Golden Kamuy – 17 – No Persimmon Trees in Hokkaido

One thing that brings Preston and I back to Golden Kamuy again and again is that it never fails to surprise. If you’d told me the much-ballyhooed master of disguise/forger would only last an episode before he got a bullet in the head (unless he’s playing possum, of course), I wouldn’t have believed you.

But a show that’s introduced so many characters can afford to kill them off now and again to keep one guessing, now can’t it? His and Sugimoto’s subterfuge is broken by Tsurumi’s trusty second lieutenant Koito, another new face who the skilled fake warden can only keep off balance for so long until he slips up (not with his Satsuma dialect, but in saying the warden drinks).

Fortunately Koito’s bullet to Sugimoto doesn’t kill him, because Sugimoto is immortal, and after crashing out the window, he, Shiraishi, and Ogata manage to commandeer a crude military airship. Thanks to the soldiers forming a pyramid and some athleticism from the resourceful Koito, there’s a duel on the ship, but Shiraishi uses the precursor to a bungee cord to dive off with Koito and then drop him.

Shiraishi crashes into the trees, but comes back up with Asirpa, who’d been following on horseback. How she climbed the tree to grab ahold of Shiraishi so fast…is better left unsaid. Thus the moment Shiraishi has been dreading comes: Sugimoto tells him he knows about Hijikata. However, due to the skin Hijikata had being fake (at least according to Sugimoto), he doesn’t believe Shiraishi really betrayed him…for now.

But the airborne group isn’t out of the proverbial woods yet. On the contrary; when the airship runs out of gas they have to ditch and end up in a whole other woods. Asirpa patches up Sugimoto’s bullet wound as best she can, but with the airship being such a large target to follow, the 7th is pursuing them; they cannot waste their head start.

The chase drives Sugimoto, Asirpa, Shiraishi and Ogata into the Daisetsuzan mountains, home of “sex demons” Ainu call the Pawci-Kamuy. Those demons take hold of Shiraishi once the weather takes a turn, and he strips down and runs off. Asirpa follows while Sugimoto and Ogata skin some freshly killed deer to take shelter in, taun-taun style, but Shiraishi magically reappears in one of the carcasses.

Sugimoto goes after Asirpa, but when they finally reunite they’re both lost, with the weather only getting worse. Luckily, another deer is nearby, and Sugimoto shoots it, Asirpa skins it, and they basically spoon inside the carcass until morning. As strange a sequence of events it was that led to this outcome, I’m glad it happened.

With the running over for the night and nothing but time, Sugimoto and Asirpa get to talk a little more. For once, Sugimoto explains something to Asirpa: how to dry bitter persimmons so they’re sweet. He notes they don’t grow in Hokkaido (hence Asirpa isn’t aware of them), but also that he hasn’t had one since before the war that took his friend and changed him.

Asirpa holds out hope that like a blood-clotting plant or warm deer carcass, if Sugimoto gets to eat another persimmon, he may get back some of what he gave up to survive in the war and everything since. And she wants to be there, in his homeland, with him, when he does that, so she can try one too.

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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.

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.

Nanbaka – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: A super-sparkly, hyperactive action comedy focusing on a quirky quartet of inmates of the famously impossible-to-break-out-of Nanba Prison, Block 13: Ryugo (15), Uno (11), Nico (25) and Roku (69). They attempt to escape several times a day, but also seem to be fine simply living out their days at Nanba (except Ryugo, who wants to find the man who placed “black shackles” on him.

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Why You Should Watch: I hate to say it starts off slow, because things move at breakneck speed from the beginning. I guess it’s more accurate to say it takes a while to start laughing at the rapid-fire jokes and physical comedy of the brightly-colored characters and their just-competent-enough corrections officers.

But once I did, I fed off of Nanbaka’s frenetic, bodacious energy and its diverse comedy, which often goes right where I think it will (i.e. the cross-dressing brother) and sometimes goes to hilariously unexpected places (Nico turning guard hounds into lapdogs).

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Why You May Not Want To Watch: This can’t match the drabness or manic  darkness of Rainbow or Deadman Wonderland nor the debauchery or even over-the-topness of Prison School. It’s a straight-up comedy with some action sprinkled in, and its one attempt to get deep (with Ryugo’s story) ain’t exactly Lars von Trier. The sole female character is the vaunted Warden who contributes nothing to the comedy. And what the hell is up with all the SPARKLING?!?!

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The Verdict: Nanbaka provides occasionally clever or weird comedy, but is usually just slight, self-aware, stupid fun. I thought the four inmates would be annoying at first, but they grew on me fast. And if it keeps showing up on Tuesdays, I may well have time to follow it. If I don’t, maybe Franklin will.

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Deadman Wonderland 7

Another amazing episode. This one was jam-packed with new characters, new twists, new opportunities and new hazards for our seemingly cursed protagonist, Ganta. There’s even a moment when he, Yoh, and Minatsuki seem as normal and comfortable as Ganta with his old, dearly departed friends. That brighter tone doesn’t last, but it I am glad the series is mixing moments of levity/comedy/romance in with the horror. Even Senji makes an appearence, exhibiting no hard feelings for Ganta.

More big news come in the form of a Lal’C-looking lady (Koshio) who socks Ganta then brings him to the hideout of Scar Chain, DMW’s underground resistance. They like his spunk and his straight-arrowness, and want him on their team. Scar’s leader even makes sure the only thing Minatsuki loses in her Penalty Game is her hair. Seems to good to be true, and it is, as their encounter is rudely interrupted by Promotor Tamaki’s “ultra-priest” pal, Genkaku, owner of a Fender Explorer that turns into a machine gun. However, if they ever get out of this, Scar Chain should team up with Warden Makina – she’s apparently also sick of the insanity around here, and of Tamaki in particular.

The episode also gives us loads of new info about Ganta’s childhood, notably, that his mom was a scientist, Shiro showed signs of superhuman strength even back then, and there were experimental terror dogs roaming wherever it was Ganta hung out back then. He was also a fan of the super-hero Ace-Man, who bears an uncanny resemblence to the mysterious Wretched Egg, “Red Man”, who originally set Ganta up. Oh, and can’t overlook this lil’ nugget: SHIRO is the friggin’ Wretched Egg. Ganta can’t catch a break! Rating: 4