Golden Kamuy – 28 – Big Top, Big Turd

There’s no shortage of deep, dark, horrible stuff in Golden Kamuy (see: last week), but what keeps the audience from descending into despair is its well-integrated, irreverent, and sometimes gross comedy. Yet the comedy almost always serves and propels the more serious and dramatic central story, rather than simply serving as isolated points of relief.

Take Kiroranke introducing Asirpa to a opokay, a fanged deer that was her father’s first kill. He has her smell the musk glad, giving us another wonderful Asirpa Face (Ogata’s face, funnily enough, barely changes upon smelling it). Kiroranke tells the tale of how he and Wilk not just hunted this deer, but were called musk deer due to their wandering.

Our sense of smell is most closely tied to memory, so Asirpa remembers the beaded hohchiri her dad gave her to wear until her first kill (which is typically only for boys). This is how Kiroranke hopes to uncover the mysteries Wilk left in his daughter’s head: by continuing to familiarize her with the man her dad was, and that above all she can trust him, her father’s friend.

Comedy returns to the fore in a big way this week as Team Sugimoto ends up in Toyohara, the cultural capital of Karafuto, and fall victim to a circus acrobat who snatches bags in his spare time. Despite the kid’s speed and agility, Koito is up to the task of chasing him down with the Japanese equivalent of parkour.

When the circus’ ringleader Yamada hears the boy was thieving again, he whips out his sword and appears to cut his face, only for there to be no cut, only blood. Turns out the sword is part of Yamada’s show-stopping fake harakiri act, which was so good in Russia that he was declared dead in the newspapers.

This gives Sugimoto a fresh idea for reuniting with Asirpa: by performing his “Immortal Sugimoto” act in the circus, he’ll be putting himself out there in front of a huge crowd as well as the local media, meaning there’s no way Asirpa will miss him.

The other three soldiers also join the circus temporarily, as they are all united in the goal of finding Asirpa. Koito is an instant hit with Yamada and the girls for his considerable and effortless acrobatic feats. When asked what circus he came up in, he proudly proclaims “The 7th Division of the Imperial Army!”

Tsukishima and Tanigaki, who lack any acrobatic talent, are shunted off to join the dancing girls who perform between acts. Tanigaki reveals how sensitive he is to harsh criticism by the stern battleaxe of a choreographer, but is comforted by one of the older girls, Beniko, who cheers him on as she contemplates her final performance before the circus cuts her loose.

Then Sugimoto is taught the harakiri act by Yamada, who not only reveals what a good showman he is, but how damn big his nipples are! In truth, the sword has a grove containing red dye, and the water splashed on the body to “purify” it is really the liquid the dye turns red upon contact, leading the audience from afar to believe real cuts were made.

The day of the big show arrives, and the soldiers must before to a packed house, only with their natural or acquired artistic skills, not their fists. Koito performs almost perfectly until he finds a photo of his beloved Tsurumi on the tightrope.

Later, Tsukishima confesses he put it there worried Koito’s performance would overshadow Sugimoto’s, and thus their objective to find Asirpa. But Koito’s resulting improvisation ends up bringing the house down anyway. As for Tanigaki, he turns in a performance he can be proud of, and is finally acknowledged by the tough choreographer.

All that remains is the big closer: the Immortal Sugimoto Harakiri Show. His assistant Cikapasi (whom we learned received a hohchiri from Enonoka that he won’t be removing anytime soon) douses him with water in the right places, but Sugimoto soon learns that the sword he has is real—Koito switched out the fake as revenge for trying to sabotage him (before Tsukishima claimed responsibility).

Sugimoto shows he has a bit of a gift for showmanship by drawing the sword close and pulling it back with a chuckle, allowing the audience to let out the collective breath they were holding in. But this only works a couple times; they want to see blood. So after cutting his wrist, he cuts his leg, and prepares to cut his chest in a place where it will bleed a lot but not damage anything vital.

Right then, he’s bailed out from having to cut himself when one of a trio of suspicious Russians pulls a gun on him. He slices the assassin’s hand off then slashes him across the mid-section. He then takes out the other two, all to the rapturous delight of the crowd, who of course think this is all fake.

It’s delcious irony that just as Tsukishima’s attempt to sabotage Koito’s act made his act much better, the same happens when Koito tries to sabotage Sugimoto’s. More than that, if Sugimoto hadn’t had a real sword, he could have been in real trouble against those three Russians.

After the show, which was an undisputed hit, ringleader Yamada reveals that the Russians were likely hired to assassinate him, as he was an Imperial Army spy embedded in Russia before the war and provided intelligence to Japan.

Yamada’s intelligence bonafides also make him an ideal source of intel for their search for Kiroranke and Asirpa, as the newspaper only had two sentences mentioning Sugimoto. Yamada tells them about Alexandrovskaya Prison, where a large group of “eastern minorities” were recently transferred there for plotting a resistance.

