Golden Kamuy – 31 – Borscht and Babes

Thus far, the two separate parties have enjoyed fairly easy going across the subarctic lands of Karafuto, but Sugimoto’s team finally runs out of good luck when their dogsled convey hits a nasty blizzard. The two sleds are separated, and Sugimoto, Tanigaki, and Cikapasi must dig a hole in the frozen ground and destroy their sled to build a fire, which Tanigaki quickly buries so it will burn slower.

They pile the dogs on top and wait for one of two things: the blizzard to let up, or death. Tanigaki warns Sugimoto not to fall asleep or he’ll die, but he still has a semi-waking dream about his time in the trenches with Toraji, followed by a vision of Asirpa which underscores his longing to return “home”—i.e. to her side.

The second group, composed of Tsukishima, Koito, Enonoka and Henke, manage to find shelter in the form of an old pre-war lighthouse occupied by a kindly Russian couple. They put the soldiers to work cleaning the soot off the old lens so they can activate the light, which Sugimoto and Tanigaki eventually see and realize to be their salvation.

Up here in the colder wastes when the weather turns, there are no flags or allegiances beyond to your fellow man, and the hospitable Russian husband and wife are truly a welcome salve in a show packed with double-crossers and chiselers. The Japanese and Ainu kids get to taste borscht for the first time, and find it very vkusno (yummy).

They learn the couple aren’t empty-nesters by choice; one day a Russian defector came upon their home and took away their only daughter, Svetlana. As soon as we saw her photo I suspected we’ll meet her at some point in the future. As thanks for their kindness, Sugimoto tells the couple he’ll ask around for Svetlana’s whereabouts. In exchange, should Asirpa visit the lighthouse, he gives them a photo of himself along with the message that he’s still alive.

From there, Sugimoto’s group camps at an Ainu village near Niitoi, still well south of the border Asirpa & Co. have already crossed. There, Enonoka regales a weary Cikapasi of the local legend of the meko oyasi, or thieving mountain cat. Koito likens the cat to Ogata, since “mountain cat” was not only army slang for “geisha”, of which Ogata is a son, but because a mountain cat is synonymous with deception.

We learn that Asirpa heard the same story of the meko oyasi from her dad that Enonoka tells Cikapasi, and she even shared Cikapasi’s replies. Kiroranke tells her he and Wilk once made bank selling a cat’s pelt, though the meat wasn’t anything to write home about. Asirpa wants to know more, so Kiroranke is taking them to a woman who knew Wilk well: their boss Sofia, currently imprisoned in the prison in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky, AKA Ako.

Like the meko oyasi, Sofia was an accomplished thief who stole to fund their anti-imperialist operations, earning her the nickname “Golden Hand”. We cut to her being whipped by a prison guard but laughing off the lashes; time and prison have clearly hardened her considerably. And while she’s no longer a young beauty, she just so happens to share a cell with none other than Svetlana, whom we see when Sofia receives a letter in invisible ink from her old subordinate Yulbars, AKA Kiroranke.

For all the raging testosterone of Sugimoto and the other soldiers, this season continues to cultivate a strong theme of feminism. Wilk and Kiroranke were led by a woman, and Wilk in turn raised his daughter to lead the Ainu into a new era. The introduction of Ako Prison, Sofia, and Svetlana presents the possibility that after Sugimoto and Asirpa split apart at one prison, they’re poised to reunite at another.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 26 – Some Like it Hot ‘n’ Punchy

After winning his first stenka, Sugimoto approaches Gansoku Maiharu, the tattooed ex-prisoner, and they heartily shake hands in expectation of facing off in a future stenka. Gansoku, an otherwise civilized and affable man, was simply born to punch people in the fucking face. He’s lived a life of violence and likens his passion to that of a painter or dancer.

This philosophy is why Sugimoto doesn’t accept the Russian tavern owner’s demand that the Japanese fighters throw the next match so he’ll make more money. Intentionally losing won’t let them get anything out of Gansoku, whether it’s the gold or the info on Asirpa, but the four of them fighting him honestly could, so Sugimoto accepts another stenka.

