Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wave, Listen to Me! – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Stop the Signal

The final episode of Wave begins with a high school-aged Mizuho conferring with Kureno about her future. Specifically, she only dreams of becoming an assistant director for a radio station, as she’s more “behind the scenes” in nature. Kureno warns her that most stations won’t give someone with such small (if realistic) goals the time of day.

From there we go back to the present, and to another radio station entirely, where—bombshell—Makie turns out to be “Joker Skonsky”, making her first in-studio appearance. It’s something she keeps to herself, even when Nakamura finds her celebrating by herself with a couple drinks. And why not? After having her life controlled by her bro for so long, she absolutely deserves to go out there and do things by herself and for herself.

Nakamura doesn’t pry, he just tells her he’ll be opening his own restaurant soon, and if she ever needs a paying job, she’ll have one there. It’s a very sweet exchange that never feels the need to get too romantic or dramatic. What it feels like is two good friends on the same wavelength.

Later that night, Minare’s latest Wave broadcast begins with her reading listener submissions from the website and Twitter, responding to them, and eventually picking a winner. It’s actually a pretty standard bit for a show, but since it’s the first time her normally abnormal show is doing it, it has potential to be fresh.

Minare only makes it two minutes in until a 6.8 earthquake rocks the entire island of Hokkaido, knocking out power everywhere. Naturally the station has backup power, so Matou directs Minare to change gears and offer emergency information. At first I thought the shaking was dramatic license, but then suddenly it dawned on me that “oh shit it’s an earthquake!”

In other words, I had the exact same reaction as the first time I experienced an earthquake for real. It’s so strange and disorienting on a primal level, I can’t imagine having to not only keep a radio broadcast going but staying on message and not messing up.

Indeed, you can tell Minare is a bit off initially. Even though she’s pretty dang good at improvisation, she literally never saw herself as a news-reader, which is essentially what she becomes until people start sending messages about their current state.

Matou shows her a note to stop acting like an amateur, and she snaps out of it, returning to her “normal” energetic radio voice as she reads and reacts to the messages.

There’s a sense of community and solidarity continuing the show helps to cultivate even in times when the power’s out and no one knows when it will be back. People need to be comforted, and Minare’s in a unique position to comfort them simply by keeping things as breezy and mundane as possible. It surely means a lot to those who reached out to be personally reassured on the radio!

Meanwhile, the first thing Makie thinks of when the lights go out is “how can we help others?” The answer is heading to Voyager and cooking up some hot food for those who will need it. She and Nakamura get approval from the boss (who was out with Makie’s brother and wants the Gagarin curry out of his freezer anyway) and get to work. Nakamura and Makie really do make a great team.

Before she knows it, Minare’s typically 20-minute program is extended to 90 minutes, finally ending at 5:00AM when Madoka arrives to relieve her and provide relief with her celebrity voice. She even puts on a classic song about looking up at the stars, because what else are you gonna do when the lights are out in the city?

Minare heads to the nap room feeling great about her future in radio, but when Makie and Nakahara flag her down to give her a ride to Voyager to help out, she realizes she can (and should) keep room for a day and night job to make ends meet.

So ends Wave, an anime that marched to the beat of its own drum with its unique and assertive voice and thoroughly fascinating heroine. However accurate it is to real-world radio industry, it certainly felt (and sounded) more than sufficiently convincing for someone like me who doesn’t know a lot about it going in.

It was a strong and surprisingly cozy ending, demonstrating that whatever content you bring to the broadcast table, what’s most important is keeping the signal going, speaking clearly, and connecting with your listeners, making them feel heard and making sure they know you know they’re listening. Whether it’s a Terry Gross interview or the Shipping Forecast, there’s really nothing quite like radio.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 15 – Glue Won’t Fix This

Hikari can’t believe how peaceful his life is, post-cultural festival. He didn’t say anything stupid to piss off Iroha, and things seem pretty five-by-five at home too, with his brother Kaoru asking for money to take Anzu on a date but promising to pay him back, while their mom has taken up yoga in an effort to get back some of her past splendor (I can relate to Hikari’s discomfort; my mom was also quite the looker in her youth, which is why I am a looker).

But that peace suddenly shatters, and not due to anything on the girlfriend or school side. All this time Hikari’s family was just humming along in the background, but we barely saw his dad. Turns out, they barely saw him too. And while Hikari and Iroha are at a family restaurant they overhear a young woman telling an older man that it would be wrong to keep seeing each other. The older man turns out to be…Hikari’s Dad.

Hikari keeps what he knows from his mom, but she finds out when his dad tells her, and all of a sudden his family life has become a soap opera. Hikari wants his dad to stand up for himself or at least offer some kind of defense beyond a flaccid “I’m sorry”, to no avail. Hikari has a dessert picnic with Iroha to get out of the house, but when he returns things have escalated and divorce papers are literally on the table.

If his mom divorces his dad, she’ll take one of the two kids all the way up to Hokkaido with her, which means some serious upheaval for that kid, not to mention being separated from their girlfriend. When Hikari meets with Itou, the latter is still twisted up in a knot over what went down after the festival with Ayado (she ran off after he said what he said and can’t even make eye contact with him now). But even Itou recognizes that Hikari’s also in big trouble.

