I only watched a bit of One Piece, and haven’t for a long time. What was it about? Searching for the One Piece? But for a story about searching for treasure it’s actually an awful lot of fighting and not a lot of searching, no? That’s fairly standard for adventure stories like that. Often, the prize at the end of the journey—the ‘MacGuffin’ is just an arbitrary goal and what it is and what it does has no relevance to the story whatsoever. All that matters is that everybody wants it. For example, it didn’t really matter what the titular Maltese Falcon was. Its purpose was to put characters into conflict. There are a surprising amount of these adventure-thrillers named after a glorified plot device, and Golden Kamuy is just one of them. The titular pile of gold is as simple as it gets, basically just a lot of money. But Golden Kamuy spends time in this episode to actually characterise this treasure trove, more than would usually be needed. Unlike other MacGuffins, There is a detail about the gold that the audience should care about; its purpose. Asirpa’s father intended it as a war chest to drive away the Japanese. Crazy ‘Stache wants it to fuel his coup. Old Hijikata is gathering ex-prisoners for a fighting force, and presumably will use the gold for a similar purpose. Only Sugimoto wants the treasure for something benign, to help out his friend’s widow. It does say something about the world view Golden Kamuy operate under. So far Ainu superstitions (like the bear-den thing) have held, and they believe the gold to be cursed. No good can come out of it.
Contrast the Ainu village with the world outside of it. Asirpa’s kotan seems to have written off the gold already. Their desire for war likely died with Asirpa’s father. And they seem to be doing rather well. Sure, this is something of an idealised version of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but it’s peaceful and carefree. But in Otaru, where the fight for the gold rages on? It’s brutal. Compare the soldiers to the Ainu hunters. The hunters have spirituality, purpose and fulfilment. The soldiers feel bored and abandoned, and if history has taught us anything it’s the danger of leaving a bunch of bored soldiers loitering about. Their lust for both wealth and blood turns their world into something nasty. Yet another juxtaposition this episode: the two meals Sugimoto enjoy. At the Ainu village, good food is just good food. It is a thoroughly positive experience. But in Otaru, his soba while also tasty, was a trap. When entangled with this cursed gold, one can’t even enjoy a meal in peace.
This is why Sugmito had to leave, to keep Asirpa and her people out of this nasty business. Like with Asirpa and Retar, their two worlds are fundamentally different. Then again, Asirpa is no tame dog either, which is why she follows. I find that sad, as with that decision Asirpa cements herself as an outcast. She doesn’t quite fit with her people, taking after her dad a bit too much. But she’s not amoral enough to immerse herself in the violence that the conflict over stolen gold demands. Life isn’t going to be easy for her.