Kabukichou Sherlock – 01 (First Impressions) – Catching Cases in the Sleepless Town

What was originally a swamp grew into a thicket of neon lights, bars, clubs, hotels, and nightclubs, and in the middle of all this churning, chaotic humanity resides a detective agency.

Moving Sherlock Holmes‘ digs from London to Tokyo’s entertainment and red-light district is an inspired move, and having him one of a group of detectives competing to see who will catch Jack the Ripper first makes for an effective combination.

While I know who Sherlock is (as most people do), I have seen more adaptations of his work than read the actual Doyle books, from The Great Mouse Detective and Wishbone to the meh Robert Downey Jr. mini-franchise and the better BBC series starting Benedict Cumberbatch.

It’s nice to see a fairly radically different Holmes here. He’s still a brilliant eccentric with antisocial tendencies here, but the difference in the nice little details. For once, the fact characters have famous names doesn’t really detract from my absorption into the show.

Among the more surprising and amusing differences is Sherlock’s performative breakdown of a murder case that turns out not to involve Jack the Ripper, which takes the form of an impromptu rakugo show with an audience of only two: Dr. Watson (just arrived and already contributing with his medical knowledge) and a young lad whose name I didn’t get.

The fact that it’s not particularly good rakugo is immaterial; the content of the conclusions is what matters.

Sherlock lives in a characteristically messy flat above a drag bar, consumes baffling combinations of food and drinks (how about some fried rice with canned pears, or a glass of alcohol with chili oil?) and has at least two or three people in his head talking things through with him.

It’s fascinating to watch Watson first figure out which detective actually is Holmes, then see the droll, taciturn detective grow more and more lively as he draws closer to solving the case. He’s equally reckless in confronting the killer, yet it’s Watson, not the culprit, who hits him with his own car (thankfully a tiny Fiat).

There will be twenty-four episodes of Kabukichou Sherlock, and however the various cases they encounter are organized within those episodes, I’m confident in its ability to tell a compelling tale in each one of them, building towards something bigger (and yes, the inevitable clash with Moriarty).

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Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 10 – Deduction, Not Delusion

In a clever narrative device that could have probably sustained an entire episode within the unconscious El-Melloi II’s mind, past merges with present as Waver is back in Lord Kayneth’s class at the Clock Tower, only the Lord is asking him about things going on now, like his desire to participate in the next HGW, and Hephaestion’s rejection of him as a worthy subject.

Meanwhile, left behind by the Rail Zeppelin, Gray waits out the blizzard with Hephaestion, who warms to her a bit after she determines the two are alike; both “living incarnations of a distant ideal,” both “counterfeit”, yet still unique and autonomous due to their own personal ideals, without which Gray could not have fought Hephaestion.

Since she deems them to be alike, Hephaestion understands Gray’s desire to stay by El-Melloi’s side to the bitter end, but warns her that loyalty and glory can be contradictory; if the time comes when Gray has to choose, and chooses glory, both she and the Lord could be destroyed.

Luvia and Kairi’s investigation continues with an interview with Mary Lil Fargo, though frankly they feel almost distractingly distant from the more pressing matters aboard Rail Zeppelin. Still, Mary was friends with Trisha, and last met with her a month ago.

Mary tells them that Trisha was trying to connect the serial murder case seven years ago, the investigation of that case by Lord Aminusphere and someone known as the “man with no heart,” and the Lord’s abandoning of Olga-Marie. Luvia knows of that heartless man, and that he has a younger sister-in-law aboard the train: Adashino.

Gray gets back to Rail Zeppelin in pretty much the most bodacious way possible, another reminder that however serious and stodgy this show can get, it doesn’t forget to include fun little moments of levity like Gray using Add as a snowboard, even pulling a couple tricks before landing into the caboose before Caules and a very amused Melvin.

Miss Adashino brings an end to the lighthearted fun by gathering everyone to the dining car to deliver her deductions, since Mr. Master Detective is still asleep. She reveals that Policies was looking into a serial beheading case seven years ago, but so was the Holy Church, and their investigator was…Karabo.

She also has Olga-Marie present Trisha’s head, which Trisha herself made sure would fall into the dimensional pocket she created after foreseeing her future murder with her Mystic Eyes. When Olga found the head, it had been frozen in time, and thus Trisha had one more breath with which to say one word: “Karabo.”

