HxH: Alluka and the Mirror of Erised
20 January, 2018 ~ ElDynamite ~ Anime
Kilua's journey through Hunter x Hunter is largely one of self-discovery: it concerns his attempting to understand what he desires, and what he must sacrifice to achieve it. Primarily, what he desires is the capacity for love: he wants to be able to love Gon, but struggles with squaring his desires with his upbringing. The Alluka arc thus stands out as one of the few where he acts independently of Gon, and so today I'd like to discuss some of my thoughts on the Alluka arc. Specifically, I'd like to discuss how Alluka is a confirmation and crowning of Kilua's persistent themes, as well as how Alluka serves as a mirror, especially with regards to Kilua's hero arc.
Safety or Love
The assassin mindset indoctrinated in Kilua by Illumi is one that expressly contradicts the love Kilua hopes to express. Loving another, in this case Gon, means being willing to carry the risks concomitant with valuing the life of someone you cannot trivially tell to run away at the first sight of danger. It is thus when Gon's well-being is at risk that Kilua is most severely struck by paralysis, unable to bear the dangers of love, but also unable to turn away.
Alluka is, for Kilua, the most concrete crystallization of this tradeoff. He can love within the safety of banishing Nanika, but it will be a cheap and brittle love. Or he can carry the danger of Nanika's destructive power, thus sharing a robust yet risky love.
We are, in a magnificent act of misdirection, lead to initially believe that Nanika is something that must be sacrificed: we cannot, after all, put so many people at risk for the sake of "something" that has alighted from some unknown plane. Such a power must be destroyed or quarantined. But how different is this perspective from Illumi's "always be 100% safe"? More pointedly, Kilua's plan to save Gon is in itself risky, perhaps even more so than not sacrificing Nanika.
Deciding Nanika's fate is Kilua's final trial, but this isn't made clear until after he screws it up. When I first watched through this, I expected from the start that Nanika would be banished so that Alluka would be "freed" of her "curse". But this is the wrong thought process. Alluka and Nanika are two hearts as one, and you cannot treat them otherwise. The riskless love that Kilua initially desires with Alluka does not exist. He must accept all of her, or none of her. As he once did for Gon, he must now do for another.
The Mirror of Erised
Within the framework of the hero's journey, Alluka stands clearly as a metaphor for hell. Kilua descends into the deepest parts of the estate to find her, and her power explicitly threatens to destroy the world he grew up in. But she is a very special kind of hell: she only destroys in proportion to the greed of the demand. She forces those who gaze upon her to look inside themselves and come to terms with their deepest desires, then destructively punishes them if necessary. Much like... the Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, there is a mirror hidden away in a restricted section of a library, that reflects the greatest desire of anyone who gazes upon it. Upon first encountering it, Harry becomes enamored with his reflection in it, which shows him with his family. While it does not physically destroy anything, the dreams that it offers drives many to madness, nearly doing so to Harry as well.
Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible.
There are a multitude of similar setups across literature, but I bring up this comparison because Kilua's hell (Alluka in this arc) is best represented by a mirror, since all his obstacles are internal. It rarely occurs in the story that Kilua loses for a reason other than his own insecurity regarding safety and love. Gon loses to Knuckles because he's too slow, but Kilua loses to Shoot, and almost to Rammot, because he can't stand up to someone stronger than himself. When captured by the Phantom Troupe, Kilua's most pressing worry is one of self-doubt. Thus, in order to escape from hell, he must kill the part of himself bound by the laws of assassins-- and it's pretty difficult to see yourself without a mirror.
Nanika forces people to confront what they most desire. For Kilua, this is "love without risk", a chimeric combination of human love and assassin surety. But Alluka forces him to realize that-- in the vein of the Mirror of Erised-- just because you want it doesn't mean it's possible. Kilua looks upon the "love without risk" that Nanika reluctantly offers him, but with the aid of Alluka he comprehends how ephemeral it is, and finally overcomes his heroic flaw of lusting after it.
I found the Alluka arc incredibly powerful, because it so pointedly condensed and crowned everything that Kilua had gone through up to that point. It was a confirmation that Kilua's freeing himself from the grasps of his family extended past simply yanking out Illumi's needle, a confirmation that he was no longer an assassin, but now a human. We see that Kilua's love can extend past Gon, that through introspection in the mirror of Alluka he's finally succeeded in establishing himself as an individual. Thus does he finally complete his hero's journey.
In other news! I plan to write another piece on HxH soon, likely on either the themes of rage and delusion in Chimera Ant, or on the character of Lorelei also in Chimera Ant. Catch me on the reddit thread or on Discord and let me know what you think of this piece, or what you'd like to see.