Golden Kamuy – 24 (Fin) – Skin in the Game

As Hijikata defeats Inudou by playing dirty (tossing the blood from his arm he let Inudou cut to blind him), and Tsurumi mows down the inmates with a Maxim gun (channeling Tony Montana), A heavily-wounded Sugimoto happens to cross paths with the very person everyone’s been looking for since before episode One: Nopperabo (AKA Wilk). There’s no mistaking those eyes, but it’s confirmed when he recognizes the makiri he made for his daughter.

Nopperabo won’t say anything about the gold until Asirpa is brought to him, but Sugimoto has a non-gold-related question first: Why? Why involve his innocent daughter in what he knew would be a horrible blood-drenched mess that would stretch beyond his life and possibly hers? Sugimoto could sense the fear and apprehension she felt about the possibility Nopperabo turned out to be her father. Why put her through this?

The answer doesn’t quell Sugimoto’s pain, and perhaps that’s because he has no children of his own. Nopperabo was entrusting Asirpa with the future, believing she’d become the leader of the Ainu in that future. All of the time he had with her, he spent teaching her the ways of the Ainu, how to take care of herself, and how to defeat overwhelming foes. Before she turned ten, Asirpa was able to kill a giant red bear all by herself.

When Inkarmat hands the binoculars for Asirpa and she lay eyes on her father for the first time in a long time, she weeps, and perhaps not because she doesn’t understand her aca’s motivations. After all, she knows she’s an Ainu Woman of The Future. Perhaps she’s weeping more for the simpler life she knows her father wanted for her, but could not afford to provide; weeping for the time she and their aca were apart.

Then, to everyone’s utter shock, Nopperabo and Sugimoto are both shot through the head and fall, both shots carrying the very familiar sound of Ogata’s rifle. Tanigaki later rushes in and saves them from further shots (getting shot in the wrist himself) then finds Inkarmat lying in her own blood, a silver dagger in her belly. She tells Tanigaki that Kuroranke was giving someone a signal once the shots were fired.

Shiraishi manages to get Asirpa safely away, but Tanigaki and the wounded Inkarmat are captured by Tsurumi and his men. After all that planning and getting so tantalizingly close to the answer to the location of the Ainu gold, everything seems to have unraveled, and the lives of key players are either gone or in hanging from threads.

Ogata and Kiroranke meet up with Shiraishi and Asirpa, and Ogata confirms that Sugimoto and Nopperabo are dead, sending Asirpa into a frenzy of grief. However, less than a minute later we see Sugimoto, heavily bandaged and resting in bed, scarfing down onigiri. Both his life and Inkarmat’s were saved by the expert ministrations of Ienaga (who may have removed and eaten some of Sugimoto’s brains – channeling Hannibal Lector).

Now “brain damage pals,” Sugimoto is back in Tsurumi’s custody, along with Tanigaki. Inkarmat tells them that Kiroranke and Ogata’s likely next destination is Karafuto, which is where they turn out to be. The two are also well aware that Sugimoto may yet still be alive (he is Immortal Sugimoto after all) and that he’ll surely want to kill them both the moment he sees them again.

As for why Kiroranke stabbed Inkarmat, it wasn’t what I initially thought. Turns out, it was an accident. Kiroranke was merely threatening her with a knife, but in the ensuing struggle he fell and stabbed her. Kiroranke’s intent was to share the location of the gold with his former guerrilla comrades in the far east. And with Nopperabo dead, Asirpa is a vital key in discovering that location.

That’s not to say she’s the only key, however. Before leaving Abashiri, Tanigaki manages to find a consolation prize inadvertently left to him by Inudou: information relating to the tattoos no one else has. With none of the interested parties having the complete puzzle, there will surely have to be more confrontations alliances, and/or betrayals for any one of the parties to find the gold (if it even still exists).

Tsurumi sends Sugimoto to Karafuto to find Asirpa. He’s accompanied by Tsukishima, Koito, and his transport provided by Vice Admiral Koito, the lieutenant’s father. The Admiral had seemed to be only a means to an end up to this point, but he shares insights crucial to Sugimoto’s understanding of why Nopperabo did what he did.

Being a father himself, Koito knew that he could not ask the fathers of those beneath him to sacrifice their sons, nor ask those sons themselves to die, if he did not have skin in the game. Whether he liked it or not, the success of the battles being fought required that he put aside a life of safety and comfort he wanted for his son to legitimize the sacrifices of other sons.

He believes it was the same for Nopperabo. He didn’t simply cynically using her to help craft his ideal of the future for the Ainu. He simply could not ask the Ainu to pay for it with only their blood. Honor, obligation, justice, and an eye toward the future: these are the things parents in positions like Nopperabo and Koito must consider when raising their children.

Still, Sugimoto also happens to love Asirpa, and as long as he’s alive, he will see to it she doesn’t become a murderer like him and his ilk. Indeed, the kamuy may well be helping Sugimoto stay alive in order to serve as her guardian, and a check to the designs of both her father and the unceasing tides of history.

