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.

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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.

Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.

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.

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

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.

Darling in the FranXX – 16 – How The Mood Has Changed

The Gran Crevasse is now under human control, but at the cost of about 40% of their parasites. Plantation 13 has been devastated, and Mistilteinn is without reliable sources of clean water, food, and electricity. Squad 13 has been ordered to stand by, and they’ve stood by for a month with nary a word from Nana or Hachi and only weekly deliveries of rations.

Despite all that, the group has never been closer. The squad went through the wringer and came out with bonds stronger than ever. The decision to collectively forgive and embrace Zero Two has also led to her pitching in and working diligently to do her part to help everyone out in the tougher times where their every domestic need is no longer taken care of.

The lack of sorties means Goro is a bit restless, while when Michiru asks Kokoro to cut his hair (during which time he works through his angst rather nicely), Kokoro gives him a kiss, and is wordlessly rebuffed.

There are also signs that the parasites might not be long for this world. Ikuno suffers from headaches and fever, and while bathing, Zero Two discovers white hairs among Miku’s red locks. Still, Hiro is having fun, and would love to live the way they’re living forever; sentiments Zero Two shares.

The two also spearhead a different kind of operation: one that will ensure the squad’s survival even if the food rations end. The squad catches their own fish, prepare them, and eat them on their own, a huge step towards independence for the once-coddled parasites.

While they’re engaging in this operation, Ichigo comments about how the mood of the squad has changed, how she likes the change, and how she admits she initially misjudged Zero Two as being fundamentally “different” from the rest of them; and now believes that not to be true.

In another case of the parasites perhaps not being quite as well as they could be, Zorome calls Futoshi out on his recent habit of not eating, or throwing up what he does eat. Zorome tears up while pleading with his comrade to eat if he wants to survive.

The squad may sometimes butt up against each other in these lean and trying times when they’re not sure when their next meal or drink will come, but Hiro maintains that this is all a good thing for them. He feels like this is “where they truly belong”, because there should be, and is, more to their lives than piloting FranXX and fighting Klaxosaurs.

Later that night, while drawing beautiful illustrations drawn from her memory of the picture book she had—her first “pretty thing”, Zero Two admits to having learned that being human is about more than looking human, and that Hiro’s humanity was the kind she truly wanted.

Their bliss is short-lived, as expected; Zero Two senses…something off in the distance—someone who looks for all the world like some kind of humanoid Klaxosaur pilot, like her, no doubt come to sour what had been such a pleasant and tranquil mood.

Golden Kamuy – 04 – The Grim Reaper vs. The Immortal

While retrieving his knife to help Asirpa gut some sculpin for dinner, Sugimoto very nearly walks into a poison arrow trap, but is stopped by Asirpa’s uncle. It’s almost as if there’s a guardian spirit watching over him, keeping him from being killed before he’s done what he has to do in life.

The Ainu truly believe in such spirits, which they call turenpe, and they’re believed to be what gives people different personalities and abilities. And even though Asirpa herself doesn’t offer things to her turenpe by presenting it to the back of her neck, as it’s more something the older villagers do, Sugimoto respects his elders by following the tradition.

Between the turenpe and the kisarari game with the children, combined with the uncle’s talk of the gold being cursed because Ainu panned for it in a sacred river to collect war funds, there’ quite a bit of Ainu culture displayed in the episode’s opening act.

We also learn more about Retar, a white wolf Asirpa and her father found on a hunt one day, and whom she raised from a pup. One day, after her father was killed, a grown Retar heard the call of the wild and trudged off to where he belonged. Asirpa understood why he did it—he couldn’t be a pet dog—but it still devastated her, especially considering her father had just left her.

Asirpa is lonely, and as long borne the weight of grief, but her uncle has noticed that she’s smiling more, and believes it’s because of Sugimoto. Since he regards Asirpa as a smart young lass, he concludes that Sugimoto is a good man. Her grandmother even tells him to stay with Asirpa forever, but while he says he understands her words, he ends up doing the opposite, leaving her alone as she sleeps in the night.

Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to involve her in anything that will cause her to lose more loved ones. Considering what a trouble magnet he is, he kinda has a point.

But the next morning, it’s not even a question of Asirpa tracking Sugimoto down, if only to smack him upside the head with a ceremonial stick. She also must know that without her he’s likely up to no good, and of course, he isn’t. Retar comes to her aid, and she uses Sugimoto’s old smelly sock to give the wolf a scent to follow.

