With the Chimera Ant arc well underway in the 2011 adaption of Hunter x Hunter, I felt this would be a good place to start with this blog. Not many people have gone through the trouble to give an in depth analysis of this arc, but having previously re-read it and with the anime currently adapting the arc, it is fresh in my mind at the moment and I feel this is the right time to discuss the arc as a whole.
The following overview contains potential spoilers, if you have not read the Chimera Ant arc and do not wish to be spoiled, please don't read past this point.
The Chimera Ant arc picks up right where Greed Island leaves off, with Gon and Killua freshly completing the game and using the cards they acquired to take themselves to Ging. As it would turn out, Ging had already planned ahead for this and the two are instead taken to meet a familiar acquaintance in Ging's apprentice, Kaito, who had previously saved Gon 2 years prior to where the series starts. After getting reacquainted with Kaito, the arc gets underway introducing a new species to the series that had not yet been introduced in Chimera Ants. This introduction is met with an ominous feeling as the first we see of the Chimera Ants is the 2 meter tall Ant Queen who is in the process of her reproductive cycle in order to birth the next Chimera Ant King. After discovering the leg of the Queen, it is up to Kaito and crew to attempt to discover the Queen's whereabouts before she is able to birth the next King.
That is basically a brief overview of the premise to the beginning of the arc. Afterwards we are introduced to a lot of dark themes never explored before in any of the previous arcs with the only one coming close to it being Yorkshin. We are introduced to the intriguing idea of what would happen if a species existed that could reproduce offspring with a multitude of split genes in order to create a "superior" race. While this concept is introduced very early on in the arc and perfected in its presentation of the early soldier ants who serve the queen, it is really only carried out through the rest of the time spent on the continent of NGL before the weaker level ants beginning to branch off and do their own thing, only really being presented through the King and his Royal Guards. This is the first flaw to the arc that is truly a glaring issue with the underlying themes that Togashi presented. His story starts off slow and hardly develops any of the early ants only using them as a tool to show the budding storyline of the ants beginning to gain a sense of individuality through their inheritance of human genetics. These ants were left severely underdeveloped and then just brought back in the mid points of the arc to present a sense of danger before the eventual meeting with the Royal Guards and the King. They were just their to present an army in numbers of an evolving species that was a threat to the human race that were deemed to dangerous to keep alive and had to be exterminated, which most of them are.
Another glaring issue with this arc is there is no consistent flow to keep the events in the story moving along without any interruption or side tracking. Part of this could definitely be chalked up to the amount of hiatuses that took place during the creation of this arc, but also to the overall length of the story. It is damn near impossible to keep a plot smoothly going without losing momentum for 132 chapters. Unlike in the previous arcs, the Chimera Ant arc does not move directly from Point A to Point B to Point C. It starts with Point A takes a detour then jumps to Point B and then takes yet another detour before we finally arrive at Point C. This made the story feel very disconnected. An example of this are how Gyro's flashback is suddenly jammed into the story about 20 chapters into the arc. Pretty much we start with NGL which introduces us to the Ants, then after the King is born and the Queen dies all of these Ants go there separate ways and we are thrust directly into a competition between Gon and Killua and Morel's apprentices Knuckle and Shoot. After this we jump around between random battles with lower level Chimera Ants (some of which were former officers who also know Nen) mixed in with the few random times the King and his Royal Guards are introduced back into the story. Then after all of that we arrive at the brilliant storming of the King's castle and after which get a drawn out final set of battles where the situation looks hopeless for the human race before we finally arrive at the end of the arc, with the human race left in shambles trying to recover from the national tragedy that was insinuated by the Chimera Ant invasion.
The pacing for the arc overall is very erratic which also breaks the flow that was perfected in Togashi's other 3 previous major arcs to the series. The arc is also very battle heavy which isn't always a bad thing, but in the world of Hunter x Hunter took away what made Nen battles special. There were way too many unnecessary battles in this arc that were primarily used as stalling tactics to get us to the point of the storming of the King's castle which would serve as the arc's climax and as de facto training for Gon and Killua. Fights in which they are presented as Gon vs Snake, or Gon vs Bat and Owl, or Killua vs unnamed Chimera Ant served no purpose to the overall plot of the arc. Many of the ants were already past the level of mid level Hunters without knowing Nen, so providing them with Nen without them having to do any formal training whatsoever to improve their skills was rather disappointing. It would make sense for the frightening realization that these ants were able to evolve into learning Nen, but at the same point it eliminated what made the Nen battle system so intriguing. All Nen battles were predicated on strategy and the application of your Nen ability rather than having the most power busting ability. A character like Hisoka is revered to be an elite fighter due to the flexibility and creativeness of his ability. The Hunters who were left fighting the ants still used every creative application of their Nen possible in order to outmatch their foes, but this tactic was practically one sided as many of the ants weren't exceptionally skilled in their application of their Nen. To them, they felt as though if they had more powerful abilities, they could wipe out the humans. The only concepts of Nen that were even applied in fights throughout this arc were Hatsu and En. None of the more complex ideals introduced in Greed Island were necessarily exposed here in fights. While their entirely a need to point out when Ken or Ko are being applied, but they didn't even address that they were shifting their aura for offense or defense or that they were even using Gyo anymore. It was like Togashi was expecting the audience to forget that those were major tools in Nen fights and people would just assume that they were naturally being applied.