Asirpa comes to believe this in a dream with Sugimoto, in which he promises he’ll come for her again. The Dream Sugimoto insists it isn’t the kamuy speaking to her through him, but him, Sugimoto himself. He hasn’t joined the ranks of the kamuy yet, and nor has she.

Upon waking, Shiraishi share’s Asirpa’s insistence they haven’t yet seen the last of that big unkillable lug. Sure enough, he’s aboard a ship, with a bearing brimming with purpose and resolve, steaming to their location to reunite with them.

Until Golden Kamuy Season 3.

Golden Kamuy – 23 – Ainu Nothing Like The Real Thing

Turns out Inkarmat was working with Lt. Tsurumi…which is why Tsurumi has arrived with a flotilla of four-stack destroyers. With the prison alarms sounded, she declares Sugimoto and Shiraishi to have failed, and Tsurumi is the only one who can get Asirpa and Nopperabo out now.

When a shocked Tanigaki says that means he’ll get the Ainu gold, she tells him neither she nor he particularly care who gets the gold, further unsettling Tanigaki. The ships open fire, blasting holes in the wall, but also collapsing the entrance to the tunnel where Tanigaki and Inkarmat flee. Tsurumi and his large platoon of around sixty men get into small boats and arrive on the beach, fully armed and ready to rumble.

When Inkarmat is trapped by rubble, Tanigaki forgets who she was working for and bursts every button on his shirt to save the woman he loves. Fortunately for both, Ushiyama arrives to save the both of them, and just when you think it’s goodbye for Ushiyama, he casually tosses away the entire roof of the collapsed structure, then dusts off his jacket.

Tsurumi and his men storm the prison and kill everyone in sight…until he spots Sugimoto with “Nopperabo,” promising to kill him if they don’t lay down their arms. When the fake Nopperabo warns the others of a growing fire in the cell with loud grunts, they mimic the grunts. Like Tanigaki’s buttons, the show effectively tempers all the action and drama with moments of absurd, often pitch black comedy.

Meanwhile (there’s a metric F*CKTON of moving pieces in this episode) Toni Anji promises to take Asirpa to Nopperabo’s true location, but not without meeting up with Tanigaki Genjirou, whom Toni was always loyal to. Sugimoto realizes that Tanigaki wanted him out of the picture lest he cause trouble down the road.

On top of that, Nikaidou disobey’s Tsurumi’s order not to shoot, unknowingly hitting “Nopperabo” in the head, killing him. Shiraishi starts sawing through the floor so they can slide down into the crawlspace below. A wounded Kadokura releases all 700 deadly prisoners, unleashing them on Tsurumi’s outnumbered platoon, and, well, all hell breaks lose.

As soon as Asirpa sees that Warden Inodou is keeping Nopperabo in the chapel, she waits for another volley from the ships to escape from Toni and Hijikata (who applauds how tough the young woman is). But he still has the photos he had taken of himself with Asirpa to show Nopperabo.

It isn’t long before she runs into Kiroranke, and then Shiraishi runs into them, having dislocated his shoulders to exit the prison crawlspace. Kiroranke uses grenades to get Sugimoto out (as he has no clue how to dislocate his shoulders) and Sugimoto tells Kiroranke to meet the others at the front gate, while he takes the dagger Asirpa gave Kiroranke (and which was made by her aca) and heads to the chapel.

He’s stopped by Nikaidou, and the two have a vicious, bloody duel, with Sugimoto taking a blade through his mouth and left cheek and a bullet to the leg from the gun hidden in Nikaidou’s false leg. He manages to wrest that leg away and beat Nikaidou half(?) to death with it. I must say, if he survives this, Nikaidou might deserve the “Immortal” title as well…

In the chapel cellar, Inudou orders the real Nopperabo out of his cell, but Hijikata and Toni are waiting for him upstairs. Toni and Inudou shoot each other, but the latter plays dead so he can shackle Hijikata and lock him into a duel with katanas.

This allows Nopperabo to slip away. Outside the chapel, Sugimoto, crawling on the ground, spots him, and his unmistakable big, blue eyes. If only he could get Nopperabo to the front gate, where Asirpa and the others await.

All this time, mind you, Tsurumi and his men are completely occupied trying to fight off the wave of violent inmates. Like I said, a lot going on. One could even accuse it of being too busy, but I for one loved the sense of building chaos, with every character the show fleshed out playing a role.

It just worked, and was yet another example of the payoff tasting doubly sweet thanks to all the painstaking setting-up. After such a powerhouse penultimate episode, next week’s finale will have some big shoes to fill.

Golden Kamuy – 22 – And Finally, on a Black, Moonless Night…

For twenty-one weeks Golden Kamuy has been slowly building to this: the night Asirpa and Sugimoto finally infiltrate Abashiri Prison and meet with Nopperabo, to see once and for all if the one who killed the Ainu and stole the gold is her father. Now that the show has set up all of the various players and their various histories and motivations, it’s finally time to set things in motion.

Thanks to the salmon spawning, Kiroranke and Huci’s sister’s people can build a hut beside the wall of the prison. They can bribe the guards with fish, and within the hut they begin digging a tunnel under the wall to a precise distance indicated by Hijikata.

