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.

Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 21 – Loose Ends

With all the battles in Underworld ended, all of this week’s SAO prior to the end credits takes place on Ocean Turtle, as Kikuoka, Rinko, Higa, and Nakanishi attempt to eject Alice (which is successful), log out Kirito and Asuna (who tells Rinko she’s staying with Kirito) and secure the facility.

Instead of the fantastical battles in the Underworld, it’s all metal, shadows, bullets, blood, and keyboard clacking. There’s more than a little Die Hard to the proceedings.

Gabriel Miller “wakes up” only to see his own body still lying dead on the STL, his face contorted in pure terror. He’s just a ghost, and Alicia appears and drags him under the water. When Critter reaches his and Vassagos STLs and finds them dead, he loses the will to fight any longer.

Still, his comrade Hans insists they continue their mission to the end. If they can’t steal Alice, they’ll destroy her by overloading Ocean Turtle’s reactor and rigging an explosive to cripple the control rods that prevent cataclysmic fission.

With Ocean Turtle suddenly converted into a ticking nuclear bomb, Nakanishi rushes to the reactor only to be pinned down by Hans, who is willing to die for Miller and the mission. He’s bailed out first by the robot Niemon, who somehow contains the consciousness of Kayaba Akihito, and also the wounded Kikuoka.

The deus ex machina Niemon is heavily damaged, but Akihito manages to restore control to the reactor and destroy the explosive detonator before collapsing, thus saving the Underworld, Alice, and his lover Rinko.

As Critter and the remainder of Miller’s team escapes on their sub, the timer zeros without any accompanying explosion, and Critter assumes they’ve failed. However, when he checks the bodies they brought with them, there are only two: Miller’s and Brigg’s.

What happened to Vassago’s? And what happened to Niemon, who also vanishes without a trace? We don’t know, and between those unknown elements, the looming JSDF, and Kikuoka’s health, the Ocean Turtle team can’t breathe easy despite no longer being in imminent peril.

Higa seems hopeful he can log Kirito and Asuna out before their fluctlights run out of memory capacity, but after the credits roll the two meet, embrace, and resign themselves to two hundred years in the Underworld.

No number of centuries matters to them as long as they’re together. And since they’re probably the two most powerful people in this “just born” new world, they feel obligated to do their part ensuring it will be a world of peace and happiness for all its inhabitants.

Dororo – 21 – Dororo Has a Bad Feeling About This

The title of this post says it all: Dororo has stayed alive as long as he has for two reasons: She’s pretended to be a he, and he’s had very good instincts for danger. Sure, he’s gotten himself into innumerable tough spots, but has had the luck to slip out of them, thanks to Hyakkimaru, Biwamaru, and other allies along the way.

So when Dororo says he has a bad feeling about heading to Daigo, Hyakkimaru should use those new ears of his and listen. He doesn’t, and grave misfortune follows, just as Daigo is dealing with the worst misfortune since before he made his demon pact. As epidemics and blights plague his lands, Asakura has fielded a 2,000-strong invasion army, far larger than anything he can muster.

As such, what few troops he has left are forced to recruit any able-bodied men and boys from the healthy villages (leaving too much work for the women and children, which will have serious consequences) and burning the infected villages and shooting anyone who tries to escape. It’s time for desperate measures all around, and not a place Hyakkimaru and Dororo should go anywhere near.

Short-handed as he is, Lord Daigo cannot refuse his son’s demand to hunt down Hyakkimaru with no one but Mutsu and Hyougou—there’s no talking Tahoumaru down—but still assigns his “fixer” to follow them. Speaking from experience when their village was raided, their parents slain in front of them, and taken captive by samurai, Mutsu and Hyougou voice their extreme dislike of war in all its forms. More distressingly, Mutsu’s malady is worsening, and can no longer be hidden.

Hyakkimaru and Tahoumaru’s mother also laments that despite being the wife of a great lord, she is helpless to stop the path of destruction upon which both of her sons have set themselves. Nothing Dororo says can convince Hyakkimaru to reconsider his quest to get all of his body back, not matter how much death and destruction it might cost; not matter how much it might change him into someone Dororo can no longer walk beside.

Hyakkimaru counters by saying he wants to see Dororo with his own eyes and touch him with his own hands, but in the grand scheme of human suffering, it doesn’t seem enough to justify his actions, no matter how unjustly he was treated.

Those looking for two-dimensional heroes or villains will find none in this episode. People may be fighting for or against Hyakkimaru’s interests, but everyone has good motives for doing so. In Mutsu and Hyougou’s case, their loyalty to Lord Daigo and Tahoumaru in particular is the consequence of Lord Daigo having saved them from both from a fate worse than death: to starve as captives among corpses.

