Golden Kamuy – 24 (Fin) – Skin in the Game

As Hijikata defeats Inudou by playing dirty (tossing the blood from his arm he let Inudou cut to blind him), and Tsurumi mows down the inmates with a Maxim gun (channeling Tony Montana), A heavily-wounded Sugimoto happens to cross paths with the very person everyone’s been looking for since before episode One: Nopperabo (AKA Wilk). There’s no mistaking those eyes, but it’s confirmed when he recognizes the makiri he made for his daughter.

Nopperabo won’t say anything about the gold until Asirpa is brought to him, but Sugimoto has a non-gold-related question first: Why? Why involve his innocent daughter in what he knew would be a horrible blood-drenched mess that would stretch beyond his life and possibly hers? Sugimoto could sense the fear and apprehension she felt about the possibility Nopperabo turned out to be her father. Why put her through this?

The answer doesn’t quell Sugimoto’s pain, and perhaps that’s because he has no children of his own. Nopperabo was entrusting Asirpa with the future, believing she’d become the leader of the Ainu in that future. All of the time he had with her, he spent teaching her the ways of the Ainu, how to take care of herself, and how to defeat overwhelming foes. Before she turned ten, Asirpa was able to kill a giant red bear all by herself.

When Inkarmat hands the binoculars for Asirpa and she lay eyes on her father for the first time in a long time, she weeps, and perhaps not because she doesn’t understand her aca’s motivations. After all, she knows she’s an Ainu Woman of The Future. Perhaps she’s weeping more for the simpler life she knows her father wanted for her, but could not afford to provide; weeping for the time she and their aca were apart.

Then, to everyone’s utter shock, Nopperabo and Sugimoto are both shot through the head and fall, both shots carrying the very familiar sound of Ogata’s rifle. Tanigaki later rushes in and saves them from further shots (getting shot in the wrist himself) then finds Inkarmat lying in her own blood, a silver dagger in her belly. She tells Tanigaki that Kuroranke was giving someone a signal once the shots were fired.

Shiraishi manages to get Asirpa safely away, but Tanigaki and the wounded Inkarmat are captured by Tsurumi and his men. After all that planning and getting so tantalizingly close to the answer to the location of the Ainu gold, everything seems to have unraveled, and the lives of key players are either gone or in hanging from threads.

Ogata and Kiroranke meet up with Shiraishi and Asirpa, and Ogata confirms that Sugimoto and Nopperabo are dead, sending Asirpa into a frenzy of grief. However, less than a minute later we see Sugimoto, heavily bandaged and resting in bed, scarfing down onigiri. Both his life and Inkarmat’s were saved by the expert ministrations of Ienaga (who may have removed and eaten some of Sugimoto’s brains – channeling Hannibal Lector).

Now “brain damage pals,” Sugimoto is back in Tsurumi’s custody, along with Tanigaki. Inkarmat tells them that Kiroranke and Ogata’s likely next destination is Karafuto, which is where they turn out to be. The two are also well aware that Sugimoto may yet still be alive (he is Immortal Sugimoto after all) and that he’ll surely want to kill them both the moment he sees them again.

As for why Kiroranke stabbed Inkarmat, it wasn’t what I initially thought. Turns out, it was an accident. Kiroranke was merely threatening her with a knife, but in the ensuing struggle he fell and stabbed her. Kiroranke’s intent was to share the location of the gold with his former guerrilla comrades in the far east. And with Nopperabo dead, Asirpa is a vital key in discovering that location.

That’s not to say she’s the only key, however. Before leaving Abashiri, Tanigaki manages to find a consolation prize inadvertently left to him by Inudou: information relating to the tattoos no one else has. With none of the interested parties having the complete puzzle, there will surely have to be more confrontations alliances, and/or betrayals for any one of the parties to find the gold (if it even still exists).

Tsurumi sends Sugimoto to Karafuto to find Asirpa. He’s accompanied by Tsukishima, Koito, and his transport provided by Vice Admiral Koito, the lieutenant’s father. The Admiral had seemed to be only a means to an end up to this point, but he shares insights crucial to Sugimoto’s understanding of why Nopperabo did what he did.

Being a father himself, Koito knew that he could not ask the fathers of those beneath him to sacrifice their sons, nor ask those sons themselves to die, if he did not have skin in the game. Whether he liked it or not, the success of the battles being fought required that he put aside a life of safety and comfort he wanted for his son to legitimize the sacrifices of other sons.