Before the big night, the whole crew settles under one roof an enjoys the bounty of the river: chitatap made from salmon gills, cartilage, and other normally harder-to-eat parts the Ainu never waste. Sugimoto is stoked to be having true chitatap, and Asirpa is delighted to hear not only Hijikata but even the normally mirthless Ogata not only make chitatap, but say “chitatap” while doing so. There’s also mouth-watering grilled salmon and side dishes laced with tasty roe.

During the meal, Ushiyama asks Inkarmat if she has a man, and Cikapasi forces the issue by giving Tanigaki’s half-eaten meal to Inkarmat, which is a kind of Ainu betrothing. Tanigaki leaves the hut, but Inkarmat follows him, and tells him she’s not hoping to reunite with Wilk for any romantic reason, but simply to settle her past. Tanigaki is the one she wants to spend her future with; he feels the same way about her, and once he gets Asirpa back home to Huci, he’ll give her his half-eaten bowl for real.

When the tunnel is complete it ends right in the quarters of Chief Kadokura, whose father fought beside Hijikata and thus feels loyalty to the old samurai, and will help the group achieve their audience with Nopperabo.

When a moonless night arrives, Asirpa, Sugimoto and Shiraishi, the infiltration team, relies on Toni Anji to guide them through the darkness to Noppy’s cell block. So naturally, they’re caught immediately, as in the first ten feet of their infiltration. The first play of the big game, and they fumble it.

No matter; the guards who spot them are dealt with relatively quietly, and they continue on, accessing the prison ward interior the only way they can: from the roof. The interior is a loving reproduction of the real Abashiri Prison, now a museum and Important Cultural Property—right down to the ceiling and cell latch designs.

Asirpa is lowered in (in a somewhat undignified manner), Shiraishi picks the lock to cell 66, and just like that, Asirpa is face-to-face with Nopperabo…or who she thought was Nopperabo. While the inmate’s face is indeed burned off, she can tell: this is not her aca (father). It’s an impostor; and they’ve been set up.

The fake Nopperabo starts screaming and a prison-wide alarm is sounded. Warden Inodou wakes up and mobilizes his men, and Sugimoto has Toni Anji pull Asirpa out of there, the two separating at the worst possible time. Still, Toni intends to take Asirpa to the real Nopperabo before they escape.

After that, the shit truly shits the fan, as Tsurumi, possibly tipped off by Inkarmat, arrives at the prison at the head of a flotilla of navy destroyers, blowing up the only bridge to the prison island. He orders his men to capture both Nopperabo and Asirpa, and will presumably need that gold in order to pay for such a lavish assault.

So a plan that had so many capable players involved goes pear-shaped almost immediately, scattering those players and leaving many wondering who among them betrayed them. But one way or another, this story is going to end in just two episodes. Here’s hoping Asirpa and Sugimoto and a few others make it out of this mess in one piece, hopefully with some of that Ainu gold…

Golden Kamuy – 21 – The Naked Truth

While visiting Asirpa’s relatives, the crew learns of a band of blind bandits who were once sulfur miners on Mount Iwo. Those who weren’t killed by the acid ended up sightless, and attack anyone they can in the dark. They’re led by a former Abashiri inmate, Toni Anji, who also has tattoos. They head to a local hot spring, but while all the guys are relaxing in the bath, the blind bandits snuff out all the light and attack.

As a result, Sugimoto, Tanigaki, Ogata, Kiroranke, and Shiraishi have to fight an enemy they can’t see with their dicks out. The enemy can “see” them just fine thanks to echolocation by tongue-clicking; a clever tactic that also creates an unsettling atmosphere.

As with the aphrodisiac sea otter incident, the beefcake is strong with this episode, with tasteful angles and shadows preventing everyone’s manhood from being exposed. Only Asirpa and Inkarmat remain clothed. Golden Kamuy has proven quite adept at creating compelling action set pieces, and taking away both the clothes and eyesight of the combatants is yet another example of that proficiency. It’s also pretty hilarious.

While she’s still weary of Kiroranke, Inkarmat still joins him and Tanigaki on a boat to try to escape the bandits, but Toni and his cohorts toss stones to gauge distance before he opens fire, shooting Tanigaki and capsizing the boat. Inkarmat can’t swim, and starts to sink, and even has a vision of a circle of bears coming to claim her soul.

But Tanigaki, who was only shot through the butt, dives into the lake and rescues her, and she rewards him with a kiss. She thought for sure she was a goner, but he showed her that the fate her fortune-telling portends can be changed.

As dawn starts to peek out of the horizon, Sugimoto and Ogata (the only one of them with a gun) infiltrate the bandits’ hideout, but soon find the windows are all nailed shut, and another ambush ensues in the pitch black. Toni goes after Sugimoto, and the two grapple and come to a standoff.

That’s when Hijikata suddenly appears to greet his old fellow inmate, and Ushiyama tears through the walls to let the sun in. The threat is over, with Sugimoto & Co. leaving Toni Anji to Hijikata & Co., provided he can get a copy of the tattoos he bears.

As the now fully-reunited supergroup heads into town to take their pictures taken, of all things, Tsurumi “punishes” his Abashiri mole, Private Usami, by drawing stick figures on his symmetrical face moles (a mole with moles, heh heh). Usami, like so many young men, is so smitten with the Lieutenant that it’s hardly punishment at all.

