Golden Kamuy – 42 – Be Like a Boner

The moon over the hot springs is just a tiny sliver, almost new; Warrant Officer Kikuta remembers it being the same moon when he and Private Ariko were lying in the trenches of Mukden. But once the moon is new, Ariko is suddenly bursting out of the side of the inn and landing in the snow covered in bruises, then led through the dark by Toni, who is not dead.

So what gives? Tsurumi knows the skin Ariko brought wasn’t Toni’s and decided to give Ariko the opportunity to steal the other skins for Hijikata Toshizou. Rather than kill Ariko, he reminds him of the difference between how he’d rule Hokkaido and how Toshizou would, appeals to his Ainu heritage, and makes Ariko into a double agent.

He has Usami rough Ariko up, then sends the burly private back into the mountains with Toni to meet with Hijikata and his men, earning their trust by “stealing” Tsurumi’s skins and presenting them to the old samurai. But while the skins are human, Hijikata can tell they’re clever fakes. Even so, Hijikata sees the value of having skins that, while not “full truth”, are still incredibly close half-truths. And so the chess game between the two leaders intensifies.

Sugimoto and Asirpa’s group ends up sledding into Enonoka’s village, where they say their goodbyes to her, Henke, and the ever-trusty Ryu, now a lead dog. Cikapasi shares a tearful farewell with Enonoka, but when he falls off the departing sled, he decides to remain with her after all. He and Tanigaki then share a tearful farewell, with Tanigaki giving Cikapasi his rifle (to be used to hunt only when he grows up) and telling him to stand straight and tall—like the boner that gives him his name.

While it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to Ryu and the kids, I daresay they’ll be far safer in that village than staying with the rest of the group. As much as Sugimoto wants to protect Asirpa, the fact they’re cooperating with Tsurumi and the 7th at all means things are about to get a lot more dangerous and volatile.

Either on the dusk or dawn before Tsurumi arrives to meet with them, Koito has a serious talk with Tsukishima, asking him if Tsurumi had anything to do with the death of Ogata’s father, the only general opposed to the Manchurian annexation hastened by the gaining of the railway in the Russian war.

In so many words, Tsukishima confirms Koito’s suspicions and then some, while also declaring that he never considered his life worth enough to get upset over being used by a man as great as Tsurumi. He wants a front row seat to watch the lieutenant’s big plans unfold.

Koito initially seems overwhelmed by all this truth, but he then revels in just how cool Tsurumi is, even correctly deducing that the good lieutenant staged their meeting and his kidnapping years ago.

The next morning, drunk on booze and the company of a woman, Shiraishi gives Sugimoto a piece of his mind. He doesn’t mince words saying Sugimoto has gone soft in his crusade to protect Asirpa, someone who is neither lover, wife, or daughter. Shiraishi tells him Asirpa changed and grew when she was in Karafuto, and Sugimoto does her a disservice by treating her like a delacate flower to be sheltered from life itself.

As far as Shiraishi is concerned, Asirpa should be allowed and encouraged to lead the Ainu—in battle, if necessary—if that’s what she wants. Sure, Shiraishi undercuts his gravitas by booting into the snow, but they’re words he wouldn’t have said when sober or blue-balled, and they needed to be said.

I hope Sugimoto heard them. Tsurumi and Hijikata may be great men with big plans for Hokkaido, but Asirpa has the potential to be an even greater woman. As her friend, not her savior, Shiraishi won’t let her potential be stifled.

Golden Kamuy – 41 – Ainupocalypse Now

We’re back with the main gang in the present day, and with time to kill before Tsurumi meets up with them, Sugimoto and Asirpa hang out in the woods while she performs Ainu rituals and hopes a wolverine will come her way so she can taste its brains. They then encounter something completely new: a two-man film crew with a cinematograph.

When a wolverine pounces on the back of one of the men, Sugimoto and Asirpa spring into action with bow and rifle, and the cameraman captures it all. Asirpa gets to taste her wolvy brains (and watch Sugimoto taste them too), but they probably didn’t think much of the little wooden box with the crank until its owner takes it back into town.

There, he explains it’s a relatively new French invention to which he owns the Japanese rights. He then proceeds to play some of the footage of Aniu he’s taken, and everyone is unexpectedly amazed by the dancing pictures. Asirpa, who is of late extremely preoccupied with preserving her culture, decides to don a director’s cap, and Sugimoto reminds the filmmakers that she saved their asses.

Everyone chips in on the ensuing production, which starts with simple folk stories involving dicks and dick copycats (the copycat always dies in the end like the moron he is; Asirpa’s casting of Shiraishi as said moron is an inspired choice).