I couldn’t help but cheer when Daigo entered that pit of hell and dragged the feral, mangy kids out of there. Yes, he put them to work as Tahoumaru’s official friends and protectors, which might not have been their choice, but theirs are still infinitely better (and longer) lives than they’d have lived had Daigo not saved them. Both have long since made peace with the fact that they won’t always like the orders their lord gives them, or the choices their young master makes, but their loyalty is absolute all the same.

So Mutsu and Hyougou join Tahoumaru in their latest confrontation of Hyakkimaru, as their master’s right and left hands. In a bout of sickening irony, those are the same hands Hyakkimaru chops off of the two of them, now more powerful and enraged than ever. It is Tahoumaru who has to save his own bodyguards from his wrath, and receives a nasty gash on his brow for his trouble.

What I couldn’t stop thinking about thorughout Tahoumaru’s efforts to rid the world of his older brother is that how does he know killing him will solve anything? The demon pact was broken, full stop. Those parts of Hyakkimaru they took were taken from a living baby; killing him won’t necessarily automatically return those parts to them. All of Tahoumaru’s rage and single-mindedness on his destruciton, and it may not end up making any difference. His father’s lands may simply be doomed regardless.


Things look bad for Tahoumaru, but we were never meant to forget about Lord Daigo’s fixer, who arrives on the back of a prized white horse named Midoro stolen from one of the villages and pressed into military service. What does the fixer do with this splendid horse? He blows it up in a cynically efficienty attempt to kill Hyakkimaru.

Yet even this fixer is not an evil man. He’s obeying his lord’s orders, protecting his lord’s son, and defending his lord’s domain and its people the only way he knows how.

Even if it means using Dororo as a hostage, something the maimed Mutsu and Hyougou strongly protest (no doubt because the child reminds them of themselves—and of history repeating itself—neither of them have an alternative for dealing with Hyakkimaru, who is still alive at the bottom of a gorge.

About that gorge: it is filled with the corpses of samurai and their armor, as well as the parts of poor Midoro the horse, all of which undergoes some kind of demonic transformation down there. Like Dororo said: he had a bad feeling about this. Maybe next time someone will listen…if there is a next time.

One parting nitpick: the quality of the horses this week is iffy at best, suggesting limited skill and experience rendering them on the part of the animators. Considering the importance of one particular horse, that was a rather distracting shortcoming, though not a deal-breaker.

Golden Kamuy – 12 (Fin) – Tricked by a Fox While Betting on the Ponies

GK’s first season decides to go out with a bit of a whimper rather than a bang, though there was a bang in last week’s far livelier episode. Shiraishi blew up all of the explosives the group bought for Abashiri. Somehow, Ienaga survived the blast, and has something to tell Ushiyama and Shiraishi.

Now they need more explosives, but are low on cash. Asirpa and Kiroranke recommend hunting for furs in the forest. There, Asirpa learns the money she lent Shiraishi was spent at the racetrack, where he promptly lost it all. Then, at her relatives’ camp, they meet a fortune teller, Inkarmat.

Inkarmat is a shrewd woman and knows how to trick those who let themselves be tricked; Shiraishi is one of those people, but Asirpa isn’t. She’s committed to being a “new kind of Ainu woman”, though when Inkarmat speaks of her father, Asirpa perks up a bit.

Inkarmat knows who the mark is among the party, and so goes to the horse races with Shiraishi, uses her fox skull to correctly predict the winner a few times in a row, and gets her cut in the form of selling various trinkets to Shiraishi. By the time Asirpa shows up, he’s acting like a big shot.

Kiroranke, who has been around horses his whole life and helped care for them with during the war, could probably predict the winners better than Inkarmat…if the races were fair. He learns the trainers are up to all manner of dirty tricks, drugging the horse they want to win and getting the one Kiroranke thinks should win to drink too much water.

Kiroranke is in luck; the jockey meant to ride the losing horse took off, so he takes his place, is determined to win, and does win. Shiraishi loses everything, but one of the tickets was for Kiroranke’s horse—a parting gift from Inkarmat—that Asirpa no doubt uses to re-procure their explosives.

With that, Shiraishi continues to make himself useful by telling Sugimoto and Asirpa what a “cutie” (really Ienaga) told him: of a fellow in Yuubari who has taxidermied human corpses bearing tattoos they’re interested. Sugimoto takes stock of their situation: they have five skins, Tsurumi at least one.

Meanwhile, he’s still unaware of the third player in this hunt for the gold, Hijikata Toushirou, to whom Ogata offers his services as bodyguard. There was way too much story left to tell before all’s said and done, so this week was a bit of a punt; taking stock, and some light comedy involving Shiraishi, Kuroranke, and the horses. A second season is coming this Fall, which should provide ample time and space to complete the story.