Hikari is cursed with a little brother who, despite still being in grade school, already possesses logic that meets or exceeds that of a full-grown adult. Hikari is honest with him that he can’t move to Hokkaido because of Iroha, but his bro has Anzu, so there’s no simple answer of which kid should go.

Hikari has one-on-ones with both his dad and mom, and learns that his dad still loves his mom but isn’t sure he deserves her anymore (mirroring Hikari’s own frequent feelings vis-a-vis Iroha). His pops also gets quite poetic, noting the irony of a glue researcher being unable to keep the bonds of matrimony together. But isn’t that because, like Hikari with friends, he’s just not trying hard enough?

When his mom leaves a note saying she’ll be out of the house for a while, Hikari is the one to track her down, insisting she reconsider as he doesn’t want the family broken up at all. But all he seems to do is convince her that he’s the son she should take with her to Hokkaido. Unless Iroha is willing to move with him, it’s going to be the dreaded long-distance relationship. So much for peace!

Golden Kamuy – 13 – The Taste of Spring

I take over Golden Kamuy reviewing duties from Preston as the last vestiges of summer fade and the colors start to turn, but it’s springtime in Hokkaido. It’s in the town of Yuubari where Lt. Tsurumi (himself very odd) meets perhaps the oddest and most colorful character yet on a show full of ’em: Edogai Yasaku. Whomever conceived of such a character has a twisted mind. Edogai seems normal at first, but it’s gradually made clear he’s anything but.

For instance, he doesn’t live with his mother, or anyone else, despite him hearing voices from a number of people in the back room. In fact, he’s just hearing voices, and the “people” are corpses he, a master taxidermist, has stuffed. He’s got a whole goddamn Signing of the Declaration of Independence in there. Is Tsurumi freaked out about this? Quite the contrary; he’s ecstatic: this guy is just who he needs to add more chaos to the tattoo hunt for his opponents.

After indulging Edogai in a hilariously macabre “human skin fashion show”, he tells him the plan: to create clever copies of the tattoo map skins he’s brought, covered in “nonsense” that will lead its readers astray. Edogai is eager to please his newest client, but when he can’t get the color of the skin just right (since its not fresh skin), he has a bit of a temper tantrum, riding his stuffer polar bear in one of his pieces of couture and exposing his arrested development.

So yeah, Edogai isn’t the most stable individual, but Tsurumi only needs him until the job’s done, even if it’s not done to Edogai’s exacting standards. Meanwhile, Asirpa and Sakamoto immediately avail themselves of the lush bounty of spring vegetables and fresh salmon, along with Shiraishi and Kuroranke.

But in Asirpa’s village where Tanigaki is still recovering, Inkarmat arrives with ill tidings: Asirpa’s life is in danger. Someone in her party will betray her, and it’s looking like it’s Kuroranke (if Shiraishi doesn’t do it first, of course). She joins Tanigaki on a mission to warn Asirpa, or to protect her from the threats she faces.

In her dreams, Asirpa remembers her father before his face was ruined, telling her she’d not only be a new kind of Ainu woman (which she certainly is), but one day be their outright leader. For that second prediction to come true, she’ll have to remain alive in an increasingly dangerous Hokkaido. But I wouldn’t bet against her.

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.

Golden Kamuy – 11 – And Now, Some Light Eyeball Licking

It all starts with a coincidence, as Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kiroranke decide to spend the night at the Sapporo World Hotel, where Ushiyama also happens to check in. Both Ushiyama and Shiraishi are immediately smitten with the comely proprietess Ienaga Kano; unbeknownst to them, she’s running a murder hotel.

Ienaga takes an interest in Ushiyama due to his superhuman strength, and so dangles him along as she settles Sugimoto & Co into their room. While pursuing Ienaga, Siraishi almost crosses paths with Ushiyama, but doesn’t, thanks to a trap door that leads to Ienaga’s torture and dismemberment chamber.

More importantly, the Immortal Sugimoto and Undefeated Ushiyama finally meet, and test one anothers’ prowess with Judo, leading to this hilarous quote from Ushi: “At this rate, we’ll end up killing each other…I like you. Drinks are on me.” With that, Ushiyama treats Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Kiroranke to drinks and dinner, including a dish Asirpa believes to be poop, leading to another one of her priceless faces.

They all get ruinously drunk; Asirpa and Kuroranke pass out, but fortunately Sugimoto can hold his alcohol enough to stop Ienaga when she starts licking Asirpa’s eyes. Shiraishi remembers who “Ienaga Kano” really is: a fellow prisoner from Abashiri, a mad doctor who believed he could achieve perfection by taking the best parts from others.

It’s left up in the air is whether Ienaga is simply posing as a woman or has actually completed full gender reassignment as a result of their quest for perfection. One thing’s for sure, Ushiyama doesn’t care who Ienaga was or is; he’s just committed to screwing them.

That doesn’t happen, as Ienaga triggers the hotel self-destruct system, blowing the whole place to kingdom come. Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Kuroranke escape in one piece (albeit lightly singed) and decide to continue their journey to Abashiri to meet Nopperabo.

They assume they lost not one but two tattooed prisoners in Ushiyama and Ienaga in the blast, but after the credits Ushiyama emerges with an apparently alive (or at least intact) Ienaga, which means Team Hijikata just became one tattoo closer to completing the map.

This episode managed to move the overarching story forward while confined within one crazy kooky hotel and threw together a lot of strong personalities to see how they’d mingle. And it was an absolute riot.

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.