When she’s not satisfied with how the production is going she shifts from comedy to drama and a story of three brothers, one of whom turns into a bird kamuy. The seriousness is somewhat undone by a nearly-naked Tanigaki bursting out of the bird suit, but Asirpa is happy with the shoot.

Koito arranges for them to screen Asirpa’s masterpiece in a theater, and seeing themselves in the moving pictures is surely an invigorating experience. Then the filmmakers decide to surprise Asirpa with some footage they took ten years ago. In it, she gets to see her father Wilk before his face was lost, and also gets to see her mother for the very first time.

While I laughed during the goofy dick-filled filmmaking scenes earlier, I teared up when I saw Asirpa’s family, and especially her desperately beautiful and powerful mom, from whom she inherited so much without ever knowing her. Kiroranke also makes an appearance in the footage, but it’s her mom who seems to cast a spell on her and everyone in the theater.

But then, as was a not-so-uncommon occurrence in the early days of cinema, the projector light set the film on fire and burned it, not only destroying the all the footage Asirpa & Co. took that day, but also the only images of her mother to ever exist. The first time she saw her was also the last. Utterly dejected, Asirpa walks out into the cold night alone.

Sugimoto follows her to ensure she’s alright, but she’s not. Film, she says, is a wonderful invention, but it’s not nearly enough to keep her people’s culture alive. And she’s right. Literally seeing it through a lens is totally different from learning and living it from other Ainu. The footage was enlightening, but also cold, especially relative to her warm memories of her father telling her stories.

Asirpa is definitely putting far too much of a burden on her slender shoulders to save the Ainu from certain cultural oblivion, and yet she can’t stop. Sugimoto calls it a “curse”, for while much of it is her own will, she can’t deny that will was shaped in her formative years by the likes of Wilk and Kiroranke, who all but forced her to carry on their legacies.

Whatever she has to do to achieve her goals, Asirpa knows it will require gold, and lots of it. But Sugimoto knows that with gold comes blood. He admits to her that part of him wants to preserve the innocence he lost by protecting her, but he also knows that he already inhabits a kind of hell of his own making; a hell he assures Asirpa she won’t like. Nothing will change her more from what she should be than killing.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to gradually build up our Sugisirpa withdrawl for three straight weeks and then pounce on our back like a wolverine with a gem of an episode that’s both bawdy and fun, and part heartbreaking and redemptive.

Golden Kamuy – 40 – His Mother’s Eyebrows

If you told me we’d be getting a Lt. Koito origin story this week, I would have been dubious, but, well, here we are, and while it’s completely divorced from the present day story and our core couple of Sugimoto and Asirpa, it’s still a ton of fun, blending geopolitical history, family strife, and the usual Kamuy zaniness.

At fourteen, Koito Otonoshin is an aimless, willful 14-year-old, a spoiled rich kid whose father has basically washed his hands of him. But when he runs a man down with his mini-motorcycle, he gets more than he bargained with, as that man turns out to be Lt. Tsurumi, in full possession of all of his skin.

Tsurumi can tell young Koito has skill and potential, but needs direction. He also learns—or rather already knew—that Koito has a complex about his 13-years-older brother who died valiantly in battle. Basically, he wishes he was the son to die. Tsurumi tells Koito he’ll enjoy his move to Hakodate, and that if they meet again, it will mean the heavens want them to be friends.

Two years later, Koito is still a rich little shit put-putting around town, but is suddenly kidnapped by Russians. Tsurumi arrives as a representative of the army to deal with the hostage situation, meeting with the grizzled Captain Koito and his wife. Finding his son will involve using the telephone exchange to trace the kidnapper’s call—the town only has 50 or so non-public phones, but that’s still too many to go door-to-door.

On one of many hunches, Tsurumi and Koito stake out the abandoned Russian embassy and await a phone call. But Captain Koito makes clear that if the Russians want him to dismantle his fleet in exchange for his son’s life, that’s not going to happen. Yet when the kidnappers call and put the captain’s son on, Koito is already prepared to die, tells his father to forget he was born, and starts fighting with his captives over the phone.

Papa Koito may be stern and honorable, but he’s not heartless, and his son’s gesture propels him to go after his son once the location of the phone—an abandoned fort six klicks away—is found. The horses are too scared of the steep hills, so Koito races off on his son’s motorcycle, with Tsurumi catching up with his Terminator speed and hopping on.

A thrilling little chase ensues, with one of the kidnappers pursuing the motorcycle. Tsurumi helps them get around corners by leaning to the side, surprising a couple of local townswomen and giving them a wink. He then swings around so he’s facing the captain and shoots and kills their pursuer.

