Spoiler Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Hunter x Hunter.
There’s a lot to be said about the Chimera Ant arc in Hunter x Hunter. Clocking in at around 60 episodes, it’s by far the longest and most densely packed arc in the anime. It’s also the show’s best and messiest arc yet. Explaining exactly why would take far too long for a single editorial, so I’m splitting this into three parts. I was originally going to go over all the reasons it’s so good, but doing that would take far too long and wouldn’t let me go in depth with anything. Instead, parts one and two of this will each look at one of the arc’s best aspects, while part three will be why it’s also such a mess. For this part, I’ll be looking at one of the best characters in the arc: Meruem, the king of the Chimera Ants.
Meruem was born fully grown and fully aware of his role as king. He was far more powerful than any of the other Chimera Ants, and was perfectly willing to use that power to get anything he wanted. After all, he knew he was the all-powerful king, so it was only natural that all other beings serve his will. He had no regard for anyone else, not even his own mother. All that mattered to him was using his power to rule. In spite of all that, the king was still a child on the inside. He had just been born, so all he truly knew about himself was his role as king and his own immediate desires. His belief in his own perfection only strengthened this, since a perfect being wouldn’t need to question himself or try to improve. His identity was the all-powerful king of the Chimera Ants, and that was all he needed at first.
After taking over a small dictatorship, the king decided to kill some time by playing various board games. One by one he called in the masters of each game, and one by one he defeated them. Doing so only further enforced his belief that he was a perfect being, since none of them could even challenge him. Then something strange happened: he lost. And he didn’t lose to just anyone; he lost to a blind little girl named Komugi with a speech impediment and a perpetual runny nose. She appeared to be such a lowly creature, and yet Meruem could never beat her. They played for days, with Meruem constantly improving, but still unable to beat Komugi even once. This baffled him. Here was this weak little creature that he could kill in an instant, and yet he couldn’t beat her at a simple board game.
Through his repeated matches with her, Meruem began to learn that he wasn’t completely perfect. He was certainly powerful, but that’s all he was. Komugi had devoted her entire life to mastering one game, making her the one opponent who could defeat him. It was through these matches that Meruem first began to respect someone else. He had gone through his entire life, short as it was, being far more powerful than everyone around him and had never encountered a true challenge until his matches with Komugi. Komugi not only defeated him, she showed no fear towards him and was even willing to die if she lost. Meruem was shocked by this, every other human he had met was terrified of him, but gradually grew to respect and even care for Komugi. It began as simply wanting her around so he could beat her, but over time grew into genuine affection for the girl. Even though he continued to lose, he ended up enjoying his matches against Komugi. It was through his interactions with Komugi that Meruem gained a quintessential aspect of humanity: the desire to improve oneself.
Meruem had never desired this before because it had never occurred to him that he was anything less than perfect. Being repeated beaten at a simple board game by a child made him realize that power wasn’t everything and even he still had room to improve himself. This feeling was completely alien to the ant side of him, but Meruem, as well as many of the other Chimera Ants, was also part human. Ants don’t care to improve themselves; they’re completely devoted to their role in the group, which is how Meruem was at the beginning. He knew he was the all-powerful king, and that was enough for him. He was defined entirely by his role and had no identity or humanity of his own. After meeting Komugi, however, Meruem’s human side began to grow. He started to care for Komugi, and began to question himself. He even wondered what his name was, something that had never occurred to him before, and began to reevaluate his opinion of humans. He had previously only considered humans worthy of being food or being transformed into Chimera Ants. It was through his matches with Komugi that Meruem learned that humans are far more than he believed before, a view that was only strengthened by his battle with Netero, Chairman of the Hunter Association.
In Netero, Meruem found an opponent whose power was enough to even challenge him, and whose resolve to win was ironclad. Even when he had lost an arm and a leg, Netero still refused to surrender and kept attacking, even choosing to die in an attempt to kill Meruem. This, combined with learning his name, further enhanced Meruem’s growing humanity. By the end of the battle and his subsequent regeneration, his human and ant sides were evenly balanced. It would only take a small nudge in either direction to shift him to one side or the other.
His royal guard, Shaiapouf, knew this and tried to exploit Meruem’s temporary amnesia (caused by Netero’s suicide bomb) to kill Komugi and remove her influence from the king. If he had, Meruem might have shifted fully to his ant side. After the explosion, he was stronger than ever before and had regressed to considering humans worthless and prioritizing conquering the world. However, re-remembering Komugi and realizing that the bomb had infected him with a deadly poison completely shifted Meruem’s priorities. He stopped caring about defeating his enemies, about conquering, about his status as king. He had become truly human and only wanted to spend his last moments with Komugi, the one person he cared about. With her, he wasn’t the great king of the Chimera Ants. He was simply a man playing a game he enjoyed. He was simply Meruem.
In embracing this side of himself, Meruem shows something important about humanity: people are individuals, not roles. We’re more than our titles, our statuses. We’re individual beings with individual beliefs, emotions, and desires. By choosing to die doing something he liked as an individual rather than fulfilling his role as king, Meruem became just as human as any natural-born human.