While Sugimoto, Tanigaki, Tsukishima and Koito again dominate, defeating three of their four opponents, Gansoku is in a whole other league, and takes even Sugimoto’s best punches like a champ. This is a guy, after all, who even beat Ushiyama back at the prison in punches-only contests.

This stenka surpasses the ultra-fun madness of the first one thanks to Gansoku’s participation. It’s particularly hilarious that he acts like a character in a shoujo manga, complete with sparkly eyes and playfully beating his fists on Sugimoto’s back when he turns away from him. He’s having an absolute blast.

Then Sugimoto throws a kick, and proceeds to beat on everyone, even his own comrades, and the brawling pours into the crowd. An old Russian guy declares “This is real stenka!” until Sugimoto takes things too far and whips out a hammer and sickle, then declares “This is not stenka!!” Make up your mind, Pops!

Despite Koito’s hopes, this is not all part of Sugimoto’s “plan” to get everything they want; he’s simply taken too many blows to the head and has gone into Immortal Sugimoto Preservation Mode (ISPM). When in his frenzy he mentions gold, Gansoku realizes they’re after his tats and flees with all the adolescent emotion of a scorned high schooler.

Tanigaki, Tsukishima and Koito pursue Gonsaku, who ends up tangling with a damn wolverine. The four of them seek safety in a shed, but it’s actually a banya, or Russian sauna, which is so hot everyone has to strip down. Gonsaku, no stranger to banyas, starts whipping them with a venik or white birch branch, which increases circulation and makes the air even hotter.

This is one of the rare times I knew exactly where Golden Kamuy was going with its cultural snapshot. Prior to Covid, me and my friends would semi-regularly go to a local Russian spa to sit in 160°-190° F hot saunas, jump into 40° F water to cool down, repeat that process, then eat kickass Russian food, drink Russian beer, and watch goofy Russian music videos. A Russian spa basically the best place in the world, but Gonsaku intends to sweat the others out so they’ll get eaten by the wolverine.


Meanwhile, Cikapasi and Enonoka are able to free the captured lead sled dog and lure the wolverine away while escaping via sled. When Cikapasi falls off the wolverine pounces, but both Ryu and a still-crazed Sugimoto save him, while a still-naked Tanigaki helps him line up a shot to kill the wolverine.

That leaves Sugimoto and a steaming nude Gansoku to slug it out while the others watch. Gansoku can tell via Sugimoto’s fists that he’s carrying a great deal of anger and rage, but not directed towards him, but within. When Sugimoto says he’s “useless”, as images of his beloved Asirpa flash through his addled head, Gansoku tells him to forgive himself. He’s clearly working as hard as he humanly can.

Sugimoto then delivers an almost knockout blow that pauses their duel long enough for the other (still naked) men to intervene, but then they discover they’re all walking on ice, which cracks and gives way, sending them plunging into the cold. Turns out this is just what was needed to snap Sugimoto out of his ISPM, and he’s back to normal, but now at great risk of hypothermia, along with the others.

There’s only one thing for it: everyone piles back into the banya, which after being in frigid water, must feel absolutely magical. This absurdly masculine scene of naked sweaty swole men is where Sugimoto reveals they were never trying to kill Gansoku, merely copy his tattoos. But others will try, and they’ll bring guns (or katanas) to his fistfight, so they strongly recommend he leave Karafuto and head west to Russia. Since it’s the birthplace of stenka, he can still live a happy life there.

Gonsaku rewards Sugimoto’s peaceful offer by bringing up a name Sugimoto mentioned while in his violent trance: Asirpa, whom Gonsaku saw back at the tavern with Shiraishi. Specifically, he overheard Shiraishi saying that Sugimoto may not have gotten out of the prison dust-up alive, and Asirpa confidently declaring that he’s goddamn Immortal Sugimoto. She believes he is alive, and he is. It’s now just a  matter of reuniting.