However, Captain Koito ends up crashing the bike into a trolley and sending them both flying, losing just enough clothing to look like they’re members of a queer bike gang. They arrive at the old fort, the Captain distracts the kidnappers by striking a rock star pose, but he’s knocked out, and his son is tied up to a post again.

Koito hears gunshots behind the closed door and fears the worst, but when the door opens it’s not his captors, but Lt. Tsurumi, in all his sexy masculine glory. Koito’s dad comes to, and the three enjoy a good laugh while Tsurumi’s underlings—a younger Kikuta, Tsukishima, and Ogata—deal with the bodies of the dead kidnappers.

Clearly smitten with the always-charming Lt. Tsurumi, and also finally possessed of a sense of duty to both father and country, Koito takes the army officer test and passes, and even though his father is a naval man, he’s proud of his son whether he fights on land or sea. Tsurumi takes him under his wing, and Koito and Ogata exchange glares, the start of their long and colorful history together.

Left ambiguous is whether Tsurumi planned all of this: meeting the young Koito in Kagoshima to get the measure of him, arranging the kidnapping, facilitating a reconciliation between him and his dad, and eventually claiming him as one of his loyal 7th division officers. Or was it simply fate that brought them together?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 39 – Echos in the Sulfur

Privates Usami and Nikaido are washing their privates with the healing waters of the famed Noboribetsu hot springs when Warrant Officer Kikuta and Private Ariko ask them if they have heard any rumors of a strange man walking around in the nearby mountains wearing geta and wearing “strange patterns”. The other privates, still two of Tsurumi’s men, claim ignorance, as does their masseur.

But the masseur, Toni, turns out to be the soldiers’ next tattooed target. He and his blind companions head out in the night, but due to the moonlight and snow it’s not pitch dark, and Kikuta uses a purported pirate’s trick of wearing an eyepatch all day so one of your eyes is adjusted to the dark. The sound of geta turns out to be Toni’s mouth clicking, using echo location to see.

Kikuta, Ariko, Usami and Nikaido join forces and are led into a cave, where they give away their position to their target whenever they tread upon the rare ice stalagmites found there. Kikuta eventually just lights a torch so he can get a clearer shot, hitting Toni in the shoulder.

He leaves the remainder of the hunt to Ariko, who is not only Ainu but a member of a famous group of Ainu who braved the most inhospitable conditions imaginable to bring back the bodies of soldiers who lost their lives in a mountaineering mission gone horribly wrong.

Knowing Toni will be listening to every sound he makes, Ariko, who also knows these mountains like the back of his hand, leads his prey into a spot where his rifle shots cause an avalanche that buries him. “I lose,” a bitter Toni says before he meets his demise.

Four days pass and Ariko fails to return to Noboribetsu, so Kikuta heads out in search of him, and finds him staying in an Ainu village, having removed and dried Toni’s tattooed skin. It will make a fine gift for the two to find themselves back in Lt. Tsurumi’s good graces.

And while their little adventure is fun enough and features plenty of clever tactics, I must admit I still missed Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi & Co., whom we only get to see at the very end, with an apparently drunk Sugimoto and Shiraishi being gross after eating Granny’s spit-infused rice dumplings. Asirpa doesn’t even say anything! Hopefully we get more time with the main crew soon.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 38 – Blades and Buttcracks

As one would expect, being poisoned and buried alive is no biggie for Ushiyama, tank-made-flesh that he is. Fortune smiles upon our young ice skater Chiyotarou, who is tied to a felled tree by his tormentors, when Ushiyama frees him (by the most extra method) in exchange for peaches. That said, Ushiyama is still drugged and can only manage brief utterances, leading Chiyotarou to think the hulk’s name is “Pussy.”

When Detective Kadokura receives a ransom letter from Sekiya, he and Kirawus head to the frozen lake for a parlay. At that same lake, Chiyotarou introduces “Pussy” to ice skating (using gerori, or geta skates), but the bullies return and toss a moss ball at Ushiyama. In his drugged state he lashes out violently, sending the three bad lads packing, but Chiyotarou is mortified: he only wanted Pussy to be a visual and psychological threat. The kid has a gentle heart, and doesn’t want anyone actually hurt.

Taking responsibility for unleashing this Frankenstein’s monster on the world by feeding him peaches, Chiyotarou arranges for Pussy to leap right into one of the holes in the lake formed by hot springs. Around the same time, Kadokura meets with the ever-cautious and well-prepared Sekiya, who makes him strip, and soon deduces that the detective is hiding an Ainu blade between his clinched ass cheeks.

Sekiya flees, but it was always Kadokura’s plan to make the deal go bad so he would, enabling a well-hidden Kirawus to then tail Kadokura back to where Hijikata is buried. And he would have, too, were it not for Ushiyama suddenly coming to his senses and emerging from the ice.