After a tasty bowl of soba, he’s accosted by members of the 7th and brought before Tsurumi, who knows full well who Sugimoto is and what he’s after. He also tests Sugimoto’s toughness by skewering him through the cheeks. Sugimoto, not one to shrink before tough handling, maintains his ignorance of the map skins and endures the physical punishment.

Asirpa and Retar enter town under cover of darkness, but to her surprise (and disgust) the sock wasn’t Sugimoto’s, but the Escape King Shiraishi’s. He manages to escape—briefly—before having his head gnawed on by Retar once more.

Meanwhile, perhaps not a block away, the twins Sugimoto fought at the soba house pay him a visit in the night hoping to come away with some of his fingers, but one of them gets too close, and Sugimoto headbutts him viciously, then flips himself in the air, breaking the chair he’s tied to and freeing himself.

He’s locked in a struggle with the knife-wielding twins, but something tells me his guardian spirit will continue protecting him. That, and his friend Asirpa, who upon reuniting should impress upon him the futility of trying to ghost someone with a wolf for a friend.

Golden Kamuy – 03 – An Ainu Girl for a New Era

We begin this week with another demonstration of Ainu field cuisine, with Asirpa whipping up a sumptuous soup out of rabbit meatballs, mushrooms and leeks. All it needs, in Sugimoto’s opinion, is a bit of miso paste, but when he takes it out Asirpa mistakes it for poop—a perfectly reasonable reaction considering she’s never seen it before!

After that light fare, the morning brings heavier troubles: Asirpa spots something else she’s unfamiliar with—the glint of binocular lenses—and she and Sugimoto find themselves on the run from the 7th Division, who close in on them quickly thanks to their skis. Sugimoto decides he and Asirpa will split up, and if caught she’ll not resist and pretend to know nothing.

Asirpa is caught, and as Sugimoto assumed, the soldier isn’t interested in harming a little Ainu girl…until he learns she was hiding treasure maps and can understand Japanese (her initial dialogue with him involved telling the soldier in Ainu that the man she was with puts poop in his soup and eats it). Fortunately, Asirpa’s Ezo wolf buddy Retar comes to her rescue.

Meanwhile, three men surround Sugimoto, who has no choice but to bet on his Immortal status and believe Asirpa’s assertion that a bear won’t kill a man who enters its den by diving right in. When the soldiers fire into the opening, the bear pops out and mortally wounds them all before dying.

While both the bear and wolf CGI stand out in a not-so-good way, it’s not enough to pull me out of the action; both seem very much ferocious threats to the humans.

Sugimoto emerges unscathed and reunites with Asirpa (giving Retar a nice belly rub for his assistance), but he’s worried she won’t let him keep the orphaned bear cub he carried out of the den. Rather than eat it like he fears, she decides they’ll take it to her village, or kotan, where they often raise orphan bears.

There, Sugimoto finally steps out of the wilderness and into a different world entirely—the world of the Ainu. Asirpa’s grandmother is the most venerable member of the kotan, and the villagers are more curious about Sugimoto than scared of him.

Granny promptly asks him to take Asirpa for his wife so she can die happy…but she says it in Ainu, and her interpreter, Asirpa herself, does not translate for him.

Asirpa further explains the way of life of her people, which is largely shaped by their belief in kamuy, or gods, coming to them in various forms, including animals. If they come across a baby bear, for instance, they take it as a sign that the bear should be loved and cared for, and eventually “sent back” to where the kamuy reside.

In exchange for the sending, they get the bear’s meat and pelt, while the care they gave the bear prior to the ceremony is to convince the kamuy to keep returning and providing resources. In this way, it’s not a matter of offerings or sacrifice, but of merely assisting the kamuy in their travels back and forth between the two planes. It’s all quite fascinating and engrossing.

I just hope that Asirpa’s village will survive what could well be a good deal of collateral fallout from her and Sugimoto’s dealings with the 7th Division, as well as the prisoners themselves who seek the treasure of gold.

There’s a lot of competing interests in play, and among their rivals are characters with colorful personalities, from Tsurumi (missing the front of his skull, but otherwise a picture of health) to Hijikata (still a boy with a sword at heart, with no qualms about interrupting his comrade’s, er…lovemaking). Sugimoto and Asirpa will certainly have their hands full.