Adashino believes Karabo possesses eyes that can not only see the past, but make past visions the truth, and that his Mystic Eyes enabled him to bring a killing slash made through the air in the past into the present, just as Trisha’s head inhabited that space. While this is all conjecture, Adashino believes it’s enough to warrant certain measures be taken against Karabo.

Then an awake and recovered Lord El-Melloi II is wheeled in by Gray, and he immediately calls Adashino’s conclusions into question.

For one thing, Adashino never mentioned Karabo’s motive, and he’s of the mind that there can be no crime without motive. After all, what with Mages and their ability to manipulate individuals, motives aren’t always directly tied to the actual perpetrators of said crimes.

Just when El-Melloi voices his doubts about Adashino’s surety that Karabo’s Mystic Eyes can project elements of the recorded past into the present, Rail Zeppelin’s ethereal deputy manager comes, on schedule, to extract Karabo’s eyes. Karabo is restrained, but El-Melloi still isn’t convinced of his guilt.

Indeed, Karabo only just remembered he was even involved with the serial murder case seven years ago. His Mystic Eyes could see the past, but at the cost of his memories. But if he can get them back, he believes he can determine the truth of things. To get them back, he’ll need to win them in auction. Melvin offers to help them place a bid, but El-Melloi would rather not get involved with him.

Instead, he vows to solve the case on his own.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 09 – Straighten Yourself Out

Gray and Caules are consulting with Olga-Marie about Hephaestion when the path of Rail Zeppelin is suddenly altered, turning into the infamous “Child of Einnashe,” or Forest of Dead Apostles, and stopping dead in the middle of a horrendous blizzard.

Some enterprising mages are quickly stabbed by the predatory trees. With El-Melloi still unconscious and most of the passengers locking themselves in their rooms, it falls on Gray and her allies to figure out how to get the train back on track.

In a rather abrupt transition, Luvia and Kairi visit the “Zombie Cooking” studio of Jean-Mario Supinerra. They ask him about the crimes involving beheadings, and he assumed from his Scotland Yard contact that such a case had been resolved. Trisha also contacted him about it just before she died in the same manner, suggesting she had some pecognition about her fate.

Melvin Weins, who had been following Rail Zeppelin by helicopter ever since meeting with Reines, joins Gray, scaring the crap out of her with his unorthodox, bloody entrance. Soon Karabo and Yvette arrive with the conductor, who asks them to assist in getting the train moving again, lest they be forced to cancel the auction.

Caules agrees to stay with El-Melloi, and Melvin plays his violin to tune the magical circuits of everyone, buffing them for the upcoming mission; judging by Yvette’s reaction, the tuning also happens to feel really, really good.

The eclectic, hastily-built party (a really cool combo, by the way) sets out into the bitter cold. Yvette locates the main Leylines and Karabo marks them for activation. Add warns Gray of trouble approaching, and hangs back, once again encountering Hephaestion, a Servant whose true name she knows but whose role—and Master—she doesn’t.

As Yvette, Karabo, and Melvin battle the forest’s defenses and finish activating the leylines, Gray and Heph spar, with the latter not at all interested in dialogue and the former hesitant, but not altogether unwilling to use force.

When the train starts back up, Olga-Marie happens to land on a dimensional pocket with an imaginary attribute; a signature spell of the Fellows family to which the late Trisha belonged. When Olga unlocks the pocket, Trisha’s head falls out, to Olga’s shock and dismay. Adashino enters the room, pleased the head of the victim has been found.

Even when the train released from the forests and ready to continue on its proper course, Gray isn’t about to let Heph get away, so she rescinds her first restraint, transforming her scythe into a giant hammer. Will they get left behind, or will the battle again be interrupted, whether by an awakened El-Melloi or someone else? Even standing still, with its titular character out cold, Rail Zeppelin continues to crackle with intrigue.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 08 – Invisible to Time

In her shock and rage, Olga-Marie lashes out at the one she deems the most likely culprit in Trisha’s murder: Karabo, of the mage-detesting Holy Church. Karabo blocks her attack and renders her unconscious, then volunteers to perform an autopsy on the body, putting aside the differences between their factions.

Contrary to my theory about Trisha possibly knowing her fate and meeting it without complaint, the investigators determine that neither the mystic eyes of premonition or past vision could see the perpetrator; that they were essentially invisible to time. Furthermore, the loss of Trisha’s head strongly suggests the perp was after her eyes—such murders are apparently not uncommon on the Rail Zeppelin.