With that, we’re treated not only to a heroic shot of Asirpa descending upon a massive sea lion (headshotted by Ogata but not killed due to its thick skull), but our first official Asirpa Face of the season, as she scarfs down the extremely fatty, stinky, tasty meat.

It’s one of so many images in this episode that brought me laughter and joy. When it’s letting its hair down and/or stripping off its clothes, there is no anime out there having more ludicrously infectious fun than Golden Kamuy. I just hope the good times can keep rolling.

P.S. There’s a new OP and ED for the season, and they are both kick-ass and beautiful, as expected.

Golden Kamuy – 25 (S3 E01) – Russian Beef Bonanza

Golden Kamuy picks right up where it left off, with a healed Sujimoto sailing north to Sakhalin, accompanied by Lt. Koito, Sgt. Tsukishima, Private Tanigaki, and Cikapasi (who stowed away). In the Japanese town of Otomari (now Korsakov), Koito samples the hurep, a local lingonberry wine, and they learn that a little Ainu girl was there before them.

From there the team heads north into the forest where the girl headed, but the Ainu girl they meet is not Asirpa, but a similarly capable-beyond-her-years Enonoka, who fell of her grandfather’s dogsled. Its here where the soldiers have their first brush with a wolverine, an animal even more feared than bears, and which indeed is in the process of attacking a bear when it turns on them.

After wounding Koito, the others shoot at the nimble wolverine but hit nothing but air. Thankfully, Enonoka’s gramps Henke returns and gets them all out of there on his dogsled. The snow that arrives a month earlier, combined with beasts more dangerous than bears, indicates that Sakhalin is going to be even less hospitable than Hokkaido.

After a quick check-in on HIjitaka’s crew, who are headed to Kushiro on a new lead on the gold, Sugimoto & Co. arrive in Enonoka’s village, and we learn how Sakhalin Ainu have adapted to the harsher conditions by having separate summer and winter domiciles. Koito’s wound is treated with bear fat, and Enonoka tells Sugimoto that Asirpa visited them earlier (her “Hinna!” reaction to the salted hurep being a dead giveaway).

After hiring Henke’s dogs, the group sleds to a Russian town to the north, hoping Asirpa and Kiroranke’s trail heats up. But upon entering a tavern they only encounter unhelpful and lippy drunks. Sugimoto has no patience for this, and slugs the biggest, toughest mofo in the bar, while asking Tsukishima (the only one of them who speaks Russian) to translate the elaborate way he’s going to fuck them all up if he doesnt get his way.

When a distraught Enonoka reports that their lead sled dog (who is like family to her) has been kidnapped, Sugimoto & Co. learn that the tavern owner had money on the guy Sugimoto slugged in the next stenka, and that Sugimoto will have to replace him if he wants the dog back. That night the Japanese boys experience a stenka (Russian for “wall”) for the first time, and it’s a veritable testosterone factory—which is right up their alley!

Eager to teach the towering Russian fighters that they’re no slouches, all four soldiers enter the match and defeat their opponents convincingly (even Kaito is jacked as shit). This has the intended consequence of attracting the interest of another tattooed ex-prisoner, who only fights in matches he deems worthy of his skills.

Desperate to reunite with Asirpa, Sugimoto has been wrangled into a wonderfully over-the-top Russian beef-mashin’ factory. It would seem they’ll get the lead sled dog back with this first victory, but he’ll probably have to entertain the tattooed guy even more before he gives him any information.

In any case, Golden Kamuy returns in fine form, delivering its wonderfully unique blend of treasure-hunting, frontier survivalism, cultural education, supercharged masculinity, and slapstick comedy.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 05 – Magical vs. Badgical

War Nurse reattaches Nozomi’s arm, heals her abdomen wound, and gets her to safety, but Abigail catches up to her and transforms into a full-fledged Badgical girl, with razor-sharp barber’s scissors.

