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.

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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 – 13 – The Taste of Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Kamuy – 10 – Spring Thunder

Tanigaki, armed with only one bullet, uses the mountains to assist him in preemptively striking his hunters, using the kill of a bear and a fire to lure Nikaidou out.

The bear takes Nikaidou’s ear off and mauls him, while Tanigaki’s shot goes right through Ogata’s chest. The apparent success of his gambit leads Tanigaki to say “boner” in honor of Nihei.

When one of Tsurumi’s forward scouts finds Tanigaki, he’s sure he’s not involved with the lieutenant’s betrayers. However, Tanigaki’s shot was a little too right down the middle; it missed Ogata’s heart and lungs and he’s able to kill the scout.

Tsurumi and his men arrive in time to capture Nikaidou, with the sadistic L.T. taking off his other ear and eventually gets him to spill the name of the other betrayer by saying he’ll let him kill Sugimoto. Tanigaki uses the chaos to slip away unnoticed.

It’s amazing how gorey and gross this show can be one moment, and how lighthearted an slapsticky the next.  Case in point: Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi goofily note the blooming of the first flowers of spring as the snow starts to melt, and they come upon a lake where a fish called huchen can be found.

Unfortunately, Shiraishi’s penchant for getting bitten by animals applies to fish as well, as a massive legendary huchen pulls him under the drink right after Asirpa mentioned such a fish kamuy exists.

Shiraishi is saved by Kiroranke Nispa, an old friend of Asirpa’s father, and also a veteran formerly of the 7th (though not Tsurumi’s unit). He also has some shocking news: Nopperabo, the prisoner who tattooed all of the others, is Asirpa’s father; the one who stole all the Ainu gold.

This news is extremely distressing to Asirpa, not to mention it nullifies her entire reason for joining Sugimoto on the hunt for the prisoners—to avenge her father. She wants to learn the truth from Nopperabo’s own mouth, which means they’ll have to travel to Abashiri Prison on the other side of the island.

In their time with Kiroranke, Sugimoto and Asirpa give a lot away, but he seems to be someone they can trust for now; he may well have just been curious how many other tattoo map skins they had. His own goal is to give the gold back to the Ainu; if the others are fine with their fair share not totaling 100%, he’ll gladly join their mission to locate and retrieve it.

To that end, he suggests the group take horses and make for Sapporo in order to secure sufficient arms and other supplies with which to infiltrate the prison in one piece. Shiraishi gets a really little horse. But awaiting them in Sapporo on a stormy night is a very suspicious woman who runs a hotel. Looks like next week will be a murder mystery a la Clue…which will hopefully somehow tie into the search for the gold.

Golden Kamuy – 09 – Henmi’s Last Gleaming

While Golden Kamuy isn’t the prettiest anime around by any means, it excels at building tension, constructing intricate close shaves, and making coincidence feel more like providence.

Asirpa discovers Henmi’s victim just a hair too late to warn Sugimoto, who follows when Henmi sends him outside so they won’t be interrupted. When the 7th arrives, Henmi takes Sugimoto to the big shot’s mansion, and Asirpa spots them from afar and follows them.

When Henmi and Sugimoto go up the stairs, the two 7th soldiers they find already on the upper floor catch just enough of Sugimoto’s cap to know it’s him. Henmi improvises, using the trusty giant knife he brought to kill them, but gets shot by one before he dies.

Sugimoto assumes the man just defended himself, and is even willing to carry him out when they happen to bump into Lt. Tsurumi (asking the whaling tycoon for weapons factory funds). Even Tsurumi is caught off guard when the old man decides to take matters into his own hands and unleashes the power of his prized Maxim machine gun.

Sugimoto escapes with Henmi in the chaos; Henmi’s infatuation for the Immortal only deepens as they run along the beach hand-in-hand. He’s about to kill Sugimoto with a blow from behind when he’s shot with an arrow from…Asirpa, who had been hanging back and watching things unfold.

Sugimoto proceeds to stab Henmi several times, but their position on the beach makes them vulnerable to orca attack, with one particular specimen chomping up Henmi and taking him away.

Henmi couldn’t be happier with how he’s meeting his end; shot by an Ainu girl, stabbed by Sugimoto the Immortal, to be finished off by an orca. Who could ask for more?

