Togashi can write a political power-struggle story like this like no other, and by taking out the element of direct confrontations and fights to focus on more indirect strategies he’s crafted yet another arc that can’t be pigeonholed into the predictable shonen battle formula. Not to mention how his art is more on point than ever, crafting an image of pure horror in Tserried’s nen beast and selling it with the speechless, frightened stare Theta gives it. It can be worrying when a mangaka keeps introducing new elements into an arc, but when Togashi does it you can be confident that it’ll always lead to interesting things.