As for Asuka, once she expends a great deal of her magic to destroy the Russians’ water spirit, the mercs are no match for her, even when she’s out of practice…which is as it should be. Asuka wouldn’t have survived this long letting herself get beaten by lightweights like these guys.

However Abigail came upon her magical gifts, she proves quite the challenge to War Nurse, especially when she summons not one but two Halloween-class Disas at her (her dominatrix getup certainly stands in stark contrast to Kurumi’s good witch garb).

Kurumi takes one of the Disas out, but Abby presses her attack with the other. Kurumi has to be bailed out by M Squad, who keep Abby occupied until Asuka can relieve them. As Iizuka says, you need a magical girl (or girls) to fight a magical girl.

Now Abby’s against the wall, until she’s rescued by her “Queen”, in masked badgical girl form, who then retreats. While Asuka couldn’t defeat Abby or the Queen, the fact they destroyed two Halloweens and recovered Nozomi makes this a victory.

But there’s a cost: Nozomi may be physically fine, but her PTSD is so bad she can’t look at Asuka or Kurumi for more than a second before going into a paroxysm of terror before passing out. But hey, it’s all good: Kurumi can heal her PTSD too—she just needs to erase all of Nozomi’s memories of the last week to do so.

With that procedure carried out, Asuka and Kurumi wait for her to rest and recover, with Asuka lamenting that she can’t protect anyone or anyting. Kurumi begs to differ, as neither she, Nozomi, or the M Squad would be breathing were it not for her, to say nothing of the bystanders saved when she stopped the terrorists. Suddenly convinced once and for all, Asuka informs Iizuka of her intent to officially join the Spec-Ops M Squad.

Iizuka reports to his superiors, who tell her the powers that be want Nozomi to stay at her current school where she’ll continue to serve as potential bait for their enemies. Kinda harsh, but they’re banking on Asuka and Kurumi continuing to protect her.

Meanwhile, Nozomi seems to be fine; she’s just forgotten their fun pool trip…not the greatest sacrifice if you ask me (Sayoko’s complete absence from this episode was puzzling…if she was there, wouldn’t she have corrected Nozomi?). Even when Asuka resolves never to go see that movie, letting the wind take her ticket, as soon as she turns around Nozomi is there to invite her all over again.

So basically, they got their first good  look at the bad guys and what they’re capable of, but the battle resulted in a draw, while hitting the reset button on Nozomi reduced her horrible suffering to a motivating cautionary memory for Asuka. It’s all rather neat-and-tidy, but at least she’s no longer in denial about having to fight in order to protect those she loves.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 04 – Taking the Bait

Asuka has a recurring dream where she’s too late to save her leader Fracine from her injuries. Before she dies, she names Asuka to succeed her, and assures her that while the world has a lot of problems, it is also full of beautiful things worth protecting.

Asuka apparently needed to be taught this lesson in the worst way  possible, as one of the current problems plaguing the world (groups who wish to use magic to hurt people and gain power) takes one of the beautiful things (her friend Nozomi) hostage.

Nozomi’s father is to blame for her capture, not Asuka. It would seem that terrible things need to be done in the name of national security, but it’s clearly better if the ones doing the terrible things didn’t have such lightly-protected family.

In a further display of cynical pragmatism that borders on comical, Nozomi’s dad is told his daughter will be a “sacrifice” that will give Public Safety the budget and mandate they need to go out there and really bust some heads.

Since no police or military unit will mount a rescue, it falls to Asuka. With Francine’s words still ringing in her head she doesn’t spend much time mulling over whether going into action to save Nozomi is the right thing to do.

Considering how sweetly and adorably portrayed as Asuka’s friends were, it was fairly inevitable that one of them would end up in some real shit. But while Sayoko was merely caught in some crossfire, Abigail and her twin Russian sorcerer mercenaries spare no cruelty as they burn Nozomi’s skin off and simulate drowning, all while the cameras roll.