El-Melloi meets with Olga-Marie once she wakes up, telling her he’s not helping her so Aminusphere will owe him, but because of a creed he adopted after his adventures with Iskander. “Glory lies beyond the horizon,” his servant used to say, assuring him that while what he seeks is beyond his grasp, he’ll find his own path one day, something he’s now trying to do.

With that in mind, El-Melloi will do everything in his power to keep similarly out-of-their-depth young ones (like Olga) from losing their lives needlessly. Olga is taken aback by his confessing to being influenced by a mere “minion” and “means to an end,” but she doesn’t understand that El-Melloi’s Servant was his mentor in every sense of the word. She simply  considers El-Melloi “weird”, and Gray weird for being his apprentice.

While passing in the corridor, Adashino tells El-Melloi that both Codrington and Davenant had the same sponsor, but won’t say anything more, leaving “Mr. Detective” to deduce whether that sponsor is involved with Rail Zeppelin.

As Luviagelita and Kairi determine the theft of the Holy Relic was an inside job, committed by someone who possessed a spare key to the bounded field, El-Melloi and Gray wait on the caboose of the train to await the thief, who arrives in a flash of red lightning on the train’s roof, wearing Iskandar’s mantle.

She introduces herself as Hephaestion—one of Iskandar’s generals—and is unwilling to recognize El-Melloi as a true subject. Disgusted with his face, she moves to kill him, and when Gray intervenes, she uses Mystic Eyes to turn Gray’s body against him. El-Melloi neutralizes that spell, but Hep then summons Iskandar’s Noble Phantasm, Gordius Wheel.

Gray prepares to recind her seals and unleash her own Phantasm, but again El-Melloi stays her hand, then uses the magical energy in his hair of all things to redirect Hep’s lightning to the ground. It doesn’t entirely work—he suffers severe burns to his back—but in any case Hep was clearly toying with them; if she wanted them dead, she could have done it. Instead she withdraws.

Olga-Marie offers a panacea to heal El-Melloi in exchange for calling them even, which Caules combines with a Primeval Battery, so El-Melloi is poised to recover, but he doesn’t regain consciousness for the rest of the episode. But before he passed out, he wondered how he’d never even heard of Hephaestion. No doubt it made him wonder what else he might not know, and whether he still nothing more than the helpless, hopeless boy who bit off far more than he could chew.

Lord El-Melloi II Case Files – 07 – Murder on the Mystic Eyes Express

At what appears to be Kings Cross Station, Lord El-Melloi II awaits the arrival of that most infamous supernatural mystic eyes collection and auction train, Rail Zeppelin. He is accompanied by Gray (natch), and by one of his students, the berserker Caules Yggdmillenia. But that’s not all; not by a long shot. Rail Zeppelin passengers are a veritable cross section of the magical world.

There’s Olga-Marie Arsimilat Animusphere, daughter of the Lord of Astromancy, accompanied by her maid Trisha. There’s Adashino Hishiri of Policies, clearly there to observe and await what may befall Lord El-Melloi. There’s Karabo Frampton of the Holy Church, an intense rival of the Clock Tower. While not in El-Melloi’s party, his student and self-appointed “future mistress” Yvette Lehrman has her own invite.

Leandra introduces herself to the passengers as Rail Zeppelin’s auctioneer. Rodin is its conductor. And then there’s Rail Zeppelin itself: a spacious, sumptuously-appointed luxury train that seems far bigger on the inside than the outside, and travels on rails above leylines. I love trains and the whole idea of enjoying all the comforts of home while travelling somewhere far off. Rail Zeppelin itself is a character in this arc—and an immediately likable one at that.

It’s apparent there are a number of uneasy truces in operation between factions normally warring (either metaphorically or literally, or both). That lends the episode a tense and uneasy atmosphere. The train is stuck on a fixed rail, hurtling at high speed; a powder-keg that could explode at any moment for a whole host of reasons.

While Reines did not accompany Lord El-Melloi, she’s running her own investigation the theft of her brother’s catalyst for summoning a servant of the Holy Grail War: the Mantle of Iskandar. Such a task is frought with danger, so she hires Shishigou Kairi and pairs him up with Luviagelita Edelfelt (with whom she nicely bonded last week along with Gray)—an inspired duo if ever there was one.