The arc was not all bad though, it did have its bright points. Other than Yorkshin, this is by far the darkest arc in Hunter x Hunter exploring the ideas of hopelessness, despair and tragedy. The overall plot for the arc isn't necessarily new by presenting a race of creatures who are trying to take over the world. It also isn't new in its presentation of the main villain, Meruem. Meruem is heavily inspired by Akira Toriyama's character Cell from Dragon Ball. Meruem is completely self absorbed and believes that he was created to be the ruler of the world. Meruem really starts to deviate from Cell when he picks up playing board games defeating every world champion at every board game in existence. Due to his exceptional ability to evolve, Meruem is able to absorb the knowledge through a few losses to each of these world champions before he outclasses them at their own game. It isn't until he meets human girl name Komugi who is the champion at a board game called Gungi that he finally meets his match. Meruem spends most of his time throughout the arc trying to defeat Komugi at Gungi but for some reason never can. Komugi is a young blind girl who can't even see the board and is very simple in her thought process, yet for some reason the ultimate being is unable to outwit her. Not only can't Meruem defeat this simple girl at her own game, but he also can't beat her in a test of morals. In fact, he begins to sacrifice his morals throughout the arc for this girl who he for some reason builds a special attachment to. Komugi, through her superiority over the King at Gungi, is able to humble him in a sense and begin to humanize the monster whom only acts according to his ant instincts. This leads to some of the finest philosophical moments in this arc in which Meruem begins to question why he exists and why some creatures deserve to live. As said by Netero, Meruem got caught in a dangerous internal power struggle between his ant instincts and his humanized emotional perspective.
The other major high point of this arc was presented in the beginning of the climax when the extermination team storms the castle in an attempt to take out the Royal Guards while Netero attempted to take out the King. The buildup to this moment was executed brilliantly and also provided a lot of tension that was much needed to present the oncoming danger they were about to face. After the incredible buildup to this moment, the execution of the break in was just as impressive as the build up. The moment was flawless and really provided a sense of hopelessness as the group of Hunters were clearly outmatched. Between the actual palace storming and the fights that followed, these moments provided not stop enjoyment and were executed nicely unlike a vast majority of the arc. The fights were well developed and clearly showed how outmatched the Hunters were as they practically failed to actually eliminate the Royal Guards. The only Royal Guard to successfully be killed by the person who was targeting them was Pitou, and that feat was only accomplished due to Gon's forced aging process in which he released all of his potential after realizing Kaito was dead. The climax to this arc provided many great Nen battles that didn't sacrafice the little details that made Nen battles so special. The groups collective fights with Youpi were enjoyable to witness as they were not able to overpower their foe. Youpi was able to defeat Shoot, Knuckle and Morel and would've most likely defeated Killua had he not ran off after successfully hitting Youpi. Netero's battle with Meruem not only presented the highest level of Nen battle to date, but also had a witty complex to it as Netero was clearly overwhelmed by the King's power, but at the same time the King was not trying to kill Netero. Netero was giving it his all to kill the King but the King was only fighting to learn his name. This also provided a very unique battle in which the main character was not fighting the main villain, another key element Hunter x Hunter displayed. That battle also displayed what Togashi does best and that is to do the unexpected. Netero did not defeat the King in battle, but was able to deal the eventual death blow. Through the miniature rose, Netero was able to deliver enough poison into Meruem's body to be lethal. The poison from the miniature rose ended up killing both Youpi and Pouf as they sacrificed themselves to keep the King alive. However, their efforts were all in vein as the King, realizing his inevitable death was approaching, chose to seek out Komugi to spend his final moments playing her in Gungi. Meruem and Komugi die in each other's arms in what leads to a very emotionally draining ending to the arc.
Meruem was definitely the bright spot to this arc in my opinion, his internal struggle and tragic relationship with Komugi provided for the most heartwarming moments in the series and really explored an emotional side that had never been shown in Hunter x Hunter beforehand. The support from the Royal Guards though is what made this dynamic so amazing too. The Royal Guards represented the conflicting ant instincts for Meruem as they were trying to persuade him to continue down the path he was destined to go down of ruling the world. They saw Komugi's presence as an obstacle and felt that the King's new found human emotions were a reflection of their own failure to guide the King down the correct path as his loyal servants. All of this combines for a very emotional ending to what was the longest and most controversial arc in Hunter x Hunter. I feel as though the Chimera Ant arc has its ups and downs, but overall is a solid shounen arc. In comparison to a vast majority of shounen arcs, the Chimera Ant arc still stacks up fairly well and is better than what most other shounen series are able to produce. However, in terms of the series, I felt the Chimera Ant arc was the weak point of the four major arcs. I say this arc is controversial because there seems to be a love it or hate it type of mentality and no people in the middle ground who didn't think it was the weakest but also didn't think it was the best.