Golden Kamuy – 02 – Something They Carve Together

As Asirpa prepares traps to ensnare delicious nut-fed squirrels for dinner, Sugimoto determines the prisoners will avoid small villages where they’d stand out. The pair head into the booming port and commercial city of Otaru to canvass the places where they’d expose their tattooed skin: the baths and the brothels.

While questioning sex workers, the tiny Asirpa gets nabbed by the brothel owner, but quickly demonstrates she’s not worth his trouble, considering her skill with a knife handle and the “immortal” company she keeps.

Ultimately, they manage to snag their first prisoner the same way they catch squirrels: with a snare that traps him by the neck. Asirpa is adamant that they’ll kill nobody needlessly, and instead uses the pencil and paper acquired in Otaru to draw their captive’s tattoos. Fun little human moments like Asirpa drooling over squirrel meat or her shock at Sugimoto’s “rubber pencil” trick are effective at keeping the mood from getting too heavy.

This prisoner escaped from the others when they suddenly started killing each other, not realizing that absent drafting skills (or pencils), completing the map meant quite a bit of skinning. However, before this prisoner can give them any more information, he’s shot right through the brain, darkening the mood anew.

Sugimoto tracks down the gunman and identifies him not just as a fellow soldier, but one of the much-feared and respected Hokkaido 7th Division, known as the Guardians of the North for their tenacity in even the toughest battles. In other words, a division Sugimoto would be right at home in, had he not been dishonorably separated from the army.

The two share a couple moments as fellow soldiers to prepare for battle, and when the soldier asks if Sugimoto is tracking down the prisoners for money, he corrects him by saying it’s for love…which isn’t far off. After all, the money is for the family of the friend he loved, not for himself.

This time, Sugimoto’s foe is too tough to go easy on, and when the choice becomes letting him go to inform his superiors and stopping him, Sugimoto tosses the butt of his rifle at the guy, hitting him in the head and sending him tumbling off a cliff and into the freezing river, where he and Asirpa presume he’s dead but rather sloppily refrain from confirming it.

That error could be a result of hunger, but “We’re alive, so of course we get hungry” Asirpa has the solution for that when they return to her hunting tent, which is also her kitchen, There, she skins the squirrels they caught and lets Sugimoto eat the brain of one raw, which is supposedly the best part.

She finely minces the remaining meat and bones into chitatap, a kind of dish that sounds like the way you make it (incidentally, one should say “chitatap” while chopping the meat). In a concession to Sugimoto’s Sisam tastes, she forms balls with the meat and cooks them in broth for a sumptuous meal, and uses the Ainu saying “Hinna, hinna!” instead of “Itadakimasu!” to give thanks.

There’s no such thing as eating too much out here in The Grey, so after nabbing and sketching their second prisoner in as many days, Asirpa gets a bead on a rabbit and pounces on it. Unfortunately, this prisoner is an escape artists who coughs up a razor with which to cut himself free.

While chasing him down, he and Sugimoto end up tumbling down a cliff and falling into the drink, which is a death sentence for those who don’t get their freezing clothes off and warm up in front of a fire within ten minutes.

There’s a black comedy of errors as the prisoner succumbs to the various symptoms of hypothermia, but once he gets Sugimoto’s assurances he’ll spare his life, he coughs up a bullet they can use to spark a life-saving fire.

Having survived their dance with death, the two bond, casting aside their conflict, and the prisoner, Shiraishi, shares more intel with Sugimoto, including the fact that the leader of the prisoners is a grizzled and immensely-skilled samurai veteran from a war fought thirty years prior.

Meanwhile, the 7th division private also survived his hypothermia (perhaps Sugimoto’s immortaliy rubs off on people) and soon wakes up, meaning his commanding officer, who himself  seems to have survived having a large part of his face peeled off. As tough and resourceful as Sugimoto and Asirpa are, the characters they’ll have to deal with to achieve their goal are no slouches!

Golden Kamuy has established itself as one of the best best of the Spring, despite taking place in a bitterer Winter than the one we’re still struggling to escape in real life. So far it’s sported some great characters of almost mythical ability, offered some creative combat and survival skills, integrating elements of Ainu culture wherever possible. The OP and ED are also tight as hell. More than anything, Golden Kamuy has attitude, but isn’t so serious it won’t crack jokes where appropriate.