Having foregone sleep for much of the last two nights, El-Melloi spends the first night and much of the following day catching up on sleep. Before he awakes for breakfast, Gray meets with Yvette in the dining car, who comes from a family who craft mystic eyes from gems, like the one her eyepatch conceals. Either Yvette can’t quite get Gray to admit they’re rivals for the Lord’s heart, or Gray simply doesn’t consider Yvette a rival at all.

Lady Aminusphere and Trisha once again meet with El-Melloi, to discuss his cooperation in the coming auction. Specifically, Olga-Marie wants the biggest prize of the auction—the highest-ranked Rainbow Mystic Eyes—the “ultimate operation of celestial bodies within the human body.” If El-Melloi helps her win them through strategic bidding and folding, he will be rewarded.

More to the point, she knows they’ll win them, because Trisha has seen that outcome with her Mystic Eyes of Premonition; the effects of which only add to Gray’s discomfort when combined to her symptoms of motion sickness (poor kid lacks her train-legs, perhaps in part because King Artoria is from a time long before such tech).

While off on her own recovering, Gray gets some friendly advice from Karabo Frampton. When the two touch, Karabo’s Mystic Eyes that can see the past glimpse King Artoria Pendragon in a field (clearly enjoying not being on a speeding train). He had suspected she wasn’t a mage like most everyone there, which leads to her belittling herself and underplaying her value to Lord El-Melloi. Karabo assures her she’s already someone the Lord “finds necessary.”

Trisha joins El-Melloi at the bar, revealing that she and her lady have investigated the role of one third-gen mage of limited renown Waver Velvet in the Holy Grail War; seeing the younger Waver reflected in his glass is a nice stylistic touch. El-Melloi, like Gray, may consider that role to have been flawed and inadequate, but the mere fact he survived is a testament to the contrary.

Trisha, believing he seeks Mystic Eyes as a weapon for the next Grail War, warns him that having Eyes means accepting the destiny of being bound to them. Of course, El-Melloi is more than prepared for such a destiny, as he’s already bound himself with the title of Lord El-Melloi—albeit while trying to limit expectations with a tacked on “II”—and all the duties and responsibilities therein.

Not to mention he’s bound to meeting with Iskandar once again, even if the Heroic Spirit has no memories of the last war and their time together. Gray sympathizes; who wouldn’t want someone you were devoted to carry memories of you? But just as El-Melloi goes into a spiril of self-loathing and Gray is about to cheer him up with the gift she got at Luvia’s store, there’s a loud, distressed scream.

El-Melloi and Gray rush to its source, and they find a shocked Olga-Marie kneeling before the bloody, headless body of Trisha. That makes Rail Zeppelin a Magical Murder Mystery Train, packed with potential suspects in the best Christie tradition, with El-Melloi as its Poirot. And there’s still the matter of who gave him one of only twelve open invites to the auction.

All we know for sure is that neither he nor Gray committed the murder, and that when Trisha was warning El-Melloi about being at peace with whatever destiny Mystic Eyes might provide, she was speaking from imminent experience. Her eyes allowed her to foresee her own demise—one she either couldn’t or wouldn’t avoid. She may have been the first victim of whatever power is at work here, but she likely won’t be the last.

BEM – 02 – It’s a Nice Face

Bela, or “Annabella”, as her high school friends call her, may be a youkai, but she has a human form and dreams of one day becoming a real human. So she “practices” by going to high school, having friends and interacting with them, including teasing a young man who likes making very nice drawings of her.

But when a woman in her late twenties recognizes Bela as Mary, someone she went to high school with, the question arises: where exactly did Bela get her human face? As it happens, she got it from the corpse of Mary Russell, which is now nothing more than a skeleton when Sonia and the police find it. But who killed her?

After a very weird (and animation-wise, pretty lazy) canvassing montage, Sonia is no closer to learning the actual truth, just that different people say the opposite things about Elaine, the blue-haired woman who recognized Bela. The next day, Bela is assaulted by three guys at the mall, but who comes to her rescue but Elaine.

Elaine then proceeds to tell Bela her side of the story, in which Mary was blamed by their mutual friend (and queen bee) Dominic Vali for stealing her jewelry, then punished by being forced to undertake a test of courage in the Outside, and ends up never returning. Elaine says the piece of jewelry Bela wore when they first met, along with the one she gifts to Bela, were made by Mary, who dreamt of becoming a jewelry-maker.

The more Bela thinks on it, the more she wants to tell Elaine the truth, since she seems like a nice person. That turns out not to be the case, as she has both Bela and Dominic meet up at the cemetery where Mary died, just so a hitman she hired can kill them both.