As for Sugimoto, he is compared to a young Hijikata by the old man’s photographer friend: “like a demon, but also kind.” But while locked in battle in the darkness, Toni Anji said sensed something else those with sight couldn’t: that Sugimoto could never return to who he was. I guess we’ll find out.

Golden Kamuy – 20 – Inkarmat Holmes

Ah, the seaside. Warm breeze, giant sunfish, sea otter meat, and…swarms of locusts?! Golden Kamuy brings a lot of people together, but then immediately splits them apart, both with the swarm, and with sudden clashing stories about who is dangerous and who is (still) working for Tsurumi.

When Sugimoto, Shiraishi, Ogata and Tanigaki seek refuge in a building and proceed to cook the sea otter stew, they all start to get very horny and see sexier versions of each other (including the latecomer Kiroranke), resulting in a ridiculous sumo orgy. There’s more serious activity afoot outside, as a highly suspicious Asirpa demands Inkarmat tell her how she knows her father.

According to Inkarmat, Nopperabo they’re seeking isn’t her father at all. Her father is a man named Wilk, whom Inkarmat befriended and even fell for (though he only regarded her as a child). Wilk, Inkarmat tells her, was murdered by his best friend…Kiroranke.

That night, just as the others are coming down from the sea otter, Inkarmat mounts Tanigaki and disrobes. While there are any number of reasons she decided to sleep with him (including genuine attraction, which is definitely there) she later attributes the lay with the sea otter’s legendary aphrodisiac effects.

Once everyone is reassembled on the beach, Asirpa immediately confronts Kiroranke with what Inkarmat just told her. When Kiroranke plays innocent, Inkarmat produces evidence in the form of fingerprint matching.

Then Ogata draws his rifle on her, accusing her of working for Tsurumi, but she says she was only using Tsurumi. Tanigaki puts himself between Inkarmat and Ogata’s gun, and Ogata accuses him of letting himself be seduced.

It’s a big mess, with multiple people suspecting each other of murder, or conspiracy, or some such foul play. This week Sugimoto not only gets the horny sumo orgy started, but also plays the role of peacemaker (after all, no one is pointing any fingers at him for anything).

He tells everyone that their mission remains the same: go to Abashiri and meet with Nopperabo for answers. He half-jokingly warns that whoever “makes their move”, resulting in another member of the group suddenly meeting their maker, will share the fate of their victim. Call it Mutually Assured Justice.

Tsurumi’s intel network is formidable, and he is informed the moment the reunited group is headed to the prison. He even has a mole there, posing as a greenhorn noob. His superior officer is ordered by the warden to “feed him to the pigs” when his duplicity is uncovered, but the young lad make quick work of the two inmates who ambush him. Looks like our friends are heading straight into a hornet’s nest. What else is new?

As for the post-credits sequence in which a wagon is robbed in the night by a crack shot with a pistol…not enough info to form an opinion one way or another, except to assume the able gunman in question will probably cross paths with either Tsurumi, Hijikata, or Sugimoto & Co.

Golden Kamuy – 19 – Missing Something

The reunion of Tanigaki, Inkarmat, and Cikapasi with Asirpa and the others was facilitated by Ainu hunters who then invite the whole gang to their kitan as they perform a post-bear-hunting ceremony, in which they tell the other gods that the world of humans is a good place. Asirpa is once again the “tour guide” describing the Ainu concept of kamuy.

Tanigaki then tells her about Huci, but Asirpa can’t go home yet, not when she’s so close to Abashiri and learning the secrets of her father. Instead, Tanigaki decides to stay by Asirpa’s side and assist her in her efforts. Asirpa also gives Inkarmat a look that seems to ask  what does this woman want?, which is also something I’d like to know.

One of the Ainu hunters recognizes Tanigaki’s rifle as having once belonged to the hunter Nihei Tetsuzou, whom he once hunted bear with. At the time Tetsuzou revealed the purpose of the seven notches in the rifle: they were made by his only son, who died in battle.

He made a notch for every enemy he killed, but his father would never know whether he lost count or simply died once he’d reached seven. He just wishes he’d never gone to war and simply stayed with him and hunted bear.

Koito, who like the taxidermist is in love with Tsurumi, reports on his failure to keep a hold of Shiraishi, and Tsurumi thinks Koito’s consolation prize of the con artist’s tattooed skin has the wrong marks, suggesting it may be fake. He assigns Koito to henceforth assist him in hunting down those who would prevent the 7th from its glorious victory.

When Koito mentions how Ogata was with Shiraishi and the others on the airship, Tsurumi laments how someone he was sure would be loyal is no longer in the fold. He regails Koito of the tragic tale Ogata told him, of how he was the bastard son of the famous Lt. General Hanazawa and a prostitute who went mad hoping that he’d come back to her if she kept making monkfish stew.

She did that instead of loving her son, who one day poisoned his mother to end her suffering, and also to see if his father would come to her funeral; he didn’t. He then met his half-brother in the army and could tell that he had a family who loved him. He shot that brother in the head, again to see if his father would simply think of his other son and his mother.