Heavy Object – 02

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This is my courtesy second viewing of Heavy Object, and I can predictably report no significant improvement. It didn’t help matters that this episode spends its first four minutes re-staging last week’s cliffhanger, as if it needed padding. While there was more action and drama in this second outing, none of it came close to meet my quality standards, to say nothing of impressing me with anything novel.

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When the Princess’ Object gets its ass-kicked, she ejects and sends out an SOS to lure the enemy Object, which ignores the white flag and continues attacking the Alaskan installation. Dozens if not hundreds are killed gruesomely, but there’s almost no weight to any of it, because Qwenthur and Havia don’t seem to be in any danger at all out in the open, for some reason. There’s a particularly bad sense of where they are in relation to everything else on the battlefield, and how exactly they manage to stay alive while ducking the Object’s massive, deadly weapons.

Even worse is the pacing and timing of the battle. Q even points out how freakishly fast for their size Objects can move, and yet Q and Havia have enough time to bicker for an extended period with their commander Frolaytia, scamper around, and cover an undisclosed distance on foot out in the open while. Whenever it’s off-camera, the Object ceases to exist as a threat, and when it’s on-camera, Q and Havia survive its attacks and only faceless extras die. It’s a mess.

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I’m not opposed to any and all black-and-white, good-vs.-evil conflicts, but I think I can do better than Heavy Object in that regard, as demonstrated when the enemy troops locate the Milinda and immediately start talking about tying her to the Object and seeing how long it takes for her suit to tear off, then implying she’s in for a night of torture and gang-rape whether she survives the dragging or not. Gee, ya think we should root against these guys?

When Q kills the SOBs and rescues the Princess (while Havia saves him from an RPG), Q goes unconscious, and is presumably watched by the other two, while all the while that gigantic enemy Object just…twiddles its thumbs behind some mountain, I guess.

When Q wakes up, Milinda falls over herself wondering why anyone would bother saving her, and then the three decide to try to find a weakness in the Object, as if getting anywhere close to it wouldn’t mean their instant deaths. Q also manages to land on Milina and asses her boobs in his thoughts again, which…yeah.

One would think that the Objects in this world have been effective precisely because they can’t be brought down by a trio of enterprising kids. Then again, the Object was so shy towards them this week, perhaps it’s keeping its distance because it’s pilot is scared of that very possibility, which begs the question: Why exactly are wars fought this way again?

Never mind, I don’t want to know.

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Space Dandy – 01

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Solaris author Stanislaw Lem wrote: “We don’t want other worlds, we want mirrors.” We long for a distant future in which we travel the stars, but the creepy unknowns that await us out in space must be tempered with the familiar trappings of life on our planet, like restaurants stocked with hot waitresses. Space Dandy dwells in that tasty world between the comforts of the familiar and the thrills of the truly alien. This is no hard science fiction; it gleefully mocks stodgier archetypes of the genre, like Gundam. This is Science Comedy; It’s a circus mirror, and it’s an absolute gas from start to finish.

While taking place in a bafflingly vast and complex universe, Space Dandy’s underlying story is blissfully simple: Space Dandy travels the cosmos with his robot pal QT, hunting for new aliens to register; wacky adventures ensue.  Oh sure, interstellar wars between huge empires are waged, but far in the background. Space Dandy has a great head of hair, passable fashion sense, and a penchant for surprisingly deep monologues, while preferring asses to boobs. At the end of the day, he’s a bit of a boob himself, surrounding himself with obsolete or substandard technology (which is still pretty cool to us) and goes wherever the tides of fate take him, which is a fancy way of saying he just goes wherever.

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There’s a lot of Star Wars influence in the sheer diversity of aliens we encounter, but packs a pulse and joie de vivre Coruscant’s streets were sorely lacking. One alien they pick up is Meow, who looks like a cat but is really from Betelgeuse, who they thought was an unknown because of the sticker on his cheek. Meow wouldn’t look out of place in a Chuck Jones cartoon, nor would the rocky landscape he and Dandy find themselves clambering around after a quick succession of decisions that send Dandy’s ship screaming in and out of normal spacetime and into the middle of a menagerie of gargantuan alien baddies.

In keeping with the episode’s cheeky attitude, in the end Dandy has QT activate an explosive device that obliterates the ship, the planet, and him, leaving us with the narrator proclaiming “No one will ever forget your gallant, appropriate actions…probably.” We like a show that’s not afraid to blow everyone and everything up in the first episode and start off fresh next week with a different observation of the human (and not-so-human) experience through the lens of a super-weird, ultra-colorful, manic universe where anything can happen and even the narrator doesn’t bother fully explaining everything. A great start to the Winter 2014 season.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)