But Sugimoto doesn’t let the orca have the last act; stripping down (as Asirpa kinda sorta averts her eyes) and diving into the ocean to rescue Henmi, depending once again on his apparent inability to die. It pays off, but Tsurumi learns he’s working with the Ainu, while Hijikata learns more about Siraishi’s “friends.”

Back at the Ainu village Tanigaki is back on his feet and has been accepted by elder and child alike, but enters the elder woman’s hut to find Ogata and Nikaidou there, essentially holding the two Ainu hostage. Tanigaki lies (badly), but ultimately Ogata says he’ll let him be—only to fire off a shot from outside, so as to kill only Tanigaki and not the innocent witnesses.

Ogata misses only because Osoma pulled Tanigaki’s head back at just the right time to avoid the bullet. Some cat-and-mouse ensues, with Tanigaki testing Ogata’s accuracy, then putting up a smokescreen to escape the hut.

After retrieving Henmi (whose whimsical insanity I’ll miss), skinning him for the tattoos, and having some dinner at the Yanshuu canteen, Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi are approached by an old man who turns out to be Hijikata, in a nice bit of up-close-and-personal observation. Shiraishi knows full well who the old man is, but Sugimoto and Asirpa are oblivious. But the message to Shiraishi is clear: copy the tattoos and report back.

Back at the village, Ogata and Nikaidou have retreated after the smokescreen gave Tanigaki the upper hand. But he’s still wounded, and Ogata has no intention of giving up the hunt. Only Tanigaki won’t be unarmed; Osoma presents him with the late Nihei’s rifle, which holds only a single bullet. But hey, one is better than none!

Golden Kamuy – 08 – Gone Whalin’

Needless to say, Uchiyama catches up to Shiraishi. However, their “little chat” is interrupted, both by soldiers of the 7th shooting at Uchiyama, and the fact that Uchiyama’s diversionary role is just one piece with the rest of Hijikata’s plan to rob a bank; specifically, to recover a katana that has a special place in his heart.

Say what you will about Tsurumi’s general sanity; the man knows how to smell out the truth of things, and manages to be in the right position to put a bullet through Hijikata’s hat before the old samurai escapes on the horse Tsurumi borrowed. Having met face to face for the first time, both men like what they see and look forward to the second.

Shiraishi has many tools for escape; here, he used confusion and Uchiyama’s duty to Hijikata. However, he makes sure to stop by the brothel to secure an article of Uchiyama’s clothing so that Retar can help him track the guy. When Asirpa says they’re not bothering the wolves anymore, Shiraishi settles for Ryuu, now a member of the party, who helps catch a plump tanuki Shiraishi let get away.

 

Ryuu leads Shiraishi to Uchiyama, but also makes enough noise to get Shiraishi caught. Hijikata orders his bodyguard not to kill the escape artist; instead, he wants his aid in retrieving the skin of a prisoner; a prolific murderer named Henmi Kazuo.

Shiraishi agrees, is freed, and confers with Sugimoto and Asirpa. He tells them about Henmi, and how he may be hiding amongst the yanshuu, contract herring fishermen who work the coasts.

Asirpa’s uncle is whaling in that same area, so out of worry for his well-being—what with a guy who literally gets off on killing on the prowl—the three head to the beach, leaping joyfully into the sand when they arrive.

The whaling sequence is another simply-yet-effectively realized scenes of Ainu culture, but when the whale takes a turn toward the herring fishing fleet, it drags the Ainu boats along, and Sugimoto, Asirpa, and her uncle must give up the chase to rescue a fisherman who falls overboard.

That fisherman turns out to be Himei Kazuo, whom we learn a lot about in a hurry through his inner monologue. While a relatively normal-looking, soft-spoken guy, his thoughts are anything but. He can smell the same “scent of a killer” wafting off his savior Sugimoto, and takes an immediate interest in him.

The more Himei learns about Sugimoto, the more his crotch starts to glow (subtle!) and the more badly he wants Sugimoto, whom he believes to be “jut like him”, to kill him. He knows that in order get Sugimoto to kill him, Himei will have to try to kill Sugimoto. But that’s a story for next week!

