In which Yoichirou the Manslayer waits for death at the land’s end
We knew Hijitaka, Ushiyama, and Nagakura would get an episode at some point, so here we are, all the way back down in Kushiro, as they search for another tattooed Abashiri inmate, Doi Shinzo. A local Ainu identifies their only clue as the beak of a puffin, so the trio learn Doi can most likely be found in Nemuro, on Hokkaido’s Pacific coast.
Ushiyama wonders if he really needs to be careful with a Doi Shinzo who, by now, must be a spent old men, but Hijitaka warns that Doi once went by another name: Yoichirou the Manslayer, a prolific murderer in the Shogonate’s final days, and thus someone to indeed be careful about approaching.
When we transition to Nemuro, Yoichirou’s wild hair remains, but all of the color has gone, as if washed away by the sea’s salty air. He’s very slow, clumsy, doesn’t work much, and wears Ainu dress, angering some of the younger fishery workers. Even so, when he tries to walk into the waves to drown, he’s saved by one of his more decent co-workers.
Hijitaka’s is far from the only group looking for Yoichirou; numerous teams of detectives and assassins representing the families of those he killed are hunting him, and converge at the fishery’s canteen. One such team beats Hijitaka there, and let’s just say they aren’t careful about approaching the old man.
The moment they threaten Yoichirou’s life with steel, his present scenery is replaced by that of the past, and his fighting spirit awakens with a vengeance, stealing the weapon and using it to chop into his attackers’ feet. “Get in line”, he says to his would-be assassins, his cloudy eyes wide open. Then Hijitaka marks his arrival by shooting one of those assassins, and declares he’s at the head of that line.
Ushiyama bum-rushes the other assassins, while Yoichirou, who in his dementia imagines himself young again and back in a past with a blood-red sky, runs off, cutting down anyone in his way. Hijitaka, whom Yoichirou recognizes as the “man in charge” back then, gives chase. Yoichirou bows before what he sees as his sensei who betrayed him, but it’s only a deer.
The chase ends at the edge of the sea, where Yoichirou stops running. Hijitak says his piece about still having work to do, securing independence for Hokkaido to stem the tide of Russian incursion. Yoichirou, however, curses having “lived too long”; so long he had to contemplate walking into the sea before his mind became too addled to do so.
The two have a one-slash duel, with Hijitaka cutting Yoichirou down. As he sits down, dying, Hijitaka returns the puffin beak to him, which was a gift from Yoichirou’s Ainu wife she he wouldn’t forget Nemuro. He didn’t, as he broke out of Abashiri to be with her during her last days. Her face is the last thing he sees before passing away.
“Ainu”, he was once told, “means ‘human’.” After living as a tool—a killing machine for the imperial loyalists—he came to Nemuro to live as a human again, and was able to do so. His past caught up with him, but too late for it to matter. But at least in Hijitaka’s view his death had meaning, as the tattoos on his skin can be used to find the gold that will fund their New Hokkaido.
Golden Kamuy delivers yet another one of the character studies it is so damn good at, whether they relate to a main character or a one-off inmate like Yoichirou. I genuinely teared up at his last moments, when he finally reunited with his love, and his statement on Ainu way of life as better than what he’d had before also resonated.
The episode closes the book rather abruptly on Hijitaka and Yoichirou’s confrontation to send us all the way back up to Ako, where Ogata shoots a white whale for dinner, and Asirpa whips out the last of Sugimoto’s “poop” miso. The stew is so good, even Ogata can’t help but mutter “hinna, hinna”, surprising Asirpa. Kiroranke confirms to Shiraishi that their operation won’t just be to break Sofia out, but to release all 250 inmates of the prison, creating enough chaos to ease Sofia’s escape.
They’ll do so with explosives stored in the newer lighthouse mentioned by the old couple last week. This could be wishful thinking on my part, but perhaps while Kiroranke & Co. are in the midst of liberating Ako Prison, Sugimoto’s team will finally catch up with them. All I know is, as good as this third season has been, if it doesn’t end with an Asirpa-Sugimoto reunion, I’ll be vexed.