This entire scene feels like it comes out of the blue, but more importantly, it’s just patently silly that the bad guy is some kind of “bowling greaser monster.” Both Bela’s transformation, youkai design, and the ensuing battle that ends with Bela victorious, are pretty mediocre.

The disappointment continues when Bela (who doesn’t bother to change after transforming back into a human) pays Elaine a visit, and Elaine immediately drops the nice lady act and becomes a leering villain, complete with a “covering one eye” move. When she cops to having Mary and Dominic killed, Bela loses her cool and transforms into a kind of Alien Queen-type monster, only lamer.

Bem ends up intervening before Bela kills Elaine, and also calls Sonia to arrest Elaine, the culprit in the case of Mary and Dominic’s murders. Basically, by helping the cops clear homicides and assisting them in other ways, Bem hopes to one day become human. Bela shares that dream, and despite being very aloof about it, so does Belo (he does play video games with kids “his own age,” after all).

Bela comes away glad she learned more about Mary Russell, whose face she took, and hopes to honor her memory by leaving the youkai life behind. But who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime, while BEM is pretty solid in some areas (the jazzy score for one), it seems odd that a show heavily featuring monsters would do such a bad job visualizing said monsters and their battles.

Sarazanmai – 04 – Only The Bad Ones Survive

That’s the mantra a younger Kuji Toi learns from his older brother Chikai at a seminal moment in his life, along with the lesson that those who can’t survive can only perish and be forgotten. It’s when Toi is thinking about these things that Enta calls him to meet. Enta wants him to give his Dish of Hope to Kazuki…again for Haruka’s sake.

We learn along with Enta that Toi’s relatives run a soba shop that used to be run by his and Chikai’s parents before they ran into debt and committed suicide. It’s from those shadows that Toi finds himself in the position to give someone some light: in Kazuki’s case that means kidnapping the real Sara Haruka is poised to meet so he’ll meet Kazuki instead, preserving his secret identity.

Kazuki is so dedicated to his Sara persona, Toi can’t help but blush when he watches him eat soba, even though he sucks at eating soba! Watching Kazuki work to protect his weaker brother dredges up more memories for Toi, even to when he and his brother were not on the best of terms.

Chikai joined a gang to make money, cursed their folks for offing themselves, and spitting on Toi’s quaint sentimentality. But he also takes care of Toi, even if Toi doesn’t think what he’s doing is good or right. He produced enough cash to prevent the soba shop from leaving the family, and put their relatives to work running it. It was as if Chikai was sacrificing his goodness for Toi’s sake.

Kazuki’s crazy Sara-kidnapping plan is sidelined by a Zombie Kappa alert, also soba-themed. Specifically, Sobatani, a soba shop owner who was charged with stealing bathwater from a female regular. The Flying Object of the Week is soba and soba dishes, drawn by the Zombie Kappa’s insatiable desire.

Since some of the soba he draws in comes from Toi’s relatives’ place he has a personal stake in defeating the Zombie Kappa, and so takes the lead, demanding Keppi transform him, then uncovering the truth after their song and dance: Sobatani wanted to make soba out of the bathwater. Weird!

With Sobatani’s secret out and Shirikodama extracted, Sarazanmai occurs, and Kazuki and Enta watch along with Toi as the missing pieces of his tragic flashback fall into place. When Toi learned that both his and Chikai’s lives were in danger after stealing the money to buy the soba shop, he takes the handgun he finds in a drawer and shoots Chikai’s gang senpai.

Chikai arrives on the scene, and puts too more bullets in the man, claiming he was the killer, not Toi. Even when Toi sought to share some of the burden of badness in order to survive, Chikai was there to cover for him; to, in a way, save his soul. If only the two of them knew the truth, no one in the world would ever suspect the little brother of murder.

But Toi still concedes he killed someone, his brother’s save aside. He claims not to be too haunted by it—it was a necessity to ensure both his and Chikai’s survival, in keeping with his bro’s mantra. But it’s still his secret, and he threatens Enta and Kazuki with deadly retribution if they ever spill the beans about what they’ve learned.

Having gained new insight into Toi’s upbringing and motivations, Kazuki decides to offer up his Dish of Hope to him, believing he’s more deserving of it than he. ‘But what about Haruka’, Enta protests? Well, for Kazuki, that’s why Toi is more deserving: Kazuki claims to hate Haruka.

