Golden Kamuy – 36 (Fin) – Not For Nothing

We were left hanging with the vicious knife fight between Kiroranke and Lt. Koito. Both use their arm or hand to block a knife from digging too deep into their vitals, but Koito gets a much-needed assist from Tanigaki and Tsukishima. Kiroranke, as dangerous as any wounded animal, produces one more bomb, but Koito is able to slice it away so it doesn’t blow everyone up.

They’re about to finish Kiroranke when Asirpa arrives in time to stop them; she wants to hear him explain why he shot her Aca. She doesn’t get an answer before he draws his last breath, but he dies happily, knowing Asirpa did indeed figure out the code, and their journey north wasn’t for naught. It’s also implied by Sofia’s reaction (prior to rejoining her fellow inmates) that she Kiroranke and Wilk formed a love triangle. Kiroranke’s body is buried in ice that will melt into the Azur river and flow back to his homeland.

Kiroranke and Asirpa try to go after Sofia, but find everyone’s favorite Stenka shoujo, Gansoku Maiharu. Kiroranke is the only one who ends up dying on the ice floes; Ogata remains alive and Tsukishima’s neck wound isn’t life-threatening. As Sugimoto returns Asirpa’s ceremonial knife to her, Sofia returns Kiroranke’s to him, confirming there was something going on between them.

Back at the Nivkh village in Ako, Tsukishima gets Svetlana to agree to write a letter to her parents which he’ll deliver as proof she’s alive, so that they can escape the black pit of uncertainty and know for sure their girl is okay. She heads to Russia with Gansoku, and the narrator indicates they’ll have a number of exciting adventures in the future.

This final Kamuy of the season wouldn’t be complete without another Ainu food session, so Asirpa explains mosu, a lucious-sounding treat made with fish skin, berries and seal fat. She describes the Nivkh, like the other tribes in Karafuto, as “a little bit different and a little bit the same”, and takes comfort in that.

Ogata is beyond Nivkh medicine, so everyone dresses up like Nivkh and reach out to the Russian doctor in Ako. He quickly recognizes Sugimoto’s Japanese, but still agrees to operate on Ogata. Unfortunately, no one thought to tie Ogata to the bed.

The moment he comes through post-op, he gets up, holds the nurse hostage, knocks Koito down, and escapes on a horse in nothing but his gown. Asirpa and Sugimoto are too late to catch him and the latter’s shots miss his horse, but Sugimoto is fine with that. He urges Ogata to get better so he can kill him fair and square later.

That need to do any and all dirty work, including killing, for Asirpa’s sake so she doesn’t have to bloody her own hands, defines Sugimoto. He withholds Wilk’s desire for Asirpa to be a guerilla fighter in the war between the Ainu and the Imperial enemies of Japan and Russia—but Sugimoto wants better than that for her. Maybe, with the gold, she can lead the Ainu into peace, not another horrible war that will claim her soul.

Sugimoto’s had his fill of war, but he’ll still fight all the battles needed to protect Asirpa. And as both of them are still in need of money to achieve their goals, Sugimoto renews their contract as partners, and Asirpa concurs. They remain on the same road together, with Sugimoto continuing to work with Tsurumi’s men per their agreement, and Asirpa hoping to learn who killed the Ainu and what ultimately became of her Aca.

So ends a another incredibly strong season of Golden Kamuy, a wonderful melange of a show that combines stylish, inventive, often brutal combat, enriching cultural and historical education, some of the best comedy of the season (with a prodigious side of beefcake), and many of the better characters and relationships. None were more compelling than Asirpa and Sugimoto, and now that they’ve finally reunited I look forward to a fourth season of their adventures together.

Golden Kamuy – 35 – Finding Warmth in the Shattered Ice

The reunion of old buddies Shiraishi and Sugimoto is appropriately gross, as the former’s nose snot ends up in Sugimoto’s eye. This is actually foreshadowing for another key reunion, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

These two men are still separated from Asirpa, just as Asirpa finds herself alone with Ogata—the only person who knows Asirpa has remembered the secret to Wilk’s code. Both groups have shattered on the ice floes, as Tsukishima finds Svetlana in the cold while Tanigaki and Koito are ambushed by escaped prisoners.

While Sugimoto uses his coat as a sail to steer their ice floe where they want (yet another lifesaving lesson Asirpa taught him), Tsukishima urges Svetlana to return home, only for her to tell him she willingly went with whoever would take her—anything to get away from the boredom of life in that lighthouse.

Live certainly isn’t boring for anyone on these ice floes, as Tanigaki and Koito successfully repel the bandits. However, an unlikely reunion occurs when Kiroranke emerges from behind an ice boulder. Tanigaki, who seeks revenge for the death of Inkarmat, gives Kiroranke his bone-handled knife back—by stabbing him with it.

As the skies seem to darken and the snow and wind intensify, so too does the tension between Ogata and Asirpa. He knows she’s figured it out, and asks her while they’re alone if she’ll tell him. He only wants a little gold; to have all of it would mean getting tangled up in war with all the parties who want it. He also believes she wishes to return home to her kotan and spend her days hunting in the woods.