He believes it was the same for Nopperabo. He didn’t simply cynically using her to help craft his ideal of the future for the Ainu. He simply could not ask the Ainu to pay for it with only their blood. Honor, obligation, justice, and an eye toward the future: these are the things parents in positions like Nopperabo and Koito must consider when raising their children.

Still, Sugimoto also happens to love Asirpa, and as long as he’s alive, he will see to it she doesn’t become a murderer like him and his ilk. Indeed, the kamuy may well be helping Sugimoto stay alive in order to serve as her guardian, and a check to the designs of both her father and the unceasing tides of history.

Asirpa comes to believe this in a dream with Sugimoto, in which he promises he’ll come for her again. The Dream Sugimoto insists it isn’t the kamuy speaking to her through him, but him, Sugimoto himself. He hasn’t joined the ranks of the kamuy yet, and nor has she.

Upon waking, Shiraishi share’s Asirpa’s insistence they haven’t yet seen the last of that big unkillable lug. Sure enough, he’s aboard a ship, with a bearing brimming with purpose and resolve, steaming to their location to reunite with them.

Until Golden Kamuy Season 3.

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Golden Kamuy – 23 – Ainu Nothing Like The Real Thing

Turns out Inkarmat was working with Lt. Tsurumi…which is why Tsurumi has arrived with a flotilla of four-stack destroyers. With the prison alarms sounded, she declares Sugimoto and Shiraishi to have failed, and Tsurumi is the only one who can get Asirpa and Nopperabo out now.

When a shocked Tanigaki says that means he’ll get the Ainu gold, she tells him neither she nor he particularly care who gets the gold, further unsettling Tanigaki. The ships open fire, blasting holes in the wall, but also collapsing the entrance to the tunnel where Tanigaki and Inkarmat flee. Tsurumi and his large platoon of around sixty men get into small boats and arrive on the beach, fully armed and ready to rumble.

When Inkarmat is trapped by rubble, Tanigaki forgets who she was working for and bursts every button on his shirt to save the woman he loves. Fortunately for both, Ushiyama arrives to save the both of them, and just when you think it’s goodbye for Ushiyama, he casually tosses away the entire roof of the collapsed structure, then dusts off his jacket.

Tsurumi and his men storm the prison and kill everyone in sight…until he spots Sugimoto with “Nopperabo,” promising to kill him if they don’t lay down their arms. When the fake Nopperabo warns the others of a growing fire in the cell with loud grunts, they mimic the grunts. Like Tanigaki’s buttons, the show effectively tempers all the action and drama with moments of absurd, often pitch black comedy.

Meanwhile (there’s a metric F*CKTON of moving pieces in this episode) Toni Anji promises to take Asirpa to Nopperabo’s true location, but not without meeting up with Tanigaki Genjirou, whom Toni was always loyal to. Sugimoto realizes that Tanigaki wanted him out of the picture lest he cause trouble down the road.

On top of that, Nikaidou disobey’s Tsurumi’s order not to shoot, unknowingly hitting “Nopperabo” in the head, killing him. Shiraishi starts sawing through the floor so they can slide down into the crawlspace below. A wounded Kadokura releases all 700 deadly prisoners, unleashing them on Tsurumi’s outnumbered platoon, and, well, all hell breaks lose.

As soon as Asirpa sees that Warden Inodou is keeping Nopperabo in the chapel, she waits for another volley from the ships to escape from Toni and Hijikata (who applauds how tough the young woman is). But he still has the photos he had taken of himself with Asirpa to show Nopperabo.

It isn’t long before she runs into Kiroranke, and then Shiraishi runs into them, having dislocated his shoulders to exit the prison crawlspace. Kiroranke uses grenades to get Sugimoto out (as he has no clue how to dislocate his shoulders) and Sugimoto tells Kiroranke to meet the others at the front gate, while he takes the dagger Asirpa gave Kiroranke (and which was made by her aca) and heads to the chapel.

He’s stopped by Nikaidou, and the two have a vicious, bloody duel, with Sugimoto taking a blade through his mouth and left cheek and a bullet to the leg from the gun hidden in Nikaidou’s false leg. He manages to wrest that leg away and beat Nikaidou half(?) to death with it. I must say, if he survives this, Nikaidou might deserve the “Immortal” title as well…

In the chapel cellar, Inudou orders the real Nopperabo out of his cell, but Hijikata and Toni are waiting for him upstairs. Toni and Inudou shoot each other, but the latter plays dead so he can shackle Hijikata and lock him into a duel with katanas.