Until then, this was a solid introduction to yet another interesting and oddly likeable prisoner; a guy equal parts goofy and terrifying. Yet he’s not always a walking joke; his nigh unquenchable thirst for homicide stemming from a traumatic moment in his past when he heard his brother struggle in vain against a boar.

Meanwhile, this episode might’ve had the least Sugimoto and Asirpa yet (we don’t even see them until seven minutes in), but while I still like their quiet little story most of all, the show wasn’t hurt by their diminished screen time, as the dance between the 7th and Hijikata’s men commences.

Golden Kamuy – 07 – #NotExtinctYet

Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi end up in a good old-fashioned standoff with Nihei and Tanigaki, ending with Tanigaki racing off with Asirpa so she won’t hear the screams of Sugimoto and Shiraishi’s deaths. But because Shiraishi is an escape artist, he and Sugimoto are able to slip out of their paltry binds and pursue Tanigaki.

Nihei underestimated Shiraishi, and Tanigaki underestimates his surroundings, tripping a deer trap that puts a wolfsbane-dipped arrow in his leg. He has no choice but to release Asirpa so she can cut the poisoned flesh out (gross), but when she’s done Nihei catches up with them and uses Asirpa as bait for Retar.

However, Retar was simply no match for Nihei, because Retar had backup, in the person (well, in the wolf) of his mate, who delivers the fatal bite to Nihei’s jugular. When Sugimoto and Shiraishi arrive, Nihei has basically bled out, while Retar rejoins his family, something Asirpa (not to mention nobody else) had any idea he had.

So, reports of the Ezo Wolf’s extinction were grossly exaggerated. Seeing Retar with his family brought tears to my eyes. I also felt for poor Ryuu, who lost his master, but thankfully Asirpa insists on taking Tanigaki to the village, lest the loyal-to-a-fault Ryuu stay with him until he dies then starve to death.

In the village, the young Ainu get another good look at a Japanese fellow with weird ears in Shiraishi, while he and Sugimoto tuck into some deer stew and something I’m going to call “salmonsicles”. When the village elder speaks of how the gold sullied the rivers that brought them fish, she mentions how Ainu from all over Hokkaido squirreled away a hoard of gold far larger than even the prisoners know about.

Tanigaki, wounded but conscious, basically corroborates the old woman, and adds the story of his commander, Lt. Tsurumi, who had to lead a forward advance that led to the deaths of half the 7th. The chief of staff committed suicide in disgrace and left the entire division in disgrace, unpaid and unawarded for their valor. From there, Tsurumi vowed to seize Hokkaido for the 7th and open a weapons factory so that their families could work and be provided for.

Tanigaki’s story paints Tsurumi in a more sympathetic light, but it doesn’t sway Sugimoto from his goal to find the gold and keep it away from Tsurumi and men like him.

Speaking of ‘men like him’, the group led by Hijikata goes into town, mostly so that Ushiyama, a raging hulk of a man, can sleep with some women lest he go even more berserk than he usually is. Then Shiraishi, in his infinite bad luck (why else would he be so good at escaping?), ends up face to face with the man-beast, and unwisely tries to run from him.

Ushiyama will have his “little chat” with Shiraishi, and he bowls through four people like they’re ninepins, shakes off being buried by rocks, tosses a horse-and-sleigh aside like they were nothing, and is generally an cartoonishly unstoppable monster of a man. Shiraishi finally finds some soldiers of the 7th—four of them—but what are a few bullets to Ushiyama? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Golden Kamuy – 06 – Be Born Again and Hear Pleasant Sounds

No bloodthirsty samurai or touched-in-the-head military commanders this week, just two pairs of hunters pursuing their prey. In Nihei Tetsuzou Tanigaki finds someone who both respects and can relate to his Matagi heritage. When it comes to hunting, he knows his stuff.

Nihei’s also a rude old man obsessed with boners, and nothing makes him more erect than the prospect of killing the one remaining wolf in Japan, considering how clever such a wolf would have to be to escape extinction thus far.

Meanwhile, in those same mountains, Sugimoto and Asirpa continue to track the buck he wounded, but the damn thing manages to have the speed and stamina to force them to give up for the day and seek refuge in a felled tree.

While dining on Nihei’s bear delicacies, Tanigaki decides to toss his cap in the flames, abandoning his military life. While returning home may be difficult, showing up with the head and pelt of a great white wolf will certainly help matters.