Golden Kamuy – 01 – The Weak Get Eaten, But These Peeps Ain’t Weak (First Impressions)

It’s 1904: The Russo-Japanese War, three years before my older grandfather was even born. Sugimoto Saichi is in the trenches, and earns the nickname “The Immortal Sugimoto” for…well, refusing to die. Bullets always miss or glance off him. He’s never in the path of a cannon or mortar.

His vitals always manage to avoid enemy blades. Even when he rushes the Russians head-on yelling “JUST TRY AND KILL ME!”, they fail to kill him. One might say this particular quality of his is a blessing, but all it means is he gets to live on as everyone around him dies.

Among the dead who leave him behind is his old friend and war buddy, who is survived by a wife with failing vision and a child. Sugimoto nearly killed a superior, so he’s cashiered out of the service, and must try to scrape together a living in a place where the gold rush has long since run dry.

While panning in a river for the dregs of that rush, an old drunk keeps Sugimoto company, telling him what initially sounds like a tall tale about a man who stole a mass treasure of gold from the native Ainu and killed a bunch of them. He was imprisoned, but tattooed pieces of a map to the treasure on other prisoners who then escaped, promising them a half share.

When the drunk realizes he’s said too much and tries to kill Sugimoto, Sugimoto clobbers him and forces him to flee…but now Sugimoto is more certain the man wasn’t just telling tall tales. That’s confirmed when he later finds the man’s corpse. He was killed and buried by a bear, but his body bears the map tattoos.

Of course, it’s not that simple: a bear returns, apparently to reclaim its meal, and Sugimoto isn’t ready…but thankfully someone is. Up until now things like timing, physics, and coincidence had served The Immortal Sugimoto, but here and now he finds himself face-to-face with the personification of his luck and salvation: a petite Ainu woman who introduces herself as Asirpa.

Out there in the wilderness, I’d much rather have Asirpa by my side than Sugimoto, especially considering its him, not me, who’d more likely escape death once again. She not only determines that the bear they just killed wasn’t the one who killed the prisoner, but that the man who tattooed him never intended to share the treasure. That man also killed Asirpa’s father to get the gold in the first place.

Because this is just barely the 20th century, and Sugimoto isn’t wealthy enough to own a camera (and the cameraphone is a century away), the only way to preserve the parts of the map they now have is to skin the man. (I suppose he could make a drawing, but lacks the materials) But that will take time, and night waits for no one, not even the Immortal Sugimoto.

Instead, he and Asirpa keep a fire going and use the corspe to lure the megabear to them. He gets the jump on Sugimoto and extinguishes the flame, accelerating their plans somewhat. Then Asirpa’s guardian angel, a white wolf that may well contain the soul of her late father, joins the fray, protecting her and giving Sugimoto an opportunity to shoot the bear.

The bear doesn’t go down that easily, and requires a well-placed blade to its heart to kill, but Sugimoto survives, and impresses Asirpa with his warrior instincts. That being said, she can have no part of the bear she helped kill, as it ate human flesh and was sent to a special form of hell. She, by the way, doesn’t want to shed human blood either.

After Sugimoto skins the map from the map (gross), he vows to be the one to do the “dirty work” while she’ll continue to provide the wisdom and support she has so far, and without which he’d have already been killed by now. Together they’ll find the other pieces of the map (even the skin he has is a patchwork of disconnected map fragments), she can get revenge for her father, and he can get gold for his friends’ family.

Sounds like a good win-win deal, and a strong finish to a hell of a strong and intriguing story set deep in a place utterly inhospitable to humans who have lost touch with nature, and starring two people who are immensely badass in very different yet equally fascinating ways. Hat tip to tombeet for the recommendation!

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 03

This week on Girl’s Last Trip, something amazing happens; something perhaps more amazing than finding all the elements one needs to build a makeshift hot tub: Chito and Yuuri meet another survivor, a young man named Kanazawa.

The lit cigarette portended something potentially perilous, but Kanazawa is harmless. He has no gun and no vehicle, and has been making maps, but that’s about all we and the girls ever learn about him. Where he came from and how he survived are left a mystery.

While he doesn’t have a gun, he does have dynamite, which he uses to knock a building over so they can use it as a bridge across a gorge. His maps help lead them to a fueling station, and then they finally reach their destination: one of the mammoth towers that must lead to a higher level, where maybe there will be more people…or at least more food.