Finally, with Tsurumi’s help, Ogata performs seppuku on his own father General Hanazawa, who curses him as a failure of a son who was always “missing something.” Whatever that “something” was, it couldn’t have helped that Ogata never had anyone in his life who loved him. The closest he got was Lt. Tsurumi’s attempt at seduction, which, unlike, say, Koito, didn’t interest him in the least.

Back in the present, when Sugimoto, Asirpa, and the gang reach the sea and jump for joy, Ogata is watching their backs with binoculars, still searching for that thing he’s missing. Could he one day find it by sticking with these folks?

Golden Kamuy – 10 – Spring Thunder

Tanigaki, armed with only one bullet, uses the mountains to assist him in preemptively striking his hunters, using the kill of a bear and a fire to lure Nikaidou out.

The bear takes Nikaidou’s ear off and mauls him, while Tanigaki’s shot goes right through Ogata’s chest. The apparent success of his gambit leads Tanigaki to say “boner” in honor of Nihei.

When one of Tsurumi’s forward scouts finds Tanigaki, he’s sure he’s not involved with the lieutenant’s betrayers. However, Tanigaki’s shot was a little too right down the middle; it missed Ogata’s heart and lungs and he’s able to kill the scout.

Tsurumi and his men arrive in time to capture Nikaidou, with the sadistic L.T. taking off his other ear and eventually gets him to spill the name of the other betrayer by saying he’ll let him kill Sugimoto. Tanigaki uses the chaos to slip away unnoticed.

It’s amazing how gorey and gross this show can be one moment, and how lighthearted an slapsticky the next.  Case in point: Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi goofily note the blooming of the first flowers of spring as the snow starts to melt, and they come upon a lake where a fish called huchen can be found.

Unfortunately, Shiraishi’s penchant for getting bitten by animals applies to fish as well, as a massive legendary huchen pulls him under the drink right after Asirpa mentioned such a fish kamuy exists.

Shiraishi is saved by Kiroranke Nispa, an old friend of Asirpa’s father, and also a veteran formerly of the 7th (though not Tsurumi’s unit). He also has some shocking news: Nopperabo, the prisoner who tattooed all of the others, is Asirpa’s father; the one who stole all the Ainu gold.

This news is extremely distressing to Asirpa, not to mention it nullifies her entire reason for joining Sugimoto on the hunt for the prisoners—to avenge her father. She wants to learn the truth from Nopperabo’s own mouth, which means they’ll have to travel to Abashiri Prison on the other side of the island.

In their time with Kiroranke, Sugimoto and Asirpa give a lot away, but he seems to be someone they can trust for now; he may well have just been curious how many other tattoo map skins they had. His own goal is to give the gold back to the Ainu; if the others are fine with their fair share not totaling 100%, he’ll gladly join their mission to locate and retrieve it.

To that end, he suggests the group take horses and make for Sapporo in order to secure sufficient arms and other supplies with which to infiltrate the prison in one piece. Shiraishi gets a really little horse. But awaiting them in Sapporo on a stormy night is a very suspicious woman who runs a hotel. Looks like next week will be a murder mystery a la Clue…which will hopefully somehow tie into the search for the gold.

Golden Kamuy – 09 – Henmi’s Last Gleaming

While Golden Kamuy isn’t the prettiest anime around by any means, it excels at building tension, constructing intricate close shaves, and making coincidence feel more like providence.

Asirpa discovers Henmi’s victim just a hair too late to warn Sugimoto, who follows when Henmi sends him outside so they won’t be interrupted. When the 7th arrives, Henmi takes Sugimoto to the big shot’s mansion, and Asirpa spots them from afar and follows them.

When Henmi and Sugimoto go up the stairs, the two 7th soldiers they find already on the upper floor catch just enough of Sugimoto’s cap to know it’s him. Henmi improvises, using the trusty giant knife he brought to kill them, but gets shot by one before he dies.

Sugimoto assumes the man just defended himself, and is even willing to carry him out when they happen to bump into Lt. Tsurumi (asking the whaling tycoon for weapons factory funds). Even Tsurumi is caught off guard when the old man decides to take matters into his own hands and unleashes the power of his prized Maxim machine gun.

Sugimoto escapes with Henmi in the chaos; Henmi’s infatuation for the Immortal only deepens as they run along the beach hand-in-hand. He’s about to kill Sugimoto with a blow from behind when he’s shot with an arrow from…Asirpa, who had been hanging back and watching things unfold.

Sugimoto proceeds to stab Henmi several times, but their position on the beach makes them vulnerable to orca attack, with one particular specimen chomping up Henmi and taking him away.

Henmi couldn’t be happier with how he’s meeting his end; shot by an Ainu girl, stabbed by Sugimoto the Immortal, to be finished off by an orca. Who could ask for more?

But Sugimoto doesn’t let the orca have the last act; stripping down (as Asirpa kinda sorta averts her eyes) and diving into the ocean to rescue Henmi, depending once again on his apparent inability to die. It pays off, but Tsurumi learns he’s working with the Ainu, while Hijikata learns more about Siraishi’s “friends.”