You get the feeling even if Kurumi can heal her many physical wounds, unless she can also remove all memory of the ordeal, Nozomi is going to be severely scarred by the torture. But first thing’s first: she has to be rescued. Asuka and Kurumi have no trouble getting past the initial waves of guards, but Abigail isn’t remotely concerned they’ve arrived. In fact, she’s delighted they took the bait. She feints “freeing” Nozomi, but slices one her arms off.

Unfortunately for her, in such close quarters Abigail has the disadvantage, which Kurumi exploits by impaling her with a giant needle, after which she and her familiar Sacchuu grab Nozomi and rush her to safety while Asuka keeps the Russians busy with a grenade.

She knows that won’t be nearly enough to kill them, but is still confident in her abilities to handle the three mages alone. But she underestimates the Russians’ magic, getting smashed into a wall and allowing Abigail to go after Kurumi (who hasn’t even started getting serious yet).

Overall, the stakes were succinctly set: poor Nozomi’s life and many other lives will be lost in gruesome fashion if Asuka and Kurumi (and whatever other magical girls/guys wish to participate) can’t get the job done. I would hope that whenever this is all over, Asuka will cool it with the “not my fight” attitude, and Nozomi’s dad will quit torturing people. Bad guys are going to do bad guy stuff regardless…so don’t give them any excuses!

GOD EATER – 02

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It still looks the business, but GOD EATER came down to earth a bit this week. The relatively taut pacing of the first episode was gone, replaced by a plodding storyline that felt dragged out in order to build up suspense for the eventual reveal of Alisa, the self-proclaimed Best New-type who looks to be Lenka’s rival.

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Lots of guys sorta-looking at boobs this week

The slowed and somewhat creaky pace and preponderance of people standing around having casual chats made it much harder to overlook the cliches of the plot, which were many: The kid screws up and ends up in the brig, but sudden circumstances and a ringing endorsement from Major Amamiya’s older brother (and Fenrir-Far East’s top Old-type) Rindou force her hand, and she gives him a fresh chance to prove himself to the brass, who want to take his weapon away.

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All that well-tred ground is made tolerable by the show’s gritty-yet-smooth style, but the battle that results in Eric dying and Lenka getting jailed is needlessly split up into separate parts, killing its momentum. And during the battle, there’s just no sense of urgency.

That is, until after Rindou takes out the “Vajra” (a type of Aragami boss), and a stray Aragami tries to pounce on the unconscious Lenka. If nothing else, I liked the symmetry of an unarmed Lenka saving Eric before (which is the rumor at Fenrir that makes Rindou a fan) and Eric repaying him with his life.

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Back in the present, after Eric’s memorial service, Alisa is on her way via air transport, but all of her fighter escorts are taken out by a swarm of aerial Aragami, creating the emergency that requires Major Amamiya to entertain Rindou’s suggestion they send the kid out again.

But again, the pacing and direction undermine the tension. The rapid-fire events up in the stratosphere just don’t jibe with the slow deliberations of the Amamiya siblings, not to mention the Major’s confronting of Lenka to give him a choice only he can make: Stay in the cell or step out and fight (even though she opposes the latter). Things on the ground are just taking too long.

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Which is a shame, because the bay door of the transport plane opening to reveal a no-nonsense Alisa ready to do battle is a pretty badass way to close the episode. It’s just too bad it didn’t feel like there was enough in this episode to justify leaving this scene for the very end. It lurched its way to this point, and left me feeling gypped Alisa didn’t actually get to do anything.

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Durarara!! x2 Shou – 07

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This week’s Drrr! is all about the contrasts between similar pairs of people, starting with the Two grizzled Ivans somewhere in Russia, both post-Soviet arms dealers; one’s pretty much fire one’s pretty much water. The water Ivan is Vorona’s father, and she possesses both characteristics, sometimes in sync, but sometimes in chaos.

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When Egor enters Russia Sushi, Simon and Dennis initially suspect he’s there to knock them off, but he’s really there for Vorona over, among other things, stolen anti-materiel rifles. Dennis is doubtful Vorona would use such a weapon in Tokyo unless she was in “a real crisis”, and at that moment it become’s Chekhov’s AMR.