As the four soldiers prepare to head further north to the prison, Sugimoto holds out hope Asirpa’s beautiful blue eyes will read those two sentences about him in the Toyohara paper, and learn that he is still indeed alive. Instead, in another irreverent comedy aside, we see that Asirpa is actually, in that moment, looking at poop she mistakes for that of big game, when it is actually the recent leavings of one Shiraishi Yoshitake.

Maybe it’s just as well she’s staring at a turd…what if the paper had erroneously reported Sugimoto’s death? In any case, the ED sequence in which both Sugimoto and Asirpa see the same snowflake glide by gives me hope that one of these days he’s going to finally catch up to her, and with some amazing new stories to tell.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Golden Kamuy – 27 – The Woman With the Seaweed Hair

Asirpa arrives at the site of the village of her father’s birth to a Karafuto Ainu mother and Polish father. However, it was abandoned decades before the present fox-breeding farm was established. According to Kiroranke, Asirpa’s parents, grandparents, and all the Ainu of Karafuto were “crushed between two nations”—Japan and Russia. The same fate will befall the Hokkaido Ainu.

Wilk believed Asirpa to be the last best hope for her people’s future, but Kiroranke and Ogata only seem to care about in Asirpa for the knowledge locked in her brain that will unlock the secrets of the tattoos. Kiroranke is hoping to gain enough trust that, combined with the “further maturing” of Asirpa, will compel her to give up the information willingly.

Unfortunately, that’s all we get of Asirpa’s crew this week, which was initially a bummer, especially when followed up by some slapstick antics involving Lt. Tsurumi, a bedridden Nikaidou, and a new wooden hand that shoots out chopsticks. We already know Tsurumi is a strange cat; this wasn’t necessary.

Things, however, look up when we return to Sugimoto’s gang. The officer who is actually in charge is Tsukishima Hajime. He lets Gansoku Maiharu free to escape to Japan, with the warning that he’ll kill him if he ever sees him again. He also warns Sugimoto that he’ll kill him if he goes berserk again. He needs soldiers who can control themselves.

From there, we pause from where Tsukishima is going to where he’s been, namely death row. We learn how there was a woman with hair like the seaweed called igogusa with whom he fell in love and promised to elope with her upon returning from military service.

Back in his home village, Tsukishima was ostracized as the son of a murderer, and a thug in his own right. But in Igogusa he found love and solace, as she alone called him Hajime. But he never saw her again. Upon returning home, everyone assumed he was dead, and Igogusa disappeared ten days before he returned, and her sandals washed up on the shore.

Assuming his fiancée killed herself upon learning he died, Tsukishima determined that his rotten father created the lie that killed her. He beat his father to avenge her, but went too far and killed him, thus earning him a spot on death row. But Tsurumi, his commanding officer from his tour of duty, took it upon himself to investigate Igogusa’s disappearance.

He learned that a bigwig from Mitsubishi took a liking to Igogusa, who ended up marrying his son and moving back to Tokyo with them. Her suicide was faked so when the “thug” Tsukishima returned, he wouldn’t pursue her. Igogusa in tern assumed her Hajime had died in the war, and asked Tsurumi to bury a lock of the hair he loved at his grave.

Instead, Tsurumi used the lock of hair to motivate Tsukishima into learning Russian like his life depended on it—because it did. Tsurumi manages to get Tsukishima’s sentence commuted and recruits him into the 7th. Then, nine years later in a medical tent, a soldier from Tsukishima’s village tells him Igogusa did die, and her bones were found under his father’s house.

Right in the heat of the Battle of Mukden, an enraged Tsukishima confronts Tsurumi, who explains that he told him whatever he needed to hear to restore his will to live. The two are caught in a mortar attack, and Tsukishima pushes Tsurumi aside. Tsurumi’s scalp is burned off, but he and Tsukishima survive thanks in part to Sugimoto, who offers the second of two remaining sleds because his comrade is too far gone.

As Tsukishima and Tsurumi recovered together, Tsurumi further explained that he spread the story of Igogusa’s suicide to his village—which the inhabitants still believe—in order to get him out of jail without a trial. So he told him Igogusa was alive to motivate him, but told the village Igogusa was dead to get him out of prison. The gods’ honest truth is that Igogusa was still alive, married to the Mitsubishi son and living in Tokyo.

But as it had been well over a decade since they parted, Tsukishima decided to let Igogusa go forever, tossing her lock of hair into the inky, frigid waters of Otaru. In this way, Tsukishima and Igogusa were crushed between the same two nations as Asirpa’s father’s people. But he still chose to commit the remainder of his life to Tsurumi’s service—a loyalty that endures to the present day.

Now we finally have Tsukishima’s backstory, and see how his fate got interwoven in those of both Tsurumi and Sugimoto long before present events. It’s also another illustration of how deftly Golden Kamuy can spill one hell of an engrossing yarn, no matter on which character it chooses to focus.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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