Back at the Ainu village Tanigaki is back on his feet and has been accepted by elder and child alike, but enters the elder woman’s hut to find Ogata and Nikaidou there, essentially holding the two Ainu hostage. Tanigaki lies (badly), but ultimately Ogata says he’ll let him be—only to fire off a shot from outside, so as to kill only Tanigaki and not the innocent witnesses.

Ogata misses only because Osoma pulled Tanigaki’s head back at just the right time to avoid the bullet. Some cat-and-mouse ensues, with Tanigaki testing Ogata’s accuracy, then putting up a smokescreen to escape the hut.

After retrieving Henmi (whose whimsical insanity I’ll miss), skinning him for the tattoos, and having some dinner at the Yanshuu canteen, Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi are approached by an old man who turns out to be Hijikata, in a nice bit of up-close-and-personal observation. Shiraishi knows full well who the old man is, but Sugimoto and Asirpa are oblivious. But the message to Shiraishi is clear: copy the tattoos and report back.

Back at the village, Ogata and Nikaidou have retreated after the smokescreen gave Tanigaki the upper hand. But he’s still wounded, and Ogata has no intention of giving up the hunt. Only Tanigaki won’t be unarmed; Osoma presents him with the late Nihei’s rifle, which holds only a single bullet. But hey, one is better than none!

Golden Kamuy – 08 – Gone Whalin’

Needless to say, Uchiyama catches up to Shiraishi. However, their “little chat” is interrupted, both by soldiers of the 7th shooting at Uchiyama, and the fact that Uchiyama’s diversionary role is just one piece with the rest of Hijikata’s plan to rob a bank; specifically, to recover a katana that has a special place in his heart.

Say what you will about Tsurumi’s general sanity; the man knows how to smell out the truth of things, and manages to be in the right position to put a bullet through Hijikata’s hat before the old samurai escapes on the horse Tsurumi borrowed. Having met face to face for the first time, both men like what they see and look forward to the second.

Shiraishi has many tools for escape; here, he used confusion and Uchiyama’s duty to Hijikata. However, he makes sure to stop by the brothel to secure an article of Uchiyama’s clothing so that Retar can help him track the guy. When Asirpa says they’re not bothering the wolves anymore, Shiraishi settles for Ryuu, now a member of the party, who helps catch a plump tanuki Shiraishi let get away.

 

Ryuu leads Shiraishi to Uchiyama, but also makes enough noise to get Shiraishi caught. Hijikata orders his bodyguard not to kill the escape artist; instead, he wants his aid in retrieving the skin of a prisoner; a prolific murderer named Henmi Kazuo.

Shiraishi agrees, is freed, and confers with Sugimoto and Asirpa. He tells them about Henmi, and how he may be hiding amongst the yanshuu, contract herring fishermen who work the coasts.

Asirpa’s uncle is whaling in that same area, so out of worry for his well-being—what with a guy who literally gets off on killing on the prowl—the three head to the beach, leaping joyfully into the sand when they arrive.

The whaling sequence is another simply-yet-effectively realized scenes of Ainu culture, but when the whale takes a turn toward the herring fishing fleet, it drags the Ainu boats along, and Sugimoto, Asirpa, and her uncle must give up the chase to rescue a fisherman who falls overboard.

That fisherman turns out to be Himei Kazuo, whom we learn a lot about in a hurry through his inner monologue. While a relatively normal-looking, soft-spoken guy, his thoughts are anything but. He can smell the same “scent of a killer” wafting off his savior Sugimoto, and takes an immediate interest in him.

The more Himei learns about Sugimoto, the more his crotch starts to glow (subtle!) and the more badly he wants Sugimoto, whom he believes to be “jut like him”, to kill him. He knows that in order get Sugimoto to kill him, Himei will have to try to kill Sugimoto. But that’s a story for next week!

Until then, this was a solid introduction to yet another interesting and oddly likeable prisoner; a guy equal parts goofy and terrifying. Yet he’s not always a walking joke; his nigh unquenchable thirst for homicide stemming from a traumatic moment in his past when he heard his brother struggle in vain against a boar.

Meanwhile, this episode might’ve had the least Sugimoto and Asirpa yet (we don’t even see them until seven minutes in), but while I still like their quiet little story most of all, the show wasn’t hurt by their diminished screen time, as the dance between the 7th and Hijikata’s men commences.

Golden Kamuy – 07 – #NotExtinctYet

Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi end up in a good old-fashioned standoff with Nihei and Tanigaki, ending with Tanigaki racing off with Asirpa so she won’t hear the screams of Sugimoto and Shiraishi’s deaths. But because Shiraishi is an escape artist, he and Sugimoto are able to slip out of their paltry binds and pursue Tanigaki.

Nihei underestimated Shiraishi, and Tanigaki underestimates his surroundings, tripping a deer trap that puts a wolfsbane-dipped arrow in his leg. He has no choice but to release Asirpa so she can cut the poisoned flesh out (gross), but when she’s done Nihei catches up with them and uses Asirpa as bait for Retar.