SSR excels at portraying just how tiny humans are before all this gargantuan infrastructure; Kanazawa offers some insight regarding the fact more contemporary civilizations couldn’t fully figure out the more ancient, yet in some cases, more advanced structures. At any rate, they’re very big and impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t like heights—like Chito—might just feel a bit of vertigo or tingling in the back as the elevator, which has no chain link fence, slowly rises higher and higher. Just as Chito is worried about what would happen if the elevator tilted, the elevator tilts, and Kanazawa’s sachel of maps slips off.

He nearly slips off as well trying to catch it, but he can’t. His maps are gone; scattered hundreds of feet above a level they may never return to. As he had earlier declared the maps were his life (i.e. the only thing keeping him going), he wants the girls to let him fall. They do not let him fall—Yuuri may be a book-burning glutton but she’s not evil.

They manage to fix the elevator and reach the top, and their seeming reward is the activation of all the streetlights around them, and a great light in the distance that is the girls’ next destination.

After Yuuri uncharacteristically shares her rations with Kanazawa (and Chito rewards her by giving her half of hers), Kanazawa heads North on his own. Looks like he was only ever going to be a temporary party member. Now on to that great light…whatever it is.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 02

Chito fights to stay awake at the handlebars as she searchs for shelter in a stinging snowstorm…and Yuuri builds a mini-snowman on her head. It’s pretty indicative of their relationship: Chi-chan may be the brains of this survival operation, but her seriousness is tempered by Yuuri’s more easygoing nature—when she’s not pointing a rifle at Chito, her only friend in the whole world (no one threatens anyone this week).

They find an old building, but it’s still cold—until they find a pipe that isn’t. Chito helps a freezing Yuuri steady her gun and blasts a hole in the pipe, then they use the Kettenkrad to haul a pipe fragment to fill and make a hot bath. Not only does the bath look extremely comfortable to spend time in, but proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to survive and this is only their fourth bath since leaving home.

After the bath they get a fire going, and Chito writes in a journal by the light. We learn Yuuri can’t read or write (at least not on Chito’s level), and the difference in education and value placed on the written word brings the two into philosophical conflict:

Chito: Memories fade, so we write them down.
Yuuri: Memories just get in the way of living.

(It’s also worth mentioning the language Chito reads and writes in isn’t Japanese, at least as we know it; they come across a Japanese sign she can’t read. Another indication we’re either dealing with the distant future or an alternate universe.)

Yuuri doesn’t even really pay attention when Chito is underscoring how valuable books are, so when asked to add fuel to the fire, she tosses a book in, and Chito isn’t able to put it out until it’s half-destroyed. Chito goes to bed angry at Yuuri, and when the winds outside intensify, it looks as though Yuuri is going to add Chito’s journal to the fire. If the choice is between staying warm enough to live versus the book, there is no choice.

Fortunately, things aren’t that bad (yet), and in the morning, Chito finds that Yuuri drew her sleeping face in the journal, along with the scrawled words “I’m sokky[sic].” She’s no longer mad. And how can she be, when the snows have finally ceased and the skies cleared, giving us a better look at the sprawling ruins of a colossal city of multiple vertical layers, Fifth Elementstyle.

The duo treads water out to the edge of one of the massive structures they stand upon, where a row of huge drains begin to spew forth fresh, pure snow melt, which Chito suggests they’ll use to do laundry—no point in washing yourselves if you’re going to keep walking around in filthy rags.

As their clothes dry, Yuuri finds a fish—something neither of them has ever eaten or even seen—but they’re right on when they fire-roast it on a spit. A hot bath, clean water, laundry, and a fresh meal: it’s been a downright luxurious outing for our post-apocalyptic wanderers.

There’s so much to like in SSR, starting with cute (but-not-too-cute) character designs, yin-yang characterization, deft voice work by Minase Inori (Chito) and Kubo Yurika (Yuuri), and gorgeous, gorgeous scenery of a ruined, deserted, but still thoroughly impressive civilization

The camerawork is great too, with some shots capturing two tiny human specks against the majestic the infrastructure, and others in which the girls’ widening faces fill the frame as they exhale in extreme relaxation. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt show; at once big and small; cold and warm; scary and comforting.