Kadokura discovers Sekiya’s hideout anyway (a silkworm factory) thanks to the cocoon that falls from Ushiyama’s jacket. There, Sekiya presents the former warden with yet another one of his trials designed to reveal whether someone is on the right path. He has Kadokura pick among a circle of cocoons and take whatever is inside, and he promises to do the same to the cocoon opposite that one.

This gives them a 50-50 chance of taking the deadly poison, but Kadokura knows that with his ruinous bad luck he’s sure to pick the poison. Indeed he does, but before it kicks in, Sekiya tells him the story of how his young daughter was suddenly struck by lightning and killed, leading him on a lifelong exploration of fate and faith. Kadokura starts to show signs he took the poison, so Sekiya holds up his end of the bargain and digs up Hijikata.

Only to his surprise, Hijikata is fully conscious once he digs him up. Using his own pharmaceutical knowledge, he made sure to take enough of one poison to counteract the effects of the other. This, incidentally, is what Kadokura does, trying to take more poison to speed his death but ending up taking the precise dose needed to neutralize both poisons in his system.

Even with Sekiya’s life in his hands, Hijitaka has no time to talk about God or faith, as he’s singularly focused on the world of men and what men can do. He considers fate not to be something endowed from a higher power, but something to be taken with one’s own hand, through experience and guts. You can’t exactly argue with his results so far, as he’s had more lives than a cat and is now in possession of more map tattoos.

As for young Chiyotarou, he flashes a dirty look at his bullies who then cower, but he’s unaware that “Pussy” is alive and well, lucis, and walking right behind him. Hopefully he’ll notice him so he won’t have to bear the burden of thinking he took a life in order to prevent a monster from taking far more of them. While I missed Asirpa and Sugimoto this week, this was still a meaty, fun, and at times quite hilarious Edo-period hard-boiled detective case.

Golden Kamuy – 37 (S4 01) – Born Under a Bad Sign

After taking Fall 2021 off, Golden Kamuy is back with its quirky blend of history, culture, gore, fellowship and gross-out comedy. Sugimoto and Asirpa travel with Tsukishima, Tanigaki and Koito across the border and back into Japan, and they soon arrive at the border village of Shisuka.

Sugimoto splits off from the others to stock up on the miso Asirpa likes so much, but while he’s gone, a sniper shoots Shiraishi in the leg. The soldiers know not to run out to him, lest they get shot too. Tsukishima assumes Ogata is the one shooting at them. Shiraishi tries to attract crows to cover his escape, but only cute sparrows come.

Sugimoto, who sneaks up on the sniper from behind and takes him down, soon learns it isn’t Ogata, but a Russian soldier from a previous encounter who is still hunting Ogata. After communicating with drawings Sugimoto confides in the Russian that he wishes to preserve Asirpa’s innocence in the midst of all this bloodshed.

Asirpa actually overhears this, but Tsukishima, Tanigaki and Koito enter first, and Tsukishima uses his proficiency in Russian to properly get their point across. Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi (who is apparently fine from his gunshot wound), the kids, and the soliders hop back into their sleds and move on, but the Russian follows them from a distance, no doubt hoping they’ll lead him to his quarry.

The remainder of the episode takes place in a town by Lake Akan, south of Abashiri involves a buddy cop scenario, with former jailor Kadokura and his Ainu comrade Kirawus head out to search for Hijikata and Ushiyama, who have been missing for two days and are starting to worry Nagakura.

The next inmate being hunted is Sekiya Waichirou, who specializes in naturally-sourced yet lethal poisons. Apparently to kill time, he’d lace only one out of three bowls with poison and ask a fellow inmate to choose one. He makes a similar proposition to Hijikata after having already successfully poisoned and buried Ushiyama alive, only with silkworm cocoons.

The gross joke of the week goes to Kadokura, who says he knows Sekiya by the wrinkles of his asshole, having had to check there for contraband on the regular. Kirawus mocks him, saying anything Sekiya stuck up there would have killed him, so he spent all that time looking at his ass for nothing!

Sekiya is still on the same frozen lakebed when Kadokura and Kirawus are investigating. He offers Kirawus some extra smelts he caught, with one of the several no doubt laced with poison, a test of these folks’ luck. Turns out Kadokura has the absolute worst luck, such that he slips head-over-heels and spills the smelt, which slide right back through nearby holes in the ice.

To Kadokura it’s just another instance of the fortune he’s been cursed with since being born “under a bad star”, but at least in this case, that bad luck is a boon. A sore back beats being dead, after all. This first episode back brought us up to speed with where most of the major players are and introduce us to a few colorful new characters; mostly quiet but functional. Also? The new OP and ED slap, hard.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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