However, Retar was simply no match for Nihei, because Retar had backup, in the person (well, in the wolf) of his mate, who delivers the fatal bite to Nihei’s jugular. When Sugimoto and Shiraishi arrive, Nihei has basically bled out, while Retar rejoins his family, something Asirpa (not to mention nobody else) had any idea he had.

So, reports of the Ezo Wolf’s extinction were grossly exaggerated. Seeing Retar with his family brought tears to my eyes. I also felt for poor Ryuu, who lost his master, but thankfully Asirpa insists on taking Tanigaki to the village, lest the loyal-to-a-fault Ryuu stay with him until he dies then starve to death.

In the village, the young Ainu get another good look at a Japanese fellow with weird ears in Shiraishi, while he and Sugimoto tuck into some deer stew and something I’m going to call “salmonsicles”. When the village elder speaks of how the gold sullied the rivers that brought them fish, she mentions how Ainu from all over Hokkaido squirreled away a hoard of gold far larger than even the prisoners know about.

Tanigaki, wounded but conscious, basically corroborates the old woman, and adds the story of his commander, Lt. Tsurumi, who had to lead a forward advance that led to the deaths of half the 7th. The chief of staff committed suicide in disgrace and left the entire division in disgrace, unpaid and unawarded for their valor. From there, Tsurumi vowed to seize Hokkaido for the 7th and open a weapons factory so that their families could work and be provided for.

Tanigaki’s story paints Tsurumi in a more sympathetic light, but it doesn’t sway Sugimoto from his goal to find the gold and keep it away from Tsurumi and men like him.

Speaking of ‘men like him’, the group led by Hijikata goes into town, mostly so that Ushiyama, a raging hulk of a man, can sleep with some women lest he go even more berserk than he usually is. Then Shiraishi, in his infinite bad luck (why else would he be so good at escaping?), ends up face to face with the man-beast, and unwisely tries to run from him.

Ushiyama will have his “little chat” with Shiraishi, and he bowls through four people like they’re ninepins, shakes off being buried by rocks, tosses a horse-and-sleigh aside like they were nothing, and is generally an cartoonishly unstoppable monster of a man. Shiraishi finally finds some soldiers of the 7th—four of them—but what are a few bullets to Ushiyama? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Golden Kamuy – 06 – Be Born Again and Hear Pleasant Sounds

No bloodthirsty samurai or touched-in-the-head military commanders this week, just two pairs of hunters pursuing their prey. In Nihei Tetsuzou Tanigaki finds someone who both respects and can relate to his Matagi heritage. When it comes to hunting, he knows his stuff.

Nihei’s also a rude old man obsessed with boners, and nothing makes him more erect than the prospect of killing the one remaining wolf in Japan, considering how clever such a wolf would have to be to escape extinction thus far.

Meanwhile, in those same mountains, Sugimoto and Asirpa continue to track the buck he wounded, but the damn thing manages to have the speed and stamina to force them to give up for the day and seek refuge in a felled tree.

While dining on Nihei’s bear delicacies, Tanigaki decides to toss his cap in the flames, abandoning his military life. While returning home may be difficult, showing up with the head and pelt of a great white wolf will certainly help matters.

Elsewhere, Sugimoto is in perfect position to kill the buck, but freezes when he sees the bloodcicle sticking out of its rump, and sees himself: an immortal beast doing everything it can to stay alive. Sugimoto woke up that morning from a PTSD nightmare, but can help but see his own indomitable spirit staring back at him.

Thankfully, Retar is around to bring the buck down once and for all. Asirpa cuts it open and has Sugimoto place his freezing hands inside its still-steaming warm body. It’s heat is becoming his heat, and when they feast upon its brains and other parts (and wash it down with sake) its death sustains their life.

Nihei and Tanigaki stake out the buck carcess, believing the white wolf will return for the meat, but the next morning they only find its droppings, which Nihei burns to further anger the beast. He gets tantalizingly close to putting a bullet in Retar’s brain, but this time Asirpa and Sugimoto have the wolf’s back, startling it off with an arrow.

With that, Sugimoto the Immortal comes face to face with Nihei, who wishes to become part of the mountains, but only when he’s good and goddamn ready, meaning he’ll put up a hell of a fight before he surrenders his tattoos, especially since his wolf hunt was interrupted.

Golden Kamuy – 05 – He Stole The Guts!

Tsurumi’s less personally-motivated soldiers manage to save Sugimoto from the more vengeful brothers, but it’s only a matter of time before they get to him again and finish the job. Asirpa and the Escape King Shiraishi decide to work together to spring him.

Asirpa tells Shiraishi that she believes his “immortality” is the product of him being able to look death straight in the eye and deal with it, but I still maintain there are simply spirits looking out for him; spirits that take many forms and have many faces, including her own and Mr. Slippery.

Sugimoto escapes by tricking Tsurumi and his men into thinking he’s had his guts spilled and he’s near death, and will give them the tattoos in exchange for treatment. But it doesn’t take long for the sharp-witted lieutenant to discover something amiss about the corpse his captive left behind.

Turns out Sugimoto stole the other man’s guts and passed them off as his own. Now free, a Sugimoto in far better shape  commandeers the horse-drawn sledge, while a Shiraishi in disguise burns down the 7th Division’s headquarters to keep them busy.

