Back in Hokkaido, Asirpa, Sugimoto, Shiraishi, and the foreigner they call “Mister Hood” soon come upon a kotan, where they come up with a broad-strokes plan to bring Hijikata and Tsurumi together and snatch their map skins while they fight each other.
Speaking of gold, the Ainu here tell them that a man panning for gold in the Uryu river has been getting rich, but there’s also talk of a vicious wenkamuy loose in that same area.
When the trio investigate, they save the life of a weird little man named Heita, who along with his father, brother, and brother’s beautiful wife, have been in this area for a while now. As thanks for saving him, Heita shows Sugimoto and Shiraishi how to hunt for gold in the river.
Furthermore, he tells them that the real riches of the river lie not in the “red” gold, but in the “white”: platinum, a mineral that classically has been a nuisance but now something for which modern folk are paying a premium.
But as Sugimoto and Shiraishi pan for gold and platinum, something is definitely off about Heita and his people. His brother’s wife invites Mister Hood, an adept artist, to draw her nude.
When his husband interrupts, she explains she wanted a drawing to remind her that she was beautiful. When she and her husband make out, Heita is in a tree, watching intently and wagging his tongue.
Later, Mister Hood almost steps into an amappo, or poison arrow tripwire trap. Heita keeps spotting the brown bear wenkamuy in the woods, but no one else can spot it. It then kills both his brother and his wife, whom Heita tries to kiss and grope before her face is ripped off.
Eventually, reality returns to normal and we learn that Heita is all alone in this forest. None of other people we’ve seen exist, except in his head. This is confirmed when we see Mister Hood’s drawing, which is of Heita himself posing seductively.
Warden Kadokura regales Kirawus with the story of one Matsuda Heita, an Abashiri prisoner who believed he had multiple people “inside” him, and was also convinced a bear wenkamuy was outside the prison, trying to break him out.
Clearly a sufferer of multiple personality disorder, but also having absorbed an incomplete telling of the wenkamuy legend, Heita would don a bear pelt and embody the wenkamuy, feeding on his human victims. That’s the Heita that attacks Sugimoto with unreal strength, until Sugimoto stabs him several times in the side.
Seemingly glad Sugimoto weakened the beast within him, Heita then trips another amappo and gets a poison arrow to the neck. All this time, he’s been trying to get rid of the wenkamuy who kept coming back ever since he lured a bear to his family’s home to kill them, to punish them for becoming so greedy over gold.
When he dies, the wenkamuy dies with him. Asirpa points out the importance of passing on the truth properly, as Heita had the wrong idea about wenkamuy all along: they don’t kill people to punish them, but because they were favored by the gods. In any case, having encountered another weird prisoner, they’ve obtained another piece of the map.
I liked how off-kilter this episode felt throughout, and how reality bent to the point we were essentially watching things unfold from Heita’s skewed perspective, until a switch flipped. It’s good old-fashioned Golden Kamuy weirdness, and I’m glad it’s back.