This allows Nopperabo to slip away. Outside the chapel, Sugimoto, crawling on the ground, spots him, and his unmistakable big, blue eyes. If only he could get Nopperabo to the front gate, where Asirpa and the others await.

All this time, mind you, Tsurumi and his men are completely occupied trying to fight off the wave of violent inmates. Like I said, a lot going on. One could even accuse it of being too busy, but I for one loved the sense of building chaos, with every character the show fleshed out playing a role.

It just worked, and was yet another example of the payoff tasting doubly sweet thanks to all the painstaking setting-up. After such a powerhouse penultimate episode, next week’s finale will have some big shoes to fill.

Golden Kamuy – 22 – And Finally, on a Black, Moonless Night…

For twenty-one weeks Golden Kamuy has been slowly building to this: the night Asirpa and Sugimoto finally infiltrate Abashiri Prison and meet with Nopperabo, to see once and for all if the one who killed the Ainu and stole the gold is her father. Now that the show has set up all of the various players and their various histories and motivations, it’s finally time to set things in motion.

Thanks to the salmon spawning, Kiroranke and Huci’s sister’s people can build a hut beside the wall of the prison. They can bribe the guards with fish, and within the hut they begin digging a tunnel under the wall to a precise distance indicated by Hijikata.

Before the big night, the whole crew settles under one roof an enjoys the bounty of the river: chitatap made from salmon gills, cartilage, and other normally harder-to-eat parts the Ainu never waste. Sugimoto is stoked to be having true chitatap, and Asirpa is delighted to hear not only Hijikata but even the normally mirthless Ogata not only make chitatap, but say “chitatap” while doing so. There’s also mouth-watering grilled salmon and side dishes laced with tasty roe.

During the meal, Ushiyama asks Inkarmat if she has a man, and Cikapasi forces the issue by giving Tanigaki’s half-eaten meal to Inkarmat, which is a kind of Ainu betrothing. Tanigaki leaves the hut, but Inkarmat follows him, and tells him she’s not hoping to reunite with Wilk for any romantic reason, but simply to settle her past. Tanigaki is the one she wants to spend her future with; he feels the same way about her, and once he gets Asirpa back home to Huci, he’ll give her his half-eaten bowl for real.

When the tunnel is complete it ends right in the quarters of Chief Kadokura, whose father fought beside Hijikata and thus feels loyalty to the old samurai, and will help the group achieve their audience with Nopperabo.

When a moonless night arrives, Asirpa, Sugimoto and Shiraishi, the infiltration team, relies on Toni Anji to guide them through the darkness to Noppy’s cell block. So naturally, they’re caught immediately, as in the first ten feet of their infiltration. The first play of the big game, and they fumble it.

No matter; the guards who spot them are dealt with relatively quietly, and they continue on, accessing the prison ward interior the only way they can: from the roof. The interior is a loving reproduction of the real Abashiri Prison, now a museum and Important Cultural Property—right down to the ceiling and cell latch designs.

Asirpa is lowered in (in a somewhat undignified manner), Shiraishi picks the lock to cell 66, and just like that, Asirpa is face-to-face with Nopperabo…or who she thought was Nopperabo. While the inmate’s face is indeed burned off, she can tell: this is not her aca (father). It’s an impostor; and they’ve been set up.

The fake Nopperabo starts screaming and a prison-wide alarm is sounded. Warden Inodou wakes up and mobilizes his men, and Sugimoto has Toni Anji pull Asirpa out of there, the two separating at the worst possible time. Still, Toni intends to take Asirpa to the real Nopperabo before they escape.

After that, the shit truly shits the fan, as Tsurumi, possibly tipped off by Inkarmat, arrives at the prison at the head of a flotilla of navy destroyers, blowing up the only bridge to the prison island. He orders his men to capture both Nopperabo and Asirpa, and will presumably need that gold in order to pay for such a lavish assault.

So a plan that had so many capable players involved goes pear-shaped almost immediately, scattering those players and leaving many wondering who among them betrayed them. But one way or another, this story is going to end in just two episodes. Here’s hoping Asirpa and Sugimoto and a few others make it out of this mess in one piece, hopefully with some of that Ainu gold…

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 – 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.