When his methods of persuasion don’t work, he reveals that Sugimoto wasn’t quite dead when he saw him, and tells her his last words about giving some gold to his friend’s widow Tome for her eye surgery. Then Asirpa catches Ogata in a lie when she asks him if Sugimoto said anything about food, and Ogata says he wanted monkfish stew. Asirpa knows Sugimoto’s true final wish would be for dried persimmons.

She breaks Ogata’s grip and knocks her bow, but Ogata reminds her of when she stopped Sugimoto from killing him, and when she vowed never to kill for the gold or anything else. Ogata actually takes sick pride in trying to goad Asirpa into murdering him, since to him that would mean they were alike in their “impurity”. Sugimoto manages to arrive in time to shout out, but Asirpa is startled and looses the arrow straight into Ogata’s eye.

Sugimoto quickly administers first aid, purging the poisoned from the wound and bandaging it to slow the bleeding. He won’t let Ogata die. because he won’t let him make Asirpa a killer. When the ice floes split again, threatening to separate Asirpa and Sugimoto, he reaches his hand out, she leaps to grab it, and they successfully embrace. After an entire season of them apart, finally they’re together again, and it feels so good to see it!

Of course, this is Golden Kamuy, a show never afraid to follow up a tearful, touchingly cathartic reunion with some absurdly gross comedy. Asirpa says she “can’t let go”, but we soon learn she literally can’t, because her damn eyelid is stuck on Sugi’s frozen coat button! Shiraishi, who is holding Ryuu back from interrupting the lovebirds’ reunion, is quickly summoned for assistance.

As we learned, the best way to separate skin from cold metal is piss, and if there’s anything Shiraishi is always full of, it’s piss. This leads to perhaps the most hilariously fucked-up line in the entire Golden Kamuy series: “Piss on her face!” The snow lets up, the sky brightens, and the sun starts to peak through the clouds as Shiraishi, Sugimoto, and Asirpa revel in rainbow-making golden showers. It is utterly glorious.

The episode then jumps back a few minutes and returns to the darkness of the storm, as Tsukishima, Koito, and Svetlana find an injured Tanigaki, who tells them Kiroranke is wounded and on the run. While in pursuit, the two soldiers make the mistake of picking up Tanigaki’s rifle, which was rigged with a bomb by Kiroranke. Tsukishima’s neck is gashed in the blast, but Koito is relatively okay, and continues the chase.

He and Kiroranke eventually become locked in a bitter grappling match; Koito with his saber and Kiroranke with his rifle. Kiroranke has escaped worse scrapes in his long bloody history, but with Asirpa learning the truth about his treachery at Abashiri Prison and Sugimoto already knowing he’s bad news, whatever becomes of him, he can no longer hide his true colors.

As of this tremendous episode’s ending, Ogata, Tanigaki, Tsukishima, and Kiroranke are all seriously wounded, while Koito may be about to be. Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi are all fine. Sofia strangely plays no role in this episode, but I wonder where her loyalties will lie (I suspect with herself) while Svetlana just wants to go to St. Petersburg. Most importantly, Sugimoto and Asirpa are together again. That one fact makes my whole month.

Golden Kamuy – 34 – Hesitation is Starvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Kamuy – 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.

Akuma no Riddle – 09

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Isuke may have played Tokaku for the sweetfish last week, but unlike that relative of the smelts, Tokaku probably won’t be fooled like that again. But the fact remains, Isuke is pressing her attack, and Tokaku is not only wounded and separated from Haru, but a hazy memory of another storm continues to keep her from plunging her knife into Isuke during this current one.

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In order to finally rid herself of that “curse”, she has to arrive right at death’s door, where Isuke deposits her by tossing her out a glass skyway. The hazy memory finally comes into focus. Her inability to kill wasn’t a curse; it was a wish, both from her mother and her mother’s twin sister, Mako, meant to protect her.

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The sisters, you see, didn’t want Tokaku to have anything to do with the Azuma family business, which is, you might have guessed, assassination of the finest quality. None of this would be an issue if they were famous bakers. Actually, I might watch a show about a class of people trying to out-bake each other. As long as they know what they’re doing.

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But I digress: Tokaku’s grandmother had big plans for her, and they involved systematically molding her into a soulless killing machine whose name would make the entire world cower in fear. Granny was a monster, and she wanted to make Tokaku a monster too. As Tokaku’s decision to protect Haru proves, she failed. You lose, evil granny!

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Akuma’s murder-blocking memory is of Mako bringing her to a shrine, where she tells her to always remember if she should want to kill something; to remember that her mom will always be watching her, protecting her from squandering her soul on murder. But now Tokaku has found someone to protect. And sometimes protecting means being prepared to kill.

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Meanwhile, many a door was bashed to bits this episode, not from the typhoon, but from Shinya, who single-handedly decimates the school’s door budget for many years to come. But Haru refuses to be taken out so easily. Her scars are proof she’s a survivor, and that’s what she does, even when she’s afraid Tokaku is dead.

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It’s also pretty clever how Isuke uses Shinya’s deep-rooted trauma of bright lights (having been locked in a cellar as a child and photographed by evil men) to shut her down when she no longer needs her. Now even Isuke is out, leaving only the prim Sumireko and Nio, whose body is covered in terrifyingly awesome tattoos. We’ve seen some bad-ass assassins, but Akuma may have saved the best for last.

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