Conflicts are the flavors of a story. Without them, the story becomes boring and uninteresting. While conflicts are used for different types of reasons, there is one important thing that they are mostly used for, that is settling moral arguments. Conflict acts as a platform to contrast the opinions between the protagonist and the antagonist and prove that one of them is right, namely the protagonist. Ultimately, showing that the protagonist is better than the antagonist. For example, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang's final battle against Fire Lord Ozai is not about whether Aang could defeat him; rather, whether Aang could defeat Ozai without killing him. And, in the end, Aang successfully did that by taking away his bending and proved that killing for whatever reasons is wrong and he's a better individual than Ozai.
But, there are some cases when story writer chooses to use conflict to show to the audience that the protagonist is just as bad as the antagonist. Not necessarily wrong, but it somehow changes how we would look at the character in the aftermath of the conflict. While adding flaws to a character is a common thing in storytelling, the example given here is a bit unique as it is happening in a critical moment of a story, which usually always favors the protagonist.
In the infamous manga Hunter x Hunter, the writer, Yoshihiro Tagashi, loves doing this. We'll look at them here.
(Spoiler alert for Hunter x Hunter from here on)
Before the final conflict between Gon and Pitou, Gon is desperate for a revenge for Kite's death. But, somehow he maintained his belief that Chimera Ants were just like other animals and keep sparing them, even if they're massacring humans. His sole motivation to face Chimera Ants for the second time was redemption. He felt guilty because he was too weak to defends himself against Pitou and that weakness resulted in Kite's death.
Jumping to the moment when Gon met Pitou. Gon was already prepared to fight Pitou. What he didn't expect was that Pitou was in the middle of treating Komugi and refused to engage in a fight with him.
Now, let's dissect this situation further. From Gon's perspective, he was in the right position. He made a mistake for underestimating his opponents, but made up for it by training even harder and came back to take a revenge on Pitou (not necessarily killing him) and restore Kite's condition. He even avoids killing other opponents. For him, Pitou is the only monster here.
And then, we would expect Gon and Pitou to engage in an interesting fight and Gon win at the end, just like the fight with Genthru in the finale of Greed Island. Instead, the writer put Gon in a position where he could not fulfill any of his desires. Pitou was right in front of him, but he didn't want to fight Gon. Gon's getting desperate and at some point even threaten to kill Komugi, a completely innocent person because Pitou was taking too much time healing her. I can't overstate how powerful this moment was. And it's very easy to overlook the brilliance of the writing that leads to this moment. You just can't have moments like this in a normal fight.
At this point, some audience might be thinking that Gon is not serious about killing Komugi. And they might be right. And then, the writer put yet another stop to Gon's desire. Pitou revealed that Kite was long gone and that he couldn't be saved anymore. This is the point where Gon knew that he completely failed. Kite's gone and it's his fault, as he believes it.
As his guilt overwhelmed himself, he sacrificed more than his life to kill Pitou in a very distasteful way possible. One could argue that this action is justified because it's Pitou's fault in the first place and it resulted in the death of one of the powerful Royal Guards. Pitou is a doctor and he could possibly save Meruem and the others from the Miniature Rose's poisons. Pitou's death contributed greatly to the mission's success.
But, on the other hand, we could not help but think of how selfish his action was. Not only, later on, Killua had to pay a heavy price to save Gon, more importantly, this action also tarnished Gon's whole ideology. He lost control of himself, shifted his guilt to Pitou, and brutally annihilated him till the last bit. That's something we wouldn't expect happening to an optimistic easy-going character like him. Compare this to his act of mercy against Genthru and his friends even after they betrayed and killed a lot of players in Greed Island, and you'll understand that this conflict twisted Gon's moral for the worse. Both Pitou and Genthru are terrible individuals who killed a lot of people, but Gon's personal attachment to one of the victims, i.e. Kite, made all the difference.
At the end of the conflict, it's hard to answer who the real monster was.
The writer brilliantly pushed Gon over the edge where he's finally lost it and did what he did to Pitou. One thing I like about this conflict is that it doesn't make me hate Gon. As drastic as the change of personality is, it develops naturally through the story and makes me more sad than angry at the situation. Gon and the audience realized that sometimes things don't work out as we want it to be and in the face of true desperation, one can be easily engulfed by the darkness.
In summary, I think the key to this conflict, specifically, was slowly taking away the character's desires and motivations. First, build up the character confidence by making him overcoming small conflicts. Then, when the final conflict happens, let the desires remain unfulfilled until the last moment when they are completely rejected and make the character be as isolated and helpless as possible. As the character's getting desperate and impatient, he would become more and more easily affected by his opponent. Until finally, he made an irreversible emotional judgment that is completely out of character and left him strayed from his original path forever.
But that's just my opinion. Initially, I also wanted to talk about Netero's fight, but this is getting too long lol. I'll write it in Part 2. Till next time!