Let’s talk about an anime antagonist that went from this to this. This change is exactly what makes Meruem revolutionary, an amazingly well-written character and without a doubt, one of my favorite antagonists that I’ve ever seen in anime.
The new perspective he brings into the series, the impact he makes on those around him, and his on-screen presence was portrayed so beautifully to capture one of the most beautiful character arcs to grace the anime landscape. He absolutely changed the game when looking at major antagonists and Shonen and is absolutely iconic. So, join me as we take a deep dive into this journey right now.
What’s up anime fan base? It’s still back with another blog to explore the very depths of all that anime has to offer. If that sounds interesting, fun, or insightful, be sure to hit the like button. If you get some value from this content, today I’ll be diving into Hunter x Hunter content to analyze all there is to this overpowered ant king and talk about how he redefined the term antagonist for me through an amazing character arc. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into the blog.
While there are many different classifications of anime antagonists throughout the media, most, if not all of them, share one commonality that links them. This is the fact that they, along with the main protagonist, share a symbiotic relationship with one another. The protagonist would not be where he is if he didn’t see the darkness and struggle in life, while the antagonist would not become evil in the first place if he never saw the good in life as well.
A great antagonist is someone who makes you question, “hmm, I can actually see where this character is coming from.” Unless you’re just a terribly written villain like Gen through. It’s the general notion that in the eyes of the antagonist, our protagonist is labeled as evil, and vice versa. But the beauty of Hunter x Hunter is the fluidity of the line that separates good and evil. This line of morality constantly tiptoes on is the subtle undertone of the beautifully captivating Chimera ant arc and handled so incredibly well.
Meruem begins his life as a killing machine and monster who’s driven by his instincts and animalistic nature, and I can’t really blame him. Think of when we were first born. I mean, no, you don’t have to because we can’t probably remember how we felt. It was just for the sake of this argument. You guys get what I’m saying. As babies, we cry when we’re hungry, tired, or need to communicate anything that upset us. This is the primal and base part of our instincts. This goal of the Chimera ants is to provide a never-ending supply of food to their queen to give birth to the strongest king imaginable.
When Meruem is finally born, the build-up surrounding this event is so anticipated, and you have this heart-wrenching feeling that whatever is born is going to be a truly unstoppable force. On that same note, you would expect that along with that sense of dread and overwhelming power that the king carries with him, his personality would line up with that. And it does, but not without some key caveats that lend credence to the progression that we see in him throughout the Chimera Ants arc.
It’s easy to forget that Meruem is a newborn and is experiencing the world and all of its complex dynamics for the first time but was revered as a god immediately being born as the ultimate life form on the planet. He begins his life as a ruthless tyrant, killing anything on his way on his quest to dominate the world (you know, typical anime villain stuff).
When he had come to the realization he had no equal, he resorted to beating others with his superior intellect. The way Togashi builds a character who checks all the typical villain plot points is such a genius way to introduce a character because it builds the assumption he’s going to stay that way forever, as is the case with many of his villainous contemporaries. But the catalyst for this change is not one that you would expect. She’s simply a defenseless and humble young woman, Komugi.
An unassuming girl who was frail, blind, apologetic, and a pathetic creature to Mureum. Time and time again, after countless gooey games and countless losses, led to his first experiences of anger and frustration. But surprisingly to him, he was okay with this. Finally, in his life, he had encountered someone that he wasn’t able to defeat.
As they played more and more games, Meruem’s persona changed from that of a monster to one who sought to learn more about himself. And this is the first glimpse of humanity that we see within this character. This lowly and weak human was teaching Meruem more about himself and his own life than he ever thought possible.
When trying to intimidate Komugi, Meruem stakes his left arm, hoping this would freak her out. What she says next absolutely shocks the king. She states that she’ll bet her life on the next game that they play. Since she’s the only source of income in her family, she values her ability to play Gungi so highly that she deems herself to be absolutely worthless if she were to lose even a single time.
Every time she plays a game of Gungi, she literally puts her life on the line. Angry that another life form was not only able to match him and beat him in combat, Meruem decides to outright kill the Gungi champion and assert his physical dominance over this.
This is what he stumbles on, Komugi being attacked by a crow, and quickly kills the animal harming her. A frightened and shaken Komugi calls out to Meruem and states how what he had just done was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for her. In a mureum moment, this tyrannical king was just labeled as the nicest person another human has ever met. Keep in mind, this is someone that killed and ate many children just days prior.
The core of Meruem’s character arc and journey is exhibiting both his qualities as a human and an ant. And in this moment, he’s showcasing one of the most genuine human emotions there is, the emotion of compassion. This is something that’s not only stressed in Meruem’s character arc but also the Chimera Ant arc as a whole. As we see many Chimera Ants showcasing various human emotions, and we see many humans showcasing animalistic and brutish qualities.
This sends Meruem into a bit of a crisis, not knowing what he truly is. Is he becoming soft, caring for a life form who’s far beneath him? The way he justifies himself is he still believes that humans are far beneath him, which, let’s face it, they are. But there are a select few like Komugi that are worth saving and keeping around. Concepts like strength still exist in the world, but these strengths can come in a variety of forms.
In the scope of Meruem’s journey, I would consider this the halfway point, if not a little more than halfway. It’s important to note that the reason this transition is so believable and realistic is that Meruem is encountering reasons to believe the things he is telling himself. He is genuinely living the experience. There is not this jump from being this immoral and tyrannical monster to this kind-hearted and loving individual.
Just like we humans transition and go through growing pains with our different ideologies, is doing the exact same thing here. This is the gradual character development I love to see throughout a story. We see this nature continue to persist in Meruem as he fights Nettle. It’s important to note that he’s not the aggressor in the fight but rather Netaro is. This is yet another case of a human acting inhumanely while the one expected to act morally wrong is the rational and calm one in the situation. And while we’re on this topic, we can’t ignore the most obvious case of this motif throughout the Chimera ant arc.
This is the downward spiral of Gon and the upward ascent of Meruem. Both follow similar paths, but their response to events on these paths chart the course for their character. Kite’s death is similar to Komugi getting injured during the palace invasion, while Meruem decides to forgive, Gon decides to hate, feeling nothing but rage for Pitou and showing the depths of evil humanity can stoop to. Follow in the fight with the strongest Hunter, this is where I would classify Meruem’s journey as being fully complete.
At this point in time, the last thing on his mind is power, strength, and dominance. He values something much greater – human connection. What prevails is the sense of longing to be with another human, to cultivate a connection that he holds near and dear to him. To be with Komugi, by this point, Meruem has never beaten Komugi in anything, but he wholeheartedly accepts his mortality and dies with her, just happy they could spend their last moments playing the game they both love.
And it really doesn’t get much better than that, folks. From an animalistic nature to one that is more human, isn’t the deepest transition ever seen in anime and manga, but the way that Meruem goes about this is one of the most delicate and beautifully crafted developments I have ever witnessed.
To me, good character is far less about the destination the character reaches, it’s more about how they get there. From the concepts of light, dark, moral, and immoral, Meruem’s journey reflects the lowest and highest points of the human experience. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you guys in the next one. Stay curious, anime fam. Peace.
That’s me, Andreea Blaga, author of the blog anime-everything.com. I work as a content creator in the US. I am also passionate about Japanese Anime.