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For all its prolific complex, multi-modal, zig-zagging storytelling, Drrr is just as capable of focusing in one one person an delivering a quick, efficient profile. Vorona’s life as an assassin and general badass began with one of those real crises; an unsavory home invader.

Vorona, armed with a sprawling library full of knowledge in every field, but useful and useless, Vorona answers her sudden fear of being killed with a ruthless plan, luring the burglar into a trap and literally killing him with water (from the bath) and “fire” (from a hair-dryer), executing everything perfectly and precisely like her dad, but also seeming to take a bit of enjoyment from it like the other Ivan.

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Seeing this new side of Vorona for the first time, her dad let Simon and Dennis train her, and she learns quick. These two ex-military guys ostensibly came to Ikebukuro to start new, laid-back lives, but it’s cool to see their old lives on display here, and how closely they’re connected with Vorona, who’s only just arrived.

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Without their tutelage, she wouldn’t be nearly as tough and honed a killing machine as she is when we meet her. But because she’s not just a carbon copy of her father, once she gets really good, odd jobs and small fry aren’t enough for her. She seeks out her father’s rivals and eliminates them to a man, but not for his approval or to help with the family business or because they were an imminent threat. She did it because it was fun.

Her first kill was overzealous self-defense,  armed only with household appliance and her wits. But I don’t think Ivan turned his daughter into a monster by having her trained; he was only facilitating a foregone conclusion.

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That brings us to Vorona’s latest job; capturing Anri. Ikebukuro has been so weak and unimpressive to her thus far, she’s riding a wave of arrogance and invincibility, which rams her right into a concrete wall. Vorona is good, but she’s still human, and coming up against something not quite human is a glass of cold water to the face. Even more than that, it’s something she hasn’t read about in any of her books; an unknown.

Vorona and Anri are a lot alike, in that both are imminently capable and potentially dangerous young women, one of whom choses to explore that potential to the fullest, and one prefers as quiet and normal life as she can manage.

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Armed with her bookish knowledge, wits, resourcefulness, Vorona thrived, but she didn’t fact Anri with as an underdog, but with the mentality of of a favorite. Her earlier success wasn’t success at all; you cannot beheaded what is already headless. Suddenly outmatched by real and frightening aberrations, Vorona returns to that night before she took action, and remembers again what it’s like to fear being killed.

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In other words, she enters the “real crisis” mode Dennis thought so unlikely, whipping out the AMR and firing it right at Celty, blowing her away but obviously not killing her. Having bought some time, and learned more about what she’s dealing with, she’ll formulate a new strategy that doesn’t rely on brute force alone.

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That brings back to Mikado, who has followed Masaomi’s advice and stayed in of a Saturday night. Considering what went down, that looked like good advice. Of course, by staying in Mikado is subjected to another manipulative phone call from Izaya, who understands Mikado founded the Dollars not only to put some excitement in his life, but also to fit in, to belong within the ensuing community.

Just because that community is off doing unscrupulous things like picking fights with rival gangs, that Mikado doesn’t agree with, doesn’t mean it’s all falling apart, nor can Mikado impose his pacifist will on them without destroying the Dollars’ fundamental philosophy of freedom. The Dollars are evolving, that’s all, and Mikado’s fear of being left behind is similar in strength to Vorona’s fears about being weak, unable to cope with threats, or killed.

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It’s a New Day in the Dollars, and Mikado can’t stem the tide. Aoba, Izaya’s heir apparent arrives at his door the next day, as if to herald that fact. Simon’s voiceover returns, and he mirrors his earlier comparison of the two Ivans with these two Taros: one who is Mr. Nice Guy, and the other who uses nice guys.

Will Mikado evolve, or dig in and let the wave crash around him, leaving him alone and left behind, his greatest fears realized? Such a scenario suggests there’s no one around of like mind to help him resist that wave, which is untrue. But in that case it certainly points to some kind of conflict. Mikado can’t very well stay holed up in that room forever.

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