Does he mean Kazuki finds looking out for him and doing these things for him a burden? A mere excuse to indulge his own desires? Or would he never kill, even for Haruka’s sake? It’s a declaration that seems to come out of left field, but I’m sure there’s more context to come.

Golden Kamuy – 18 – Kanemochi with Walnuts

This episode puts the chase on hold in favor of a deep dive into Tanigaki Genjirou’s eventful and tragic past, as told to Lt. Tsurumi several months ago. It all starts with a description of the kanemochi his people made to serve as last-resort rations, and how his had a special ingredient to set them apart from others.

Tanigaki had a need for such rations when he and another member of his hunting party got stuck in a blizzard for many days. He and this man, Kenkichi, shared the rations, the secret ingredient for which was walnuts, and they survived. Eventually, Kenkichi married Tanigaki’s sister Fumi and the couple moved into a remote place in the mountains.

Then Tanigaki got word that something happened, and rushed to Kenkichi and Fumi’s home. There he found only charred remains of the house and of Fumi, who had a stab wound in her heart; Kenkichi’s knife, “the soul of a matagi”, not far from her body.

Tanigaki abandoned his family and his village to find Kenkichi and seek revenge. That led him to the same battleground as Sugimoto, who asks for food. Tanigaki gives him some kanemochi, and Sugimoto recognizes Tanigaki’s dialect because someone he fought beside had the same one.

In one coincidence, just as the Russians started running into the Japanese trenches with lit grenades strapped to their bodies, Kenkichi leapt out to stop one of them, saving everyone in the trench, including Tanigaki.

It turns out Tanigaki was wrong: Kenkichi didn’t kill her sister in cold blood. He took her life in order to spare her a worse fate. Fumi contracted smallpox, and didn’t want her family finding out or for Kenkichi to stay and die with her.

Kenkichi didn’t want to leave her to be attacked by animals. And so the compromise was struck: put her out of her misery, then burn the house so the pox wouldn’t spread. It was pretty much the best option out of a host of terrible ones.

Kenkichi tells this to someone he can’t recognize, since his eardrums are shot and his eyes blown out. But Tanigaki knows how to get him to understand it’s his brother-in-law he’s speaking to—by giving him a piece of kanemochi with walnuts; his last meal.

Tanigaki tells a rapt Lt. Tsurumi that he admires Kenkichi for finding a role in life and carrying out that role, and that he sought a similar role, since vengeance was no longer an option. Tsurumi offered him a place with his unit, but as we know, that wasn’t the role for him either.

Now, in the present, flanked by Inkarmat and Cikapasi, Tanigaki finally reunites with Asirpa and Sugimoto. And since he’s not working for the nefarious likes of Tsurumi, he can feel a lot better about his latest role.

Leave it to Golden Kamuy to take something like a regional food and create an entire tragic drama around it. It may not have moved the main plot forward too far, but it did greatly enrich one of its characters.

Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

Golden Kamuy – 16 – Climbing Out of the Swamp

Shiraishi rather carelessly falling into the custody of the 7th Division is one more detour on the increasingly complex road to meeting Nopperabo. Hijikata cannot act when so outnumbered by armed soldiers, but he can lie in wait at a fragile hanging bridge that causes them to bottleneck.

Hijikata cuts the bridge, sending the soldiers and Shiraishi into the river, and Kiroranke is waiting to pick him up in a boat. But Shiraishi remembers his nightmare of being killed by Sugimoto for his betrayal, and hesitates to grab Kiro’s arm, and ends up right back in his captors’.

After imagining his annoying self in their heads, everyone kind of shrugs at the prospect of losing him, but decide that his know-how is worth traveling to the 7th Division base, infiltrating it, and rescuing him.

Meanwhile, we learn a little more about how Tsurumi intends to carry out his grand plan: Lt. General Arisaka’s top-quality weapons will sell like hotcakes; those weapons will be used to kill and maim in war after war; opium from Tsurumi’s cold-weather poppies will supply the drugs to sooth those who survive the battles. But he needs capital for his venture, hence the need to find the Ainu gold.

Tsurumi also had Arisaka built Nikaidou a new leg, all but assuring one more rematch between him and Sugimoto, who himself finally puts two and two together and realizes that Shiraishi was feeding info to Hijikata. Asirpa urges him not to kill anyone unless necessary, implying Shiraishi isn’t that.

