Golden Kamuy – 32 – Living Too Long

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.

Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 03

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Sakurako-san is a weird one, preferring bones to people and all, but she’s full of wisdom and thinks and looks like no one else around her. Yet she also has her own brand of empathy, seeing even emotions like happiness, relief, and comfort as brain chemistry reacting to external stimuli.

She’s also quite human and thus fallible herself, which is what makes her so endearing as a character. She persists in calling Shoutarou “boy” (shounen) as a way to distance herself from him, despite their growing bond that, at times, treads into romantic territory.

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Sakurako persuades her self-professed “guardian” to accompany her through some caves, then to a park where they’re pointed in the direction of human remains by a far more normal couple. Saku’s delighted at the find, and gives a beautiful description of how a corpse out in the open is briefly a “paradise of life” as flies lay eggs, maggots feed, and predators feed on the maggots, etc. She has a deep appreciation for the circle of life and the food chain, things humans don’t need to think about in daily life.

When Shoutarou does the responsible thing and phones the police, it doesn’t stop Sakurako from offering her expert opinion on who the corpse was and what happened. The police, however, aren’t so much impressed by her expertise as annoyed by her interference and what they perceive as arrogance (and hey, she is a bit arrogant).

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Back home, when Shou thinks Saku is sulking, she’s actually concentrating on building a skeleton. That’s when she finally tells him what he’s been meaning to ask about: her dead little brother, Soutarou, just one syllable removed from his name. It’s not much, but it’s the start of a dialogue and a sign she’s willing to gradually let Shou in.

The next day, Shou goes to a cafe at the request of his classmate Kougami Yuriko. Her purpose is to thank him for helping to find the corpse, which was that of her grandmother, who the police believe jumped to her death. When she invites both Shou and Saku to her house to thank them properly, we learn her grandma was taking care of her husband, who was suffering from severe dementia and required round-the-clock care.

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That burden is something the police used as a motive for Yuriko’s grandma’s suicide, and Yuriko even understands and doesn’t hold it against her. On the contrary, she’s ashamed she and the rest of her family didn’t see how tough it was for her until it was too late. But when she asks Saku to show her where and how her grandmother died, she gets an entirely different and more plausible story than the police came up with.

When they return to the site where her grandmother’s remains were found, Sakurako presents that story, which is this: her grandmother didn’t go there to die, she went there to live. She just stumbled and fell off the cliff in an unfortunate accident.

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The reason she left in the middle of the night was so that she could reach a certain spot so she could see the same sunrise her husband painted back when he was healthier. Sakurako points out how exposure to the morning sun releases serotonin, which calms and soothes the mind. She tempers her conclusions as mere speculation, but they fit the facts, the timing, the motive, and the details.

These conclusions also provide comfort and closure to Yuriko. Now that she knows her grandmother didn’t give up on her grandfather, she has that much more reason to be strong and provide care in her granny’s place. Another satisfying mystery that respectfully delved into a specific (yet under-represented in anime) circumstance in modern human society—caring for those who can’t care for themselves—and built logically to a life-affirming finish.

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