All in all, a neat little caper, and by the end of it, Tsurumi doesn’t even want to kill Sugimoto anymore. Why keep trying to kill an immortal man when you can just wait for him to collect the remaining tattoos, then take them?

The reunion between Sugimoto and Asirpa is understated and a bit awkward (it’s also painful for Sugimoto, who gets whacked by Asirpa’s sutu) but Shiraishi breaks the ice by suggesting they kill the horse they stole. They use the meat not just to reward Retar for his good work, but to make a sukiyaki-type dish for dinner.

That dish, for which Shiraishi enthusiastically acquires all the other necessary ingredients, includes miso, but while she makes some hilarious faces, Asirpa finally gathers the guts to taste it, and is pleasantly surprised (though she still refers to it as poop).

As Sugimoto & Co. enjoy their freedom and his horse sukiyaki,  the old samurai Hijikata Toshizou adds fellow master swordsman and former Shinsengumi Nakagura Shinpachi to his growing band of badasses, and when a gang of bandits torture his messenger, he strolls in, offers death or partnership, and the bandit leader chooses death.

Ushiyama’s casual tossing of one of the bandits into the rafters head-first was a nice bit of physical comedy that also demonstrates how tough these guys are. Then there’s old man Hijikata reloading his shotgun with one hand while wielding his katana with the other. “Numbers don’t matter, they never did”, he says, and even if he won’t be able to conquer all of Hokkaido, he’s sure as shit going to kill a lot of people trying.

The next morning, Sugimoto’s skewer wounds have healed nicely, but he’s falling behind Asirpa in the deep snow. Then they come across a special vine that will not only slake their thirst (though they get a bit selfish in who gets to drink from it) but material to make snowshoes that will greatly increase his mobility.

In another part of the woods, Tanigaki has found Tetsuzou Nihei, a legendary hunter who uses a single-bullet rifle and no spare rounds between his fingers, because “if you have five bullets (like the soldiers), it makes you believe you get five chances.”

Tanigaki wishes to work with Tetsuzou to hunt down that giant white Ezo wolf. Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi better not let their guards down.

Golden Kamuy – 04 – The Grim Reaper vs. The Immortal

While retrieving his knife to help Asirpa gut some sculpin for dinner, Sugimoto very nearly walks into a poison arrow trap, but is stopped by Asirpa’s uncle. It’s almost as if there’s a guardian spirit watching over him, keeping him from being killed before he’s done what he has to do in life.

The Ainu truly believe in such spirits, which they call turenpe, and they’re believed to be what gives people different personalities and abilities. And even though Asirpa herself doesn’t offer things to her turenpe by presenting it to the back of her neck, as it’s more something the older villagers do, Sugimoto respects his elders by following the tradition.

Between the turenpe and the kisarari game with the children, combined with the uncle’s talk of the gold being cursed because Ainu panned for it in a sacred river to collect war funds, there’ quite a bit of Ainu culture displayed in the episode’s opening act.

We also learn more about Retar, a white wolf Asirpa and her father found on a hunt one day, and whom she raised from a pup. One day, after her father was killed, a grown Retar heard the call of the wild and trudged off to where he belonged. Asirpa understood why he did it—he couldn’t be a pet dog—but it still devastated her, especially considering her father had just left her.

Asirpa is lonely, and as long borne the weight of grief, but her uncle has noticed that she’s smiling more, and believes it’s because of Sugimoto. Since he regards Asirpa as a smart young lass, he concludes that Sugimoto is a good man. Her grandmother even tells him to stay with Asirpa forever, but while he says he understands her words, he ends up doing the opposite, leaving her alone as she sleeps in the night.

Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to involve her in anything that will cause her to lose more loved ones. Considering what a trouble magnet he is, he kinda has a point.

But the next morning, it’s not even a question of Asirpa tracking Sugimoto down, if only to smack him upside the head with a ceremonial stick. She also must know that without her he’s likely up to no good, and of course, he isn’t. Retar comes to her aid, and she uses Sugimoto’s old smelly sock to give the wolf a scent to follow.

After a tasty bowl of soba, he’s accosted by members of the 7th and brought before Tsurumi, who knows full well who Sugimoto is and what he’s after. He also tests Sugimoto’s toughness by skewering him through the cheeks. Sugimoto, not one to shrink before tough handling, maintains his ignorance of the map skins and endures the physical punishment.

Asirpa and Retar enter town under cover of darkness, but to her surprise (and disgust) the sock wasn’t Sugimoto’s, but the Escape King Shiraishi’s. He manages to escape—briefly—before having his head gnawed on by Retar once more.

Meanwhile, perhaps not a block away, the twins Sugimoto fought at the soba house pay him a visit in the night hoping to come away with some of his fingers, but one of them gets too close, and Sugimoto headbutts him viciously, then flips himself in the air, breaking the chair he’s tied to and freeing himself.

He’s locked in a struggle with the knife-wielding twins, but something tells me his guardian spirit will continue protecting him. That, and his friend Asirpa, who upon reuniting should impress upon him the futility of trying to ghost someone with a wolf for a friend.