On the contrary, he’s crucial enough to their plan for Hijikata to reach out to a fellow inmate at Abashiri, Suzukawa, who is a master of disguise. They’ll have him impersonate Abashiri’s warden Inudou Shirosuke in order to infiltrate the 7th’s base. Sugimoto accompanies him, also in disguise.

There’s now a lot going on, with the Hijikata/Sugimoto alliance (more like a truce) just barely covering up the fact that there are nearly as many competing motives as there are characters. The crowded field also means Asirpa gets another short shrift, with only one line that I recall. Sidelineing my favorite part of the first season—Sugimoto and Asirpa’s blooming friendship—had better bear some compelling fruit.

Golden Kamuy – 15 – The Brains are Always Delicious

I think the mad taxidermist exited stage right at just the right time; before his antics grew repetitive and boring. His legacy is briefly carried on by the Nikaidou brother who lost an ear to Sugimoto, and is part of the contingent that attacks the house to destroy evidence of how to identify the fake skins.

In the ensuing fracas, Sugimoto ends up saving Ogata’s life, while Nikaidou ends up losing an ankle and a foot to Hijikata’s blade. The cat watches the house burn, and its meow either signifies “good riddance to bad rubbish” or “feed me.”

The newly-formed Hijitaka alliance splits in two, ultimately to rendezvous at Ashibetsu. Both parties have a camp dinner, with Asirpa trying to get everyone to like woodcock brains and Hijitaka and Nagakura reminiscing on when the latter discovered the former was in prison, when both were younger men.

One man who can tell fake skin from real is Nopperabo, and so Hijitaka plans to utilize Shiraishi’s Escape King skills to break in and meet with him. Only two problems: Shiraishi is worried about getting killed by Sugimoto for discovering he’s been passing intel to Hijitaka, and when he tries to peace out, he’s surrounded by troops.

Golden Kamuy is staying fresh and nimble by serving up new character dynamics as a result of the shifting alliances, but draw quite a bit of value from the resulting banter. Asirpa and Sugimoto aren’t featured as prominently this season, but that’s not really an issue as the show has such a deep and strong bench.

Golden Kamuy – 14 – Mine Madness

Tsurumi’s new pet insane taxidermist Edogai has completed the fake skins for his master, and even found the time to create a Tsurumi “doll” with “spare parts”, much to the consternation of his two minders, Maeyama and Tsukishima.

Things shift from lighthearted fun with body parts to real danger when Ogata kills Maeyama while Tsukishima is away. Edogai makes use of one of his bearskins to disguise himself and escape, making for quite the spectacle. We know Edogai doesn’t get out much, which explains why he remains in the bear outfit throughout his escape.

As a result, it doesn’t take long for Ogata to spot and catch up to him, but Tsukishima is very good at his job (keeping Edogai safe despite himself) and snatches him up in a mine cart. Sugimoto and Shiraishi, who arrived to inspect Edogai’s house (and where Ogata met Shiraishi in the room of corpses and reminded him of his obligations to Hijikata), give chase in another mine cart.

They catch up, but become separated again when the tracks split. Ogata himself follows in a third card, but after some dynamite, the release of firedamp, and several gas explosions, the entire mine becomes even more of a deathtrap than when it was functioning normally. Edogai’s leg is crushed under rocks so he gives his humanskin bag to Tsukishima, entrusting him with getting the fake skins back to Tsurumi.

Sugimoto tries his damndest to break through the wooden barriers the miners made to stop the airflow, but lacks the strength. Fortunately, none other than Ushiyama spotted Sugimoto and Shiraishi heading into the mines via cart, and when things turn pear-shaped, he rushes in to save them both, to Asirpa’s relief.

With that, you have two of the three major factions of the show suddenly sharing a meal together, Last Supper-style: Hijikata and Sugimoto are officially introduced, Ogata is revealed as having betrayed Tsurumi (which doesn’t sit well with Sugimoto, who is, after all, a soldier himself), and Shiraishi’s secret of passing info to Hijikata is not exposed…for now.

As for Tsukishima, he makes sure Edogai didn’t die in vain. The skins reach Tsurumi, as well as Edogai’s last word: “iron.” Tsurumi learns that you can tell a fake skin by the tannins Edogai used, which make the skin turn black when wet and in contact with iron—an interesting parallel to the Huki leaves Asirpa and Sugimoto munched on last week.

Unfortunately for those two, Tsurumi is the only one who knows what’s fake and what’s real. He’s achieved his goal of making life far more difficult for anyone else seeking the treasure.

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.