Elsewhere, Sugimoto is in perfect position to kill the buck, but freezes when he sees the bloodcicle sticking out of its rump, and sees himself: an immortal beast doing everything it can to stay alive. Sugimoto woke up that morning from a PTSD nightmare, but can help but see his own indomitable spirit staring back at him.

Thankfully, Retar is around to bring the buck down once and for all. Asirpa cuts it open and has Sugimoto place his freezing hands inside its still-steaming warm body. It’s heat is becoming his heat, and when they feast upon its brains and other parts (and wash it down with sake) its death sustains their life.

Nihei and Tanigaki stake out the buck carcess, believing the white wolf will return for the meat, but the next morning they only find its droppings, which Nihei burns to further anger the beast. He gets tantalizingly close to putting a bullet in Retar’s brain, but this time Asirpa and Sugimoto have the wolf’s back, startling it off with an arrow.

With that, Sugimoto the Immortal comes face to face with Nihei, who wishes to become part of the mountains, but only when he’s good and goddamn ready, meaning he’ll put up a hell of a fight before he surrenders his tattoos, especially since his wolf hunt was interrupted.

Golden Kamuy – 05 – He Stole The Guts!

Tsurumi’s less personally-motivated soldiers manage to save Sugimoto from the more vengeful brothers, but it’s only a matter of time before they get to him again and finish the job. Asirpa and the Escape King Shiraishi decide to work together to spring him.

Asirpa tells Shiraishi that she believes his “immortality” is the product of him being able to look death straight in the eye and deal with it, but I still maintain there are simply spirits looking out for him; spirits that take many forms and have many faces, including her own and Mr. Slippery.

Sugimoto escapes by tricking Tsurumi and his men into thinking he’s had his guts spilled and he’s near death, and will give them the tattoos in exchange for treatment. But it doesn’t take long for the sharp-witted lieutenant to discover something amiss about the corpse his captive left behind.

Turns out Sugimoto stole the other man’s guts and passed them off as his own. Now free, a Sugimoto in far better shape  commandeers the horse-drawn sledge, while a Shiraishi in disguise burns down the 7th Division’s headquarters to keep them busy.

All in all, a neat little caper, and by the end of it, Tsurumi doesn’t even want to kill Sugimoto anymore. Why keep trying to kill an immortal man when you can just wait for him to collect the remaining tattoos, then take them?

The reunion between Sugimoto and Asirpa is understated and a bit awkward (it’s also painful for Sugimoto, who gets whacked by Asirpa’s sutu) but Shiraishi breaks the ice by suggesting they kill the horse they stole. They use the meat not just to reward Retar for his good work, but to make a sukiyaki-type dish for dinner.

That dish, for which Shiraishi enthusiastically acquires all the other necessary ingredients, includes miso, but while she makes some hilarious faces, Asirpa finally gathers the guts to taste it, and is pleasantly surprised (though she still refers to it as poop).

As Sugimoto & Co. enjoy their freedom and his horse sukiyaki,  the old samurai Hijikata Toshizou adds fellow master swordsman and former Shinsengumi Nakagura Shinpachi to his growing band of badasses, and when a gang of bandits torture his messenger, he strolls in, offers death or partnership, and the bandit leader chooses death.

Ushiyama’s casual tossing of one of the bandits into the rafters head-first was a nice bit of physical comedy that also demonstrates how tough these guys are. Then there’s old man Hijikata reloading his shotgun with one hand while wielding his katana with the other. “Numbers don’t matter, they never did”, he says, and even if he won’t be able to conquer all of Hokkaido, he’s sure as shit going to kill a lot of people trying.

The next morning, Sugimoto’s skewer wounds have healed nicely, but he’s falling behind Asirpa in the deep snow. Then they come across a special vine that will not only slake their thirst (though they get a bit selfish in who gets to drink from it) but material to make snowshoes that will greatly increase his mobility.

In another part of the woods, Tanigaki has found Tetsuzou Nihei, a legendary hunter who uses a single-bullet rifle and no spare rounds between his fingers, because “if you have five bullets (like the soldiers), it makes you believe you get five chances.”

Tanigaki wishes to work with Tetsuzou to hunt down that giant white Ezo wolf. Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi better not let their guards down.

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.