Golden Kamuy – 34 – Hesitation is Starvation

The big day arrives, and while not everything goes according to plan—not all of the explosives planted in the prison walls detonate, and oh yeah, a frikkin’ Siberian Tiger complicates matters a bit—but Sofia is freed from Ako Prison. It’s a day she’s clearly been relishing, judging from the amount of fun she’s having. She even briefly rides the tiger!

Sugimoto’s team can see the explosion from where they are on the outskirts of Ako, meaning they’re catching up just as Asirpa’s team is heading out of the town across the ice floes. So tantalizingly close, and yet so far…

As Sofia trudges through the floes with Asirpa’s team, she seems glad to see the daughter of Wilk, whom she loved so much, and the bottomless pools of those deep blue eyes. With Kiroranke translating (remember, Sofia never bothered to learn Japanese), she tells Asirpa what a “pure and beautiful” man Wilk was, and how he taught a rich city girl about the minority ethnic groups and their plight in the rapidly modernizing world.

There’s no more impactful symbol of Wilk’s ethos and the natural order from which that world is retreating than a goddamn tiger, who also greets Sugimoto’s team when they arrive at Ako prison. When they fire shots to scare it off (killing it is bad luck), the unique report of Tanigaki’s old rifle catch’s Ogata’s ear all the way out on the ice floes. The dude really knows his guns, but he can’t quite believe that it means Tanigaki is following them.

Meanwhile, Sofia continues to tell Asirpa stories about Wilk, who believed the Native Americans couldn’t defeat the white man because they were at war with each other, necessitating the importance of creating a federation of all ethnic minorities to battle Imperial rule.

Sofia also regales Asirpa with the time they were on the run from the secret police and one of them was seriously wounded, slowing them down. When the police grew nearer, Wilk slit his throat so his moans wouldn’t give them away. He only ever did what was necessary exactly when it was necessary and not a moment later, which is what made him such a good revolutionary.

That ethos had been instilled in Wilk as a young lad, when he would often visit a wolf that had been separated from its pack by illness or “some other defect”. One day he found the lone wolf dead; killed by its own pack which he had called to with his howls. The other wolves in his pack saw his weakness as a threat to all of them, so they did what was necessary to survive. Young Wilk took that wolf’s pelt and wore it, leading his father to name him after the wilk, Polish for “wolf”.

Wilk taught Asirpa this wolfish way of living, which for those who live off the land like the Ainu is even more important: not to show kindness or mercy if it can become weakness. A bear cub too old to raise in the kotan is just as valuable a source of food as its mother. Hesitating to kill it out of pity could spell starvation and death. Beauty is strength, and strength is life.

This talk of Wilk’s name causes Asirpa to remember the night her father told him his Ainu name, Horkew Oskoni, which means “catching up to the wolf.” Asirpa then remembers the symbols on the prisoner tattoos, and seemingly solves the code right there in her head. Ogata seems to notice this.

As for Shiraishi, he became separated from Asirpa and the others when he ran off to take a piss and the floe he was on cracked and drifted away. He must therefore take the long way around to catch up to the others, but one sheet of ice he jumps on suddenly shifts, threatening to dunk him into the deadly frigid ocean.

His wooden dick talisman saves him momentarily only to snap off in the ice, but he’s then saved by the outstretched arm of none other than Sugimoto Saichi. He seems happy to see his old pal. It’s just too bad that old pal got separated from the person he really wants to see…

Golden Kamuy – 33 – A Wolf in Vladivostok

As Kiroranke and Sofia exchange correspondence, smuggled in and out of the prison with a little help from master of disguise Shiraishi, Asirpa, Kiroranke, Shiraishi, and Ogata stay in a village of the Nivkh, Karafuto’s most populous ethnic minority. Kiroranke maintains that Sofia could have crucial information about Wilk and the code for the gold.

Because he claims the gold will benefit all minorities including the Ainu, Asirpa is willing to go along with his plans. We also learn that Sugimoto’s team has reached the reindeer farmers who previously hosted Asirpa’s team. They’re still a ways behind, but Sugimoto is looking forward to reuniting with her at Ako Prison.

That’s pretty much all for present-day events, as Kiroranke spends much of the rest of the episode telling a story about—among other things—how he, Wilk, and Sofia learned Japanese from a man named Hasegawa Kouichi, who ran a photography studio in Vladivostok. Kouichi has a happy life with his wife Fina and infant daughter Olga.

Before the three revolutionaries arrive at his doorstep wanting to learn Japanese, Kouichi spots a lone wolf on the outskirts of town—an ill omen, if you will. Still, Kouichi welcomes the three and they learn quickly, with Wilk learning the quickest while Sofia seems least motivated to learn. Sofia is also immediately smitten with little Olga. Kouichi even likens the three to the Three Great Nobles of the Restoration who successfully modernized Japan.

It isn’t long until Kouichi learns that his three visitors from the far west were responsible for assassinating the emperor. Assuming the Russian secret police will descend upon his studio soon, he tells Fina to take Olga and go far away to await word from him, insisting she not return under any circumstances.

As it turns out, the police aren’t there for the revolutionaries; they’re there for Kouichi, a Japanese spy using the studio as a front. Sofia, Wilk, and Kiroranke break out the guns and do their thing; none of the police can be allowed to escape. Kouichi makes things a little easier in the ensuing siege by revealing he keeps a machine gun hidden amongst his photography equipment.

As the three take out the police, Sofia fires a shot into a tree, and I half-expected it to be that lone wolf Kouichi spotted earlier, which he encountered a second time while Wilk was teaching him about traps. Instead, it’s Fina, who did come back for Kouichi. A bullet hit both her and Olga, killing the child and leaving the mother in bad shape.

Sofia is beside herself with grief and regret, but there’s little time for either; she and her compatriots must flee before attracting more attention. When they reach the seasonal ice floes that allow passage from Russia to Karafuto—the same ones Kiroranke will use in the present to help Sofia & the other inmates reach their allies on the mainland—Sofia declares she won’t be going with Wilk, whom she loves, or Kiroranke, deciding to stay in Russia to stoke the fires of revolution.

We then return to Kouichi holding his dying wife, and the moment he tells her the truth: his real name is Tsurumi Tokushirou. That’s right, that Tsurumi, with the busted skull. It truly is a small world. Now we know the connection between him and the revolutionaries, and it’s another horribly tragic story, this time centered on one of the series’ main players.

Lt. Tsurumi seemed to accept his wife and daughter’s death as an accident, but he’s quite a different man since his head injury. This added history will color all future interactions (if any) between Tsurumi, Kiroranke, and Sofia. Kiroranke also writes to Sofia that Wilk has died, and though the woman has become hard-as-steel in the years since she last saw him, she still can’t help but weep from the news.