Now that the dust has settled on the animated version of what will go down as one of the greatest stories told in anime, Hunter x Hunter’s the Chimera Ant arc, I feel now is an appropriate time to examine the journey of the star of the arc, the Chimera Ant King himself Meruem. Of course be warned that what follows is heavy in spoilers on the Chimera Ant Arc.
While the King initially appears to be an explicitly evil creature and is even referred to as such by other characters, slowly but surely he changes into something more, something unlike anything the shonen genre has ever seen. His development is one of the most interesting and captivating in anime and his journey is simply unforgettable.
Our early introduction to the character shows him as a violent and apathetic being who knows nothing but his unbridled power’s command over all. By the time the arc comes to a conclusion he has learned that there are other kinds of power and has ultimately gained the ability to care for and even love another person as much as he does himself.
There is a major tipping point for the Chimera Ant King during this arc, it is undoubtedly his fateful meeting with Komugi, a blind girl who has no other talent than playing Gungi, a chess hybrid that is only played in her country. It is a pretty meaningless and pointless talent to have, but it is her passion and meeting her is the first moment we see the King becoming humanized.
He challenges her to a game of Gungi and loses spectacularly, time and time again. The King exhibits frustration for the first time and begins to emote in ways he had never done before. Komugi has shown him that strength is not simply brute force, his world is shell shocked by this realization.
Through his continued play with her, he begins to behave strangely, hanging dangerously in the balance between Chimera Ant and Human. He even harms himself physically to atone for doing wrong by Komugi. This girl has come into his life by mere chance and has thrown his life into a spin, he begins to question what exactly he even wants to do with her, unsure of his own feelings. What exactly does he feel for her?
Following their final game together before the Palace Invasion strike, Komugi asks the King a fateful question. It is this very question that puts everything he knows about himself, his life and his feelings into question. “M-may I ask your majesty’s name?” asks the blind girl. How could the King possibly handle such a moment, the realization that he doesn’t have a name. Without a name what identity do you have? The King can’t be a name it is a title, so who exactly IS he?
During the Hunter Association’s strike on the King’s Palace, Komugi is struck and her life hangs in the balance. In an act that shocks the hunters out to kill him, the King demands his Royal Guard to save her, he can’t let her die. Why does he make this decision? Is it because he has yet to defeat her in a game? No it is something more than that, he has begun to feel something, a feeling he is yet to fully grasp, he is in love. This girl has challenged him intellectually and emotionally and altered his entire perspective on life as he knew it, she may be fragile, she may be only good at playing Gungi, but whether he understands it or not, he is in love with her.
Following an epic clash with Hunter Chairman Netero, the King find himself at the brink of death but not before learning his true name (Meruem) from the Chairman, whom had gained the knowledge from the Queen’s deathbed. With the devotion of his Royal Guard, sacrificing a portion of their own lives in exchange for his, the King lives on, yet he no longer remembers Komugi or anything that has taken place at the Palace. He has returned to his former self but ultimately despite one Royal Guard’s meddling, he is ultimately awoken from his amnesia by one single word: ‘Komugi’.
You see in the moment where the word is said just how profound an impact Komugi has had on the King’s life. Her name evokes the feeling of a paradise where just she and him alone reside. He returns to his senses and the inner struggle mentioned earlier between the Ant side and the Human side is concluded. Both sides are one in the same. There is a bit of a monster in all of us, but conversely we are also capable of genuine humanity. This idea is captured perfectly through the Chimera Ant King, a character constantly in a struggle within himself between his own personal light and dark.
Revealing that he has in fact been fatally poisoned during his fight with the Chairman, the King decides that he wants to spend his final moments with Komugi. He desperately seeks her out and comes head to head with Palm Siberia who allows him after some persuasion to see Komugi, under her watchful eye at the very least. As Palm watches on with her ability Wink Blue, we see the final moments of the King’s life unfold.
He has rekindled his flame with Komugi and the two play Gungi together for hours, almost as if a war hadn’t just gone on outside their door. For the King, the real war was always within his own heart, but here we see him surrender to it completely. He is in love with Komugi and with her he is found.
The King has been on a journey throughout this story, a journey of self-discovery. At the outset of this story it would be easy to write him off as a Perfect Cell rip-off, but his ultimate development into the man he became is simply unlike anything seen in the shonen genre. You have an antagonist character that ventures deep into the darkest reaches of disparity only to find that somewhere inside of him was a light after all. He gains identity in a name and meaning in his love. So how did a character that began as a DBZ lookalike become such a complex and thought-provoking character? Well it comes down to the mastery of Yoshihiro Togashi, a rather misunderstood mangaka, but one who is capable of taking us on journeys that redefine even our own existences.
Meruem is not just a monster. He is not just a King. He is a person, flaws and all. His story was an exploration into what it means to be human. Meruem had a royal affliction, he was in love and that royal affliction showed him and us what it truly means to be alive.