What’s in a Fight: Netero vs Meruem (Hunter x Hunter’s Analysis)

Action has always been one of my favorite genre in action (if it’s done well). At their best, they are basically a physical of storytelling with the climax of a fight mirror emotional catharsis of the characters. To an outside observer, making bunch of people hit each other may seem simple, but there’s an elegant construction in any great fight scene. Film Crit Hulk lay out all the elements of a good action in his Mission Impossible video: It needs objectives, stakes, obstacles, and wrinkles (among others).

With that said, in this post, I want to analyze one particular fight in Hunter x Hunter that I’ve been thinking about using those elements that Hulk was talking about above: Specifically the fight between Netero and Meruem in the Chimera Ant arc.

The Set-Up

Netero confronts Meruem
Netero vs Meruem

Hunter x Hunter as a whole has always been great at fight construction. Between the creativity and the rock-solid foundation of Nen itself, the show’s version of Shonen superpower, the series demonstrates again and again great understanding of crucial elements of a good fight scene that I am talking about above. The fight between Netero and Meruem is no exception to this, which can be seen in its set-up. On Netero side, the objective of the fight is to take out Meruem to stop the selection process and the stakes are the loss of humanity itself. The obstacle, of course, is the fact that Meruem is revealed to be much stronger than Netero. Just from these factors alone, we as an audience already have a solid grasp of the conflict itself. However, once the fight “begun”, Meruem… decided to sit down to talk to Netero instead.

As it turns out, on Meruem side, what he wanted isn’t to beat Netero, but to talk to him to gain further understanding of humanity. His experience with Komugi has made him thought about the potential of mankind, and he wanted to discuss it further. This is a great example of the way Hunter x Hunter sets up character’s differing motivations to alter the dynamic of a conflict. Knowing and understanding why characters fight not only makes the fight emotionally engaging to an audience, it can also alter its trajectory altogether depending on the circumstances, thus making it more varied and interesting. Now, on Netero’s side, we have a wrinkle that prevents him from reaching his objective: his opponent doesn’t even want to fight! While in a better circumstances, Netero may be willing to indulge Meruem, this is where Netero’s second stakes comes into play: If something bad happens during the Chimera Ant extermination, the Hunter Association will take the fall, and so Netero was forced to act.

At first, Netero’s used physical coercion to make Meruem fight him, but Meruem didn’t budge. As it can be seen at this point, the wrinkle in Netero’s goal became kind of a conflict on its own, complete with its own set of objective (make Meruem fight) and obstacle (Meruem’s imposing strength). However, Netero, and Hunter x Hunter by extension, ended up taking advantage of Meruem’s character struggle, i.e. his identity crisis; making that character conflict into Meruem’s objective for this fight. Telling him that he knows Meruem’s name, Netero succeeded in forcing Meruem to fight. And so it happens.

Considering both Meruem and Netero are both the strongest characters the series has shown thus far, there was a certain worry that I have in how the fight will play out. Specifically, I’m worry that it all will only comes down to who can punch the hardest. But, this is where Hunter x Hunter understanding of objectives and obstacles made its appearance again. Rather than simply be “beat the other guy”, the series opt to make the fight have a very specific condition, or objective, to win. The unique nature of Netero’s Nen means that he theoretically have an unlimited amount of moves to make, but Meruem bid his time and try to analyze the bias within Netero’s moveset, and using that prediction in order to attack. And so, the battle between Netero and Meruem became a battle of endurance with the objective of both sides being the submission of the other. Either Netero submit to his bias first, making him predictable to Meruem, or Meruem gives up in finding exploitable pattern first. Meruem’s objective of prying his name out of Netero also serves as a nifty handicap to balance out the playing field because it means that Meruem can’t really go all out against Netero lest he ended up death, making the fight more suspenseful. Once again, this is an example of the way the show uses character’s objective to alter the variables of the conflict. While it is still clear that Meruem has more advantages, this additional wrinkle does a good job to make the fight’s conclusion a bit murkier.

The Thematical Conclusion

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Unfortunately, despite his best effort, Netero ended up losing against Meruem. But, this is where Hunter x Hunter‘s exploration of humanity in this arc rear its head again, making the conclusion of the fight be a thematical one. While Meruem’s praised Netero’s strength, he stated how his power comes from the culmination of his species’ collective instinct, something that humanity can never hope to achieve due to the individuality that they posses. But, to Meruem’s horror, Netero revealed the real strength of humanity’s individuality do not lie in how our species can physically push themselves.

Rather, it’s in our capability to destroy.

In his last moment, Netero detonated the Poor Man’s Rose, blowing him up along with Meruem. In any other fight, this would have been a triumphant moment of humanity’s victory, but the next episode reminds us of the grim reality surrounding the bomb. As it can be inferred from the shape of its cloud smoke, Poor Man’s Rose is an intentional evocation of our real world’s nuclear bomb. They are as much as humanity’s sign of progression and capability to battle off existential threat as they are also a marker of our own destructive tendencies. Both within the Hunter x Hunter‘s universe, and in real world, these bombs claim millions of lives, all done by various politically motivated individual for their own ends. And so, us viewers are reminded once more of duality within humanity: our capability to trump against ‘evil’ and our capacity to hurt and to destroy.

These elements is why the fight between Netero and Meruem is a testament to what a great action series Hunter x Hunter is. It not only has a strong grasp of conflict fundamentals (objectives, stakes, obstacles, wrinkles, and so on), it also knows how to end its fight in a way that further elaborates its thematical underpinnings.

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The eternal student.

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